Keto, Carb Tolerance And Net Carbs
At this point, you’ve probably tussled with the keto diet or flirted with the idea of lowering your carbohydrate intake to improve some facet of your well-being or physique. There are a few things you need to understand about how your body reacts and uses carbohydrates so that you can build a healthy metabolism while maintaining your physical and mental performance.
Let’s start here: CARBS ARE NOT YOUR ENEMY.
Having a damaged metabolic system that can’t handle carbohydrate intake is what is primarily causing any issues you may be having with weight, energy or focus. You may have different reasons for wanting to go Keto or LCHF (low carb high fat), but at the end of the day, your primary objective should be to build metabolic flexibility. Metabolic flexibility is when your body can smoothly shift from primarily burning carbohydrates to primarily burning fats based on your energy expenditure. The goal is to be able to perform higher intensity activities using fat, so that you can burn more fat throughout the day and keep some stored carbohydrates in the tank for when you really need it.
Here are a few basics:
- Net carbs are carbs -fiber - sugar alcohols
- Ketosis is highly individualized, but on average 20-50 net carbs should do the trick
- Your body can store about 400-500g of glycogen (carbohydrates) at any one time, you don’t have to be completely empty to create ketones (the unofficial fourth macronutrient produced by the body when you follow carbohydrate depleting diet)
- Carb tolerance is highly individualized, but as a rule of thumb, athletes should eat more carbs than sedentary individuals
Carbohydrates are one of the three main macronutrients that our bodies need -- some would argue that the fourth unsung macro hero are ketones. When considering carbohydrate intake and their effect on your metabolic system, you want to look at how those carbohydrates are affecting your insulin levels. We could write a completely separate article about the effects of chronically elevated insulin levels, but I’ll spare you the details and give you the 30k foot view. Insulin itself is not bad. However, when your body releases insulin and your cells don’t react by absorbing glucose (carbohydrates) from your bloodstream, you’ve got something called insulin resistance -- that is bad.
So how are insulin resistance and net carbohydrates linked? The blanket statement, “Carbohydrates cause insulin to be released” is somewhat unfair to fiber and sugar alcohols. Neither fiber nor sugar alcohols cause insulin to be released, as both are indigestible by the human body. So if you consider the calculation of net carbohydrates to mean carbohydrates that will cause an insulinogenic response, then you’re on the right path.
Net Carbs = Carbohydrates - Fiber - Sugar Alcohol
Net Carbs and Ketosis
Maybe keto is right for you, maybe it isn’t -- you’ll have to take a look at your current metabolic state, your daily activity levels and then run some controlled experiments. If I could instill one dogmatic phrase into every person’s head who wants to be healthier, it would be: “The pursuit of health does not end with a destination, the beauty is in the process of self experimentation and learning”. Loosely translated to: what works today, might not work tomorrow. Dietary styles, keto included, are often representative of a “season” for most people. Keto might work for a few weeks, months or beyond, but what you walk away with a deep understanding of what it feels like to pull a dietary or lifestyle lever and feel a change in your well-being. Further diving into the ketosis spectrum will show you that being in a ketogenic state is not an on or off switch; you aren’t 100% in or out of keto because you ate a carb.
So my base recommendations for NET carbohydrate intake is 10% of your daily dietary intake if you are macro counting, and if not, just shoot for somewhere between 20-50g of net carbs. I am going to show you what a ketogenic day might look like below; you might be surprised that I don’t shower myself in butter and bacon (there is nothing wrong with bacon and butter in moderation, I just don’t love a ketogenic diet solely composed of dairy and meat).
Breakfast: Caveman Nitro w/ Emulsified MCT Oil + Avocado Wrapped Wild Caught Lox (Net Carbs: 1g)
Lunch: Flank Steak Arugula Salad w/ Lemon Vinaigrette, Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Hemp Seeds and Walnuts (Net Carbs: 15g)
Dinner: Red Curry Chicken w/ Cauli + Broccoli Rice, Kimchi and Hard Boiled Eggs (Net Carbs: 21g)
Total Daily Macros: Carbs 62g (Sugar 15g, Fiber 25g), Fats 171g, Protein 147g
Actionable Strategies to Reduce The Impact Of Carbohydrates
- You can create insoluble fiber in carb rich dishes by heating and then cooling it overnight (up to a 25% reduction in net carbs)
- Eat your carbs when you are most insulin sensitive: post workout!
- Leverage the carbs you do eat to help you get a better night sleep -- carbs eaten before bed help with the release of tryptophan and serotonin.
Caveman Vanilla Latte with MCT already has the carb calculation!