Supplementation & Your Ketogenic Diet
To many, one, either, or both of the terms “supplementation” and “ketogenic diet” can be controversial. Do supplements work? Is the ketogenic diet safe and effective? We’re going to do a detailed analysis of how they work together and how supplementation can, in fact, improve your keto experience and results.
Supplementing While On Keto: The Role Of Supplements
The first question we’d like to address is, “Are supplements needed as part of a healthy diet?”
The goal of supplements is to fill in the gaps of healthy diets.
Even Harvard Health acknowledges that the average American diet leaves a lot to be desired. Research finds our foods lacking in essential nutrients, including calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, and D.
However, Harvard also warns against exceeding RDAs (Recommended Daily Allowances) and they are critical of the lack of proper clinical testing.
That said, the supplement industry is changing. Responsible manufacturers are taking the necessary steps to provide more credibility for their products. Ingredient manufacturers are becoming more diligent in developing clinical trials to substantiate structure and function claims.
Perhaps most importantly, let’s put supplements in context. As their name suggests, their role is to supplement, not replace the nutrients in your diet.
Performance Enhancement Through Supplementation for Low Carb Diets
Even the mention of performance enhancement makes you take notice. Isn’t that illegal, didn’t Julian Edelman just receive a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drug use? First, we are not talking about illegal, banned substances. Second, isn’t improved performance what we are all striving for? Of course it is, that’s why we diet, we train, we practice. To improve our performance no matter what the endeavor.
Supplements are intended to aid in improving performance.
Let’s Talk Supplementation On Keto
As with any diet or nutritional regimen, once the concept gains traction, supplement companies acknowledge and address the opportunity. Some companies have created entire product lines to support your keto lifestyle.
Anyone experienced in a high-fat low-carb diet has most likely experienced or at least heard of the “Keto Flu.” The “Flu” is your body’s response to converting from carbs as its primary energy source to fat and can result in flu-like symptoms including fatigue, headaches, brain fog, and nausea. The good news is, it’s a temporary situation while your body adapts, and there are things you can do to lessen the symptoms.
- Hydrate. A significant contributor to flu symptoms is dehydration.
- Supplement with electrolytes. Focus on sodium, potassium, and magnesium. Along with dehydration, your body is most likely experiencing some mineral deficiencies. There are a myriad of great electrolyte supplements on the market.
- Consume more fat in your diet.
Improve Your Results While On Keto
You’re already watching and tracking your macros carefully, avoiding carbohydrates, not over-indulging on protein, hydrating properly, and exercising. After an initial, rather dramatic drop in weight, your progress has stalled.
Here are several ideas to regain momentum and improve your results:
- Hydration and electrolyte supplementation.
- Use Exogenous Ketones to “kickstart” ketogenesis or return to a state of ketosis after carb consumption.
First, a bit of scientific background. Ketones are molecules produced in the liver from fats and are used as energy in the absence of glucose. In ketosis, ketones are produced endogenously, meaning inside the body. Exogenous ketones, on the other hand, are synthesized in a lab. The use of exogenous ketones, in the form of ketone salts, provides extra ketones/energy.
- Use a keto meal replacement.
You will also hear exogenous ketones referred to as BHP salts. Many supplement companies will include good fats, i.e. MCTs, with protein and BHP for a keto meal replacement product. Be cautious of the protein to fats ratio. Other companies will market their more mainstream products as “keto-friendly;” again, beware of the macros when considering these items.
Supplement Myths, Dispelled for the Ketogenic Dieters
Big Pharma in the U.S. would much prefer any vitamin, supplement, or nutrient you purchase be FDA approved or require a prescription. After all, supplementation is big business, estimated at over $18 billion by the year 2020. As a result, periodically you will see a breaking story about tainted or adulterated supplements. Some of this is based in fact; however, a great deal is a myth as the Natural Products Association and other trade organizations strive to ensure stronger regulation, better testing, and good manufacturing practices.
