If I get paid for every “What is Ketosis? How do I know if I’m in ketosis? How long does it take to get into Ketosis?” questions I get, I would probably be rich by now. It is normal to get these questions from people who are just starting their weight loss and fitness journey by changing their diet to Ketogenic, Low Carb and even Atkins. Because most of these people aim to be in the state of Ketosis.
What is Ketosis?
Ketosis is a metabolic state where the body uses fat rather than glucose (sugar) to provide energy. It is a natural nutritional process in which the liver produces ketones throughout the whole body. When the body is short of blood sugar supply, the liver is forced to produce ketones from your body fat and dietary fat.
How does the body produce energy?
Before I talk about the body using fat as a source of energy, I want to talk about how the body produces energy first. This way, it will be easier for us to understand why a Keto or Low Carb Diet is great for achieving optimal health and weight loss.
In order for the body to sustain life, it needs energy. The body has three sources of energy (or calories), also known as the macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fat which we can all get from our diet. To produce the energy for immediate use or for storage, it will breakdown the macronutrients. This is called the metabolic state.
The body goes through two different metabolic states. First is the Absorptive state and second is the Post-absorptive state.
During the absorptive state, also called as the fed state, anabolism exceeds catabolism. That means the body will digest the food we eat, and absorb the nutrients and store energy for later use. This is the state in which growth or weight gain happens. If you eat excessive calories, the energy from those calories will be stored and that’s when you gain weight.
Post- absorptive state or fasting state, happens after the food has been digested, absorbed and stored. This usually happens 4-5 hours after the fed state. During this state, the body relies on the stored energy.
Now that you know the different metabolic states of the body, let us look at the order in which your body burns your energy sources or the food you eat.
The body burns the food we eat in this consecutive order: alcohol, carbohydrates, protein, fats. I’m mentioning alcohol because it contains calories and need to be burned. But it doesn’t contain any nutrient so it’s not needed by the body. So, if you don’t want to consume excessive calories, and hinder fat burning, don’t drink alcohol.
The next source of energy is Carbohydrates. It is a compound of different sugars namely:
- Monosaccharides: glucose and fructose
- Disaccharides: sucrose and lactose
- Polysaccharaides: cellulose, glycogen, and starch
The body will always go to the easiest source it can breakdown and store. It takes a little to no effort for the body to digest and process carbohydrates. When carbohydrates enters the body, it is digested in to different types of sugar, including glucose and converted in to glycogen (energy). Then it goes in to the small intestine and then to the circulatory system which will then be used as energy. If this energy is not burned and used, it will go to the glycogen storage in the liver for future use. This process usually takes only 60 minutes.
The third source of energy the body burns is the protein. Protein is the building block of the body. It is used to build bones, muscles, cartilage, blood, skin and hair. It makes hormones, enzymes and other chemicals in the body. It is also responsible in repairing tissues. Protein takes a lot of energy to burn as it is slower to breakdown when compared to carbohydrates. That is why, the body will go to it only when you don’t have carbs and fats.
The last source of energy for the body is fats. Triglycerides or fats are broken down in to smaller chains of fatty acids. The metabolism of fats is very different to carbohydrates. Unlike carbohydrates, it takes a lot of energy and time for the body to break and absorb it. Once you eat fat, it goes to the gut to be broken down very slowly in to fatty acids and then goes in to the bloodstream to be used as energy immediately or to be stored in adipose cells for later use.
What’s the deal?
The deal with all of these is that the body prefers carbohydrates as its main source of energy because of how it can be easily digest, processed and used. But when carbohydrates are consumed in great quantities and are not used immediately as energy, it will go in to the bloodstream. This will go into the bloodstream. When this happens, the pancreas will work to produce Insulin.
Insulin is the hormone that is produced by the pancreas to carry glucose (carbohydrates) and store it to your glycogen storage. When the glycogen storage is full, which will happen if you are on a high carb diet, insulin converts the sugar in to fat and store it in fat cells. This is how you start to gain weight. Furthermore, Insulin also works to block the metabolism of protein, fats and carbohydrates. It promotes storage more than burning.
