This is a guest post written by Bosona who I met through one of the reddit/keto threads where he shared the findings of his own n=1 experiment using a targeted ketogenic diet (TKD), with great results. I asked him if he was willing to write a guest post for this site describing his experiment in more detail and he kindly agreed.
I think it’s useful for folks who visit to see that not all experiments with variants of ketogenic diets end up with crazy lab numbers.
I was also interested to hear more of his story for a very selfish reason: since I’m also in the midst of my own experiment using a variation of the targeted ketogenic diet approach, John Kiefer’s Carb Back-Loading, his results may shed some light on how things turn out for me.
— BJJ Caveman
In December of 2013 after five years of watching my cholesterol levels yo-yo above healthy levels but not quite in the statin-worthy territory the scales have finally tipped and my doc prescribed Lipitor.
This isn’t exactly obvious just by looking at my diet or me as I was never very overweight and have always eaten healthy non-processed home-prepared foods with plenty of fruit and very limited amounts of sweets or salty snacks. But, both my parents despite similar habit have high cholesterol themselves and with genes like those it looked like I never had a chance. So I panicked of course… And then I bought myself a 3 month extension for one last desperate try.
Less then 4 months ago I’ve never even heard of Keto diet. I knew I had luck dropping weight when I needed to on a low carb diet but “ketosis” wasn’t a term I was familiar with. Without wasting a lot of space on how I got to keto (a chain of random and serendipitous events) once I did start looking into it I was left with mixed feelings. For every study or personal testimonial showing a decrease in cholesterol levels there was one claiming the opposite. Every study always had something missing that made it not fully applicable for my situation. Just when I would get confident it was the right path something would come up and shake my confidence.
In that research I stumbled upon BJJCaveman… and the texts kept me up at night. Here was someone with near identical approach as mine, thinking along the same lines, meticulous in research and with sound reasoning … and the results were horrible! The man went from near ideal numbers on a standard American diet to borderline high on Slow Carb Diet, and then moved from bad to worst, straight into the statin-worthy level high on Keto!
In the end I made the same conclusion as he did. The effect of ketogenic diet on LDL levels seem to be highly individual and quite literally anything can happen.
Nevertheless, through all the reading a strategy began to form and I decided to shoot for the following:
1) Drop 5-8 lbs from my starting weight
2) Utilize the TKD approach and keep saturated fat low
3) Hit the gym
4) Once the weight was down use the body recomp principles to reduce body fat and build muscle at the same time
So why Keto? – I had some luck on low carb diets before so I thought, if low carb was good, maybe uber-low carb was better. Some studies and people reported luck with it and I rolled the dice hoping maybe I could be one of them.
Why TKD? – 3 primary reasons. For one, I had the principles of nutrient timing so deeply engrained in me during all my previous weight lifting experience that my brain just could not see how I could not have that Post-Workout protein/carb shake. Since the TKD protocol allowed for this I thought it would be a win-win. Secondly, I wanted to avoid a possibility where “a chronic low carb state can actually lead to hypothyroidism manifested by a low T3 (the potent form of thyroid hormone), which then causes a decrease in LDL receptors (the guys that pick out LDL from your blood stream), which causes a higher serum cholesterol level.” (Point number 4) And thirdly, this was a good way to sneak some oatmeal into the diet for its supposed cholesterol fighting abilities. I ate it prior to workouts fully realizing it’s far from an optimal pre-workout form of carbs, but my goal here was cholesterol reduction, not optimal bodybuilding nutrition.
Why low Saturated Fat? – One of the studies that was giving me hope in keto diet approach had saturated fats limited at 20%. Also bjjcaveman’s research was showing this as well (point number 1) This seemed reasonable to me. A gut feeling if you will.
Why gym? – Light cardio wasn’t doing the trick for me. Prior to getting tested I was taking a minimum of 5 mile walks every day sometimes spiking to 10 miles. In most studies exercise was shown as an important factor in cholesterol reduction. And on top of it all, in all my previous weight lifting stretches the nutrition was one of my weak points. I figured if I am going to start counting calories for the first time in my life I might as well hit the weights and see what I can do when both of these things are done right.
