Fat burning

The idea of ketotic diets has been mentioned in my social circles for some time. I didn’t pay much attention, figuring it was just one of those fad diets people get into. Indeed, it seemed like it was just a revival of the Atkins diet and since the focus was on weight loss I wasn’t really interested. I already knew how to feed my body in a way that nurtured it and kept it at a healthy weight. Besides, the ketosis I was familiar with was the ketosis that occurs during starvation and that didn’t sound like a fun diet.

Last spring, my interest in athletic training and the research on the Access® Bar, an exercise bar formulated to switch off adenosine so that the body can easily burn fat reserves, got me interested in how fat burning works. access-barDr. Larry Wang, the researcher that formulated the Access Bar, found that humans, unlike animals that hibernate, will die of hypothermia long before they have exhausted their body’s fat reserves. This was amazing to me, because I thought the whole idea of fat was to have extra fuel available when we need it. What I learned was that the body hoarded fat like gold and that even in the face of death would not simply release it. If it doesn’t allow you to burn fat in the face of death from hypothermia, do you think it will allow you to burn fat when you go to the gym?

Thinking to help people living in the extreme cold of Canada, Dr Wang, a professor at the University of Alberta, was interested in unlocking fat burning. In order to figure out how to do this, he subjected lightly clad students to below freezing weather for three hours with and without his formulation. His research demonstrated that the formulation (now called the Access Bar) could indeed unlock fat burning in the students and allow them to maintain body temperature longer than when they did not use the bar. You can read a summary of his research.

Eventually, Tammy van Wisse, a performance swimmer, learned about the bar. She writes about swimming the English Channel with her brother and how he almost died of hypothermia. The next year they completed the swim using the Access Bar without any issues. Not only did they both stay warm, but she lost 22 pounds during the 8 hours and 23 minutes it took her to cross the channel This surprising amount of weight loss, was much more than the year before, suggesting a better ability to mobilize fat.

Still, ketogenesis didn’t really catch my attention until my partner decided to go on a ketotic diet. People report more energy, less food cravings, and easy weight loss on a diet that induces nutritional ketosis. I was interested in more energy and was looking for a metabolic plan that might help me reduce my overall food consumption. I was also curious about how my body would respond to nutritional ketosis. When my partner started his diet, I joined him.

Since we went from our regular diet one day to ketogenic diet the next, there was no time for elaborate preparation.  My partner had done a strict Atkins protocol years before, so he knew what his plan was.  I did a quick search of the internet to see what I needed to do.

The basic gist of the diet was low carbohydrate, moderate protein and high fat.  How low is low carb?  Well, 20 grams a day is certain to induce ketosis.  However, it seems that anything under 50 grams might also work, depending on the person. I used the Keto-Calculator to figure out what my targets were.

My beginning parameters were 28% fat, moderate activity, 132 pounds.  I opted for 1724 calories per day, since I had slowly gained five pounds over the past 9 months and restricting a few hundred calories would slowly shed that.  The calculator required that I set targets for carbs and proteins.  I wasn’t sure what to use so I first considered 30 and 50 grams carbs.  Here they are at high protein (95 grams per day):

30 gram  (7%, 120 kcal)    or   50 gram  (12%, 200 kcal)
95 gram (22%, 380 kcal) for both
136 gram (71%, 1224 kcal)    or 108 gram (66%, 1144 kcal)

And then 40 grams carbohydrates at what I usually average in protein:

Carbs       40  grams (9%, 160 kcal)
Protein    80 grams  (19%, 320 kcal)
Fat          138 grams (72%, 1244 kcal)

And finally, 40 grams carbohydrates at what the program considered my minimum protein:

Carbs       40  grams (9%, 160 kcal)
Protein    58 grams  (13%, 232 kcal)
Fat          148 grams (78%, 1332 kcal)

In summary my ranges were:

8-12% carbohydrates*
15-25% protein
63-78% fat

I was familiar with my daily macro-molecule breakdown from years of tracking my nutrition. My averages were:

47% carbohydrates  (240g total, 23 gram fiber, 910 kcal)
15% protein (74 grams, 292 kcal)
37% fat (82 grams, 724 kcal)

I thought my diet worked well for my body.  Since it was based on free selection of food over a long period of time, I was impressed by how constant my day-to-day selection of food was.  I certainly was entrained to these proportions of macromolecules.  Was this optimal health, or simply a habit?  I thought I had the “right” way of eating for me, but wondered what else was possible.

I embarked on the ketogenic diet.  I did not like it, nor did I like how I felt.  I stuck with it only because I was curious.  I thought it would be enjoyable to indulge in extra fat, but I got no pleasure from it.  I missed eating lots of fruit and my beloved tortilla chips.   Here are my averages for the end of the first week:  137 grams fat, 32 grams net carbohydrates, 100 grams protein.

I had initially committed to a week trial and on the 9th day I ended the ketogenic diet by slowing adding more carbohydrates.  However, I kept wondering if I had even reached ketogenesis.  I also noticed that my protein, which I had not been watching closely, had crept up 20-30 grams over target.  Excess protein is converted to sugar in the body and I wondered if that blocked me from becoming ketogenic.

The question about if I had given the diet a fair trial loomed large.  What if I never even entered ketosis?  How hard can it be to become ketotic?  I felt certain I had, but I needed proof.

I ordered a meter to test blood ketones from Amazon and continued to munch out on carbohydrates while it was shipped.  So for four days I averaged 94g net carbs and then the meter arrived.  to be continued…


* Carbohydrates are “net carbs”.  This means total grams carbohydrates minus the fiber.

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