There seems to be a bit of confusion out there in the endurance world when it comes to the terms “keto” and “fat-adapted.” Keto gets a bad rap because people tout it as being an all-fat diet - all …
My name is Patrick McGilvray, and I’m an experienced marathoner, ultra runner, Sports Nutritionist, Master Life Coach, and weight loss coach for runners. I’ve dedicated my life to helping runners just like you properly fuel your body and your mind. So you can get leaner, get stronger, run faster, and run longer than you ever thought possible. This is Running Lean.
Hey there, and welcome to episode 149 of Running Lean. My name is Patrick McGilvray, the weight loss coach for runners and today keto versus fat adapted, which is better? So there seems to be a bit of confusion out there in the endurance world when it comes to the terms keto and fat adapted.
Keto kind of gets a bad rap because people tout keto as being the all fat diet, right? Like you’re just eating sticks of butter wrapped with bacon, but this is definitely not the case at all. And then being fat adapted on the other hand, it causes confusion because there’s the word fat in there. And so people are running in the other direction because they’re afraid of fat. We’ve become kind of a fat phobic nation here. All right.
So any kind of dietary intervention that allows you to consume higher amounts of fat seems counterintuitive and scary and all that. So today on the podcast, I’m going to clear up all this confusion and help answer the question: keto versus fat adapted, which is better?
And whether you want to lose weight, run longer, or just become that healthiest version of yourself, burning fat is how you get there, and figuring out how to best get your body into fat burning mode; this is what I do every single day as the weight loss coach for runners.
So working together, you and I will put together a plan to get your body burning fat effectively. The way it’s supposed to. This is not some weird fat diet. This is like getting your body back to its natural state of being a fat burning machine.
We humans are excellent fat burners, we’ve just gotten away from that with the crappy diet most people eat. Okay, so if you’re ready to get back to being a fat burning machine, apply for coaching with me and we’ll get you there to learn more just go to runningleancoaching.com/apply to get started. I would love to have you in my unique weight loss coaching program for runners, the Running Lean coaching project where the project is you.
Okay, the reason I wanted to talk about this today is because there seems to be this confusion over the terms there’s confusion about what it means to be keto. There’s words like the ketogenic diet, and being in ketosis and ketones and ketone bodies and all these different words around keto, and people don’t fully understand what it means.
They also hear people talk about keto is just being like this diet, we’re eating nothing but fat. And fat adapted, you know, people are confused about what does that mean? What does it mean, fat adapted? And do you have to eat high amounts of fat in that diet, too? Is it all just about eating a bunch of fat?
So I want to break this all down for you today, I want to like kind of help you to understand the difference between the two. There’s some similarities to keto and fat adapted, they share many similarities, right? I’m gonna go over what those similarities are, how there’s some overlap between the two. And then what the differences are between the two. And I’m hoping that by the end of this episode, you can make that determination for yourself, which is better for you as a person.
Okay, I’m gonna just gonna say from the outset, that they’re both very beneficial states to be in being fat adapted and being keto, they’re both really healthy for you and they have lots of positive health benefits, okay. And I want you to understand how this relates to you as a runner as well. Okay, so I want you to understand the difference between keto and fat adapted, I want you to understand the implications that it will have for you as a runner.
I want you to understand the health benefits of both of these things and then hopefully, dispel some of these myths and misconceptions about keto and fat adapted and, and really just help you to make an informed decision about your own health and fitness journey. Okay, and what you want for yourself, so be thinking about that.
What is it that you want for yourself? What are the goals that you have for yourself, and then as I’m talking through this stuff today, think oh, that might be a way that can help me get there or maybe that’s not for me. Either way, it’s fine. There’s no right or wrong answer here. Okay. So first, let’s get into this.
Let’s talk about keto. What doees keto mean? Okay. So when we talk about keto, a lot of times we’re talking about the ketogenic Diet a ketogenic diet is a diet that is low in carbohydrates. It’s higher in fat, you know, when you drop the carbohydrate ratio, you’re going to increase your fat content as well. Okay? But it does not mean we’re eating sticks of butter wrapped with bacon all day long. That’s not what we do.
It’s basically keeping your carbohydrate levels pretty low so that you can lower your blood sugar, lower your insulin levels and shift your body’s metabolism away from burning carbs towards burning fat. And ketones are using mostly fat and ketones for energy.
