The Ketogenic diet is growing in popularity, with thousands more taking it up every day. If you’re reading this I’m guessing you already know a little about the Keto diet. Heck you may be on a Keto diet right now! (If you’re not, check out this Beginner’s Guide to the Keto Diet.)
Many people eating a ketogenic diet, it turns out, may not actually be in full ketosis, and certainly not in a state of optimal ketosis which is ideal for maximising weight loss on the diet.
Most of the benefits that a ketogenic way of eating can provide (mental focus, constant energy levels, weight control) require a high level of ketone bodies in the blood and a low presence of glucose which is what we’ll be aiming to acheive in this guide.
This article is going to give you 6 actionable steps to make sure you’re doing keto correctly, and getting your ketone levels up for optimal ketosis and weight loss. Enjoy!
Why Optimal Ketosis?
Take a look at these scenarios, do any of these describe your situation:
- You’ve been eating a Keto diet for a while, but your weight loss has been slow. Perhaps you’ve had low energy levels throughout
- You’ve had a good run losing weight but now your Keto diet has stalled, you still have some more weight you want to drop
- You’re just starting a Keto diet. Either you’ve not seen any notable weight loss, or you have seen some, but it’s come with an extended period of low level Keto flu, low energy levels and mental clarity
- You’ve slipped in and out of the Keto diet, and want to restart again properly and achieve some fast, consistent fat burning
Optimal ketosis is the state in which your body is most efficiently using it’s supplies of fats for fuel. A lot of us are close, but not quite there, which is why many feel various keto side effects such as extended bouts of keto flu and occasional drops in energy levels and weight loss plateaus.
When my body is using it’s fats efficiently, when I stick to the steps below, I find myself experiencing all of the great benefits you see people shouting about online when they finally get the keto diet:
My hunger goes away, and cravings start to dissipate
I’m able to focus at work all through the day, no slumps of energy and tiredness
Any excess weight starts to fall away again if I’ve recently been a bit lazy with my diet and have got back into an optimal ketosis state.
It’s a great feeling, and something that I try to explain to my non-keto friends. Some just don’t seem to get that it’s possible to not get hungry every few hours, or want a mid-afternoon, post lunchtime nap!
If you’re not sure whether you’re in ketosis yet at all, then give this guide to ketosis symptoms a read first.
If you’re reaching a plateau or struggling to kick start weight loss on the diet then read on for steps to boost your progress and reach a state of optimal ketosis. For rapid weight loss on a Keto diet you need to be following these steps (these are ordered in order of impact on ketosis so start with number 1 as a priority!)
Warning – the following are not recommended for Type 1 diabetics!
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1. Cut the Carbs…Seriously!
Yes, you’ve heard this one a hundred times, but many people underestimate the amount of carbs they’re still consuming when on a ketogenic diet.
The key is to understand that many foods that appear to be low carb can still contain enough to push you out of ketosis if you consume too much in one sitting.
For optimal ketosis you want to be restricting net carbs to 20g or preferably less per day.
At this level every carb counts, so if you’re aiming for optimal ketosis it may be worth keeping a detailed food journal for a few days to record your food intake. Try using an app like MyFitnessPal to get the macronutrient breakdown of everything you’ve been eating, the results may surprise you to see where carbs sneak in.
You need to be paying attention to all elements of your meals, that means condiments, spices, seasonings etc as well which can often be where carbs slip in. Some key culprits of carb laden foods in disguise are as follows, always check the label!:
• Condiments like ketchup, bbq sauce, some mustards
• Flavoured yoghurts
• Some peanut butters and other nut butters
• Dressings and balsamic vinegar (3g per tablespoon…)
• Nuts, especially Cashews (9g per ounce)
• Milk (11-12g per cup)
• Sun dried tomatoes (13g per 1/2 cup)
• Corn (41g per 1/3 cup!)
