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Ketogenic Nutrition and Exercise: Protein

In my previous post, I focused on the nutrition aspects of exercise and carbohydrates. This post is all about protein and exercise. I have outlined some basic facts about protein intake in this post, it and I'm going to expand and clarify some points that cause confusion.

Eat More Protein if You Exercise

It's simple: those who are physically active will need more protein than those who are less active. Finding your ideal protein intake is easy - just use our keto calculator.

By selecting your activity level and body fat percentage, you will get a fairly accurate estimate of your protein needs (based on Dr Volek's & Phinney's recommendations). Keep in mind that this number is only an estimate - your protein requirements will vary based on your daily activity.

You shouldn't significantly overeat protein. Protein is not a particularly efficient fuel source - too much of it won't be beneficial. How much protein should you be eating? Aim for 0.6 to 1 grams per pound of lean body mass.

According to Volek & Phinney: "Aim for a protein intake between 0.6 to 1 grams per pound of lean body mass.... Significantly over-consuming protein can be problematic because some of of the extra amino acids can be converted to glucose in the body, raising insulin levels, and thus driving down ketones and suppressing fat burning."

But Won't More Protein Kick Me Out Of Ketosis...?

Although it's true that too much protein may disrupt ketosis, you don't need to worry about a few extra grams of protein. Eating slightly more protein will not kick you out of ketosis because not all excess protein converts into glucose via gluconeogenesis. I personally go over or under up to 15 grams so don't worry if you don't match your numbers precisely every day. In fact, your protein requirements are slightly different based on your daily activity: you'll need more protein on your "training" days compared to your "resting" days.

Some people don't eat enough protein because they are afraid that it will slow down their progress. As a result, they are hungry and overeat fat. Because calories do count, even on a ketogenic diet, they may end up stalling or even gaining weight. If you are trying to lose weight or build muscles, you have to eat enough protein.

Make sure you eat enough protein. Lack of protein leads to increased hunger and energy intake. Eating enough protein and not overeating fat is one of the rules you should follow if you want to lose weight on a ketogenic diet. Don't rely on high ketone levels - what matters most is your food intake.

Post-Workout Nutrition and Nutrient Timing

Contrary to common beliefs, nutrient timing is not as important as people think. It shouldn't be the main focus for those who just want to look and feel better. So unless you aim for significant muscle gain or you are an athlete, you won't need to worry about nutrient timing.

It's simple: if you want to lose body fat, you need to stay in calorie deficit (use your body fat for energy). If you want to gain muscles, you need to be in calorie surplus. You should be aiming for macronutrients that fit your individual needs (check our keto calculator for more details). More factors that play role in muscle gain are listed in this post: adequate protein intake, calorie surplus, proper training and resting.

Carbs and Ketogenic Nutrition

A common belief is that post-workout meals have to be high in carbs. The reason for this belief is that a meal high in carbohydrates will increase insulin which will increase amino acid uptake and promote muscle protein synthesis. However, loading your body with large amounts of post-workout carbs is not as effective as you may think. In fact, to get the maximal effect of protein synthesis, you only need a small amount of insulin.

This doesn't mean you should avoid carbs altogether. Depending on the type of exercise, you may benefit from small carb-ups. Just keep in mind that if you include extra carbs, time them wisely round your workouts or later in the day rather than having a high-carb breakfast meal.

Protein and Ketogenic Nutrition

The primary factor in muscle protein synthesis is your protein intake, specifically leucine. Leucine is an essential amino acid that triggers muscle protein synthesis. It has been shown that blood levels of leucine increase when in keto-adapted state (protein-sparing effect of ketogenic diets). You don't need to over-consume protein to benefit from muscle protein synthesis - just eat adequate amounts to fit your needs. What actually maximises muscle anabolism after resistance exercise is leucine and not the insulin response if you were to eat carbs.

Fat and Ketogenic Nutrition

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat diet. However, it is not recommended to eat high-fat meals immediately after a workout. A high-fat meal would slow digestion of post-workout protein intake - this is not desirable for weight loss or muscle gain. I will include more details about the optimal fat intake in an upcoming post.

Common Myths about Exercise Nutrition

There are several myths that are circulating over the internet and here are the most common ones...

Myth 1: Our body cannot absorb more than 30 grams of protein per sitting

You may have heard that your body cannot digest more than 30-40 grams of protein in one sitting - the rest would apparently be wasted. Don't worry, that's a myth. As you may know, intermittent fasting (IF) pairs perfectly with the ketogenic diet and if you do IF, you will likely be eating just one or two meals a day. Does this mean you are not absorbing enough protein? No. Even if you eat more protein in one sitting, it won't be wasted - your body (the small intestine) will store the amino acids and use them as needed.

Myth 2: You need to eat 40 grams of protein in every meal

Secondly, some people suggest that you need to eat 40 grams of protein in every meal to trigger muscle protein synthesis. This is wrong - what you need is to consume adequate protein throughout the day.

