If you’re a man looking to maintain a trim frame and find extra energy, you should give the keto diet a try.
When eating the keto way, you limit your carbohydrates while upping your levels of protein and fat. Many men say they shed body fat while on keto; they also report fewer food cravings.
“Going low-carb works for a lot of men,” says Charles Michael Yamut, RN, who blogs at Ketogenic Buddies. “The human brain and body can operate even with little to no carbohydrates. As a matter of fact, they can thrive and perform better.”
Men and the Keto Diet
Why is the keto diet a good idea for men in particular?
For one thing, early research indicates that keto eating may be especially helpful in supporting male weight management.†
Researchers at the University of Iowa fed groups of mice either a keto diet or a standard one; male mice getting the keto chow experienced significant fat loss. And in an Italian study, men with obesity and low testosterone levels also lost weight while eating keto, in addition to seeing their testosterone levels rise. (This research followed a study of long-term data which found that people who ate low-carb diets saw greater weight loss than those who ate low-calorie ones.)†
Weight control isn’t the only potential benefit of the keto diet, however. Lean muscle mass support may be another. In one study, 12 men who adopted a low-carb diet saw their lean mass increase after six weeks.†
What’s more, after adopting a ketogenic eating style, “my energy levels and focus greatly improved, and I no longer felt the urge to take a nap after lunch,” says Darren Kirby, a British Ironman competitor who blogs at Fitter Healthier Dad.
How Keto Works
What is it about keto that supports fat loss?
“When your body doesn’t receive carbohydrates,your liver will start to convert fat into chemicals called ketones,” Kirby explains; the ketones then fuel your mitochondria, the energy-burning structures within your cells. “Your body becomes incredibly efficient at burning fat for energy.”
This fat-burning state is called ketosis. Here’s a breakdown of how much you should be eating of each major nutrient to achieve ketosis.
Most keto diets take carb levels down to about 5% of your daily calories, or between 20 and 40 grams a day.
“Any carbs you eat should come from high-fiber, low-sugar, and water-rich fruits and vegetables because they are low in carbs and will help naturally boost hydration,” says Kirby. Examples include asparagus, avocados, bell peppers, blackberries, leafy greens and tomatoes.
At least 30% of your daily calorie intake should come from protein, or between 0.8 and 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
“You should be careful to not eat less protein than recommended, because your body will turn to muscle tissue as fuel,” cautions Kirby, who suggests “high-fat protein sources” such as beef, natural cheese, dark-meat chicken, whole eggs, lamb, nuts, pork and seafood, especially fatty fish like salmon and sardines. “If possible, go for pasture-raised, grass-fed, organic meat,” he adds.
This is the king of the keto diet: About 70% to 80% of your daily calories should come from fat.
“Since you’re consuming a lot of calories from fat, it’s important to focus on fueling with options that are high-quality and unprocessed,” says Kirby. In addition to the protein sources noted above, keto-friendly fats include avocado and olive oils as well as flaxseeds, natural butter and full-fat yogurt.
Keto Tailored to a Man’s Body
“I’m not going to mince words: Get strict,” says Sisson, “Most of the men I encounter who are having problems with keto do better the stricter they are.”
Sisson says that, compared to women, “men can tolerate great variations in environmental intensity. Take advantage of that.”
What does that mean in practice?
“Try a two-day fast,” Sisson suggests, or eating two pounds of meat at a time followed by a day of no meat at all. “Try lots of seemingly extreme experiments to see what works. It may be that you thrive doing the occasional intense bout of keto bravado.” (Check with your practitioner first, though, particularly if you have a pre-existing condition.)
Adopting a keto diet doesn’t give you an excuse to stop exercising...especially when it comes to hitting the weights (including bodyweight work).
“I see far too many men on keto diets who carry around the skinny fat look, and it’s usually because they aren’t lifting anything heavy,” says Sisson. “Yeah, you’ve got some nice-looking mitochondria. But are you using them? Are you taking advantage of that lost dead weight to do some extra pull-ups?”
Men often adopt a suck-it-up-and-keep-going approach to life. There are times that may be useful, but it isn’t a good way to deal with the kinds of low-level stress many people experience on a chronic basis.
As Sisson puts it, “Keto does not make you impervious to stress. Being a man does not make you impervious to stress.”
Not into yoga or meditation? Fine; intense workouts can help, including team sports that keep you on the move, such as soccer or rugby.
Want another reason to control stress? Stressful situations tend to produce spikes in cortisol, a hormone that evidence suggests may work against testosterone.†
Speaking of testosterone: Keeping track of your levels is a good idea.
Keto supports reductions in body fat, and “researchers have known for decades that carrying extra body fat depresses testosterone levels,” notes Sisson. “If keto is helping you lose body fat, it’s probably improving your T levels.” (Testosterone also tends to decline with age.)†
What’s more, potential deficiencies in micronutrients—such as magnesium, vitamin D and zinc—can also play havoc with testosterone levels. Testosterone can be tested in several different ways; discuss options with your practitioner.
Doing Keto the Right Way
You can feel uncomfortable at the beginning of a keto diet, a phenomenon known as “keto flu,” as your body switches away from glucose as its main fuel source and towards ketones.
“You may feel more tired and weaker than you usually do.” notes Kirby. “This is normal as your body adjusts to the lack of carbohydrates. He adds that you may also feel thirstier than usual.
The best way to deal with these symptoms is to make sure you stay hydrated and to replenish your electrolytes with salt. Also, cut yourself some slack; build a little more downtime into your schedule so your body has a chance to adapt.
The good news? “These symptoms should fade away with time,” says Kirby.
†The information provided is not an endorsement of any product, and is intended for educational purposes only. NaturesPlus does not provide medical advice and does not offer diagnosis of any conditions. Current research on this topic is not conclusive and further research may be needed in order to prove the benefits described.
The conditions and symptoms described may be indicative of serious health problems, and therefore should be brought to the attention of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.