• Root vegetables
Snacks in particular are an area where carbs can start to creep back in, especially if you’re away from home and need a quick fix. Check out this keto snack list for no-prep snacks to have at hand or in your bag ready to go when hunger strikes.
2. Try Intermittent Fasting and Keto for More Weight Loss
A Ketogenic diet is often referred to as a fast mimicking diet, due to the effects in the body that we are trying to stimulate through our diet. The benefits of fasting have been well known for many years and the body of scientific research is growing. Some of the key benefits are seen below:
• Improves insulin sensitivity
• Improves cellular repair
• Enhances hormone function for weight loss
• Reduces inflammation
• Improved mental clarity
Intermittent fasting is a method for getting some of the benefits from a fast, whilst still eating regularly, making this easier to incorporate into most people lives than going for days at a time without food.
A restricted eating window is defined each day, for instance 8 hours in the evening, during which all your calories for the day are consumed. The other 16 hours of the day you go without food (hopefully 8 hours of this is spent sleeping!) Some limit their eating window even further, for instance doing a 20 hour/ 4 hour split.
As you get further from your last meal your body goes through a number of metabolic changes, adapting the body to best make use of what fuel it has for the long term.
During the first few days of a fast your body actually uses more energy than normal, this is an evolutionary tactic to give you more energy to find food. For our ancestors this would be a vital advantage, but we can use this initial window of changes to our body for our advantage when trying to lose weight.
Fasting whilst on a Keto diet should serve to quickly get you into ketosis, and producing higher levels of ketones than usual.
You may find you need to ease into fasting if you haven’t tried previously. Progressively expand your ‘fasting window’ by, for instance, eating your breakfast later and later, and your dinner earlier and earlier. At some point you may then skip breakfast all together and carry on through to lunch. With this method you can adapt to a 16 hour fast quite quickly, and to longer fasts if you desire.
Longer fasts of 24hrs or more can be used as an additional tool in your Keto toolbox. A prolonged fast, combined with light exercise will quickly deplete your body’s glycogen stores and get you into ketosis.
I find this especially useful after a ‘less than perfect’ weekend on Keto. Sometimes I slip up on the Keto diet, either from socialising, laziness, or alcohol (those 3am pizzas definitely aren’t low carb…) If I’ve had a carb heavy weekend then I’ll plan a 24 hour fast for some point in the next week.
What this usually means is having dinner on a Sunday night, and then going through Monday until having dinner in the evening. During the day I’ll make a point of going for a long walk (I walk 45 minutes each way to work each day) to further deplete glycogen.
For me combining intermittent fasting with Keto eating is my balancing mechanism against days when I fall off the Keto wagon. It can also be a great way to reset your relationship with food for those who are prone to snacking, and for the Keto diet can accelerate ketosis and ketone production.
On a side note: Fasting also saves me a bunch of money, I rarely have breakfast and cook my lunches and dinners in bulk to stay on budget. I’ve got a bunch of keto money saving tips here in my keto on a budget guide.
3. Deplete Your Glycogen Through Daily Exercise for Optimal Ketosis
If your idea of exercise is the walk from the couch to the refrigerator, then this one might be for you.
Your muscles can retain a significant amount of glycogen, which will be used for fuel by your muscles first, before recruiting fats. To jump start ketosis or reach a deeper state of ketosis you may want to include some light exercise to burn through these glycogen reserves.
If you’re new to the Ketogenic diet then take it easy and go with some long walks, at a moderate intensity, enough to hold a conversation but only just.
An hour’s walk each day bring’s a whole bunch of other benefits, but it may help nudge your body into tapping into fat reserves sooner. For those more fat adapted or who are at a higher level of general fitness, then up the intensity of the exercise.
This tactic for depleting glycogen is especially useful after a cheat day, or moment of low will power where you’ve eaten too many carbs. In these situations my priority is to get back into ketosis as quickly as possible and burn up all those naughty carbs.
