the Ketogains method

luis villasenor

Ketogains has quickly grown into a thriving community of more than one hundred thousand members on the back of a no-nonsense system that consistently produces amazing results.

This article examines the key components of the wildly popular system to understand why it works so well for so many people.

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Protein as a goal

The first priority in the Ketogains system is protein, which is the cornerstone of building muscle and losing fat more easily with greater satiety.   

The Ketogains macro calculator recommends a minimum protein intake of 0.8g per pound of lean body mass (LBM) (i.e. 1.8g/kg LBM) and 1.0g/lb LBM (or 2.2g/kg LBM) on days you work out.  

Protein is even more important in a calorie deficit.  The higher the energy deficit, the greater is our need for protein to prevent loss of muscle.  If you are doing heavy resistance training, you will require even more protein.[10] [11]  

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In practice, however, it’s difficult to over-consume protein due to the strong satiety effect.  

While ‘excess protein’ can be converted for glucose if required (via gluconeogenesis), it doesn’t automatically turn to chocolate cake in your bloodstream.  Your body can use protein for fuel, but it would much rather some actual chocolate cake rather than having to convert protein to ATP.

Targeting the minimum effective dose of nutrition

If your goal is fat loss, then you want to target the minimum effective dose of macronutrients and micronutrients.  As a general rule, a higher protein intake tends to align with a better micronutrient profile[13] and greater satiety which means that it will be easier to maintain a long term.[14] [15]  

Can you build muscle on keto?

The short answer to this is “Yes, so long as you have enough protein”.  If you are consuming a low carbohydrate intake your body can get the glucose it needs from your protein, so you may need to top up with some more protein to compensate for the protein that will be lost to glucose.  

Carbs as a limit

The fact that much of the population is insulin resistant with elevated blood sugars is likely part of the reason the Ketogains approach has been so successful.  If you have already developed prediabetes or diabetes, then reducing your carbohydrate intake to the point you achieve normal blood glucose levels is a good idea.[22]  

Fat as a lever

In recent years people are starting to embrace dietary fat again.  However, while we do require some essential fats, we don’t actually need that much of it to thrive, particularly if we are trying to lose weight.[24]  

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Many people do fine on a diet that obtains a lot of the energy from carbs while others do well on a diet that gets the majority of energy from fat.  Where things seem to go wrong is when people consume a diet that is high in energy dense nutrient poor fat and carbs together with minimal amounts of protein.  

The satiety analysis below shows that we’re more likely to overeat when we’re consuming between about 30 and 60% carbs.

While we get an excellent satiety response from protein, once we remove the protein and consume refined oils ‘fat to satiety’ no longer seems to work.

If you are trying to reduce body fat, then it is important to maximise nutrient density while reducing the energy density of your food.   

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If you are looking to gain weight, add muscle or perform extended feats of endurance exercise on a regular basis, it may be beneficial to prioritise energy-dense foods.  However, if you are not an endurance athlete but trying to use your body fat for fuel (like most of us these days living in a sedentary environment full of hyperpalatable food), you may want to wind your dietary fat intake back and prioritise more satiating foods.

Micronutrients

Once you’ve determined your macros and get the hang of using fat as a lever to manage energy intake, the next step is to ensure you are getting your share of micronutrients.

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Unless you like eating a lot of organ meat, shellfish, or fresh raw meat, you will likely benefit from consuming some non-starchy veggies to get your essential vitamins and minerals.  

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Focusing purely on macros (e.g. Flexible Dieting, IIFYM, etc.) unfortunately fails to consider micronutrients.  Chronic energy restriction without attention to micronutrients can lead to chronic nutrient deficiencies,[25] a lack of energy, increased hunger,[26] rebound bingeing due to cravings and even death.[27]

As much as we tend to focus on macronutrients (i.e. fat, protein, carbohydrates, fibre, ketones), micronutrients are arguably more useful to assist us in our nutritional decision making.  Getting adequate minerals is especially important for:

  • avoiding the symptoms of the keto flu,[31]
  • reversing insulin resistance and minimising the amount of basal insulin circulating in your body,[32] [33] [34] and
  • maximising athletic performance.[35]
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What to track

“What gets measured gets managed”.[37]

But we can only manage a handful of things at a time.

