Keto experiment — First month results — energy, physical results and photos
This is the one month update of my 6 month ketogenic diet experiment, where I’m eating a high fat, low carbohydrate diet in a quest for mental and physical performance — and to do away with long running issues with fluctuating energy and brain fog. Catch previous updates on this blog and my Keto Experiment spreadsheet for workout, blood and energy data. Follow me on Instagram and Twitter for daily updates.
So here we are, one month into the ketogenic diet experiment. See my starting post where I cover the plan, what I’m tracking, and how. The goal here is to present a range of data I’ve collected over the past month. In doing so, I’ll share general observations, things I’ve learnt, the good, the bad and in the case of my attempt at keto buns, the downright ugly. It’s pretty lengthy, you’ll probably want a stick of butter, rather than an MCT shot, for the slow release… let’s jump in!
Energy and Productivity
- All abroad the energy rollercoaster! More than any other factor in this experiment, I’m hoping to tackle the issue of fatigue. By collecting all the data I can on diet, fitness, sleep etc and recording my daily perceived energy levels — I can then catch myself on a low-energy day, and work backwards to spot potential causes. I’m yet to have felt the boundless energy and mental clarity for which the keto diet is often recommended for. That said, I’m certain this will improve significantly as I tackle the deficiencies or flaws in my implementation of the lifestyle, while continuing to iterate on what I’m eating and the supplements I’m taking for example. So here’s how the past month has looked:
- On a scale of one to ten — In my perceived energy level scale: 10 is the fully focussed, confident, sharp state that coffee would previously have me easily tap into. It’s where answers come quickly, conversations are fluid, and there’s an incredible mental clarity. I appear to be very sensitive to coffee, and would seem to build up a tolerance over two weeks or so— hence the goal of achieving such optimal performance without the stimulant. On the same scale here, 5 is an unproductive, sluggish, struggle of a day.
- Whodunnit? Probably not lactose — What is obvious is that my energy levels have been anything but consistent. I also may be learning an important lesson here in confirmation bias. In an earlier update, I came to a conclusion that dairy/lactose appears to significantly effect my energy levels the following day. In the chart above, what’s clear is that the energy drops appear to happen at the start of each week. In each case, I took a closer look at what I had been eating and sure enough — each time, I discovered lactose as a surprise ingredient in something I had started consuming on that very weekend. In week 3 I discovered the Benadryl anti-histamine I started taking, contained lactose. In week 4 I discovered the Sainsbury’s beef stock I had consumed in a bid to up my electrolytes, again on the weekend, contained milk. The theory seemed to fit, although I may have mis-attributed…
- The Weekend UnWarrior — During the past few days, as part of an ongoing effort to ensure I’m covering the basics, it occurred to me that I wasn’t tracking my water intake — a factor I’ve paid little attention to given that I’ve regularly sipped water throughout the day at work. The only certainty from the chart above, is that I’ve been doing something differently on the weekend than I am during the working week. As I look back, one key difference is that I drink a lot less water on weekends. Could it be that this left me relatively dehydrated and contributed to a subsequent slump at the start of the next working week? Keto has higher water requirements given that the body holds less, due to carbohydrate restriction. Further, perhaps my body would adjust during the week to increased intake— only to then receive a lot less than expected come the weekend. How much of a factor hydration is, remains to be seen, but in light of this, I’ve begun tracking my water intake daily on MyFitnessPal and I am aiming for at least 2 litres per day.
- Say cheese — In a bid for more evidence on whether dairy really does have the suspected impact on me — I ran an experiment last night. I decided to eat 60g of Red Leicester organic cheese, to see what impact it would have on my blood sugar levels, and to see how I feel the next day. From my understanding, foods which you have a high sensitivity or negative reaction to, can have an impact on blood sugar levels, or raise heart rate. I saw no such impact, maintaining a steady level of 88–90mg/DL throughout. I plan to consume more cheese today, even re-introduce double cream, and look forward to seeing how my energy levels pan out — all the while keeping up my water and electrolyte levels, to rule it out as a factor. I do not want to have to live without cheese unless I have to. I struggle to put my love for cheese into words, and feel it can only be conveyed through the medium of contemporary dance.
- The long and winding road — This does highlight the two key themes of this experiment: firstly that fatigue is a tricky beast to nail. Secondly, that I hope the experiment will serve to inspire many to take control of their health, to realise that the issue of fatigue can be solved, and to help provide something in the way of a framework to help reach it. It’s been a frustrating month at times, as I straddle the lines between feeling despondent and optimistic. My hope is that by removing the hurdles that are holding me back, I’ll be able to part the clouds just enough to be able to bathe in the warmth of mental clarity, that keto sun-kissed glow.
