This is a long post. Pics are at the botttom.
Reading over my old keto-related posts, I may not have emphasized CICO (calories-in, calories-out) nearly enough. Simply put, CICO is the only thing that matters in fat-loss and maintenance. Everything else is nuance. Keto is simply a tool; a method for simplifying CICO and managing appetite.
Below are the highlights of what I’ve learned while leaning out on keto.
But first, the reason I might get so OCD about all this is two-fold:
1) When I was in poor health as a young adult (smoker, sedentary, 70-lb overweight), I always meant to become a fit and active “grown-up.” When I’m careless with nutrition and store more body-fat, an unfortunate amount goes to inter-organ visceral fat, which is associated with metabolic and cardio-vascular disease. I’ll go into this further in a later post, or series of posts.
2) Nowadays, I’ve come to like the idea of competing. Even though I’m decidedly mediocre as a runner and cyclist, the idea of competing still adds a level of discipline and focus to the effort. With both trail running and road cycling, a huge limiting factor is extra weight (especially in the hilly Bay Area). A few extra pounds costs minutes in even a short race like a 5k. Extra weight also increases injury risk and compounds joint impact with every step and downstroke.
THE NUMBERS THAT MATTER
Some keto folks get caught up with the bacon & butter and think that dietary fat is what defines keto. It’s not. Being in ketosis (via limiting carbs) is what defines keto. Dietary fat might add flavor and satiety to meals -- and that’s a beautiful thing -- but when on a cut, the biggest and easiest calorie-source to reduce is dietary fat.
That is, how would you prefer to eat 100 calories? From a small pat of butter? Or from massive bowls of lettuce and colorful, crisp veggies?
Body-fat Weight: There is an upper limit to how much body-fat the average person can burn over a period of time. And it’s proportional to the amount of body-fat a person has. That is, the leaner you get, the less fat-mass you can burn.
Per various conclusions, that limit translates to roughly 30 calories per pound of body-fat per day. To eliminate the guesswork, I’ve had a series of DEXA scans to verify my body-fat changes over time. Armed with this info, I’ve been able to better target how much I should be eating to maximize fat-loss while minimizing lean-mass loss.
A deficit beyond that 30-calories per pound of body-fat guide would hurt my fitness gains. (In real-life, though, that’s a massive calorie deficit that I find unsustainable.)
Dietary Protein: I follow the general guide of eating 1.5 grams of protein (6 calories) per pound of lean mass per day. Combined with some strength training, that amount of dietary protein spares my lean mass from the cut.
As mentioned in earlier posts, being in ketosis helps manage my response to hunger. It helps prevent making poor food choices. In addition to ketosis, I’ve found that doing the following helps tremendously while in deficit:
- IF (intermittent fasting – going 16 hours after dinner and first meal of the day). I’ve experimented with longer fasted periods, but found 16 hours a good balance to maintain energy levels. As mentioned in earlier keto posts, I do this because it frees up my daily schedule and makes meal-time that much more satisfying (vs the often-recommended 5-6 small meals per day). There are also hormonal benefits that are too science-y to detail here.
- Eat tons and tons of salad and fibrous low-calorie veggies -- and Beano + Gas-X !)
- Make frequent visits to the grocery market, and shop for only a few days into the future -- within reason. Keeps salads and veggies fresh and crisp. Helps avoid stocking up on food I should avoid anyway.
- Limit calorie-dense food in the house. (Again, within reason. We have two young vibrant kids who eat closer to a standard American diet.) Not in the fridge. Not in the cupboards. Out of site, out of mind.
- Keep lifting to maintain lean mass.
PROOF OF CONCEPT
I discovered something neat while going through old pics.
A couple years ago (summer of 2014), I experimented with an extended deficit with practically zero workouts. I was recovering from a string of injuries and surgeries that limited any kind of exertion. Not working out also simplified my calorie-deficit requirements. In the end, I got down to 134 at lowest and it did not look good. I had very little muscle. I was not just skinny-fat, but bony-fat.
From late 2014 through 2015, while mostly injury free, I re-started some strength training, then got heavily into trail distance running. Here’s from late summer 2015:
Not bad, but still a bit soft in the mid-section.
In late 2015, I had a pair of terrible injuries that shut everything down: 1) A frozen left shoulder that developed after a pair of rotator-cuff injuries and 2) A badly sprained ankle that I kept re-aggravating.
Between the two injuries, I couldn’t lift heavy nor stay on my feet for any duration. By the spring of 2016, it became clear that any race goals I had for the year were out the window.
Even now, after eight months of focused rehab, the injuries still limit any kind of heavy lifting and high-impact cardio.
But, ya know what? I could still do some things well. I could stay positive. I could eat clean. I could do a core routine. And I could have goals!
Instead of racing, the goal became to lean-out ahead of a summer vacation in Hawaii. It was to prove a point that CICO mattered most. What would it look like if I ate below maintenance and kept up with my core and injury-rehab routines?
Here’s the progress from late-April to late-July this year. We’re going to Hawaii next week, so the last pic will be my maintenance goal for August.
NEXT POST: Keto and next-level diagnostics