I like to combine some brisk walks or light jogging with a prolonged fast to really accelerate the transition back into ketosis. This isn’t something I’d recommend doing straight away without some adaptation, try either exercise or fasting but not the two together if you’re new to the Ketogenic diet.
My own protocol makes use of the fact that I walk to my office each day for 45 minutes each way. Combined with an hours walk at lunch I can get in 2 and a half hours of walking to deplete glycogen. Try to fit in light exercise wherever you can in your day, taking the stairs, walking rather than driving if possible, your body will thank you for it!
For more information on exercising on the keto diet check out this guide!
4. Check Your Protein Consumption
Excessive protein consumption is one of the easiest ways to accidentally kick yourself out of ketosis. People can become so obsessed with ‘net carbs’ and dodging sugars but don’t think twice about their protein intake.
Why this matters is a process called gluconeogenesis, a mechanism in the body for getting energy from proteins, by essentially converting them into glucose! This can be a common cause for someone not getting into full ketosis, especially if lots of meat and fish is included in the diet.
As a general rule you should be aiming for around 20% of your daily calorie intake to be coming from protein.
Aiming for a range between 0.7 and 0.9 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass should be about right, depending on your activity level. If you’re doing lots of exercise and lifting weights you can go to the top of this range or a little higher. But if you’re mainly sedentary then stick to the bottom end (although do re-visit step 3 if this is you!)
If you find you’re not entering ketosis, or losing weight on the keto diet this may be one of the areas to watch, especially if you’re not seeing results after properly cutting carb intake.
5. Add MCT Oil to Your Diet
MCT stands for Medium Chain Triglycerides, which are a special type of fatty acid typically found in coconut and palm oil amongst others, in fact coconut oil is a great source.
Whilst you can get some MCT oil from coconut oil etc. there are products which are pure MCT. These are tasteless and odourless which makes them a great addition to smoothies and shakes to boost your fat intake and improve optimal ketosis.
MCT’s are an easily digested and metabolized type of fat, which can be like rocket fuel on a keto diet (especially useful during the transition to a keto diet and avoiding the keto flu!) After consuming mct oils they are very quickly converted in the liver into ketones, boosting your blood ketosis level and supplying the constant level of energy that ketosis is well known for.
If adding MCT to you keto diet, remember that it is a fat and therefore contributes to your daily calorie intake and macros. Some people report stomach discomfort from MCTs so it’s best to start with a small amount before increasing incrementally.
6. Try Adding These Further Supplements and Ingredients
Sometimes we just need a further boost, and that’s where supplementation comes in. The below list is a selection of off the counter supplements as well as various culinary ingredients that you can add to your diet to further enhance weight loss and reach optimal ketosis.
The focus of most of these ingredients it to help control blood sugar, and in particular insulin spikes and the glycemic load from consuming carbs. We want our body to be using fats as the primary source of fuel for optimal ketosis, so the following additions to your diet can help prevent carbs coming back into play if you’ve consumed a little more than the recommended 20g maximum a day.
• Add Fresh Lemon to Your Water
Particularly around meal times. Lemon juice contains citric acid, which can naturally control blood sugar levels, especially right after eating. Try to add lemon juice to your water, as well as over salads and cooked veg, smoothies etc.
• Try Using Apple Cider Vinegar
This is one of those health ingredients that’s seen touted everywhere, but there’s a good reason for that. The acetic acid found in apple cider vinegar can have a significant impact on the glycemic response from any carbs you eat, reducing the impact on ketosis. This study found that consuming the vinegar prior to a carb rich meal could reduce the glycemic response by 31%!
Additionally, the vinegar can contain enzymes which enhance our body’s metabolism of proteins and fats. Go for a raw, organic and unfiltered apple cider vinegar with the ‘mother’ (the good bacteria that fermented the vinegar) still inside like this classic Raw Cider Vinegar by Bragg
• Consume Cinnamon Daily
Cinnamon can inhibit enzymes which interfere with insulin receptors, and improve insulin receptor activity. It has a host of other health benefits such as having high anti-oxidant levels, anti-inflammatory properties, improves cholesterol markers, anti-diabetic effects.