Okay, so the ketogenic diet offers many health benefits right? Many studies have shown that this type of diet can help you to lose weight and improve your health and a bunch of different ways. The ketogenic diet has proven benefits that help reverse diabetes that help prevent cancers, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease.
But really the main focus here in the way that I want to talk about this today is on fat metabolism, your body’s ability to burn fat for fuel, okay, so you lower your carbohydrate intake, blood sugar, lowers insulin levels, lowers and now your body can access your stored body fat for fuel, okay? So the ketogenic diet is a diet that is low carbohydrate and higher in fat, yes, but it helps your body to start burning fat really effectively and producing ketones and and this state of producing a certain amount of ketones is called ketosis. Okay?
Ketosis is a metabolic state where your body is using fat and ketones for fuel instead of sugar and carbs and glucose, okay? It’s called dietary ketosis because in this state, your body is producing a certain amount of ketones. There are three main ketones that get produced: beta hydroxy butyrate, acetylacetate, and then acetone. The first two beta hydroxy butyrate, or BHB, and acetylacetate seemed, are the the main ketone bodies that get produced, okay, acetone is actually a byproduct of acetoacetate.
And in order to know whether or not you’re in this state of ketosis, you have to test your blood, your urine, your breath for the presence of one or more of those ketone bodies, okay? So being in ketosis means that you are producing between point five and three millimoles of ketones per liter of blood. So for me, when I have like, tried to get into ketosis in the past, I never really produced these numbers, I might get between like point five and one.
So I might be where they consider trace amounts of ketones, I might produce small amounts of ketones, but I never got into this place where I was burning, you know, two, three millimoles of ketones, right? Or producing those kinds of numbers. And to be honest with you, I never worried about it. I felt great when I when I do more of a Keto type of diet, when I keep my carbs super low.
And for me, it’s not about the number on some test device. It’s about how I feel and how my workouts are. And if I’m maintaining weight, if I’m losing weight, if my cognitive function is high, all those things are important to me, not a number of ketones. It’s produced on a certain test meter or something like that.
I’ve done the urine tests, I’ve done the blood tests, haven’t done the breath test, but there’s different ways of testing ketones. So if you follow a strict ketogenic diet, meaning you’re keeping your carbs very low, and you shoot for probably between 20 to 50 grams of carbs total per day.
So this is a dramatic lowering of your carbohydrate intake, especially if you’re used to eating like a standard kind of American type of diet with very, very high in carbs. If you follow this very strict ketogenic type of diet, you will most likely get into that state of ketosis, okay, which is great. Your blood sugar’s level out, insulin levels out, your body starts being able to use the stored body fat for fuel.
Ketones get produced as a byproduct of this fat burning, and you’re in ketosis, okay. And there’s a lot of great benefits to be in this state of ketosis. Okay. So some of the benefits of being in in ketosis and in doing the following a strict ketogenic diet, fat burning is put into high gear you are burning fat really effectively, you’re no longer burning glucose for energy because you’re not giving your body glucose for energy, you’re not really eating much in the way of sugar or carbohydrates at all.
So the only fuel your body has now is your own stored body fat and some of the fat that you’re consuming that you’re eating, okay? So fat burning is put into high gear, weight loss will absolutely begin to happen for you. If you want to lose weight, you got to burn fat, this is a great way to get fat burning going.
Okay, lots and lots of studies have shown the effectiveness of a ketogenic diet for weight loss, right? This is very well known. It’s the you know, they’ve proven like they’ve compared it to the low fat diet or low calorie diets, and they get better results. So you lose weight without counting calories without tracking your food, and with less hunger and deprivation because you’re eating a higher fat, higher protein type of diet.
And what’s interesting is they did a study, one particular study I’ll mention here was in the journal, Nutrition and Metabolism found that people who followed a ketogenic diet for eight weeks lost nearly five times as much body fat as those who followed a low fat diet, okay, so a low fat diet is not as effective at losing weight, like you can burn much more fat and get your body into this natural state of fat burning by just lowering your carbohydrate intake getting into ketosis, and boom, you’re gonna start to feel great, you’re gonna start losing weight, some other other health benefits of being in ketosis, your endurance improves.
So runners who follow a pretty strict ketogenic diet will most likely also experience an improvement in their running endurance, because you’re burning fat really effectively here, this is the key thing we have to understand here. You’re burning fat really effectively, even at higher running intensity. So people think that oh, you know, keto is great. You know, you really can’t, like run fast when you’re doing this when you’re doing the super low carb, you know, ketogenic approach, which is not really true.