“If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.”

Rather than trying to track everything all at once you need to identify a few things to track to ensure you are moving towards your goals.

In the context of losing fat and gaining muscle the best things to track appear to be:

  1. weight/body fat,
  2. macros/calories, and
  3. performance (e.g. weight on the bar).

Weight / body fat

Most people want to have more energy and look good naked.  While it’s much easier to track body weight, it’s ultimately about losing body fat and preserving muscle.

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There are a ton of different ways to measure body fat (e.g. DEXA, comparison photos (see below), bioimpedance scales, Skulpt, the Navy Method, etc.).  They are all inaccurate to some degree.

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While you can do your head in focusing on the fluctuations in your weight or body fat from day to day, you want to see your overall weight and body fat reducing toward your target levels.  

People who successfully lose weight and keep it off tend to proactively manage their food intake, measure their weight regularly and stay active![38] [39]  If you are not moving towards your goal something needs to change.  

If you are disciplined, it is possible to lose 1% of your mass per week, but 0.5% is more realistic.  If you are already lean, then it will be harder to lose fat without losing muscle.[41]

It’s not all about the weight on the scale – you can be losing fat and gaining muscle. The weight on the scale is probably the most reliable indicator that you’ve got your inputs right.  If you’re getting enough protein and working out, increased muscle mass should be looking after itself, and any loss should be mainly fat.[42]

Keep in mind that body weight is a lagging indicator that tells you whether you’re on the right track.  Tracking inputs (e.g. food intake and exercise) will be much more useful to make sure you’re moving in the right direction.

Macros / calories

Many people don’t enjoy tracking their food, so we’ve designed a range of food lists and meals that will help people using the Nutrient Optimiser improve from where they currently are.  It will be pretty hard to get/stay morbidly obese if you eat only nutrient dense high satiety foods and meals.   

However, if you want to look like a fitness model, or you are not getting your desired results ‘eating ad libitum’ you will likely need to track your food to overcome your inbuilt impulse to maintain a higher body weight.  Tracking your food in an app like Cronometer can be a useful educational experience, even only for a while to help you change your habits.

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Performance/weight on the bar

Being stronger will improve your metabolic health, insulin sensitivity and ability to burn fat more effectively.  Having more lean muscle mass will ensure you burn both glucose and fat more efficiently. Lean muscle mass is a key predictor of longevity.[43]

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The Ketogains boot camp uses a 5×5 strength progression.  The Stronglifts 5×5 or Starting Strength uses a similar progressive overload approach.  These programs involve compound lifts (squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, row etc.) and progressive overload meaning that you add weight to the bar each time and continue to get stronger.   By doing this, you train your body to produce energy more efficiently.

Other stuff to track  

There are other things that you might like to track, but they will be less useful than the things mentioned above.  

Most people have limited time and don’t want to live a completely quantified life.  Unless this is your only hobby or you are a professional athlete or fitness model, you may quickly hit ‘analysis paralysis’ and give up.

There is no guarantee that technology will help you reach your goals.  In fact, it seems that you are more likely to gain weight if you use wearables like a Fitbit because people have a tendency to congratulate themselves and eat back the calories the app has told them they burned.[45]   

So, don’t try to track too many things at once!   

Heart Rate Variability

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a measure of the variability between your heart beats.  If you are stressed and/or exhausted your heart will beat more rhythmically as well as more rapidly.   If you are relaxed and well rested your heart will beat more to stresses and quickly return to rest.

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Measuring your Heart Rate Variability (HRV) can tell you if you’re pushing too hard and need to rest and recover or you’re not pushing hard enough and should be working harder to maximise your progress.  Training hard when you are burning out can be counterproductive and lead to injury or under recovery. But it’s also important to train as much as you can reasonably sustain if you want to keep making progress.  

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HRV tells you whether your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system is balanced.

