There’s a common misconception with keto diets: that all of the fat loss is solely due to the conversion of fatty acids (from fats) into ketones to fuel the body and brain.
It’s true that when we deprive our bodies of a source of glucose (carbs), our body looks for a backup source of energy, especially for our brain. Our body can fuel almost every function with fatty acids, but not our brain.
Normally, the brain runs exclusively on glucose, so when we eliminate carbs and deplete our glucose stores (glycogen), we need an alternate source of fuel. This is where ketones come in. Our body converts fatty acids into ketones, which partly replaces glucose as a source of fuel for our brain. In this state, we’re utilizing fat as an energy source. But…
That being said, while in ketosis much of the weight loss actually comes from the body burning fatty acids DIRECTLY as a source of fuel – and to benefit from this kind of fat-burning, you DO NOT need to be in ketosis. (Later, we’ll dive into the real trigger for fat loss.)
Why You Lose Weight on Keto
The next distinction we need to make is that weight loss and fat loss are not the same thing. There are three reasons you “lose weight” on a keto or low-carb diet, and only one of those reasons has anything to do with actually losing body fat (which is the only kind of weight you should be trying to lose).
3 Reasons You Lose Weight On a Keto Diet
1) Loss of Water Weight
Our bodies store glucose in the form of glycogen, and 80% of that glycogen is stored in our skeletal muscle. Glycogen can hold three times its weight in water. After we eliminate carbs from our diet, and our bodies burn through the stored glycogen, our muscles shed water and we lose weight.
This is that initial weight people drop on a low-carb diet that makes them believe they’re quickly losing fat. But it’s really just water weight. The glycogen and water that were stored in the muscle also leaves our muscles feeling “deflated.”
2) Loss of Muscle
Muscle is similar to stored body fat in that it’s full of energy stores (in the form of amino acids) that our body can convert to glucose. If we don’t get enough glucose through external dietary sources, the body will look inward. Even in ketosis, the brain is only partially fueled by ketones; the rest of the fuel comes in the form of glucose, which the body will create from stored proteins in the muscles if necessary.
This breakdown of muscle for energy is called catabolism (or being catabolic). When trying to build muscle, this is a bad thing. It’s also a bad thing when trying to lose fat. Think of muscle as your metabolic engine or furnace, in that it requires (burns) a lot of calories. If you want to be leaner, it’s easier with more muscle, not less.
When consuming high amounts of dietary proteins or amino acids (EAAs and BCAAs), we can offset some of the catabolism, but many keto dieters are afraid to consume too much protein in fear of the body converting that protein into glucose and taking them out of ketosis. Unfortunately, your body is going to produce glucose whether you want it to or not. Remember, you need a baseline level of blood sugar (glucose) to survive. Sugar is not always a bad thing; it’s actually necessary.
3) Loss of Body Fat Through Controlling Insulin
The real fat-burning benefits of a keto or low-carb diet don’t come from starving ourselves of carbohydrates – they come from managing blood sugar levels, and in turn insulin levels.
The carbs you eat are converted into glucose (a sugar), which is then released into the bloodstream. This is what’s referred to as “raising blood sugar levels.” To help regulate this rise in blood sugar, the body releases insulin – aka “the storage hormone.” Insulin allows fat cells, muscle cells and liver cells to absorb glucose, where it’s either used for energy or converted into fat for long-term storage (stored body fat).
When following a keto or low-carb diet, you’re ensuring that blood sugar and insulin levels don’t get too high, and thus avoiding unwanted body fat storage. This right here is the real secret behind the fat-burning effects of a keto or low-carb diet.
A Better Solution for Sustained Fat Loss: Carb Conscious
What if you could get the same powerful fat-burning benefits of a keto or low-carb diet, but make it more sustainable? What if you could do it without sacrificing the calorie-burning metabolic effects of having more lean muscle? What if you could have the same kind of mental clarity and energy, but also more stored glucose to keep those muscles full and to fuel high intensity exercise? You can! It’s called being carb conscious, and it’s all about eating the proper types of carbs in the right amounts and avoiding the wrong types of carbs.
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