And the results are in…
So you don’t have to wait for the very end of the text to see if any of this worked out I’ll skip ahead and let you know how all this turned out and you can read on for details below it if you are so inclined.
Total cholesterol: 260
Weight = 175 lbs at 6’ height and 17.5% bodyfat*
Exactly 3 Months Later:
Total cholesterol: 186
Weight = 166 lbs and 11% bodyfat*
Jackpot! I had hope that I would get out of the statin territory though I was nowhere near certain. I gave myself 50-50 odds. I never even dared to hope for near normalization.
Triglyceride drop I intuitively expected. Most of the research showed this was a consistent result of keto dieting. HDL dropping was a bit of a surprised. I liked it where it was before; it was my only “good” indicator. Now it’s in some kind of a limbo between optimal (>60) and low (<40). But it’s closer to optimal so I can’t complain. VLDL is now well in the normal range (5-30). LDL, the biggest unknown before I started all this dropped down by over 50 points. Not optimal (<100) but out of the statin/high zone (>160).
*Note that the body fat % above was derived by using a pair of digital calipers, taking 5+ measurements, crossing out the lowest and highest result and averaging the rest. I’m hoping for consistency and decent precision if not full accuracy.
Onward for details…
Like I mentioned above the goal was a TKD diet using the body recomp principles after dropping the initial desired weight all while keeping saturated fat at about 20% of total fat consumption.
Keto diet principles are fairly straightforward. About a gram of protein per lb of lean body weight (body weight minus fat), less then 30g of carbs (not counting the fiber) and the rest from fat. This works out to about 30% of calories from protein, 5% from carbs and 65% from fat. This is a starting baseline and can be adjusted on individual basis as some people can maintain ketosis with more then 30g of carbs a day but for starters it’s a good rule of thumb to stick with.
The body recomposition principles are also pretty straightforward in theory. Your total WEEKLY caloric intake needs to stay at the maintenance level, while eating a deficit on rest days and a surplus on training days. The goal being to build muscle on training days and burn fat on rest days. Simple in theory but very difficult to achieve in practice consistently over a longer period of time. Needless to say precision is key here.
To get some initial numbers I used a ketogains calculator on reddit and then did some number crunching. You can use the instructions on that or similar calculators for details but the gist of it is to figure out you daily TDEE’s and add 10% to 20% on top of the training day intake and take away proportionally that very same amount from the rest days. Keep in mind all calculators are very inaccurate and a lot of the input is pure guessing so you will have to monitor your results and make adjustments until you get it right.
Armed with the macro ratios I then set up a spreadsheet and began inputting some of the foods I planed on eating with the corresponding breakdown in calories, protein, carbs, fiber and saturated fat. I then added some formulas to excel to display all the running totals in percentages as well for added clarity and visibility.
There are plenty of fitness apps and websites that do similar I suppose, but I didn’t have time nor desire to go out there to research and try them all plus I wanted full control so I went with plain ol’ Excel.
While there is more or less general consensus out there around protein and fat intake the carb intake on TKD diets is nowhere near as straightforward. Everyone seems to have an opinion and it boils down to “try it and see what happens”. So that’s what I did. Lyle McDonald in “The Ketogenic Diet: A complete guide for the Dieter and Practitioner” gives a rough range between 25-50 grams pre workout and the same range for post workout. I went with the low end on the pre-workout side and high end on the post workout side.
Like I mentioned I eat oats pre-workout for their cholesterol fighting traits even though they are very far from being optimal pre-workout food.
Post workout within 15 minutes I consume a combo of 25g whey protein and 50 grams of maltodextrin. I have no idea how optimal this is, it’s just the first thing I tried. I find that I am back in ketosis within 5-6 hours after consuming the PWO shake.
