To Keto or Not To Keto

Having resisted low carb dieting for many years, I finally gave it a whirl in August of 2012. I started with Carb Nite by John Kiefer because it was popular among the powerlifting circles I liked to glom onto. I didn’t know it at the time, but Carb Nite is just a cyclical ketogenic diet, very similar to other CKD’s, particularly Dr. Di Pasquale’s Anabolic Diet. I’m not suggesting Kiefer ripped off the Anabolic Diet and retitled it.

In all my prior attempts at dieting to lose stored body fat, the most successful run I ever had was using a diet plan that cycled carbohydrates throughout the week, featuring low, medium and high carbohydrate days. It was a pain in the ass to calculate my food every day, and I always had to do a lot of cardio and in the end, never got all that lean. Kiefer espouses not to do any cardio, at least not the long, slow, steady kind, but to lift weights like you mean it and follow Carb Nite. I looked at it as an experiment on my body and went All In. No cardio, no carbs.
Except of course for the weekly Carb Nite, which was basically a gluttonous feast of scrumptious delights.

The fat loss didn’t start immediately, although the body weight dropped rapidly due to loss of stored water. When your body dumps stored glycogen, it dumps the water it stores with the glycogen, giving low carb dieters a goofy smile on their face when they weigh in a week or so after starting the diet. They aren’t any leaner, but the scale says they’re lighter, and that makes them happy. But as I kept making adjustments and getting rid of all the sneaky carbohydrates that are in foods you wouldn’t expect to have any, the fat loss began to happen, and then it really rolled like magic. All in all, I lost 33 lbs in the first year of Carb Nite and got down to 8.5% body fat: the leanest I’ve ever been in my life.

I stayed on the CKD for another two years, relishing in the almost effortless way I could maintain a lean physique, however I slowly but surely added body weight during that time, and some of that body weight was in the form of stored body fat. So what happened? Did the CKD lose its magic touch after one year? Not exactly. After losing all that body fat in the first year, I was a lean and beautiful specimen of man, however being svelte has its disadvantages, like looking thin in your clothes. Being lean is wonderful. Being thin isn’t as wonderful, at least not for someone who spends a lot of time lifting weights to try to get bigger and stronger. So I started increasing my calories in the hopes of gaining muscle without adding any body fat: aka The Holy Grail. I did add some good, quality muscle over the next two years, along with some body fat up to a less svelte, but still sexy 10.5% body fat, which taught me one thing that everyone must accept and respect: Total Caloric Intake Matters.

If I were to suggest a diet and exercise plan to anyone looking to get lean–which I rarely do anymore because no one sticks to it and my time and effort feels wasted–I would probably suggest they eat less food and lift weights as if they were trying to get strong, not playing around with baby weights that would be pink if they were a color. If someone wanted more detail than that, or asked how I got as lean as I did, I might suggest the CKD, but I might not and here’s why: While the CKD makes it remarkably easy to get down to some really sexy levels of body fat, people who like eating for more than just fuel and staying alive will have a hard time with it. Frankly, it’s boring. Some folks complain about how crappy they feel on a ketogenic diet, but I’d argue those people probably never made it past the first 10-14 days when you first eliminate the carbohydrates. That period does suck hard. But once your body is fat adapted, eating a ketogenic diet doesn’t affect the way you feel any more than any other way of eating. No, the reason people won’t stick with a ketogenic diet is that eating celery, romaine lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower every day as basically your sole source of fiber and carbohydrates is excruciatingly dull. It never bothered me, because I’m a very dull eater. I don’t have much of a sense of smell, and correspondingly not much of a sense of taste either. Unless something is really spicy or has a particularly strong flavor, it just doesn’t taste like much to me. I’m more of a texture guy. How anyone can eat Tapioca pudding is astounding to me. So it doesn’t bother me at all to eat basically the same thing every day. A nice bowl of ground beef with bacon and sour cream is infinitely preferable to a bagel as far as I’m concerned, but I’m not your average guy.

The bottom line is that getting lean requires two things:

  1. Consistency
  2. Less calories

When I look back at my data over that first year on the CKD, when I lost all the blubbery adipose, those two things stand out like the proverbial sore thumb. I was amazingly consistent, nailing my target amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fat each and every day, and I steadily dropped calories over that year whenever my results plateaued. That’s really the key to success. Track every damn thing you eat, weigh yourself at the same time every week, ideally first thing in the morning before you’ve had anything to eat or drink, and adjust your calories down if you’re not losing weight. The ketogenic diet, in my reasonably credible opinion, having been studying nutrition and experimenting on myself for over two decades, is a very easy way to get wicked lean. But if the idea of abstaining from rice, potatoes, breakfast cereals, breads and pastas makes you lose the will to live, you can still follow the basic premise–eat less calories and lift weights like you mean it–and if you’re consistent, and make changes when your results slow or stop, you can have your cake and eat it too.

I will add one thing if you’re going to try to get lean and sexy while still eating carbohydrates: Eat most of your carbs around your weight training, and keep your carb meals as low fat as humanly possible. Carbohydrate consumption will cause an increase in blood sugar, which will cause a release of insulin and insulin is a storage hormone. If there’s dietary fat in the bloodstream, insulin will take it and store it in the waiting fat cells. So nix the Alfredo Sauce with your fettucini and have a nice piece of grilled tilapia with it instead. Save your bacon for carb-free meals.

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