Keto Diet: A Comprehensive Beginner's Guide [Tips, Recipes, FAQ] (2024)

DEFICIT / SURPLUS

What are your end goals of a ketogenic diet?

  • Lose Weight

  • Maintain

  • Gain Muscle

    How much of a deficit do you want?

    %

    It's recommended to never go above a 30% calorie deficit. It's also recommended that you never go above a 15% calorie surplus. If you do, negative results may happen.

  • CARBS & PROTEIN

    How many carbs do you want to consume?

    It is highly recommended that on a ketogenic diet, you keep your carb intake to 5% or less of total calories. This works out to be an average of 20g net carbs a day.

    Net carbs.

    How much protein do you want to consume?

    Protein shouldn't be over-consumed on a ketogenic diet. If too much is eaten, it could lead to slower weight loss and smaller levels on ketones in the blood.

    • If you're sedentary, we suggest between 0.6g and 0.8g protein.

    • If you're active, we suggest between 0.8g and 1.0g protein.

    • If you lift weights, we suggest between 1.0g and 1.2g protein.

    g.

    Calculate

  • Your macros

    How much should you be eating per day?

    • 0 calories

    • 0 g fats

    • 0 g carbs

    • 0 g protein

    Based on your inputs, we suggest you eat: 0 calories. From those, 0g fats, 0g net carbs, and 0g protein

  • For ideas and inspiration on how to reach your macros, take a look at our ever-growing library of keto recipes. If you don’t want to do all of the planning yourself, consider getting detailed shopping lists and months of meal plans made for you with our Keto Academy.

    Types of Ketogenic Diets

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    NOTE: If your end goal for keto is not to build muscle, you can skip this section.

    Many people ask if carbs are needed to build muscle. Of course, they’re not. If you’re asking this question, I will assume you know how you gain mass.

    Your glycogen stores can still be refilled while on a ketogenic diet. A keto diet is an excellent way to build muscle, but protein intake is crucial here. It’s suggested that if you are looking to gain mass, you should be taking in about 1.0 – 1.2g protein per lean pound of body mass. Putting muscle on may be slower on a ketogenic diet, but that’s because your total body fat is not increasing as much.5Note that at the beginning of a ketogenic diet, both endurance athletes and obese individuals see a reduced physical performance for the first week of transition.

    If for some reason you need to put on body fat also, you can achieve your goals through different types of a Ketogenic Diet. These are:

    • Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD): This is the classic keto diet that everyone knows and does. It’s the “bread and butter” of this website.
    • Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD): This is a variation where you eat SKD, but intake a small amount of fast-digesting carbs before a workout.
    • Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD): This is a variation of keto for bodybuilders and contest goers, generally giving one day a week to carb up and resupply glycogen stores.

    If you work out intensely, then a TKD or CKD may be for you. To learn more about training on keto, check out our comprehensive guide to bodybuilding on a ketogenic diet >

    Physical Performance

    People often argue that performance is affected when on a keto diet, but that’s not true. Well, not in the long run. In the short-term, you may notice some small physical performance drops, but this will subside as you continue replenishing fluids, electrolytes, and adapt to the fat intake.

    Many studies have been done on exercise. A study was done on trained cyclists who were on a ketogenic diet for four weeks. The results show that aerobic endurance was not compromised at all, and their muscle mass was the same as when they started.

    Their bodies adapted through ketosis, limiting both glucose and glycogen stores, and used fats as the predominant energy source.

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    There was another study done on eight professional gymnasts who had the same results. Both groups were fed a strict diet of green vegetables, proteins, and high-quality fats. So, even if you are doing long bouts of cardio – a keto diet has been proven time and time again.

    The only real time where ketosis can give performance loss is in exercises that need an explosive action. If you need a little boost in your performance during these, you can “carb-up” by eating 25-50g of carbs about 30 minutes before you train.

    If you’re looking to train intensely on a ketogenic diet and want to learn more about the basics, see our guide to training on a keto diet >

    Dangers of a Keto Diet

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    Can ketone production in the body get too high? Yes, it’s called ketoacidosis. Is it likely under normal circ*mstances? Not at all. For most people, it’s a challenge just to get into optimal ranges for ketosis. Getting into territory where you need medical intervention is just not likely.

    NOTE: The main exception to ketoacidosis is type 1 diabetics – it can happen when insulin levels are severely low which is rare in someone with a normally functioning pancreas. Dangerously high ketone levels result in insulin secretion.

    There are a lot of misconceptions about low carb dieting which has caused an infamous outlook on keto. There have been tons of studies published over the last 30 years that show how high amounts of fat and few carbs are beneficial.

    People sometimes get keto confused with high fat, high carb diets which are terrible for the body. Of course, when you eat a lot of fatty foods that are high in sugar, you’ll be getting yourself into trouble.

    Have you been thinking of going on a low-fat diet? It’s been shown that a ketogenic diet is both healthier and more effective than low-fat dieting.

