Going keto may sound easy; just stock your kitchen with pounds of bacon, pyramids of avocados, and a fridge full of heavy cream, and you'll have all the fat you need to go keto—at least for this week. Of course, in action, keto is much easier said than done.
The first few weeks can be a struggle as your body begins to adapt to the change from a high-carb to a high-fat diet. A ketogenic diet can bring a lot of benefits, but only if you make it through the toughest part—the first few weeks.
To make your transition as smooth possible, keep calm and keto on with support from these seven staple supplements.
1. Creatine Monohydrate
Creatine is the most extensively studied sports-nutrition supplement available today. Decades of research support its ability to positively impact strength, power, gym performance, and muscle mass.
Because a ketogenic diet is moderate-protein rather than high-protein, your creatine levels may take a hit. This can mean subpar workout results and strength levels, at least compared to what you'd be able to do if your cells were fully stocked! Although you can still get creatine from red meat, salmon, and a few other animal sources, supplementation is the most efficient way to get all the creatine you need.
There's no need to load with gargantuan doses to help you through those first weeks. Just take 5 grams daily at a time most convenient for you.
Beta-alanine helps to produce carnosine, a dipeptide molecule that serves as a buffer against the burning sensation you feel when working in higher repetition ranges and enables you to push out a few more reps before feeling literally "burned out."
In the early days of your ketogenic diet, being able to manage a few more reps can mean faster depletion of your glycogen stores, which is just what you want when you're trying to transition to using fat and ketones as fuel. Once you're keto-adapted, beta-alanine can just help you keep working out at as high a level as you're accustomed.
You can find carnosine naturally in animal meat, but you'd have to eat roughly 30 ounces of lean beef or 120 ounces of chicken daily to see any benefit. You wouldn't do that on any diet, but definitely not keto.
To maximize your stores of carnosine without going over your daily allotment of protein, supplement with 3-6 grams of beta-alanine spread out across 2-4 doses throughout the day.
If you're a coffee drinker, you know how groggy you can feel until you get your first cup of the morning. Now imagine feeling that way for days rather than minutes. That's a pretty good description of how many people feel during the first few weeks on a ketogenic diet.
The keto-experienced swear by an extra coffee or caffeinated tea during this period. If training is on your schedule, you can also get your fix through a pre-workout supplement. Caffeine can provide additional benefits such as increased focus and reduced DOMS.
You know that you'll be cutting carbs dramatically on this diet plan. But did you know that reducing carbs also means reducing the amount of fluids and sodium in your system?
"When you reduce your carbohydrate intake as part of a ketogenic diet, your kidneys undergo a natural diuresis, meaning there's increased water loss from the body," explains Cathy Saenz, PhD, CSCS. "With water loss comes sodium loss. Add to this the water loss from sweat after a heavy workout, and your body is losing a lot of sodium."
Your potassium and magnesium levels can also drop. Combined with the loss of fluids and sodium, a new keto diet can be a surefire way to bring on the "keto-flu." EAS Myoplex athlete Jason Wittrock included lack of electrolytes in his "5 Biggest Keto Mistakes" for good reason!
Fortunately, electrolyte supplements containing both sodium and potassium can help you minimize flu effects such as headaches, lack of focus, fatigue, and nausea. Saenz also recommends adding a dissolved bouillon cube or two to your daily diet. "Be careful with added carbohydrates in some brands, though," she warns.
But what about magnesium? This mineral and electrolyte plays a role in hundreds of enzymatic reactions, including those involved with muscular contraction, protein synthesis, and energy production.[1-4]
You can get magnesium by eating dark leafy greens, nuts, and seeds, all of which should be on the menu in your keto meal plan. If you have any doubt whether your intake is sufficient, Saenz recommends supplementing with 310 milligrams of magnesium per day for women and 400 milligrams per day for men.
5. Protein Powder
Protein powder can be a high-quality, convenient source of protein. Many brands, though, are full of sugar. If you're going keto, check the nutrition label for sugar content, and choose a brand with as few grams as possible.
If you opt for a whey protein powder, consider a whey protein isolate, which tends to have fewer carbohydrates than whey protein concentrate. "Use heavy cream or even a little MCT oil to bring your meal to a more keto-friendly breakdown," suggest Saenz. You can also choose a meal replacement designed for the ketogenic diet to keep you full and recovering from your workout.
6. Branched-Chain Amino Acids
A ketogenic diet goes relatively light on protein because it's simply not necessary. Ketone bodies have a powerful protein-preserving effect, so a little dietary protein goes a long way. However, there's no doubt that amino acids play important roles in building and maintaining muscle tissue. While you're making the transition, you can protect your muscles by sipping fluids high in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) during your workout.
"Just be aware that drinking too much BCAA-enriched fluids—or drinking them too frequently—can unintentionally increase your insulin levels, which may jeopardize ketosis. "Keep your intake to 1-2 servings per day and 4-5 grams per workout," recommends Saenz.
7. HMB (Beta-Hydroxy Beta-MethylButyrate)
Another member of the protein-building-block family is HMB. This byproduct of the breakdown of the amino acid leucine has been shown to have anticatabolic (reduces muscle breakdown) properties. Think of HMB as another way to protect your muscles when you're consuming less protein.
With these nutritional allies in your corner, you should be able to continue training hard while making the switch from carbs to fats. This transition doesn't have to the grueling ordeal that many people make it out to be!
- Gröber, U., Schmidt, J., & Kisters, K. (2015). Magnesium in Prevention and Therapy. Nutrients, 7(9), 8199-8226.
- Rubin, H. (2005). Central Roles of Mg2 and MgATP2− in the Regulation of Protein Synthesis and Cell Proliferation: Significance for Neoplastic Transformation. Advances in Cancer Research, 1-58.
- Jahnen-Dechent, W., & Ketteler, M. (2012). Magnesium basics. Clinical Kidney Journal, 5(Suppl 1), I3-I14.
- Brilla, L. R., & Haley, T. F. (1992). Effect of magnesium supplementation on strength training in humans. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 11(3), 326-329.
- Knitter, A. E., Panton, L., Rathmacher, J. A., Petersen, A., & Sharp, R. (2000). Effects of beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate on muscle damage after a prolonged run. Journal of Applied Physiology, 89(4), 1340-1344.