If you are on a low carb diet such as the Ketogenic Diet, you will not have enough sugar in the bloodstream to signal the pancreas the produce insulin. You will also not have enough carbohydrates as a source of energy. If that happens, the body will have to choice but to enter the fat metabolism state, also called as Ketosis.
fat metabolism state, also called as Ketosis
Is ketosis safe?
Of course, Ketosis is safe. It is a natural metabolic state that body goes through in order to sustain life. It has been used in the medical field for years as a treatment for epilepsy. Recent studies (1, 2) have shown the effects of ketogenic diet not just for short term but also for long term. It has improved the body weight and the body mass index of obese people as well increasing the levels of HDL and decreasing the level of LDL. There are also emerging evidence that show how being in ketosis through a ketogenic diet can help in treating acne. Some recent studies have also shown how cancer cells thrive on sugar and how a ketogenic diet can help in starving and killing cancer cells.
How do you get into Ketosis?
There are three ways to get into Ketosis:
- Restricting carb intake: Restricting your carbohydrate intake is the surest and easiest way to get into ketosis. That is contrary to the popular belief that you need to add tons of fat to your diet. You need to starve your system off carbohydrates, so it doesn’t use glucose as an energy source. The amount of carbohydrates to get in to ketosis for every person is different. Some people will get into ketosis by consuming 50 grams of carbohydrates a day, especially if they are already lean and don’t have much fat to lose. But if you are overweight and have insulin resistance, aim for lower amounts. Also, aim to get your carbohydrates from green leafy vegetables as they are rich in micronutrients.
- Fasting: Intermittent fasting can be done by anyone even if they are not on a ketogenic diet. But it is most common to low carb dieters because fasting is another way to get in to ketosis. When your body is in a fasted state, it will be forced to use your stored fat as an energy source.
- Working out rigorously with an empty stomach: Exercising will deplete blood sugar and muscle glycogen and when this happens, the body will cope up by using your stored fat as a source of energy. However, please take note that this will only happen if you exercise rigorously with an empty stomach.
How long does it take to get into Ketosis?
Getting in to ketosis is not fast. It takes time for your body to adjust from burning carbohydrates to fat as a source of fuel. It usually takes anywhere between two to seven days. This also depends on what you are eating, your activity level and your body type.
How do you know if you’re in Ketosis without using a urine strip?
Honestly, I’ve never used a urine ketone strip before. It is expensive and not easily accessible. It is also useless. Urine ketone strips will not tell you if you are in ketosis. Think about it: if your body is really using ketones (which is produced by burning fat) as a source of energy, why would you urinate it? If you’re urinating it, that means your body is dumping it out of the system and not using it. When your urine keto strips shows dark color, it means your body is not utilizing those energy effectively. So, how do you really know if you are in ketosis without the pee strips?
- Smell yourself: When you are in ketosis, you will start to smell differently. You will notice that your breath, underarm, sweat and even down-there will smell strong like acetone. That is because acetone is a type of ketone. Now don’t worry, once your body is fat-adapted, that stinky smell will go away.
- You are thirsty: When you’re in ketosis, you will notice you are thirstier. This usually happens on the first few days when you lose a lot of water weight. Also, ketogenic and other low carb diets are diuretic in nature. You will not be storing as much water as when you are on a high carb diet. So, your body will need more water.
- You are always peeing: Like explained above, your body will not store as much water as when you’re eating a high carb diet. The body will flush out the water through the form of urine.
- Headache and lethargy: Whatever diet you follow, this is expected. The body is trying to adapt to the changes you are making, especially when you are on a calorie deficit. On the first few days of eating keto, you will experience headache and fatigue. If these signs don’t go away after 3-7 days, make sure you are taking enough electrolytes as it is necessary on keto.
- You’re less hungry: Protein and fats are very satiating. When you are in ketosis, you will notice that you are less hungry. You will not need to eat 5 small meals a day anymore.