The role of protein in the keto diet can be controversial as it is often blamed for everything from weight loss stalls, to hair loss and loss of muscle mass. It is also the core element of the Keto diet’s big brother, the Carnivore Diet. Find out how much protein you really need to burn fat in this post.
The keto diet is a moderate protein diet, which means not too much protein and not too little. Too much and you can get kicked out of the magical fat-burning state of ketosis and too little and you’ll lose lean muscle mass. New research shows that the role of protein is more complex than this.
HOW DOES EATING TOO MUCH PROTEIN KICK YOU OUT OF KETOSIS?
When you eat too much protein, it CAN BE converted by the body into glucose. This process has a fancy name called gluconeogenesis. So just while you are trying to keep carbs/sugars to a minimum, eating excess protein creates more!
Even eating too much protein in one meal (more than 9 ounces in a sitting) is also said to kick your body out of ketosis.
The liver can transform excess protein into glucose and as a result, you feel hungry. This can prevent you from getting into ketosis and burning fat.
But Too Much Protein Doesn’t ALWAYS Kick You Out of Ketosis…
Now, this process doesn’t always seem to take place when protein is high. It seems to be dependant on factors such as your insulin sensitivity and underlying glycemic state.
This means that if your insulin sensitivity is impaired (from pre-diabetes to Type 2 Diabetes), and you are starting a keto diet, you should keep your protein in the moderate range as explained below.
If you have normal insulin senstivity then you are less likely to be kicked out of ketosis by “excess” protein while on a keto diet.
To learn more about the research on this topic, take a look at this talk by Dr. Benjamin Bikman – Insulin vs. Glucagon: The relevance of Dietary Protein
How to Reduce Protein on Keto
One option is to eat higher fat cuts of meat and less lean meat like chicken breast and turkey. If you keep your portion size small, this will increase your fat intake while keeping protein low.
Alternatively, eat less protein overall and ensure you are getting plenty of fat from non-meat sources like avocado, olives, butter, dairy and oils.
See our 11 Healthy High Fat Foods For The Ketogenic Diet for more non-meat ideas.
Ways to Increase Protein in your Diet Without Meat
If you’re looking for recipes that will help increase your protein check out these recipes:
- Chocolate Keto Protein Pancakes (dairy-free)
- Raspberry Keto Protein Shake
- Chocolate Chia Protein Pudding
Use protein powders that are keto-friendly ie. low in carbohydrate such as Isopure or Jay Robb.
Note that while collagen powders are great for skin, hair and connective tissue, they are not a complete protein so they should not be counted towards your daily protein goal.
DO YOU GET KICKED OUT OF KETOSIS ON THE CARNIVORE DIET?
We’ve learned that eating too much protein can kick you out of ketosis, so what gives with the Carnivore Diet, an offshoot of the Keto Diet?
Carnivore Keto, also known as the “zero carb diet”, is a high protein diet that eliminates all plant-based foods.
Only 60-65% of calories will come from fat, so it is not thought of as completely keto. All the fat comes from animal proteins.
The remaining calories are strictly animal-based proteins. This means no veggies, fruits, seeds/nuts.
The Keto Carnivore Diet consists of high-quality, fatty cuts of meat 24/7.
There are no calorie or macronutrient goals; simply eat animal-based proteins when you are hungry and stop eating when you are satiated. Choosing the fattiest cuts of meats will help you to consume enough calories to remain full.
Examples of fatty cuts of meat: red meats, dark meat poultry (especially duck), pork shoulder, bacon, salmon.
The Keto Carnivore Diet Doesn’t Seem to Halt Ketosis
You would expect that all that protein would be converted to glucose and stop ketosis in its tracks but paradoxically it doesn’t seem to.
It appears that if you are keto-adapted, your insulin levels are consistently low and therefore the high levels of protein do NOT spike your insulin or blood sugars.
Most people that try the Carnivore Diet are already on a keto diet so are typically fat-adapted (consistently burning fat as their primary fuel source instead of glucose) and hence why they typically remain in ketosis while eating a Carnivore Diet.
HOW MUCH PROTEIN SHOULD I EAT ON A KETOGENIC DIET?
An important distinction to make with the Ketogenic Diet is that it’s a high-fat, low-carb and moderate protein diet. There is a common misconception that low-carb, high-fat diets (LCHF) mean eating astonishing amounts of protein.
This idea comes from the original Atkins Diet1 which allowed unlimited protein in the initial stages. (Current Atkins diets include a more modified protein approach). The Ketogenic Diet, however, aims for 20-25% protein or less (by calorie) which is in the range of 60-150g per day.
HOW TO CALCULATE YOUR PROTEIN REQUIREMENTS ON A KETO DIET
The ideal protein target for someone who is looking to lose body fat and heal the body is:
- from 0.6-0.8 grams of protein per pound of LEAN body weight.
To calculate how much protein is ideal for you, you will need to know your body fat percentage. This can be measured at the doctor’s office, DEXA scan, body fat calipers, or by taking measurements at home. If taking measurements at home, compare to these photo descriptions for added accuracy.
Once you have an idea of your body fat percentage, you can calculate your lean body mass and set protein goals accordingly.
Current body fat % = 45%
Current weight = 210 pounds
Current weight = lean mass + body fat
Body fat = 45% * 210 lb = 94 pounds
Lean body mass = current weight less body fat
Lean body mass = 210 – 94 = 116 lb
Daily Protein Gram Goal = Lean body mass x 0.6-1.0 (range*)
Daily Protein Gram Goal = 116 lb * 0.7 = 81g
*If you are very active, you would choose a number higher in the protein range of 0.6-1.0, closer to 1.0. Going below 0.6g per pound of lean body weight can lead to muscle loss.
Keeping in mind also that if you are insulin resistant, it is important to stay close to your protein goal and not go overboard, as explained above.
If insulin sensitivity is in the normal range, you will most likely be less subject to excess protein impacting blood sugar levels.
What Does 80g of Protein Look Like?
|Ribeye steak 150g (5.3 oz)||28g|
|Chicken thighs 150g (5.3 oz)||29g|
|2 large eggs||12g|
|Macadamia nuts 30g (1 oz)||2.2g|
|Mozzarella cheese 30g (1 oz)||7.0g|
PROTEIN IS A GOAL ON KETO AND YOU SHOULD AIM TO HIT IT DAILY
For the ketogenic diet, protein is a goal. This means that you should aim to hit your protein goal each day and doing so will help you to maintain muscle mass.
Protein will be about 20-25% of daily calorie intake, carbs 5% and fat 70-75%.
Carbs are a limit, which means that you shouldn’t go over your limit (typically 20g net carbs). And its perfectly okay to come in under your limit, for example at 10g net carbs on some days.
Fat is a LEVER, which means that you can eat more if you’re hungry and less when you’re satiated. This then allows you to dip into stored body fat as you become fat adapted. If you’re eating too much fat, your body will happily burn that fat as fuel but will not need to dip into fat stores.
Generally, aim to lead with fat and protein throughout the day and save your carbs for the evening. This makes it easier to stay under your carb limit.
- Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution. New York: Harper, 1999. Print.
- Dr. Benjamin Bikman Youtube video- ‘Insulin vs. Glucagon: The relevance of dietary protein’
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