Despite making good progress and seeing new lows in weight and body circumference I still had some ketone envy seeing how other consistently have ketones greater than 2.0 mmol/L and even upwards of 3.0 or 4.0 mmol/L! I’m not sure how accurate or inaccurate this is, but in my mind I equate a greater ketone number to more fat burning.
I’ve been following the blog of Dr. Georgia Ede who has been doing her own n=1 experiment with nutritional ketosis. One of the things she observed is that when her protein intake was around 75-80 gm/day her blood ketones consistently stayed around 1.0-1.4 mmol/L. The moment she cut her daily protein intake down to 50-55 gm/day her blood ketones shot up to 3.8-4.8 mmol/L. Seeing those results certainly caught my attention.
Since I haven’t seen any of her stats including height or weight, but I’m assuming that since her calculated daily BMR is 1400 calories, she is smaller and has less muscle mass than I do. My estimated BMR is around 1700 calories but since I’m so active, my estimated caloric intake needed to maintain my weight is around 2700 calories.
I had reservations about cutting down my protein because I didn’t want to risk losing any lean mass, but curiosity and ketone envy got the best of me, so I attempted a trial of 3 days where I attempted to consume less protein to see if I can replicate her ketone levels.
Day 1: As you can see, I didn’t do too well in cutting my protein down. I found that I started to get hungry so I ate more, and when I went to tally up my results, I saw that by the end of the day I ate right in the range of my typical average of around 100-120 gm. For exercise, I did a light IFAST workout with foam rolling and some basic core movements. My blood ketones the following morning measured 0.7 mmol/L.
Day 2: I did a little better by cutting down my protein to 86.5 gm. I found that I ran into the same problem as I was tallying up my numbers throughout the day. I just got too damn hungry and couldn’t resist eating more. I started doubting whether I could get myself into the 50 gm range that Dr. Ede did. For exericse I did a slightly more rigorous IFAST (but still light and gentle) workout with weights that gave me a light sweat. My ketones the following morning measured 0.9 mmol/L.
Day 3: I successfully fought against the hunger I was feeling and managed to keep my protein intake to 69 gm. This was really uncomfortable for me though since I experienced the strongest hunger pangs I’ve felt since starting this experiment. I concluded previously that protein is for satiating for me, and this experience only reinforces that further. I had a pretty rigorous Crossfit intro session for exercise. On the following morning, my blood ketones measured 1.5 mmol/L. I thought that this was a slight improvement, but I didn’t get too excited since I’ve seen that exercise can raise my ketones, and 1.5 mmol/L is in line with what I’ve observed before.
Day 4: Since I wasn’t seeing the higher ketones I was hoping for, I tried one more day… and failed because I got too hungry. I used this day as a rest day and didn’t do any exercises. My ketones the following morning were 1.3 mmol/L.
My takeaways from this experience are:
- It’s too damn hard for me to cut my protein down. I just get too hungry. Ketone envy or not, it’s just not worth it for me.
- On the day when I managed decrease my intake to 69 gm, which is the lowest I’ve consumed in this entire time that I’ve been keeping a food log, I didn’t see a sufficient elevation of my ketone levels to make me want to continue.
Again, this is the beauty of n=1 experiments, you try things and see. In some cases, sometimes something that will work for others will also work for you, and in other cases it won’t. The problem is you don’t know if you don’t try.
As an aside, while I was in the process of writing this post, Dr Ede posted her most recent results. While she managed to keep her protein intake to around 50 gm and her ketones were still high, she herself wasn’t doing too hot. Some lines for her post (bold emphasis mine):
I ate my entire protein allotment for the day by 10 am because I was so hungry. It helped a lot. Notes: I’m clearly not getting enough of something lately–not enough calories? Not enough protein? Not enough fat? Who knows…
…In the afternoon and evening I found myself distracted by thoughts of food–dancing through my head were images of chocolate cupcakes, giant balls of fresh mozzarella cheese, grilled burgers, and all kinds of yummy things. I was getting mouth-watering hankerings for…well…just about anything…
She concludes by stating:
This current plan is not sustainable for me and is clearly not healthy. Perhaps if I’d been able to comfortably eat more fat, it would have worked, but my blood pressure, energy, and hormonal rhythms are telling me that I need to change the plan. I would have been willing to tolerate some fatigue and some hunger, which some people experience during the first 2-3 weeks of keto-adaptation, but it’s been more than 3 weeks and these have not been the only worrisome signs, so time to increase protein intake.
And regarding having such elevated ketones:
Ketones: When these are in the 5+ range it feels more like starvation (based on my experiences with fasting on days 1 through 4) than dieting, and doesn’t feel healthy. I feel cold, sluggish, and can’t sleep.
After reading all this, my ketone envy is probably misguided. The benefits don’t seem to outweigh the costs when it comes to striving for higher ketones.