Protein And The Keto Diet – How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

Protein Quest: The Early Days Of Your Keto Diet

Among strength athletes, the quest for the perfect protein goes decades. First, among the truly hard-core, the answer was desiccated liver. Really? And, who can forget Rocky Balboa’s raw egg yolk shakes? All the better to go pound the protein at his local meat processing plant. Things became a little saner with those who drank good old chocolate milk as their post-workout protein of choice. Though, in the early days, even whey powder tasted awful.

Today, we have a plethora of options for our protein fix: whey concentrate, whey isolate, grass-fed whey, casein, and plant-based powders; protein bars, cookies, and bites; not to mention real food.

So, what is the best way to meet your daily protein requirements? By the way, just what is your daily requirement? And, how does that requirement change when you are on a ketogenic diet?

We’ll answer these questions and more, if you’ll just read on.

Why Do I Even Need Protein In My Diet?

Protein provides the building blocks of life, amino acids. It is a crucial component of every cell in our bodies. It’s used to build and repair muscle tissue. It aids in bone mass; plays an important role in hair, skin, and nail health; and is important for cartilage too. Protein is also important in the production of enzymes and hormones. It works to regulate metabolism and can be a source of energy.

Just a bit of science about protein: of the 20 amino acids necessary for life, your body only produces 11 of them. The other nine amino acids are known as essential amino acids and must come from your diet in the form of dietary protein.

keto low carb diet steak protein

As stated above, you can meet your protein requirement by consuming real foods, such as:

  • Meat
  • Dairy
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs

These and other animal-based proteins are considered complete proteins as they contain all the essential aminos required by your body.

Other protein sources such as:

  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Grains

Are considered incomplete proteins as they do not contain all nine essential amino acids.

As you can see, protein is necessary for numerous bodily functions. Whether you want to gain/maintain lean muscle, lose weight, recover from strength training, or simply maintain good health, you’ll need to get your recommended amount of protein on a regular basis.

ketogenic diet nuts protein

How Much Protein Should I Consume While On The Ketogenic Diet?

We’ve reinforced the need for protein and will provide a useful formula to help determine your specific requirement. But, one thing you need to know and understand if you are on a ketogenic diet, too much protein can stall your progress or put you out of ketosis! And, just like carbs and fat, excess protein gets converted and stored as fat.

The RDA (recommended dietary allowance) of protein to maintain health is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. In pounds, simply multiply your body weight by .6 to determine your minimum requirement, and by 1.0 to determine your maximum intake.

Both endurance and strength athletes will need to adjust their protein intake upwards to guard against loss of lean muscle.

Equally as important as meeting your protein requirement is doing so from a quality source of protein. Animal proteins are excellent, provided they are not from further processed products containing added sugars or other carbs. Vegetarians on keto can easily meet their requirement as well through a combination of fresh nuts, seeds, grains, and quinoa.

For those looking for greater convenience, there are other options: Egg Protein Powder or Whey Isolate Proteins with low carb/no carbs.

When using the above or Keto Shakes, keep in mind, your goal is to burn fat. Some protein shakes are simply high protein/low carb and can result in exiting you from ketosis. If your protein is deficient in fat, add MCTs or coconut oil to increase the fat content.

ketosis fat coconut oil

Some Common Misconceptions About Protein and Keto

The greatest misconception is that the keto diet is a high protein diet!

Yes, there are high protein/low carb diets, but they are not keto. The Ketogenic Diet is a diet high in fat, moderate in protein and low in carbs. A general rule of thumb for a keto diet would be 75% of calories from fats, 20% from protein, and 5% from carbs.

Let me repeat that, moderate in protein. Too much protein = no ketosis, and excess protein can be stored as fat!

Myth: All Protein is Created Equal.

We’ve addressed complete versus incomplete proteins, and recommended clean proteins versus processed or packaged.

Let’s look at that most convenient of forms of protein, the protein bar. Am I the only one who has noticed incorporating protein bars into your diet seems to immediately halt or reverse weight loss?

Ever wonder why?

Most low carb protein bars are playing the “net carb” game, eliminating the impact of sugar alcohols so that you can meet your macronutrient targets.

Our recommendation is to make your own! Then you control the ingredients and the macro ratio.

ketogenic diet make your own protein bars

More Protein = More Muscle

Not true. Yes, athletes in training need more protein than those living a sedentary lifestyle.

In fact, endurance athletes may need as much as 50% more, and serious strength athletes as much as double the norm. But, protein exceeding your specific requirements is either converted to glucose or stored as excess fat.

Can I Replace Fat with Protein While on Keto?

The short answer is, “No!” Even if you are meeting your fat requirements, if you are also consuming too much protein, your body can initiate gluconeogenesis so that you are not burning fat for energy. As a result, you may think you’re in keto while you’re not.

Gluconeogenesis

Your body is a marvelous machine, which intuitively adjusts for your mistakes. When we consume too much protein when in ketosis the body initiates a fundamental energy process known as gluconeogenesis. In effect, whenever we consume protein beyond maintenance levels the body converts the amino acids to glucose, which is then used immediately for energy, rather than fat stores.

What is Gluconeogenesis?

Gluconeogenesis is basically a survival mechanism. The word itself means “new sugar”. It is a process by which the liver converts non-carbohydrates into glucose. The body’s preferred energy source is glucose, normally from carbohydrates. When these carbs are reduced or eliminated, the body turns to other sources for energy/glucose. Ideally that would be stored fat, however, other pathways convert excess protein to glucose, or break down amino acids from the protein in your muscles.

What Triggers Gluconeogenesis?

When someone is on an extremely low-calorie diet, a restricted low carbohydrate diet, or is fasting and glucose stores from carbs are depleted, the body will initiate gluconeogenesis to access glucose for energy. If you are consistently exceeding your protein requirement, you’re giving your body calories to convert to glucose. Conversely, if you are not meeting your protein requirement, the body may begin converting the amino acids in lean muscle for fuel.

How Do I Avoid Gluconeogenesis?

Adhere to your macros, limiting protein to 20% of your caloric intake, and consuming sufficient dietary fats. Overeating protein will have the same effect as consuming too many carbs. Your objective is to consume just enough protein to maintain your lean body mass, not so much as to turn protein into your body’s preferred energy source.

keto meal protein fat diet avocado chicken cheese

In Conclusion

Most people are eating too much protein on their keto diet. Remember, keep fat intake high, and stay moderate with protein. Use the methods referenced above to determine exactly how much you need, and track both your protein levels and your ketone levels consistently for optimum results.