- All eyes on me — The above is a chart from my RescueTime account, which I have installed on my Mac at work. This tracks all activity taking place on the computer, and reports on overall usage time, along with how the time is spent in various categories of productivity, which you can configure. Time spent in MacVim or iTerm (applications I use while programming) are considered productive, while Twitter and Reddit are categorised as distracting. As expected, very quickly you forget that activity is being tracked, and thus I do not feel my behaviour is being affected by the fact that it’s now being observed. Note that the above includes the time spent on the computer before the working day, along with lunchtimes and breaks I take. That said, I’m aiming to maximise the productive time, and reduce the distracted time — after all, even on a break, I’d prefer to get up and move around.
- The ketone seesaw — above charts all the ketone and glucose levels I’ve recorded over the past month. Note that these include a range of fasted, and post-meal recordings, along with other recordings taken during notable moments — such as when I’ve felt particularly sharp, or tired. Every Thursday I have taken a reading at 11:45am, in a fasted state, where my glucose levels have ranged between a consistent 78–85mg/DL, with ketones ranging from 2.4–4.8mmol. What I concluded pretty early on, is that your ketone reading does not necessarily correspond directly to how you feel. I’ve registered ketone levels around 2.5mmol (considered an optimal level), in both states of high-energy and low-energy. The many other factors of your current energy level and mood (such as sleep, stress and hydration) still of course have their own impact.
- Not quite sleeping beauty — As mentioned in great recent podcast episode with Robb Wolf on the QuantifiedBody podcast, sleep is probably the single most important factor in your energy and overall health. The time spent in various sleep stages has varied by the day, with deep sleep varying from just over 20 mins per night, up to about 90 minutes. I’ll need to spend more time looking for patterns here, and continuing to improve my sleep routine. I’m particularly interested in wearing shades to block blue-light in the evening — and not just because I have every faith that I’d look badass doing so.
- More noms! I started out aiming for 1,800 calories at the beginning of the experiment and have gradually increased this to 2,200. This has been done partly to ensure that a calorie deficit is not negatively contributing to my energy levels, partly to reflect the amount of calories I was actually eating, and also as part of the plan to increase strength and put on some muscle mass. Given that I often skip breakfast as part of 16/8 intermittent fasting, at times it’s proven challenging even meeting my calorie target.
- Bartender! Water on the rocks for me — For the first month, I’ve eaten as close to ‘perfect’ as I could reasonably expect. Everything I’ve eaten has been keto, or at least keto-friendly, with not so much as a single alcoholic drink or cheat meal, let alone a cheat day. For full transparency, that his has included the odd processed meat (e.g Pepperami or pack of high fat pork bites), and I’ve allowed myself a chip if it happens to have snuck into my mixed grill at a restaurant for example. The overwhelming majority of my carbs have come solely from ‘good carbs’ such as spinach and nuts.
- Shop local! A discovery as important as any other here, is the realisation at just how pricey the likes of Holland and Barrett are, compared to local, independent stores. The same applies a large extent to the likes of Sainsbury’s and Waitrose, where my previous hauls have proven pretty costly. A small 500g bag of ground almonds in Holland and Barret will cost you the same as a 2kg bag in local stores, so shop around!
- Strictly keto — With regard to macros, I’ve managed to stay consistently within the planned split — although I have gradually allowed for an increased amount of carbs and protein. This has been due to noticing that I remained in ketosis even when exceeding the initial 20g carb limit I had set for myself — and given my 3 intense workouts a week. That said, I will be making more of an effort to bring my carbs back down to 5% — for which the fat bombs and keto bread have not been helping here. Speaking of bread, not all attempts have been successful as this effort demonstrates, a travesty for which the local council insist I should have requested planning permission before constructing. Other keto dishes, although looking every much as questionable, have proven to be a pleasing success.
- One to one — Above is a typical days eating for me at present — where my eating window starts at around 1pm, as part of following 16/8 intermittent fasting. I’ve found sausage and burgers to have a 1:1 or better ratio between fats and protein. They also happen to be my favourite red meat, although I have every hunch that eating fatty steaks would be optimal. I’m relying on spinach heavily at present to provide the bulk of my nutrients/minerals, although will be making increasing efforts to vary this with broccoli, lettuce and other vegetables.
- Demanding fats — At present, it feels that the consumption of the likes of MCT and fat bombs are a necessary addition to meet your macros — as I’d otherwise end up which a much higher percentage of protein. This is not a problem for me, but it does seem the keto diet would be difficult to maintain without such ‘tools’ — although this is likely representative of the current food industry simply not catering to low carb diets, and deeming high-fat bad. Hopefully this will change in time.
- On supplements — I started tracking these in week 4 to increase visibility on the exact supplements and doses — and how these vary over time. I’m generally trying to limit the number of supplements I take, in a bid to have nutrients come from whole foods where possible, and to cut down on the hassle and expenditure of taking daily supplements. I’ve since dropped the daily multi-vitamin, and have switched from the taking magnesium/potassium tablets — to having unsweetened electrolyte powder from BulkPowders, as a way to increase my sodium/calcium/magensium/potassium intake and general water consumption at the same time.