They’ve done some studies, they’ve shown that typical carb adapted athletes, you know, they can hit, they can burn their burning fat up to about 65%, or their VO2 max, right. But the keto adapted athletes, somebody who’s doing more of a strict ketogenic type of diet can burn fat, you know, 70, 80 up to 90 or more percent of their VO2 max.
So as the intensity increases, as a keto adapted athlete, you can increase your fat burning as well. So just keep that in mind that athletic performance does not have to suffer because your carbohydrate intake goes down because you’re doing kind of a Keto type of diet, okay? Also, sleep is improved.
Studies have shown that ketogenic diet promotes adenosine activity in the body. So adenosine promotes the sleep drive. So it is a chemical that helps you sleep more effectively, right. And so they’ve shown that adenosine gets produced. It helps to relax the nervous system, it helps to reduce pain and inflammation, all of which help you improve sleep.
Your focus and concentration improve on the ketogenic diet. So your brain loves fat and ketones as a fuel source. And most people when they switched from, you know, a regular high sugar diet, high carb diet to a low carb ketogenic type of diet, they experienced the lifting of the brain fog that happens when they make this switch.
And most people don’t even know they’re in a brain fog until they start experiencing this. And they’re like, oh my gosh, I didn’t realize how much more clearly I could think and concentrate. People experience more sustained energy throughout the day. So blood sugar and insulin levels are normalized. So you no longer have these spikes and crashes and energy levels throughout the day.
You don’t have to get an afternoon coffee just to get you through the last part of the day. Food cravings subside greatly. So when you switch to a lower carb diet and a strict ketogenic type of diet, you no longer have your hunger signals being jacked up by all the carbs and insulin. And so your food cravings go way down. You’re not as hungry during the day, this is a really good place to be by the way. If you’re feeling hungry all the time, there’s something wrong with your diet right there. There’s some dysfunction happening there.
Also, people experience less bloating and inflammation. Keto is a non inflammatory diet, you’re removing the inflammatory carbohydrates from your diet. So inflammation and bloating become a thing of the past which helps you to recover faster from the harder workouts as well. So you have this lack of inflammation And this is gonna play a role in helping you to recover faster especially from the longer harder workouts. Okay?
So these are all benefits of the ketogenic diet. These are all benefits of fat burning, when you really kick your fat burning into high gear. These are all the amazing things that can happen. Studies have actually shown that this kind of a diet, the ketogenic diet can have other benefits for a variety of different health conditions like heart disease.
They’ve shown that the ketogenic diet can help improve risk factors like body fat HDL, which is the good cholesterol blood pressure, normalized blood sugars normalized, and this can have a positive effect on your risk of heart disease. Cancer, they’ve shown that the diet has been explored as an additional treatment for cancer because it helps to slow tumor growth, which is really interesting. The keto diet may help reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s and actually help to slow its progress. Research has shown that the ketogenic diet can cause significant reductions in seizures for children that have epilepsy.
They’ve shown that this diet can help improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The ketogenic diet also helps to reduce insulin levels, which plays a key role in PCOS polycystic ovary syndrome. And then the last thing that I thought was pretty interesting was that some research has shown that this diet, the ketogenic diet improves the outcomes of traumatic brain injuries as well.
Okay, so lots and lots of benefits of getting off the carbs and switching to a very low carb ketogenic type of diet. Okay, so that’s keto. That’s what it means to be in ketosis. You know, we’re keeping our ketone bodies up into that point five to three millimoles per liter of blood. We’re producing ketones, we have all these positive health benefits that begin to happen.
Now, let’s talk about the difference between keto and being fat adapted, okay. So first and foremost, understand this: being fat adapted shares a lot of the same benefits. In fact, all of the same benefits as keto they both mean that you are burning fat for fuel, you are training your body to become really effective at burning fat, right? They’re both great as weight loss interventions.
They’re both great at helping to improve cognitive function, sleep endurance, energy levels, blood sugar and insulin levels, faster recovery, everything else I mentioned above. So being fat adapted and being in the state of ketosis or following a ketogenic diet, share all of those same benefits. Okay. So in one aspect, they are virtually the same thing you would think right?