Try to get in 2 tsp of cinnamon a day into your diet. It’s great in shakes and smoothies and many keto dessert recipes. You can also sprinkle into coffee (especially bulletproof coffee!)
• Add Turmeric to Your Diet
The key ingredient in turmeric is a compound called curcumin. This has a range of potential health benefits but importantly can improve insulin receptor function and improve sugar uptake and utilization.
It can also reduce certain liver enzymes which release sugar into the bloodstream, whilst activating other enzymes which encourage storage of glucose as glycogen in the muscles. This could reduce the glucose being used as a primary fuel source in the blood stream after consumption, maintaining ketosis as the main metabolic process taking place.
It’s best to combine turmeric with a healthy fat source and some black pepper to improve uptake, with the peperine in pepper activating the curcumin. If possible avoid having to cook the turmeric, adding it at the end of cooking for maximum benefit.
What is Optimal Ketosis?
For those of you who want to be certain you’re in an optimal state of ketosis, there are a couple of ways to test your body ketone levels, with the reading generally being given as ‘mmol/L’ (millimoles per litre). There are a range of products, at a variety of price points, generally speaking, the more expensive and advanced the more accurate these will be.
It’s best to test first thing in the morning before breakfast when you’re in a fasted state (especially if you’ve implemented step 2 above with intermittent fasting!). The general ranges you may fall into are below along with what they mean:
• Less than 0.5 mmol/L – This isn’t really ketosis, it’s unlikely you’ll be experiencing many of the beneficial effects of ketosis, go back over the steps above to see whether youcan implement any of them better
• 0.5 – 1.5 mmol/L – This is the start of ketosis, with your body being fueled in part by ketones from your diet and stored body fat. It’s likely you’ll experience some weight loss in this range depending on calorie intake.
• 1.3 – 3 mmol/L – Congratulations! You’re in an optimal ketosis range – in this range you’ll likely be experiencing notable weight loss if that’s your goal (ie: you’re in a caloric defecit) along with the other benefits from ketosis such as consistent high energy levels and clear headedness amongst others. Now try to maintain this level by continuing to use the steps above
• Over 3 mmol/L – Above 3 mmol/L the beneficial effects of ketosis don’t increase significantly. A high reading may mean you’re in too severe a caloric defecit. For Type 1 diabetics high levels may indicate a major lack of insulin which must be addressed (again – Type 1 diabetics should not follow the steps outlined above due to various risks)
There are 3 main methods of testing:
Urine test sticks:
Of the 3 methods this is the least accurate, but most affordable entry into ketosis. Whilst unlikely to tell you an exact range to track optimal ketosis, these strips can give a good indication of whether or not you’re in ketosis at all.
This method should generally be more accurate than urine strips, and with most products you don’t need to buy additional strips each time you use it, reducing the long term cost if you plan to test ketones often. A device such as this Ketone Breath Analyzer should do the trick.
Blood Ketone Testing:
This is by far the most accurate way to test your ketone levels, directly from your blood. For those of you who are squeamish however this may be a test too far. A product like the Keto Mojo will give good, accurate results for those looking to hone in their ketosis, but you will need to buy replacement strips and lancets.
Ready for Optimal Ketosis?
So there you have it, 6 steps to reach optimal ketosis and how to know once you’re there. I hope you give these steps a try and incorporate them into your keto journey. If you have, let me know below how you feel once you made it to optimal ketosis and whether you have any other tricks you like to use to keep burning fat effectively.
If you haven’t read our keto beginners guide yet, I’d definitely give that a read to get up to speed.
Looking for low carb recipes to help get started then check out these 10 quick keto dinners as a starting point. Or if you’re in a hurry this guide to the best keto smoothies is a great way to start replacing carbs with fats in your diet!
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