This is a subject that I get tons of questions about all the time: “How much protein should I eat on Keto?”
Let me start by mentioning an article which fits this topic well. The COO of dietdoctor.com, a site that you probably know as well, did an experiment to find out what actually helped put him into Ketosis: LINK
He thought he was doing Keto right as he was keeping his carbs low and only ate small amounts of protein, around 45-60g, since he was worried about gluconeogenesis, a natural process in which our body can turn some excess protein into glucose. For some reason his ketone readings were still low and he wasn’t getting into optimal levels of Ketosis. The protein wasn’t the problem though. After adding all his keto friendly foods up that he ate over a day, he realized he was actually getting more than 30g of net carbs, even though he was aiming for 20g to make sure he gets into ketosis. And those extra carbs he was eating were the reason why his ketone readings were lower, not because he needed to reduce his protein more. He realized this when he did an experiment, in which he kept testing his blood ketones day after day, all the while increasing how much protein he ate every day. So for the next ten days, he ate between 80-130g of protein, so much more than he was eating before, while keeping his net carbs under 20g/day. He was surprised to see that his ketone readings over the ten days always ended up at around 2 mmol, which is an optimal level of ketosis, when testing his blood every morning. And all of this even though he was eating pretty much double the amount of protein he was eating before.
Something worth mentioning: He’s not overweight, doesn’t have insulin resistance and does 10-15 minutes of exercise 5x/week, which might somewhat increase his protein requirements and how much he’s able to handle in ketosis.
Still, I think this story was worth talking about, as I think many of us might make that mistake, fixating on not eating too much protein because of fear of gluconeogenesis. This is not to say gluconeogenesis can’t be a factor, BUT eating too many carbs is way more likely to be what’s keeping you out or kicking you out of ketosis. Excess protein doesn’t magically turn into sugar in your belly, I’m sorry if I confused some of you in previous videos.
Still, how much protein should you eat on Keto?
There are many different opinions on optimal protein intake out there. Jimmy Moore and Dr. Adam Nelly, who you might have heard of, tend to recommend a lower protein intake. Others, like Dr. Jeff Volek and Dr. Stephen Phinney, two of the most respected researchers in the Keto community, recommend eating between 0.6g to 1g of protein per pound of lean body mass in their book The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living. Most online macro calculators for Keto also stay in that range when it comes to protein, some go slightly higher if you exercise a lot. What you will notice if you use one of those calculators is that the protein recommendations stay the same after selecting your activity level.
No matter wether you’re trying to lose weight, maintain your weight or put on weight, protein stays the same. Net carbs also stay locked between 20-25g. The only variable that moves the calories up or down, depending on your goal, is fat. That’s also how I would recommend you approach this. I’m going to use myself as an example later on. First of all though, figure out your body-fat percentage so you know your lean body mass.
There are many ways you can measure – if you want to keep it really simple, you can visually estimate your body-fat percentage HERE.
It’s not a precise method to do this, but it’s going to be good enough for most people as a starting point.
Now take your current weight (mine is 156 lbs), subtract your body-fat in pounds (so the percentage times your weight, I was at 9% last time I measured, which equals 14 lbs) and you get your lean body mass. In my case that’s 156-14=142 lbs.
Now that you know your lean body mass, I would set your daily goal for protein intake at 0,6g per pound of lean body mass and your limit at 0,9g per pound.
Eating more than that won’t necessarily kick you out of ketosis as everyone of us is different, but you may notice feeling more clear minded and focused when you stay within the lower end of that range. At least that’s the case with me. All of this means that for me personally, my daily goal is 85g and my limit is 128g of protein per day. I tend to only hit the upper end of that if I worked out that day, otherwise I tend not to eat more than 85-100g. But that’s just my personal preference.
Ok, back to gluconeogenesis. First of all, it’s hard to determine how much protein you actually need every day and what exactly could be too much, depending on your activity level etc. – so you need to test if you want to be sure. And if you’re more insulin resistant, you might not be able to handle as much protein as someone else, so you should note how you feel when testing this – are you having an energy crash or are you energized, are you satiated for a longer time or do you feel snacky.. Test your ketones every once in a while if you’re not sure.
Either way, you probably don’t need to worry about a little extra protein kicking you out of ketosis. Obviously, excessive amounts are more likely to – for example if you’re eating 200g instead of your goal of 90g – but making sure you’re eating less than 20g of net carbs per day is way more important.
Another thing to keep in mind is that protein is the most satiating macronutrient per calorie. So if you’re restricting your protein too much, you probably end up eating more fat which is more calorie-dense as well as more veggies – which in itself is not a bad thing, but those can potentially push you over your carb limit. Let’s make a simplified example: Let’s say you’re eating 150g vs 300g of broccoli per meal. If you’re eating three meals, the broccoli adds up to 16g of net carbs if you ate 150g broccoli per meal but if you ate double that amount, you’re already at 32g of net carbs, which is much more likely to keep you out of ketosis than eating 20g of extra protein would.
So here is the point I’m trying to make: Try not to overcomplicate things. Just make sure you’re staying below 20g of net carbs and that you’re eating at least around 0,6 of protein per pound of lean body mass and then add enough fat to keep you satiated. Except when you’re fasting of course, then you don’t want to eat anything! 🙂
In my opinion this is the perfect time of the year to be talking about this. Christmas & the holidays are right around the corner, so you’re probably about to celebrate with your loved ones.
And while over-indulging is never recommended, if you’re going to, you’re better off sticking to protein sources. Over-eating protein is always a better option than over-eating carbohydrates and is also going to be the most satiating, which means you’re most likely to stop eating earlier and to eat less calories in total.
We do the same – when we’re invited for dinner and there aren’t that many low-carb, high fat options around, we usually end up eating a litte more protein than usual, and that’s totally fine.