Being fat adapted means you’re burning mostly fat for energy, you’re producing ketones as well. Probably not as many though, and this is where there’s some overlap between the two. And this is where the differences start to happen. Okay. The biggest difference between being fat adapted and being keto is that when you’re fat adapted, you increase your ability to switch between burning fat and burning carbs for fuel.
So someone doing strict keto, you know, keeping the carbs super low, producing that point five to three millimoles of ketones is mainly using fat for fuel and ketones. But they will not be as metabolically flexible, meaning that you can’t switch between burning fat and carbs as easily. Okay, so eating a bunch of carbs may not shut down fat burning totally, but it will definitely kick you out of ketosis.
Okay, so as soon as you start increasing your carbs, you’re going to be kicking yourself out of that ketogenic state out of ketosis, okay. The fat adapted athlete can handle a carb load. So let’s say you eat a couple of sweet potatoes that night before a long run. In the short term, you’re going to be kicked out of ketosis, right? But it’s not a problem. Because as soon as your blood sugar and your insulin levels normalize, you’re going to be back to burning fat really effectively.
So you’ll quickly go from burning sugar burning carbs to burning fat, and you can kind of switch between the two. So, the key differentiator here is that the fat adapted athlete has the ability to use both fat and carbs as fuel. Metabolic Flexibility is the key here and this is a really good place to be. So you can switch between being keto and being fat adapted and one of the processes that I work through with all my clients.
First of all, we want to get their bodies used to burning fat, we got to get really good at burning fat. And this is the state we are naturally in as human beings, we’re naturally good fat burners. And we’ve gotten away from this state because we’re just eating tons of sugar, tons of grains, tons of processed foods, and we’re just burning all that for fuel.
So you’re constantly have to keep, you know, putting this big, fast burning fuel on the fire, it’s like putting paper on a fire and you just got it, you’re you keep burning through that paper really quickly, what we want to do is we want to be putting logs on that fire that burned really slowly.
And for long periods of time, that’s fat, okay, the paper is sugar, right? So we want to get our body back into the natural state of burning fat really effectively. And this is where keto is a great tool to us for a period of time, okay, so you can, you can go really strict ketogenic diet, you can keep your carbs super low at the beginning.
And you really don’t even need to test for ketones just keep your carbs super low, and you’re gonna start burning fat, right, and this may take some time, it may take two to four weeks, it may take longer, everybody’s a little bit different here. Okay. But then we can start incorporating more carbs back in the diet. And what we do is we time the carbs around key workouts.
So we want to get your body used to burning fat and used to burning carbs as fuel during certain times when your body demands more fuel from your body. So this is being fat adapted, right? But it’s not like a free for all with the carbs and sugar. This is not an excuse to binge out on ice cream and candy and stuff like that.
We’re still eating real food, nutrient dense sources of naturally occurring carbohydrates, for example, root vegetables or fruit, right? And then we time these around your workouts, you earn your carbs, and then you burn your carbs. Okay, and if you do this properly, you should still be experiencing all the benefits of keto.
So weight loss, improved endurance, improved cognitive function all day energy, etc, etc, etc. all the benefits I mentioned above, and also being able to use carbohydrates strategically around workouts as fuel to give you that extra gear, okay. So you can be fat adapted and not be in ketosis, you can be fat adapted, and not have to follow a strict ketogenic diet, fat adapted and keto are using the same pathways for energy.
So they’re both utilizing fat and ketones for fuel. But being fat adapted will allow you to also use carbohydrates for fuel, which is especially ideal for the endurance athlete. So I hope this clears up the confusion about keto and fat adapted, they’re similar. They’re similar states to be in their long, they’re like different sides of the same spectrum of fat burning, right, and they’re both great.
They’re both great places to be right, tons of health benefits for both and you get to decide what works best for you. Some people love being in ketosis all the time, they feel great, their workouts are great. They don’t need the extra push, they don’t need the carbs, and it can help them to lose weight or maintain their weight pretty effortlessly.
So keto is a great option for a lot of people. Other people prefer the option to use carbs for workouts. And being fat adapted gives them all the benefits of keto without having to be quite as strict right. So they also get the added benefit of having that extra gear for the higher intensity workouts and adding in some carbs, is how you do that. And that will definitely give you that edge. Okay.
And as always, if you want help with any of this, I’m totally here for you. We’ll figure out what works best for you. We’ll put together a plan for you and I’ll help you stay on track with that plan. Cool. All right. That’s all I got for you today. Love you all keep on Running Lean. Talk to you soon.
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