  • If you are “parasympathetic nervous system dominant” you might be overstressed from too much activity, not enough sleep, too much caffeine or work stress.
  • If you are “sympathetic nervous system dominant”, then it probably means your body wants to rest. You’ll probably do better if you listen to it and let it recover.
  • If your overall HRV is dropping, it means you are burning out and should consider slowing down.

It’s uncanny how many times I will see my HRV fall a few days before I get the flu, hit the wall or crash and start reaching for the comfort foods.   

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Blood sugar

Your blood sugar and glucose control is a powerful indicator of metabolic health.  But blood sugar readings can vary depending, not just due to the food you eat or your metabolic health, but also exercise and stress.

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If you have diabetes refining your food choices to normalise your blood sugars is important.  However, regular blood sugar tracking is likely a waste of time and money for most people who are following a Ketogains style approach (i.e. tracking their food to ensure they are moving towards an optimal weight, getting adequate protein and lifting regularly).

If your waking blood sugars are less than 100 mg/dL or 5.6 mmol/L then there’s probably not much use worrying about blood sugars if you are managing body fat and body weight.  

Blood ketones

Unless you require therapeutic ketosis to help manage epilepsy, cancer, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, measuring your blood ketones is a waste of time and money.   Lots of people get caught up chasing ‘optimal ketosis’ by eating more dietary fat and less protein. However, this is precisely the opposite of what you need to sustainably gain strength and lose body fat.

Blood ketones do increase when we don’t eat. But high ketone levels don’t mean you are burning your body fat.  It could just be the three Bulletproof coffees and exogenous ketones you just had to get that are driving your high ketone levels.

Some people, especially those who are physically fit and/or have been practising a low carb diet for a long time, seem to have lower blood ketone levels, even if they are eating a ‘ketogenic’ diet.  It’s hard to know whether this is due to the more efficient use of ketones or the fact they are burning more fat through non-ketogenic pathways.

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Someone who is not metabolically healthy can load up on exogenous ketones, butter and MCT oil and see a high blood ketone reading.  But this may just mean that they have eaten a lot of fat that they are not burning (because of their lack of activity and/or poor metabolic health) but rather backing up in their bloodstream.

A healthy metabolism seems to keep the total energy circulating in the bloodstream fairly low (i.e. from glucose, ketones or free fatty acids).  If you are metabolically healthy, you can easily access your fat stores, so you don’t need to build up high energy stores in the blood.[46]

The chart below shows more than 3000 data points of blood glucose and ketones together from a range of people following a low carb and ketogenic diet.  Having high blood ketones and high blood sugar at the same time is not a good sign! Healthy people tend to have lower blood sugar and moderate level ketones.

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If you focus on nutrient dense foods that maximise satiety and building strength your body will likely look after the rest.

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Ketogains’ co-founder Tyler Cartwright has lost nearly three hundred pounds without exceeding 0.4mmol/L blood ketones on his ketone metre (other than that time he ate nothing but lard for two weeks as an experiment and got to 0.5mmol/L).[47]

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Breath ketones

Whereas blood ketones (BHB) indicate that you have energy building up in your bloodstream, breath ketones (breath acetone) give you more of an indication of your metabolic health and whether you are burning fat.  But again, tracking breath ketones is not necessary if you are already focusing on a nutrient-dense diet without too much energy and plenty of activity.

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Waist

BMI is often used to assess whether or not someone is at a healthy weight.

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However, BMI is notoriously problematic for people with more muscle.

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Waist to height ratio is a much better predictor of the years of life that you will lose due to your poor health.[48]   So tracking your waist on a regular basis is a great idea to ensure you are moving towards optimal health.  

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Micronutrients and nutrient score

Focusing on the nutrient-dense whole foods above and the meals below will get you most of the way to optimal nutrition.  However, you can also track your macronutrients in Cronometer to help you identify the nutrients you are not getting from your diet.

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But once you’ve tracked your food in Cronometer, you are left wondering what foods and meals you should eat.   

Nutrient Optimiser Score

The Nutrient Optimiser Score is a measure of the micronutrient quality of your diet.  If you were able to get three times the recommended daily intake of all the essential micronutrients, you would get a perfect score of 100%.To demonstrate what this looks like in practice, Ted Naiman’s diet got a very respectable nutrient score of 70%.