    When you eat foods high in carbohydrates and fat, your body naturally produces glucose. Carbohydrates are the easiest thing for the body to process, and therefore it will use them first – resulting in the excess fats to be stored immediately. In turn, this causes weight gain and health problems that are associated with high fat, high carbohydrate diets (NOT a keto diet).

    As a precaution, you should always check with your physician if you have any concerns about starting a keto diet. You should especially be wary if you’re currently taking medications for a pre-existing condition as extra monitoring may be needed. Be careful when breastfeeding as you may need to increase carb intake.

    What Happens To My Body

    Your body is used to the simple routine of breaking down carbohydrates and using them as energy. Over time the body has built up an arsenal of enzymes ready for this process and only has a few enzymes for dealing with fats – mostly to store them.

    All of a sudden your body has to deal with the lack of glucose and increase in fats, which means building up a new supply of enzymes. As your body becomes induced into a ketogenic state, your body will naturally use what’s left of your glucose.

    This means your body will be depleted of glycogen in the muscles – which can cause a lack of energy and general lethargy.

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    In the first week, many people report headaches, mental fogginess, dizziness, and aggravation. Most of the time, this is the result of your electrolytes being flushed out, as ketosis has a diuretic effect. Make sure you drink plenty of water and keep your sodium intake up.6One of the fathers of keto, Dr. Phinney, shows that electrolyte levels (especially sodium) can become unbalanced with low carb intake.

    In fact, you should go overboard with the salt – salt everything! Sodium will help with water retention and help replenish the electrolytes. For most, this temporary groggy feeling is the biggest danger you’re going to face. It’s called the “Keto Flu.”

    Keto Flu

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    Keto flu is a very common experience for people new to a ketogenic diet, but it often goes away after just a few days – and there are ways to minimize or even eliminate it. When transitioning to keto, you may feel some slight discomfort including fatigue, headache, nausea, cramps, etc.

    There are a few reasons for the keto flu, but the two primary ones are:

    1. The keto diet is a diuretic. You tend to go to the bathroom more to urinate, which attributes to a loss of both electrolytes and water in your body. You can usually help combat this by either drinking bouillon cube or Powerade Zero and by increasing your water intake. Mainly, you want to replenish your depleted electrolytes.
    2. You’re transitioning. Your body is equipped to process a high intake of carbs and a lower intake of fat. Your body needs to create enzymes to be able to do this. In the transitional period, the brain may run low on energy which can lead to grogginess, nausea, and headaches. If you’re having a large problem with this, you can choose to reduce carb intake gradually.

    After increasing water intake and replacing electrolytes, it should relieve most all symptoms of Keto Flu. For an average person that is starting a ketogenic diet, eating 20-30g of net carbs a day, the entire adaptation process will take about 4-5 days. My advice is to cut your carbs to fewer than 15g to ensure that you are well on your way into ketosis within one week. If you are experiencing any more keto flu symptoms, double check your electrolyte intake and adjust.

    You may notice that if you’re an avid gym-goer, you lost some strength and endurance. A temporary decrease in physical performance is typical. Once your body becomes keto-adapted, your body will be able to fully utilize fat as its primary source of energy.

    If you’re new to keto and seem to be having an issue with the common side effects, read our guide on the keto flu and how to remedy it >

    Common Side Effects on a Keto Diet

    Here are a few of the most common side effects that I come across when people first start keto. Frequently the issues relate to dehydration or lack of micronutrients (vitamins) in the body. Make sure that you’re drinking enough water (close to a gallon a day) and eating foods with good sources of micronutrients. If you want to read more on this, see our guide on micronutrients >

    For an overview of this section and a more in-depth guide, you can read more on how to remedy different side effects of the ketogenic diet >

    Cramps

    Cramps (and more specifically leg cramps) are a pretty common thing when starting a ketogenic diet. It’s usually occurring in the morning or at night, but it’s a pretty minor issue overall. It’s a sign that there’s a lack of minerals, specifically magnesium, in the body.

    Make sure to drink plenty of fluid and eat salt on your food. Doing so can help reduce the loss of magnesium and get rid of the issue.

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    If the problem persists, try supplementing with a magnesium supplement >

    Constipation

    The most common cause of constipation is dehydration. A simple solution is to increase water intake and try to get as close to a gallon a day as possible.

    Making sure vegetables have some fiber in will also usually help. Getting in some good quality fiber from non-starchy vegetables can solve this problem. Though if that’s not enough, usually psyllium husk powder will work or taking a probiotic.

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    Heart Palpitations

    When transitioning to keto, you may notice that your heart is beating both faster and harder. It’s pretty standard, so don’t worry about it.

    If the problem persists, make sure that you’re drinking plenty of fluid and eating enough salt. Typically this is sufficient to get rid of the problem right away. Though if the issue persists, it may be worth taking a potassium supplement once a day.

