Dr Emil's keto experiment - the results are in!
How did Dr Emil get on following a ketogenic diet?
For the last 5 weeks, our bodybuilding doctor Emil has been following a ketogenic diet, read part 1 of his experiment here.
We caught up with him to see how he found the challenge!
How did you find the ketogenic diet?
I found the ketogenic diet an extremely interesting experience for so many reasons. Throughout the experiment, I felt pretty amazing and feel that I was reaping the full benefits by the end of the 5 weeks. For me, these included an increased focus, a perception of increased cognition and a reduced appetite/ hunger suppression. Although it wasn’t all a walk in the park, eating out was much easier than expected. It was very easy to remove carbs from menu options in restaurants with bun-less cheeseburgers being a very easy and keto-friendly eating out 'hack’!
How were your ‘after’ results and were there any surprises?
I was pretty healthy before but from my research prior, I expected my cholesterol to rise, my blood sugar control to improve and thought my thyroid function may deteriorate. I took the new Endurance Fit test before and after the experiment - this is a great test, not just for athletes, but also for people who want to check their overall health as well as hormones that could be affected by training and nutrition (check it out - currently with a £50 off introductory offer!)
Cholesterol results before
Cholesterol results after
My ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL) has risen the most and is slightly above normal (this is healthy and fine) and overall my total cholesterol to HDL ratio has gone from 3.1 before to 3 afterwards so has technically improved (though I would be cautious in interpretation of this as it’s a short time frame, a minor change and only 2 data points).
Testosterone and Thyroid results before
Testosterone and Thyroid results after
As predicted (though again of questionable significance), my testosterone has risen slightly and my thyroid function (TSH) has also increased (which is arguably slightly worse) but given that these levels fluctuate and my thyroid hormone thyroxine has gone up, these are not conclusive over the time frame. I would be inclined to avoid keto if you have thyroid issues.
Did it impact your training in any way?
Training was an interesting one. I did feel as though I was less effective in the gym for the first few weeks however as time went on this improved and my training felt as effective as it was before. I have always been under the belief that training would suffer without carbs. Carbs are the primary fuel source for muscle contraction but the step that is missed is that it is usually in the form of muscle glycogen. These are the stored carbs within the muscle that are the immediately available form of energy used during weight training.
Muscle glycogen levels fill up between gym sessions and there are a variety of mechanisms within the body that convert any fuel source (fats, carbs or protein) into muscle glycogen over time. This means that your muscle glycogen stores are absolutely sufficient and any food that you eat immediately prior to training will likely just sit in your stomach undigested and do nothing!
This applies mainly to gym training. If you are doing long endurance events, then you certainly DO need to refuel with carbohydrates as muscle glycogen stores will not last that long and need to be replenished rapidly.
Will you carry on eating keto in the future after this experiment?
Yes, given that I felt so good and had no issue finding food which I enjoyed, there is no reason not to. That said, I do enjoy carbs and apart from the benefits described above (focus, hunger control etc), you can be perfectly healthy with a more balanced diet and keto has no specific metabolic benefit when it comes to fat loss compared to other diets (I have gotten down to 5% body fat eating hundreds of grams of carbs per day in the past).
In this regard, I will take a short break and then continue to experiment with keto to try to get the most out of it in terms of health, flexibility and performance!
What would be your tips for anyone wanting to try and start following the ketogenic diet?
I love experimenting with things like this and I try to put them across in a balanced, non-biased way. In this regard, if your primary goal is fat loss then I probably wouldn’t recommend keto. First off you need to take control of your calorie intake and be aware of the macronutrients that you are consuming (protein, carbs and fats). Once you have this in check and are not struggling with diet or food then it may be a good chance to give the ketogenic diet a go to see if it suits your lifestyle. I would say think long and hard before going keto. It’s certainly not a breeze and a lot of the benefits are anecdotal. Many people will not experience the full range of benefits and I cannot rule out the fact that the benefits may be partially or fully attributable to the placebo effect.
Finally, I have a solid base of healthy habits, good sleep and regular exercise and all of these will contribute to the positive effects that I have experienced with this diet. These are worth sorting out first prior to experimenting with ketogenic dieting which should just be the icing on top of the cake and not the whole cake itself.