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Luis’ got 72%.

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Nutrition nerd Alex Leaf scored an impressive 74%.

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Mike Berta also scored 74%.

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Brianna Theroux’s scored a very healthy 79%.

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And Dr Rhonda Patrick scored  82%.

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But the coolest competition is against yourself.  Andy Mant managed to seriously up his nutritional game…

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… by eating a LOT of nutrient-dense seafood…

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… in preparation for his Paris wedding.

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By following the recommendations of the Nutrient Optimiser analysis, Robin was able to improve her nutrient score to 32% (junk food diet) to 68% over a number of iterations (see report 1, report 2 and report 3).  In the process, she was able to significantly improve her blood glucose levels, dropping her HBA1c from 10.6% to 6.4%.  Robin was also able to progress from taking hundreds of units of insulin per day to only needing occasional correcting doses to fine tune her blood sugars.  She also managed to lose 2.6lbs per week!

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And after a couple of rounds of following the Nutrient Optimiser recommendations and a couple of Ketogains boot camps, Matt Standridge (aka The Ketodontist) has stepped up from a nutrient score of 48% to 73%.  He says he is feeling great and continues to gain muscle and lose fat.

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Check out the current Nutrient Optimiser Leaderboard here.

The Nutrient Optimiser

While there are common themes, each person’s micronutrient fingerprint is unique and therefore the optimal foods and meals that will balance your micronutrient profile are unique to you.  The Nutrient Optimiser is the only tool that will tell you what foods are ideal to balance your diet while also aligning with your goals.

The Nutrient Optimiser is a platform that will help you optimise your nutrition from the micronutrients based on your food log in Cronometer.  If you don’t want to track your food, the system will tell you what meals and foods will align with your goals.  But if you want to step up your game and provide other data, we can work with that to further refine your nutritional prescription to fill in your micronutrient gaps.  The system will also adapt with you to improve your nutrition, ideally from diabetic to weight loss to achieve your performance goals. It might just be your secret weapon to help you blitz #transformationtuesday.

Further reading

references

[1] https://ketogains.com/2017/06/energy-balance-macros-nutrient-density/

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5304a3.htm

[3] http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(17)32252-3/abstract

[4] http://www.artandscienceoflowcarb.com/the-art-and-science-of-low-carbohydrate-performance/

[5] https://www.amazon.com/Art-Science-Low-Carbohydrate-Performance/dp/0983490716

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GkQYZ6FbsmI

[7] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2017/10/15/high-protein-vs-low-protein/

[8] https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0201-z

[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9841962

[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29182451/

[11] https://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.dropbox.com%2Fs%2F1if7n957u66htiy%2F10.1123%2540ijsnem.2017-0273.pdf%3Fdl%3D0&h=ATNppfskJJ6fMuIVoJrC0rX_8H9KCT2SeryF0MeRrAnJz6X9p_3FPhPYUK3RGSOE-kDTeOLxKdw26vel3zBWDbOlaCQzxkxpDU8CjFs9Moo51fC9NByHYvs83uU7PvjFolOxvqx3Pw

[12] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2017/06/03/why-do-my-blood-sugars-rise-after-a-high-protein-meal/

[13] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2017/10/30/nutrition-how-to-get-the-minimum-effective-dose/

[14] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15836464

[15] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24588967

[16] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2017/10/30/nutrition-how-to-get-the-minimum-effective-dose/

[17] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2017/10/30/nutrition-how-to-get-the-minimum-effective-dose/

[18] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2017/10/30/nutrition-how-to-get-the-minimum-effective-dose/

[19] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-diabetes/cost-of-diabetes-epidemic-reaches-850-billion-a-year-idUSKBN1DD2SW

[20] http://www.diabetesincontrol.com/the-true-cost-of-diabetes-and-preventing-it/

[21] http://www.diabetes.co.uk/cost-of-diabetes.html

[22] https://optimisingnutrition.com/tag/insulin-load/

[23] https://www.dietdoctor.com/low-carb/20-50-how-much

[24] https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/fats-total-fat-fatty-acids