MYTH #1: Supplements Don’t Work
Three inter-related changes in supplements today are “clinical trials,” “transparency,” and “effective dosages” of primary ingredients. Ingredient manufacturers have become expert at conducting scientifically sound, clinical trials, to support structure/function claims. The best supplement companies today have abandoned “proprietary blends” and “fairy dusting.” Proprietary blends were a way of disguising the exact dosages of ingredients in a product, supposedly to protect against duplication, in reality allowing products to make efficacy claims for ingredients that were at less than clinical dosages. Today’s transparency in labeling mandates that the exact quantity of each ingredient within a blend is listed.
MYTH #2: You Can Get Everything You Need From a Balanced Diet
Let’s start this debate with a definition of the word supplement: “something that completes or enhances something else when added to it.” The operative words are “when added to it.” I have yet to meet a nutritionist, trainer, or strength coach that suggests supplementation should be in lieu of a balanced diet. In fact, virtually every person involved in the field starts each client conversation by discussing an appropriate whole foods regimen.
There are medical reasons to supplement your balanced whole food diet. There is the depletion of nutrients in the foods we eat due to improper farming practices. Vegans should consider supplementation due to the limited foods they eat. Those involved in strenuous exercise need supplementation for energy, hydration, electrolyte replacement, and recovery.
Theoretically, it is possible to get everything you need from a healthy diet. Realistically, this is rarely the case. Most of us do not have time to track all of our micronutrients and tailor our diets for 100% optimization.
MYTH #3: Supplements are Just For Bodybuilders
Strength athletes represent one of the most targeted demographics for supplement companies. Their goal in life is to get bigger, stronger, faster. The weekend warrior could learn a great deal by observing a bodybuilder’s eating habits. Most are religious about what goes in their bodies, how frequently, in precise quantities. They are the epitome of “If It Fits Your Macros.”
Supplements are used for more than just muscle growth. They can be used to improve energy levels, sleep, memory, long-term health, and much more.
If your goals differ from that of a bodybuilder, there are still excellent products that you may wish to add to your daily program such as:
- A daily multi-vitamin/multi-mineral product
- Protein powders to supplement your protein intake
- Amino acids to aid in recovery (L-glutamine is a personal favorite)
- EFAs, essential fatty acids
You can tailor an excellent supplementation program to meet your needs just by using the core four items above. As you can see, these items supplement your balanced diet and support your exercise.
MYTH #4: Supplements Can Replace Good Diet and Exercise
On the opposite side of the spectrum, some people believe supplements can replace diet and exercise. Don’t want to hit the gym? Use a fat burner! Can’t eat wholesome meals regularly? Just use a multi-vitamin! Of course, these claims defy the fact that supplements are exactly what their name suggests – supplements to a healthy diet and lifestyle. Think of supplements as a way of “fine tuning” a healthy diet, NOT creating it.
Choosing Supplements – Some General Guidelines for Low Carb Eaters
There are excellent companies in the supplement space. Look for companies that adhere to cGMP (current Good Manufacturing Principles) that provide open, transparent labels, that source only quality ingredients, preferably supported by structure/function clinical trials.
Read the label before making any purchase decision. Is the product manufactured in a cGMP facility? If so, the label should state as much. Has the product been tested to be free of banned ingredient by a third-party such as NSF Safe for Sport or Informed Choice? If so, there will be a certification on the label. Is there a proprietary blend? If so, opt for a product with more transparency. Choose a reputable channel for accessing your supplements. Stick to established retailers and E-tailers, or those with whom you have a trusted relationship.
You can also visit third party testing sites like LabDoor for more information.
Believe it or not, it’s relatively easy to bring a supplement to market. That said, not all brands are as stringent in their quality control processes.
The brands that adhere to the above in product development are among the most trusted in the industry. Brands that come to mind include Garden of Life and Cytosport’s Muscle Milk in the food, drug, and mass merchandiser markets, and Dymatize and certain products from Cellucor in the sports nutrition space.
Always make sure to research the brand as well as the actual supplement.