By following the 40 gram rule, you may easily be over-consuming protein, especially if you eat more than twice a day. I am quite active and my protein intake is between 80 and 100 grams based on whether I exercise on that particular day or not. As an example, if I was to have 3 meals a day, I would be over-eating protein by up to 40 grams. Finally, keep in mind that the ketogenic diet is not a high-protein diet.

Myth 3: Post-workout anabolic window of opportunity

The suggestion is that immediately after a workout (no later than 30-45 minutes), our body needs fast digesting carbs and protein. That's why it's not unusual to see people bringing their protein & carb shakes to gym so they can drink them just after exercise before the window closes.

However, it seems that this window is much bigger and nutrient timing in general isn’t that important for the vast majority of people who are trying to lose weight and get fit. Rather than sipping on protein shakes immediately after a workout, take it easy and have a proper meal at home.

Myth 4: You should never fast after a workout

Mark Sisson has admitted to fast after a workout once in a while - and so do I. The benefit is that just like intermittent fasting, and resistance training, post-workout fasting increases the level of human growth hormone (HGH). So if I don't feel hungry, I don't eat. Not feeling hungry is the main benefit of the ketogenic diet and low-carb diets in general. As Mark notes: "insulin suppresses HGH. Skipping the carb snack and the subsequent insulin upsurge goes a long way post-workout."

You can read even more about protein, carbs and exercise nutrition in these posts: Ketogenic Nutrition and Exercise: Protein and Ketogenic Nutrition and Exercise: Carbs

Have any more tips? Let me know in the comments!

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Please, note that I do not offer personalised advice. For personalised advice you can contact one of our experts.

Comments (21)

Hi,
How often would you recommend fasting after a work out?
   Thx,

Reply

Hi John, this is a matter of personal preference. You can fast if you don't feel hungry - or have a post-worjout meal.

Reply

What is the best post-workout snack/meal for weight loss? I sometimes eat 2:1 fat to protein ratio after working out (usually 15 mins of rowing) but I guess I shouldn't if I'm trying to lose weight...
What exactly should we be having after work outs to lose fat? Thank you!

Reply

Ideally, post-workout meals should be protein-based but I you can even have an avocado (mostly fat and fibre), for most people it won't make a difference. I make my own smoothies, bars and I always have some hard-boiled eggs in the fridge if I don't have time to cook.
Unless you feel hungry, you don't need to have any snacks, not even after a workout - I rarely have any and just have lunch or dinner. If your goal is to lose weight, it's not so much what you have after your workout, but what your daily macros are. To lose weight you need to use body fat - a keto diet is a good tool that will help you get there. You can try our keto calculator: http://ketodietapp.com/Blog/page/KetoDiet-Buddy

Reply

Hi
I know you recommend Jay Robb Whey powder, but its hard and expensive to get in Australia.Please what are brands can i buy in Australia that are as good and effective, Thanks!

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Hi Riley, I live in the UK and I buy Reflex Natural or Pulsin (unflavoured) if this helps? I'm not sure whet the best options are in Australia.

Reply

I use Pea Protein powder, twice a day for most of my protein intake. I am not a big meat eater, but I love how I feel on the keto diet. Pea Protein is easily digested, lactose, gluten and allergen free. It takes on the taste of whatever you mix it with which makes it versatile. (However I just drink the shake with nothing in it).  1 scoop is packed with 24 grams of protein and only 1 carb! Hope this is helpful!

Reply

Pea protein powder is indeed a great alternative. I use this one: ketodietapp.com/.../product-review-and-giveaway-nuzest

Reply

Wenchypoo, are you still following these posts? I'd like to corroborate your observations. I have some of the same weird sensitivities as your significant other. We are fearfully and wonderfully made and no two of us are completely alike. I'd love to be one of the ones that doesn't have a liver/pancreas/gut throwing money wrenches into my works. Erythritol spikes my blood sugar level...and I mean pure, not mixed with anything else. Coffee, too. We're all different and you are entirely correct, the glucose meter rules (after more than one test for comparison, of course, since test strips can be faulty). Normal functioning people don't have these issues or need a glucose meter to stay in tight control. Their bodies naturally, with no effort on their part, keep them in beautiful, symphonic control; a sweet dance between glucose and insulin. Since consistent levels of circulating glucose above 110 (USA) or 6.1 (UK) are proven to damage organs and systems, cause blindness and limb amputation, we must protect ourselves from whatever (no matter how unusual) individually raises our glucose levels even if it's contrary to current mainstream evidence. Your hubby is not the lone stranger. You are a good wifey and Godspeed your efforts in his behalf.

Reply

Thank you for your insights Elaine! Just to let you know, I think you have to comment on Wenchypoo's  comment so that she can receive notifications.

Reply

Thanks, Martina, but there is not a reply button by her post, up top or at bottom. I looked again and still don't see one. I enjoy your site immensely! Keeps my motivation high.

Reply

It could be the browser? I can see it there so you may want to try another browser just in case.