[25] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17593855

[26] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2988700/

[27] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2017/06/17/psmf/

[28] https://metabolicnutrition.com/branched-chain-amino-acids-bcaas-benefits-for-muscle-growth/

[29] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170927093254.htm

[30] http://suppversity.blogspot.com.au/2013/09/the-satiating-secret-of-arginine-lysine.html

[31] https://ketogains.com/2017/06/keto-flu-electrolyte-imbalances/

[32] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/21036373/

[33] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC301822/

[34] https://diabetesmealplans.com/6285/magnesium-and-diabetes-type-2/

[35] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22150427

[36] https://ketogains.com/2016/08/ketogains-seven-must-supplements/

[37] https://athinkingperson.com/2012/12/02/who-said-what-gets-measured-gets-managed/

[38] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24355667

[39] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Weight_Control_Registry

[40] http://www.nourishbalancethrive.com/podcasts/nourish-balance-thrive/keto-masterclass-robb-wolf/

[41] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15615615

[42] https://www.bodyrecomposition.com/muscle-gain/calorie-partitioning-part-1.html/

[43] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2016/03/21/wanna-live-forever/

[44] https://startingstrength.com/articles/clarification_rippetoe.pdf

[45] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2553448

[46] https://optimisingnutrition.com/2015/07/20/the-glucose-ketone-relationship/

[47] https://www.google.com.au/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjpo5y5qu_XAhWHFpQKHV8VAXgQFggvMAE&url=http%3A%2F%2Fketogeek.libsyn.com%2F14-tyler-cartright&usg=AOvVaw04xLzYxE3tS8oa8LWvLkZk

[48] http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0103483

The exact popular food lists that empowered thousands of Nutrient Optimisers to gain control over their health without relying on fad diets.  

 

Nutrition Approach most popular food lists
maximum nutrient density Get it now for free
weight loss (satiety & nutrient density) Get it now for free
blood sugar & fat loss Get it now for free
blood sugar & diabetes Get it now for free
nutrient-dense maintenance Get it now for free
maximum satiety Get it now for free
ketogenic Get it now for free
athlete & bulking Get it now for free
nutrient-dense carnivore Get it now for free
nutrient-dense plant-based Get it now for free
carnivore (maintenance) Get it now for free
plant based (maintenance) coming...
Nutrient-dense autoimmune coming...
Autoimmune (maintenance) coming...
  • Wim says:

    Thanks for this great article Marty!

  • abboudi says:

    Awesome as usual Marty 🙂

  • Guys, you have to stop this ketogenics diet as a student of nutrtion. Yes, you will burn fat but you will also burn muscle, also, why putting your body to stress? None of the professionals recommend this diet,

    1) Portein requierements go from 1.2 to 2 g/kg, higher levels could lead to renal insufficiency in long term. You don’t want a transplant.

    2) Peripherical organs have a limit of ketogenics bodies,wich leads to cetonuria, wich drags water, minerals (this could lead you to death in extreme cases)

    3) Ketoacidosis could lead you to death if you are diabetic.

    3) Heart problems in the long term.

    Go for 55/15/30 and eat as clean as posible, you don’t need to put your body to stress. Just limit sugar, saturated fats, trans, coleterol, and use compelx carbs with low GI.

    • CJ Wild says:

      I too studied Nutrition and in the past I would have agreed, but sadly what is being taught is not correct and you are being misinformed. All four of your points are based on old science and theories that have been disproved through current studies.

  • Daz Toepfer says:

    What an outstanding article, thanks Marty. Love your clarity & logic lines (again). It so helps me make more sense of my study of this stuff.

    But can’t help feeling that nutrition student’s comment above is soooo out of whack with reality its a great example of his being a victim of the crappy “science” dogma school of nutrition…!! His remarks are so loaded with overt falsifications and/or bad info.

  • Leeny Hoffmann says:

    This is one of the best, most comprehensive articles I’ve come across. You touched on everything so elegantly! Thanks for putting it all together so succinctly. I love your site and all the practical info you offer. Thanks for distilling it so well.

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