Avoid Proprietary Blends
Many supplement companies use “proprietary blends” in their supplements. This means they do not tell you the exact proportions of every ingredient in their supplement. For example, a company may use a proprietary energy blend that includes “caffeine, green tea extract, and l-theanine.” In this case, you wouldn’t know how much caffeine is used and what the proportions of the other ingredients are.
Some companies do this to protect their formulas, but it comes with a cost to the consumer. While this has been a common practice for years, many companies are starting to move way from proprietary blends as consumers become more health conscious.
Designing The Perfect Keto-Friendly Diet Supplementation Regimen
As you have learned, adhering to a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet represents specific challenges and requires making different choices than the standard American diet. This is true in supplementation too. We’ll review some basic supplements, how they are used on keto, and some products targeted more specifically to the growing keto market.
Virtually everyone can benefit from a good multi-vitamin/multi-mineral, but on keto, the product takes on added importance. The very nature of a keto diet precludes specific food groups that provide essential vitamins and minerals. And we have previously discussed the need to replenish minerals lost along with water as the body adapts.
The number of products in this category can be mind-numbing. We highly recommend you spend a bit more to ensure you are getting a quality product and always read the label. The assortment in any given store will include varieties segmented by gender, age, potency, format (soft gel, tablet, or liquid), and price point. We would recommend you forego the gummies varieties for efficacy and macronutrient concerns.
There are certain products developed specifically for the Keto Diet you may wish to consider, such as Dr. Axe. And, if you know you are deficient in one or more vitamins/minerals you can address that specifically with a single ingredient product.
Along with BHP Salts, MCT Oils (Medium Chained Triglycerides) are among the most popular and prevalent items in the Keto space. Supplement manufacturers have raced to develop and bring their rendition of MCT Oils to market in record time. MCTs are available as a stand-alone product for use in your coffee, smoothies, protein shakes, or as an ingredient in a prepared meal replacement, combined with protein and possibly BHP Salts.
MCTs are a staple for the keto dieter. When used as an ingredient, MCT Oil provides additional fat to help you achieve your macro targets with the added benefit of increased energy.
You have options here as well, liquid or powder. We recommend a liquid for ease of preparation and flexibility in how you use the product. Be sure your choice is from 100% coconut oil, such as the Onnit brand or Garden of Life’s 100% organic.
We’ve detailed the science behind the need to meticulously replenish minerals and electrolytes when fasting intermittently or on a low-carbohydrate diet. And we’ve discussed how poor farming habits have depleted the soil of essential nutrients. To add gravity and focus to this discussion, consider that Dr. Linus Pauling, two-time Nobel prize winner, said: “You can trace every sickness, every disease and every ailment to a mineral deficiency.”
Let’s review some of the best methods to replenish electrolytes:
- Trace Minerals Concentrace® or Trace Minerals Electrolytes®. These are excellent products from a very reputable company. Use daily, just mix in water.
- Some other great choices include Bai Antioxidant Water, Smart Water, Essentia, or Powerade Zero. There are several powdered electrolyte mixes which work well such as NUUN, and Zipp Fizz. Many sports nutrition companies now include electrolytes in their BCAA (Branch Chain Amino Acid) intra and post-workout drinks.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that is required by virtually every cell, and it’s vital in more than 300 chemical processes including muscle contraction and relaxation, nerve function, cardiac activity, blood pressure regulation, hormonal interactions, immunity, bone health, and synthesis of proteins, fats and nucleic acids. Magnesium is also crucial for energy metabolism by the activation of enzymes known as ATPases, which are needed to generate ATP (adenosine triphosphate).
Since magnesium is not produced by the body, it needs to be ingested through the foods we eat such as leafy greens, nuts, and seeds. Whole grains are an excellent source but obviously not when on a keto program.
Fish Oils and Omega 3s
Omega-3 fatty acids are the “good fats” known for their role in helping to prevent heart disease. There are several types of omega-3s, Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), another omega-3 fatty acid, found in plant sources such as nuts and seeds.
Fish high in DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids are an excellent option for the high-fat low-carb diet:
When looking to supplement fish oils, there are three important things to look for: 1) Overall serving size and the dosage of EPA and DHA. We recommend a minimum of 1,000 mg total serving size from EPA and DHA, 2) a product that is sustainably sourced, and 3) third-party tested for potency and purity.