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Hi, maybe this question is answered elsewhere, but when counting protein, do you also consider the protein that is in vegetables and nuts? I tallied my food today, and a whole 15 grams of protein was from things like lettuce, spinach, and coconut milk for me! I feel hungry, like I need to eat a little more meat, but I am right on top of my protein limit with these 15 grams. Do I need to pay attention to every protein that goes in, or just that from meat? Thanks! And, excellent blog!

Reply

Hi Casey, yes, I consider all protein sources. Here is a post that lists protein content in meats, eggs, vegetables, nuts, etc: ketodietapp.com/.../All-You-Need-to-Know-About-Protein-on-a-Low-Carb-Ketogenic-Diet
I would think that you can add more protein - what's your daily protein intake? It could also be that you are not eating enough calories / fat, if you feel hungry. Try this tool: http://ketodietapp.com/Blog/page/KetoDiet-Buddy

Reply

I use Stevia as a sugar substitute, but it leaves this bitter aftertaste, which I don't like. Is there a better form of stevia that is not so bitter? Stevia does not affect blood sugar and insulin levels, correct?

Reply

Yes, that is correct. I think that all stevia products taste bitter if you use too much because stevia is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar. You may find sweetener blends that contain stevia and are not bitter because there is just a small amount of it. I think you might like Erythritol - natural sugar replacement that has no effect on blood sugar and almost no calories. Here is more about sweeteners: ketodietapp.com/.../Top-10-Natural-Low-carb-Sweeteners Hope this helps!

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I use Natvia stevia, it is granular like sugar and no bitter aftertaste. I think it comes from Australia (I am in NZ)

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Wenchypoo, Martina, I'm trying this again...there is now a reply button next to Wenchypoo's name.
Elaine in Big D 1/29/2016 2:39:26 PM #
Wenchypoo, are you still following these posts? I'd like to corroborate your observations. I have some of the same weird sensitivities as your significant other. We are fearfully and wonderfully made and no two of us are completely alike. I'd love to be one of the ones that doesn't have a liver/pancreas/gut throwing money wrenches into my works. Erythritol spikes my blood sugar level...and I mean pure, not mixed with anything else. Coffee, too. We're all different and you are entirely correct, the glucose meter rules (after more than one test for comparison, of course, since test strips can be faulty). Normal functioning people don't have these issues or need a glucose meter to stay in tight control. Their bodies naturally, with no effort on their part, keep them in beautiful, symphonic control; a sweet dance between glucose and insulin. Since consistent levels of circulating glucose above 110 (USA) or 6.1 (UK) are proven to damage organs and systems, cause blindness and limb amputation, we must protect ourselves from whatever (no matter how unusual) individually raises our glucose levels even if it's contrary to current mainstream evidence. Your hubby is not the lone stranger. You are a good wifey and Godspeed your efforts in his behalf.
Reply
Martina @ KetoDiet 2/17/2016 2:10:32 PM #
Thank you for your insights Elaine! Just to let you know, I think you have to comment on Wenchypoo's  comment so that she can receive notifications.

Reply

Gluconeogenesis kinda throws all those numbers and baselines out the window--this is where you have to let your meter be your guide.  Watching Hubby like a hawk tells me that all the numbers and rules of thumb when it comes to protein don't work when you've got a gluconeogenesis factory in the other room.
Since we recycle our protein, I'm not worried in the least about him not getting "enough", and besides, he's male, and comes equipped with a protein factory between his legs.
This is why I follow his meter, and not some arbitrary rule.  His meter tells me that half an organic, pastured NY strip steak (we share) is about all the meat he can tolerate without the gluconeogenesis factory cranking up into high gear--much less than the 3 oz. per serving widely recommended, or the X number of grams per body weight.
He also has a problem with psyllium, and can only tolerate 2T. in the whole recipe--otherwise, the meter goes into triple-digits.  Psyllium is supposed to be good for diabetics, right?  Same for erythritol, and all other sweeteners except stevia--triple-digits.
I've been following him long enough to start making a list of the foods that DON'T send him into overdrive, and have learned that protein in all forms must be kept low, certain forms of fiber must be kept low (or use glucomannan), and certain forms of sweetener must be avoided.
As for eating before or after a workout, if he's hungry, he eats.  Most of the time, he isn't.  This is a "golden rule" of Dr. Westman = "EAT WHEN HUNGRY, DRINK WHEN THIRSTY."

Reply

I think that's the best way to see the effects if someone is very sensitive to carbs and protein - use a blood ketone/ glucose meter. Although I've never had issues with psyllium, I can see why that may happen with this ingredient - at least that's what some people seem to experience with soluble fibre.
However, I'm not quite sure why that happens with Erythritol, as has zero effect on blood sugar (unlike any other sugar alcohol) and close to zero calories. I would think that it might be some other ingredient in a recipe that also uses Erythritol? Just a guess... I think that's when we see that we are all different and need to make individual adjustments to our diet.

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Soluble fibre does not raise blood sugar when you combine it with insoluble fibre (pretty much all foods with carbs are a combination of the two). Erythritol has zero effect on blood sugar and does not cause insulin spikes so unless you use a sugar substitute blend that also includes other sweeteners you should be fine.

Reply

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