Carbohydrates are the macronutrient to watch out for in keto, no question about it. But what if I tell you that protein is just as important to healthy ketosis? Here's why you should reach your protein goal and whether it's possible to eat too much protein.
Keto means low carb / high fat, but what about protein? Are we throwing too much protein out of ketosis? Proteins are actually arguably the most controversial nutrient in the ketogenic diet, and even today I still hear that one shouldn't eat too much protein on keto, rather a little less than more.
Some time ago I was also of the opinion that too much protein can damage ketosis, well, no wonder, that's how it was taught. There are now enough scientific studies that prove that even very high amounts do not affect ketosis in any way, on the contrary, proteins are even important for you, your body, and ketosis.
Proteins - the building block of life
Not so long ago it was a widespread myth that your body converts excess proteins into glucose, which in turn affects your ketosis. Gluconeogenesis does exist, it is even vital and a factor in why keto works so well in the first place, but does gluconeogenesis pose a threat to the state of ketosis? But more on that later.
Especially with keto, you should make sure to consume enough protein, not less than the minimum. Protein is an essential nutrient and the building block of life. In every form of diet, sufficient protein should be consumed so that your body functions optimally.
Proteins are important for:
- Building and maintaining muscle mass
- Increased fat burning
- Healthy brain function
- Muscle, bone, and skin health
- Regeneration after exercise
The fear of gluconeogenesis
To begin with, what is this gluconeogenesis anyway? This is a metabolic pathway that allows the liver and kidneys to make glucose from non-carbohydrates. Normally, glucose is made from carbohydrates, but if you don't have any, your body can also make glucose from protein compounds. If you want to learn more specifically about gluconeogenesis, you can find the entry on Wikipedia here.
A common misconception is that many people on a ketogenic diet think that excessive protein consumption could kick them out of ketosis due to gluconeogenesis. You eat too much protein, glucose is made from it and the fear arises that this could negatively affect ketosis. But don't worry, it doesn't harm ketosis in any way.
Yes, it's true, gluconeogenesis does exist and it makes glucose from proteins, but that's by design and even an important part of ketosis. But the body only produces as much glucose as it needs and nothing more. No matter how much protein you consume, the body really only produces as much as is needed. So it makes no difference whether you reach the protein goal on point, eat 100g more or even 200g more than necessary, the amount of glucose your body gets from it is the same: As much as it needs.
Gluconeogenesis is a stable process that does not function like normal metabolism, the production of glucose by gluconeogenesis does not increase with the increase in the amount of protein.
There is no reason to restrict the intake of proteins because neither protein nor gluconeogenesis has a negative effect on ketosis, on the contrary, both components are crucial for ketosis to work so well at all.
Gluconeogenesis - An important part of ketosis
What many do not know and what was not widespread until not too long ago is that gluconeogenesis supports ketosis and ultimately makes it possible in the first place. This process has three important roles in the ketogenic diet :
It prevents hypoglycaemia
Gluconeogenesis keeps blood sugar in a healthy range and ensures that the blood sugar level does not drop into a dangerous range, thus preventing hypoglycaemia.
Supplier of cells that cannot use ketones
A few cells in the human body, such as red blood cells or parts of the brain, can only survive on glucose. While ketones can provide most of the energy, some glucose is needed to stay healthy. Gluconeogenesis provides exactly this amount.
So that your muscles can regenerate after training and are supplied with sufficient glycogen, your body gets the required amount from proteins.
If your body were not to produce glucose using gluconeogenesis, your body would not be able to achieve ketosis at all, because some cells would die and your blood sugar level would soon drop to dangerous levels.
Gluconeogenesis is therefore an important process for survival and is what makes ketosis possible in the first place - the intake of excessive protein does not increase the amount of glucose produced.
Too little protein means problems
If you limit your protein intake too much while in ketosis, this can lead to some side effects. A lack of amino acids can weaken your immune system and increase the risk of various diseases, such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, or cystic fibrosis.
In addition, a lack of protein worsens the performance of the body and the brain. Without enough protein, muscle mass cannot be maintained, and muscles cannot be built up anyway. The same applies to the performance of your brain, it needs amino acids to function optimally.
Fat and Protein - the mega-satiety combo
If your goal is weight loss, then you should pack a good portion of protein on your plate in addition to enough fat. Proteins are not only very nutritious, but they also keep you full for a long time, they even fill you up longer than fat. So if you combine both, you will end up consuming fewer calories because there will be no cravings and you will stay full for a long time.
If you've been in ketosis for a long time, you should even reduce your intake of fat and consume more protein. So your body has the opportunity to fall back on the body's own fat reserves and does not first use up the energy that it receives from the outside.
How Much Protein Do You Need for Keto?
The best thing to do is to go straight to our keto calculator to calculate the minimum amount of protein you should consume in order to avoid muscle breakdown, support muscle building and provide your body with important nutrients.
Your body can only function properly and you can get the most out of ketosis if you have enough protein. The result of the keto calculator represents the minimum of proteins and should definitely be achieved, preferably more than stated.
The typical macronutrient distribution in keto consists of 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbohydrates. Please always make sure that you reach your protein goal, this is even more important than fat, as your body carries its own fat reserves with it, which it can use for energy production.
As an example:
A 35-year-old man, 180 cm tall and 80 kg heavy should consume at least 90 g of protein daily during light activity in order to ensure muscle maintenance in a calorie deficit (when losing weight) and to supply his body with sufficient nutrients.
The Best sources of Protein in Keto
Of course, as with all food and nutrient sources, the same applies here to the highest quality products that you can afford financially and that are available to you. I don't want to ask anyone to only buy grass-fed beef from organic farmers. Not everyone can afford this and not everyone has these providers in their area, but everyone should be allowed to live ketogenic. So try as best you can to pay attention to quality.
If you should not be able to reach your protein goal, then I have nothing against a high-quality protein powder. Obviously, it is better to get the nutrients from good foods, but if that is not possible, a protein powder is a good solution. But here, too, please ensure a high-quality product and, above all, a minimal amount of carbohydrates.
So if you're planning your meals or want to know which foods are the best sources of protein for keto, here's a little list for you:
- Pork meat
- Fish and shellfish
- Lamb and goat meat
- Butter, cream, and cheese
- Nuts and seeds
- Vegan protein powder
So there is no reason to eat less protein. You don't get out of ketosis by gluconeogenesis, that's a rumor and it's just not true.
So having enough protein is not only harmless, it is damn important!