Bone broth’s rapid rise in popularity followed that of keto closely. It is recognized as healthy due to its concentration of minerals and anti-inflammatory properties. There is nothing new about bone broth as its been around, known as stock, practically forever.
You can use bone broth to help ease Keto Flu and maintain a healthy electrolyte balance. But read the label! Although most bone broths are low in carbs, there can be a higher ratio of protein to fat.
Exogenous Ketones to Kickstart Ketosis
Not to be redundant, but your supplement program while on keto would be incomplete without exogenous ketones, BHB Salts. As discussed above, exogenous ketones provide almost instant energy and can aid in getting into ketosis and/or returning to ketosis after consuming carbohydrates. Look for products containing the ingredient “Go BHP” from Compound Solutions as a trusted source for quality products.
Serious Supplements for the Strength Athletes on the Keto Diet
Today we have a plethora of options for our protein fix – whey concentrate, whey isolate, grass-fed whey, casein, soy, egg, and plant-based powders. Although the RDA (recommended dietary allowance) of protein is .6 grams to 1.0 gram per pound of body weight, serious strength athletes will consume as much as double the norm or more.
There actually is a strategy for protein consumption. Meal replacement, either a concentrate or grass fed are suitable. Post-workout, we prefer an isolate which is absorbed more rapidly. For a slower digesting protein, ideal before retiring for the evening, you may want to use a casein product. Vegans have plant based-options, and for those on Paleo, you may opt for the most complete protein powder, egg.
Creatine is and has been the number one performance supplement in the gym. Bodybuilders use creatine to improve exercise performance, to gain muscle, and to enhance strength. It is the most tested supplement ingredient of all time.
Creatine is available in different types: monohydrate, ethyl-ester, micronized, buffered (Kre-Alkalyn) and HCI. You will find one, or a combination of these types of creatine, in most pre-workouts. It is also available as a stand-alone ingredient.
Most negative press relative to creatine has been dispelled, and its use is widely accepted as safe and effective.
Branched-chain amino acids refer to three amino acids; L-Leucine, L-Valine and L-Iso Leucine. The established ratio of these in a BCAA powder are 2:1:1, two parts L-Leucine to one part each L-Valine and L-Iso Leucine.
Repair and recovery are crucial to the muscle building process. We tear muscle down working in the gym and then provide BCAAs for repair and recovery and protein to feed the muscle.
BCAAs are best consumed during your workout, intra-workout, or post-workout. They serve to reduce fatigue, accelerate recovery, and reduce muscle soreness. If you’ve ever wondered what’s in that body builder’s gallon water jug filled with pink liquid, it’s most likely the original BCAA powder, Xtend.
Over time, BCAA products have evolved to include electrolytes, in some iterations an energy componen and in others a cutting/weight management formula.
L-Glutamine is the most prevalent free amino acid found naturally in the body. Alongside creatine, L-Glutamine is one of the most widely used ingredients in the gym. It is a favorite for repair and recovery and helps alleviate muscle soreness.
You’ll find L-Glutamine in many intra and post-workout products. Most serious strength athletes will add 5-10 grams of L-Glutamine to their post-workout isolate shake. It’s not unusual for a bodybuilder to take 15 grams or more per day.
L-Glutamine is also widely used in the health field to counter side effects of medical treatments.
HMB (or β-Hydroxy β-Methylbutyrate) is needed by the body to protect and repair muscle tissue. It is thought to do this by slowing muscle protein breakdown and speeding protein synthesis. When compared to the branched-chain L-leucine, HMB is more efficacious at reducing the rate of muscle breakdown but is less effective at protein synthesis. As a result, HMB is positioned as an anti-catabolic ingredient rather than an anabolic agent.
Please, supplement but don’t substitute. When used appropriately, supplements can fill gaps in your diet, particularly for those on keto. They can help you achieve ketosis, protect you while in ketosis, and even return you to ketosis when you over-indulge in carbohydrates.