It’s the end of the first full week of 2020 and I think all of us want to have already lost 10 lbs, but it’s doesn’t work that way for most of us. For first-time keto-ers, maybe, but the rest of us are already struggling with our own attitudes and desire to return to our “normal” selves. We have to keep reminding ourselves that changing our bodies takes time and it’s a good practice in patience. One week in is a good point to determine whether you are on an unsustainable diet or on a lifestyle change. Being on a diet is absolutely zero fun. It’s usually a forced restriction in food that leaves one hungry, for sure, and feeling deprived. This is one reason my experiment with the keto “diet” has become a keto lifestyle instead. I found something there that reduced my body fat and my bloating, which is perceived by me as looking fat, where I wasn’t always starving and where I felt nourished and even satisfied. I’m continuing that diet and still very much enjoy the extended benefits, but I’m now testing some tweaks to see if they add value to my life or not.
Our general diet is still defined as keto, so it’s very macro-focused. What I want to tweak is how I’m focusing on those macros. Last year, we were obsessing on keeping the carbs down and the fat high with little attention paid to the protein piece of the equation. In the fall/winter of 2019, both Tom and I started noticing that our body fat percentage (according to our Fitbit Aria 2 scale) was increasing which is not what we wanted at all!
If your body fat percentage is increasing, it could mean a couple different things: you are simply putting on fat, you are consuming muscle for fuel, you are losing muscle mass, or some combination of those. I’ve diagnosed myself with “consuming muscle for fuel” by process of elimination. I don’t think my issue was packing on the fat because my weight wasn’t increasing enough to be storing a bunch of extra fat. I don’t think I was losing muscle due to inactivity because my workout routines had not changed. What I did realize is that I tend to eat a low amount of protein. Our weekday meals were generally vegetarian up until dinner with a protein shake and some nuts during the day and that was it. So the new macro focus became protein!
Why do I need protein?
This fall, I read a great book called “The Alzheimer’s Antidote” by Amy Berger, with the intent of researching Alzheimer’s, obviously, but what I ended up really learning about was nutrition and how the body processes different macros. We are all aware that muscle is composed of proteins, but proteins have other important roles in the body as well. According to Berger’s book, proteins are critical building blocks for many molecules in the body including hormones, antibodies that fight infection, amino acids, neurotransmitters, and the enzymes that convert glucose to ATP for energy production.
Another key role that protein has is providing the building blocks for muscle growth. Exercise is what provides the stimulation to induce the muscle growth process. It’s like protein molecules are the bricks and exercise is the tornado that knocks the siding off the house. Your body comes along and picks up those bricks to rebuild and, if there are extra bricks, strengthen the house for the next tornado, which is one of the reasons your exercise regime gets easier over time. However, if the bricks aren’t available, the body will steal bricks from somewhere else, usually your other muscles, in order to minimally repair the injured muscles. Bottom line, one must consume protein to recover and repair muscles injured by exercise in order to not lose muscle mass.
Why do you want to keep your muscle mass? If you have less muscle mass, then you’re skinnier, right? I guess, but that’s not my goal. I like to be strong. I like to open my own pickle jars and be able to lift my old 60lb dog into the car. The stronger I can remain, the better my battle with Rheumatoid Arthritis goes as well. Additionally, muscle requires fuel. Fuel equals calories which equals more eating and I like more eating! The more muscle you have, the more calories your body requires to maintain that system, which results in a higher metabolism.
Now, some keto-ers will start twitching a little bit when I start talking about adding protein. There’s a lot of “information” out there saying that all the protein you consume turns into glucose thus knocking you out of ketosis, so you have to limit your protein. While it is true that protein can be converted into glucose, it’s not that common and doesn’t tend to happen that often. One, it’s hard to eat THAT MUCH protein, especially if you’re eating real food (not shakes). You get really full, so it tends to self-limit. Two, the body starts to convert protein to glucose when your glucose stores are completely drained and it needs some in order to repair the muscles (meaning the body can’t use fat to complete whatever task it needs to) in a process called gluconeogenesis. Have a read of this blog post if you’re interested or still concerned about popping out of ketosis: https://perfectketo.com/how-too-much-protein-is-bad-for-ketosis/ .
How much protein should I consume a day?
There’s a few equations out there that tell you how to calculate the amount of protein you need. Most of them use your body weight without regard to body composition. I don’t agree with that. I don’t need to feed my stored body fat anything at all, so why would I base my protein needs on total body weight which includes body fat? I prefer to calculate my protein based on lean body mass because that’s what I want to nourish. I also prefer calculations that include activity level because that reflects both the amount of increased calories a person of my size needs and the amount of stress I’ve put on my muscles. The higher the activity level, the more protein you need (the more bricks you need) to, at a minimum, rebuild your muscles.
My favored equation is this:
Protein (grams) = Activity factor * Lean Body Mass (lbs)
where the Activity factor for a sedentary person is 0.8-1.0 and for an active person ranges from 1.0-1.2.
My activity level is around a 1.1 given the amount I exercise, but also the amount I sit at a desk and work. According to my Fitbit Aria 2, I have about 120 lbs of lean body mass, so that is my second variable. That gives me about 120g of protein per day.
Another way to calculate it is by taking your total caloric need for the day, however you got to that number, and assume you want 20% of your calories coming from protein (5% from carbs and 75% from fat). For me, I assume 2200 calories per day, so 20% of that is 440 calories. Divide that by 4 (4 calories per gram of protein) and I get 110g of protein per day.
So I’m shooting for 110-120g of protein per day.
How I’m adding protein
Our lunchboxes look a lot different than they did last year. Now instead of a salad everyday at lunch, I’m literally packing a hamburger. It seems crazy to me and I’m having to trust the process, just like I did when we first started keto. The added bonus for me is that I tend to run anemic, so adding red meat everyday will help my iron levels stay in an acceptable range. Perhaps I’ll even get to stop supplementing with iron if I keep this diet up. I’m using organic, grass-fed and finished beef for our burgers because that cuts down on the added hormones and provides a more natural diet for the cows, as well as a better, albeit short, life. Organic meats are becoming more readily available and the price is coming down as well. We’ve purchased it at both Sam’s Club and Costco in bulk and that’s always handy.
We’ve also added an additional Kiss My Keto protein shake along with additional scopes of protein in both shakes. This makes for a huge amount of food during the day, which is a change. I’m adjusting to it somewhat, but it’s a lot of food. Especially before you teach a Jazzercise class. I’m having to time everything very carefully so I don’t end up with a full belly at the start of class!
That’s the first part of my experiment for this year. My goals of adding protein are to, at a minimum, preserve muscle mass and to increase my strength in executing moves like push-ups. We’re also getting back to a stricter keto diet that doesn’t include all the holiday splurges, so my big goal is to get my body fat percentage down to 15% (on my Fitbit scale – I keep saying that because every body fat test I’ve taken gives me a different answer. At least the Fitbit scale is in my home, so I can measure whenever I want to and for free. Maybe the calibration is off, but at least it’s a consistent measuring tool.)
Stay tuned for updates and, as always, thank you for reading!