- On the up — According to my Boditrax scans, which I’ve been taking weekly — over the past month I’ve increased in body weight and muscle mass, but also in fat percentage and fat mass. The variation appears to be under 1kg, and less than 1% in each case. The marginal difference can be more accurately demonstrated with the following chart:
- Water matters — Importantly, I’ve learned of the extent to which your water percentage effects the composition percentage results you get with a scale which uses an electrical signal. A relatively lower hydration level will result in a reading which can overestimate body fat. In my case, for the first reading I had a water hydration percentage at 60.5% — for the final reading I had a hydration level of 60.1%. The impact on water percentage can clearly be seen in the following chart, showing my calculated muscle mass and how it’s been directly effected by the current water percentage:
- Up from here — I feel this highlights clearly the need to not read too much into week by week measurements, at least not without paying close attention to the water hydration. All considered, it appears I’ve gained a little muscle mass, but have otherwise seen very little change in my body composition. Given my goals of increasing muscle mass and strength, I’ll be gradually increasing my calories further over the next few weeks — along with taking an increasing look at my protein requirements, and researching supplements such as branch chain amino acids (BCAA’s). My next read will be ‘The art and science of low carbohydrate performance’, which I hope will shed light on how best to proceed.
- Keeping it moving — The last few weeks have seen a pretty consistent 3 workouts weekly, alternating between Tabata high-intensity workouts, and 5x5x5 weight-training workouts. Both have seen gradual improvements, particularly in the case of the weight workouts, where I intentionally eased into the process as to prevent injury. These workouts will remain unchanged as we enter month two, where I expect to see a continuation in the progress. Having given about 90% of my effort to every workout, I’ve been surprised at the complete absence of DOM’s from any workout. I’ve also had no issues with energy during a workout, irrespective of being fasted or not — both of which have come as pleasant surprises.
- Hold still — The body measurements show very little change across the month, aside from the change for shoulders and chest. Note that these measurements were taken with a dressers measuring tape and thus open to human error — which may very well explain the differences. Such measurements are likely to be more helpful over the long term. I’ve also introduced a couple new measurements, being for the hips and for the flexed bicep — likely a better indication of progress for the arms.
- Spot the difference — The before/after photos above are made a little less helpful thanks to the difference in the position of the lighting. Further, a difference in posture, and the fact that the after photos appear to be a little larger in the frame — make a comparison difficult. What has surprised me is how little change there appears to be in a month — and that more time is needed.
- The leaning tower of me — On the first few photos I took for the ‘after’ pictures, I noticed that I have anterior pelvic tilt, where when standing relaxed, my lower back arches forward, along with my stomach. I attempted to account for this in the photos above, but this is something I’ll be working to correct over the coming weeks — where I’ll be including stretches and possibly other exercises to address the imbalance in flexibility/strength of my hip flexors, and related muscles.
- Taking it to heart — Ignoring the initial few days where I expect the Fitbit was calibrating, my resting heart rate appears to be gradually declining, a positive sign, although again, more time is needed here. A little research suggests a healthy male of my age should be around 55 beats per minute — putting me just above. Progress to be made! In the past week, I’ve also begun recording heart rate variability every morning upon waking. These results will be included in future updates.
Resources of the month
- Art and science of low carb living — As much as I enjoyed Jimmy Moore’s Keto Clarity, it can be considered a light-weight introductory and reassuring read to the keto diet. This book, by Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney goes a lot deeper into the science and the studies for a low carb / keto diet. I love my Kindle, but if I had the physical copy, I’d have to dip the whole book into a bucket of yellow paint, to save time on having to highlight almost every line. Published a few years ago now, but it’s a must read.
- QuantifiedBody Podcast — episodes with the likes of Robb Wolf and Dom D’Agostino on this podcast are golden. Having met Damien Blenkinsopp at the London Keto meet up, I came away with a ton of notes and inspiration. He’s the real deal, and the podcast is a treasure trove of keto-friendly nuggets.
- Dr Hyman interview with Lewis Howes — A great summary on the current state of science with regard to consuming fat. The main take-away for me here, was the reminder of adopting an elimination approach to induct yourself into healthy eating. It prompted me to more closely look at anything processed I was eating, and to continue to strip back what I eat to arrive at a state of health before re-introducing.
It’s been an incredibly eye opening month, filled to the brim with learning and observing — all in the midst of a very busy, yet productive month at work. At the end of month one, I’m left far short of the results I’m hoping for, but as confident as ever there I shall be progress going forward.
For the upcoming month I’ll be putting just as much time into the study, where in particular I hope to get a good grasp on my micro-nutrients. Further I’m hoping to make efficient use of supplements aimed at specifically assisting those who are fat adapted, for the increased mental performance and physical progress. With the addition of tracking water, supplements and heart rate variability — I hope to further increase the visibility on exactly what, and how my results are being effected by my actions.
If you’re running an experiment of your own, or if you work in and around nutrition and health, having an interest in the ketogenic diet, I’d love to hear from you. Check back here for weekly updates, and the latest blood work results which I’ll be taking at the end of month 3. Till then, catch my latest updates with commentary on Instagram, or reach out to me on Twitter!