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So how can you beat these nutritional deficiencies and carbohydrate withdrawal symptoms? The following are seven tactics for getting the most out of a low-carb, ketogenic diet without experiencing significant reductions in physical or cognitive performance.
1. Consume Veggies & Take Supplements
As mentioned above, most vegetables are keto-friendly. There is no reason you can’t liberally consume kale, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, and Swiss chard and moderately consume low-glycemic index fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. You can also supplement the phytochemicals, antioxidants, and fiber you get from these whole-foods sources via prebiotics, probiotics and antioxidants like GSH (Glutathione) and turmeric extract (Curcumin), along with a quality multivitamin.
Interestingly, microgreens, which are the shoots of salad vegetables such as arugula, Swiss chard, mustard, beetroot, etc., picked just after the first leaves have developed, can help modulate cholesterol levels and lower inflammation. Microgreens are very simple to grow at home in a sunny window or under a LED grow light.
In addition to high vegetable and microgreen intake, you should also consider consuming the following supplements:
Choline, which helps your liver process fat and prevents non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Magnesium, which improves bone health, immune system function, and nerve and muscle function. It also helps minimize muscle cramps, dizziness, and fatigue.
Potassium, which is necessary for proper cellular function (you can also get potassium from avocados and dark leafy greens). It also minimizes cramps, constipation and muscle weakness.
Sodium, which, as mentioned above, is dumped by your kidneys as insulin levels drop. If you are performing heavy training sessions, you need to maintain sodium levels since you lose a lot of sodium through sweat. Sodium also reduces fatigue, headaches, and thirst.
Creatine, which will allow you to perform high-volume, high-intensity workouts without relying on high levels of muscle glycogen (since these stores will be depleted as you restrict carbohydrate intake). This is known as a carbohydrate-sparing effect.
2. Consume More Fat, Especially MCT Oil
Consuming more of the right types of fat may accelerate your adaptation to a ketogenic diet. MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) oil, which is derived from coconut oil, is particularly potent. Most fatty acids must travel through your lymphatic system to your heart, muscles and adipose tissue before entering the liver to be metabolized. But MCT oil goes straight to the liver to be immediately metabolized into energy, and this addition alone can allow many to avoid the keto flu altogether.
You can also add coconut oil to your morning coffee and eat more fat-rich foods, such as grass-fed beef, fatty, coldwater fish and eggs. Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and MCT oil can also be drizzled liberally on almost any dish. Just remember to include plants too, as these can eliminate the potential for high intake of oils (particularly saturated fats) to become inflammatory.
3. Get Good Sleep
Sleep helps to regulate levels of cortisol, which, as you learned above, rise as levels of thyroid hormones drop in response to carbohydrate restriction. As you sleep, levels of the fat-burning hormones leptin and adiponectin rise, which further stabilizes appetite and improves your adaptation to a fat-based diet. Review my last big article on sleep for recommendations on figuring out how much sleep you need each night as well as how to optimize that sleep.
4. Perform Light Exercise For A Few Days
Hard exercise elevates levels of cortisol, which are already elevated from the process of adapting to a ketogenic diet. Since excessively elevated cortisol levels can signal insulin to shovel the food you eat into fat cells (which is the opposite effect of what you want to achieve with a ketogenic diet), until you adapt to burning fat, perform lighter exercise sessions.
Do some yoga, hit the sauna, go for a swim or paddleboard session, or embark upon an easy sunshine walk or hike. Incidentally, if you perform this activity in a fasted state before eating breakfast, it will boost your fat-burning capacities even more and make your shift into ketosis go more smoothly. Listen to my podcast, “The Benefits Of Fasted Exercise, Busting the Myth of the Pre and Post Workout Meal, Who Shouldn’t Fast & Much More!” for more information on fasted exercise.
While you don’t want to overdo any hard exercise sessions, lifting heavy weights can help prevent loss of muscle during a high-fat, lower-protein ketogenic diet. Lifting weights will send signals to your muscles to enter an anabolic, muscle-building state without taking you out of ketosis. Ideally, these initial weight lifting sessions should not be high-rep or voluminous, but instead short and intense.
5. Take Activated Charcoal
Adipose tissue can act as a storage depot for toxins like molds, BPA and pesticides. As you burn stored body fat during a ketogenic diet, these toxins can be released back into your bloodstream and, if left alone, can be reabsorbed into more sensitive tissues like the brain and other vital organs. Consuming activated charcoal, which binds to toxins, will help your body flush these toxins out.
6. Take Exogenous Ketone Supplements
Exogenous ketones are simply ketones, such as ketone salts and ketone esters, that are naturally produced by your body but that you can also exogenously mainline into your body from supplements. They can help reduce fatigue and boost energy by quickly raising ketone levels in your blood. While exogenous ketones aren’t a replacement for a true state of ketosis, they can help you get through the keto flu during the first few days or weeks of a carbohydrate-restricted diet. A few of my favorite ketones include HVMN ketone esters, KetoneAid ketone esters, Real Ketones ketone salts, and PerfectKeto keto salts.
7. Implement A Cyclic Ketogenic Approach
Unless you have a legitimate health condition, such as a neurodegenerative condition, that you are treating with a ketogenic diet, you don’t necessarily need to stay in an indefinite state of ketosis. Occasional and even regular dips into ketosis via strategies like fasting, occasional carbohydrate re-feeds and carb-cycling are sufficient for providing the benefits of a ketogenic diet without requiring you to eliminate carbs for months at a time.
While you can, especially if you’re aren’t a hard-charging athlete, certainly remain in a state of ketosis for years at a time without experiencing any adverse effects (assuming you follow many of the rules you have just read about), you can also get the same benefits by performing brief, frequent forays into ketosis. For example, you can consume all of your carbohydrates at the end of each day, especially if you perform a hard exercise session late in the afternoon or early evening.
This exercise session will ensure you are highly sensitive to glucose so that the glucose you do eat is stored as muscle glycogen. If you fast for 12 to 16 hours after this meal, you will still be able to enjoy the fat-burning and brain-boosting benefits of ketosis without depleting your energy. Many of my athletic clients perform daily evening carb re-feeds of up to 200 grams of carbohydrates, then spend the remainder of their time in ketosis. Most of my other clients perform at least a weekly carb re-feed, typically on their most physically active day of the week so that they reduce any excess glucose response.