Once I entered most of the foods I was comfortable with I found just how predictable my diet was. I have less then 50 entries and that includes multiple rows for various cuts and fat content of the same types of meat. In essence my diet boils down to various cuts of beef, poultry, 4-5 kinds of fish (salmon, tuna, talapia, cod), limited dairy products, lots of nuts (walnuts primarily, but also almonds, hazelnuts and pecans), natural peanut butter, soup broth with chicken wings and vegetables to prevent muscle cramps and blackberries as treats. Green vegetables are added wherever I can and I don’t waste time tracking or measuring them in my tracker. Nothing fancy, lots of room for experimentation if I was so inclined. This was meant as a 3 month experiment to see if it works and I didn’t go all out with gourmet variety.
The lifting routine
In my case the lifting routine was the least problematic choice. I’ve been gone from the gym so long that even looking at the weight would probably do me some good. I picked a random structured progressive strength program and was on my way. I picked Starting Strength as I though it was as good a program as any for my purposes.
And then I managed to cause some nerve damage while squatting… My left arm was going completely numb during squatting and a tingly sensation in the tips of my fingers would linger for days. In my eagerness I tried to “work through it”. Not smart. Then I made another mistake. I tried to self diagnose via internet. Freaked myself out thoroughly. Long story short, I gave up Starting Strength and squatting 3 times a week and went to a more traditional split routine (push-pull-legs). The arm-numbing problem wasn’t going away so I improvised further by giving up squats temporarily for leg presses (hey its better then nothing) and going away from 5X5 to 3X8. This is working out nicely so far as my arm has gotten better and my strength gains continue at a steady pace.
M – Deadlifts, Pendlay Rows, BB bicep curls
W – Bench Press, Standing BB shoulder press, dips
F – Leg press, SLDL’s, Weighted crunches
Stomach vacuums on each of these days. Increase weight every time I can do 3 sets of 8 reps.
Throughout this experiment I have been taking the following supplements:
- Red Yeast Rice – 1200mg – This supposedly helps out on the cholesterol end, but I have been taking it for years now and just by itself it seems to have limited effect on me.
- Vitamin D3 – I take this usually every winter duo to reduced sun exposure
- Omega-3 – Helps cholesterol supposedly
- B-complex – I can’t even remember why I’m taking this, I just do.
- ZMA (Zinc monomethionine and aspartate and Magnesium Aspartate) – I am trying this on recommendation from a friend – Supposedly helps recovery by helping you stay in deep sleep longer. Now, just by chance I actually do monitor how much deep sleep I get via fitness bracelet and to be perfectly honest I don’t see a difference.
- Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Gold Standard – Protein
- NOW Carbo Gain – Maltodextrin for my PWO shake
Here are some random thoughts and observations I didn’t think needed individual elaboration.
- There doesn’t see to be an end on how much weight you can drop on this diet. It seems to be very effective for weight loss.
- I can confirm it had appetite-suppressing effect on me as reported by many others. I had a damn hard time hitting the daily goals even on deficit days early on!
- Again as reported by many it seems to have a positive effect on skin. But no, Nivea is not going to put your mug on magazine ad for skin product.
- Constipation can be a problem. Got to find a way to get more fiber in.
- I can tolerate hunger a lot better now when there are no carb crashes. I was downright nasty when hungry. With blood sugar not spiking this seems to have resolved itself.
- No I didn’t become a super genius from all the brain fueling ketons. Attention is maybe improved by not crashing after lunch though.
- I don’t get cravings, but I do miss having fruit other then a cup of blackbarries or strawberries here and there.
Conclusion and where next
With the short term goal met the experiment continues. My next goal is to add on 5-8 lbs of muscle and recheck the numbers to see if extra weight alone will negatively impact the cholesterol levels. If that goes well I might mess with the diet to see with how much carbs I can get away with.
Last thing I want to stress here again is that this entire text is shared in the spirit of “n=1 experimenting”. I am not making a single general statement about keto and cholesterol impact but am sharing my own personal observations on this little experiment. At the very best this is just one more data point in your own research and nothing more.
I wanted to than Bosona again for sharing such a detailed post about his experience. I’m eager to see the results of his continued experiment and will be sure to get a followup from him.
If you have any further questions for Bosona, you can ask them in the comments at the bottom of this post or contact him through his reddit account here.
It’s amazingly gratifying to know that my research and posts have helped folks out there which inspires me to want to write even more!
— BJJ Caveman