If you’ve followed along on my YouTube channel you are probably aware that in 2017 I followed a ketogenic diet for 11 months to help improve some of my PCOS symptoms. My body wasn’t using carbohydrates correctly, and I was having a very hard time maintaining my weight, with my body gaining fat despite the fact I wasn’t eating in a caloric surplus. No matter how much I trained or what I did, it just felt like my body didn’t ‘work’.
This was due in part to insulin resistance, which had tagged along as part of my PCOS. Insulin resistance is when your body’s cells don’t respond normally to insulin (a peptide hormone), and glucose (sugar) cannot enter your blood cells as easily, this results in higher blood sugar levels and if left untreated can lead to Type 2 Diabetes (The Clinical Biochemist Reviews, 2005).
I’m happy to report after a few months my insulin functioned correctly (as shown in my blood work), and due to the high fat nature of the diet, my hormonal profile returned to a normal state (previously I had elevated free testosterone, and slightly elevated E3).
After 11 months of being on the ketogenic diet, not having any cheat meals, not a drop of anything with even the slightest bit of caffeine in it, and eating around 3000-4000 calories per day to try and maintain my weight (which had dropped from around 70kg to 56kg), I figured it was time to jump off the diet. That, and I had a concussion and all I wanted was sweet potato hahah.
I was hesitant about this at first, because I had gotten so used to eating a certain way, and I am a creature of habit. In the following few paragraphs I’m going to teach you the best way to jump off keto with the least amount of weight gain possible. I personally bent these rules because I wanted to gain back muscle mass, which I felt I had lost (I can cover this in a YouTube video if you are interested).
Be aware – you will gain SOME weight
The hint is in the name, carboHYDRATE. Carbs attract water! So the more you add them into your diet, the more water your body is able to retain (Journal of Applied Physiology, 2010). If you got really lean on keto, you’d probably notice you looked ‘drier’ – your abs popped more easily and (for women) during your monthly cycle there was probably very little fluctuation in your look/weight.
This is no reason to be scared of carbs though! Carbohydrates will give you more energy for training, particularly resistance-based training (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2003), and are better for helping you grow and retain muscle, combined with a moderate amount of protein intake of course.
Plan what you’ll do
Don’t just jump back in to eating oats for breakfasts, wraps for lunch and rice with your dinner. Plan your transition out of a ketogenic diet.
1. For the first 20 days increase your carb intake by 15% of whatever it was initially and reduce your fats by 15%. For example: If you were previously eating 40g of carbs per day, this will now increase to 46g of carbs, and if you were eating 150g of fats per day this will decrease to 127.5g. There will be some calories lost in this transitional period. Keeping in a slight deficit during the process will also reduce the chance of a large amount of weight gain.
2. For the following 20 days increase this to 20% carb increase and 20% fat decrease. Your protein is the only macronutrient that should not be adjusted; this should remain around 1g per kilogram of body weight for sedentary people, up to 2g per kilogram of body weight for highly active people.
3. After this 40-day cycle you can return to your preferred macronutrient ratio. You can learn more about your body type and it’s ideal macronutrient ratio in the Get Lean Nutrition Guide.
No processed carbs
Stick to low GI carbs that won’t spike your blood sugar. High GI carbs can cause a spike in insulin, and repeatedly doing this may result in body fat gain (Nutrients, 2011). Here are some carbs that I would recommend adding to your diet, if they weren’t already in it, when you are transitioning out of keto (and also a good base to keep around even when you’re fully off keto!)
- Sweet potato
- Green veg (e.g. beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc)
- Flaxseed meal
- Coconut flour
- Psyllium husk
If your body is functioning correctly and you are not in the process of transitioning off a ketogenic diet, nutrient timing may not be so important (Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2003). However, during the switch from keto back to a regular diet, nutrient timing is a brilliant way to get more carbs into your day whilst allowing your body to use them effectively and discourage them from being stored as body fat (Advanced Nutrition, 2015). This method is one that I stuck to religiously when transitioning off keto.
Here’s an example of how to nutrient time your carbs:
Breakfast: A meal with a moderate amount of protein, high carbs and low fat
Post-training meal: A meal with high protein, high carbs and low fat.
Lunch: A meal with moderate protein, low carbs and moderate fat.
Dinner: A meal with moderate protein, almost no carbs, and high fat.
As you can see the carbohydrates are focused around my (weight training) session, so that my body can use them more efficiently.
Carb Cycling or Paleo
If you find that your body just works better on a ketogenic diet, you may find some relief by swapping to a more long-term sustainable diet such as paleo, or a carb cycling diet.
Paleo is similar to keto in that has a ‘no grain/low carb’ approach to eating, however, unlike keto, a healthy paleo diet will give your body a more diverse range of micronutrients, and more access to low GI carbohydrates.
Carb cycling is another similar option to swap to. Carb cycling is when you have certain days in the week that you will eat more carbohydrates, it works on a similar principle to how body builders have ‘refeed days’ and allows you to build up your glycogen stores, and then return back to low carbohydrate days to ensure low blood sugar levels.
Best of luck on your way out of the ketogenic diet! Keto can be a great way to reset your insulin resistance, rebalance your hormonal profile, or aid in other medical condition improvements (such as epilepsy and Alzhiemer's), but it is not always a long-term solution for everyone!