What are ketones and what is ketosis?
Your body usually uses glucose for energy, alongside varying amounts of fat. We get glucose from carbohydrates, or carbs for short. When you eat carbs, they are digested and broken down into glucose and then either used for instant energy or stored. Some carbs are converted into glycogen, which is just glucose bound to water. Your body stores glycogen in your liver and your muscles. Any leftover glucose is converted to and stored as fat. That’s something most people want to avoid!
On the ketogenic diet, you limit your carb intake to 20-50 grams per day and eat more fat and protein. With very little carbohydrates available, your body starts using your glycogen stores. Glycogen is a large, bulky molecule, and your supplies are limited. Once the glycogen is used up, your body will start using more fat for energy. Ketones then take the place of glucose.
Once this process is in full swing, you are said to be in ketosis. It can take several days to two weeks to reach. Why so long? It depends!
What factors delay achieving ketosis?
The main drawback of the ketogenic diet is that it takes time to initially enter ketosis. Several factors affect how long it takes to reach ketosis, some of which you can control. Those factors include:
Activity levels – when available, your body likes to use glycogen for energy during exercise and physical activity. The more active you are, the faster your glycogen stores will run down. The more sedentary you are, the longer your glycogen stores will last, and that will delay ketosis.
Carb consumption before starting keto – the more carbs you eat, the more glycogen you’ll have in your muscles and liver. If you eat cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, pasta for dinner, and snack on candy and soda, everything you eat and drink will contribute to your glycogen stores.
In contrast, if you eat fewer carbs, even if you aren’t on keto, your glycogen stores will probably be smaller. With this in mind, avoid too many carbs before starting keto as that will only delay achieving ketosis.
How to achieve ketosis faster, and why faster is good?
The time between cutting your carb intake to 20-50 grams per day and entering ketosis is called keto transition or keto induction. Depending on the factors outlined above, this phase of your keto diet can last a few days to a few weeks.
As your glycogen levels fall, you'll start to run out of usable fuel. However, your body won't yet have started producing lots of ketones. This leaves you in no man's land – with not enough glycogen and too few ketones. During this period, you may experience something called the keto flu, which is a sort-of carb withdrawal.
Keto flu is neither contagious nor medically serious, but it’s not especially enjoyable either. Keto flu will last for as long as it takes to enter ketosis. Because of this, keto dieters want to get into ketosis as fast as possible.
Some of these symptoms are directly attributable to low glycogen and low ketone levels, while others are caused by electrolyte imbalances and dehydration. The good news is that there are several things you can do to speed up your descent into ketosis and reduce the duration and severity of the keto flu.
These methods and strategies are:
- Watch your carb intake – if you are eating too many carbs, you will replenish your glycogen stores faster than you deplete them. Avoid this problem by following a strict low-carb diet. Use a food tracking app to make sure you are consuming 20-50 grams or less of carbs per day.
Eat more fat – keto is known as the low-carb diet and rightly so; only about 5-10% of your calorie intake should come from carbs. However, as well as being low in carbs, keto is a high-fat diet. 60-75% of your daily calorie intake should come from fat.
Don’t try to do a low-fat keto diet – it won’t work. You’ll get into ketosis faster if you eat an abundance of fats. Good fat choices on keto include:
- Coconut oil
- Meat and seafood
- Olive oil and olives
- Sit less and move more – modern life can be very sedentary. In fact, unless you have a manual job, an active hobby, or work out regularly, it’s easy to go for days hardly moving a muscle. The less physical activity you do, the longer your glycogen levels will last, and the longer you’ll be stuck in keto transition.
- Walking instead of driving
- Cycling for pleasure or transport
- Playing sports or games with your kids
- Household chores
- Taking the stairs instead of the elevator
Anything that gets you up and moving is good and the more physical activity you can accumulate throughout the day, the sooner you’ll achieve ketosis.
- Try fasting – eating fewer meals will deplete your glycogen levels sooner. The easiest way to use fasting is to skip breakfast and make lunch your first meal of the day. This produces a fasting period of about 16-20 hours. Super-charge this method by replacing your breakfast with a brisk 30-minute walk to further deplete glycogen.
- Consume MCT oil – medium-chain triglyceride oil, or MCTs for short, are special fats that are very useful to keto dieters. MCTs are made from coconut oil or palm oil, but MCT oil derived from coconuts is considered to be the best, both in terms of quality and for the environment.
MCTs are digested quickly and transported directly to your liver where they are turned into ketones. Your body can then use the ketones for energy in place of carbs. Because MCT oil can cause stomach upsets, start off with just half a tablespoon per day and increase gradually after that.
How do you know you’re in ketosis?
A lot of keto dieters can feel when they are in ketosis. Keto flu symptoms like headaches and cravings vanish, and they notice that they start to feel good – really good! Physical and mental performance improve, hunger vanishes, sleep improves, and weight loss is both steady and predictable.
However, you don’t need to rely on how you feel to determine if you are in ketosis. Ketone blood monitors are the most accurate way to measure your ketones. Unlike breathalyzers, they detect BHB. And unlike ketone urine strips they are accurate enough to tell if you're in ketosis. Ketone blood monitors are considered the gold standard of ketone measurement and provide real-time results with medical-level accuracy. Get yours today!