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    Reduced Physical Performance

    You may see some limitations on your performance when you first begin a keto diet, but it’s usually just from your body adapting to using fat. As your body shifts in using fat for energy, all of your strength and endurance will return to normal.

    If you still notice problems with performance, you may see benefits from intaking carbs prior to your workout (or cycling carbs). Click here to read more >

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    Less Common Side Effects on a Keto Diet

    These are some of the lesser common problems that I am e-mailed about on a semi-consistent basis. Many of these problems also relate to hydration and micronutrients, so make sure that you are drinking plenty of water and replenishing electrolytes.

    Breastfeeding

    There are mixed and matched studies on keto and breastfeeding, though nothing is well researched at the current moment. Right now it’s understood that ketogenic diets are typically healthy to do while breastfeeding.

    It’s suggested to add in 30-50g extra carbs from fruit when breastfeeding to help the body produce milk. You may also have to add in extra calories.

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    Specifically, 300-500 calories worth of extra fat to help with milk production. You should always contact medical professionals for advice.

    Hair Loss

    If you’re experiencing hair loss within five months of starting a ketogenic diet, it’s most likely temporary. You can take a multivitamin and do what you normally do.

    Though hair loss is very uncommon on keto, you can minimize it by making sure you’re not restricting calories too far and making sure you get 8 hours of sleep a night.

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    Increased Cholesterol

    Usually, it’s a good thing! Many studies point toward cholesterol elevation when doing a low-carb, ketogenic diet.

    Higher cholesterol is generally due to HDL (the good cholesterol) increasing – lowering your chance of heart disease. You may see increased triglyceride counts, but that’s very common in people losing weight. These increases will subside as your weight normalizes.

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    There’s a small percent of people that experience raised LDL cholesterol as well. These elevated levels are usually fine – though harder to test. The dangers of LDL cholesterol come from size and density, which are shown to be very healthy on keto. Read more on keto and cholesterol >

    Gallstones

    Of the few studies done on keto and gallstones, most people have either improved or cured gallstone problems. The only downside is that many reported an increase in discomfort when starting out on low-carb. If you stick with it, you should notice a vast improvement.

    Another common question relating to gallstones is “Can I start keto if I have had my gallbladder removed?” The answer is yes.

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    You may want to increase your fat gradually to allow your system some time to get used to it.

    Indigestion

    Generally speaking, switching to keto gets rid of indigestion and heartburn. Keep in mind that some people see increased attacks when they’re first starting out.

    If you’re experiencing problems, it may be best to limit the amount of fat you intake; gradually increasing the amount you have per day over a two-week period.

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    Keto Rash

    There’s no real scientific reasoning/explanation behind why some people start to itch when they start keto. There’s just a handful of experiences that people have written about, and so I’m basing my answer on what I’ve read.

    From anecdotes, it’s most likely irritation from the acetone that is excreted in sweat (it’s why you may experience bad breath).

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    It’s worth looking into better clothing options for absorbing or wicking sweat from your body. It’s also worth showering right after an activity that causes you to sweat.

    If it’s a lasting issue that is causing problems, you may want to consider upping your carbs or changing exercise plans.

    Troubleshooting Further

    Sometimes there’s issues or problems that aren’t covered in this guide. There are many other articles on the site, so make sure to search. If you’re having trouble with a specific question, we have a very helpful facebook group too!

    You’ll find some common questions that we come across when people start out below. At the bottom of the section, there’s a link to an in-depth FAQ as well.

    Q: How much weight will I lose?

    A: The amount of weight you lose is entirely dependent on you. Obviously adding exercise to your regimen will speed up your weight loss. Cutting out things that are common “stall” causes is also a good thing. Artificial sweeteners, dairy, wheat products and by-products (wheat gluten, wheat flours, and anything with an identifiable wheat product in it).

    Loss in water weight is common when you first start a low carb diet. Ketosis has a diuretic effect which can cause a significant amount of weight dropped in only a few days. While I hate being the bearer of bad news, this isn’t fat. But on a side (and more positive) note, that shows that your body is starting to adjust itself into a fat-burning machine!

    There’s a huge list of keto-friendly recipes for you to choose from, go check them out! See our growing list of keto recipes >

    Q: How should I track my carb intake?

    A: The most common ways to track your carbs is through MyFitnessPal and their mobile app. You cannot track net carbs on the app, although you can track your total carb intake and your total fiber intake. To get your net carbs, just subtract your total fiber intake from your total carb intake. I have written an article on how to track carbs easily on keto >

    Others choose to use FatSecret, which is an app I am unfamiliar with, although I do know that you can track your net carbs. The choice is entirely up to you and up to your free will to decide.

    Q: I cheated and want to get back on keto. How do I do that?

    A: First take a breath, it’s not the end of the world. You may find that your weight goes up temporarily as your body retains water. You may also find that the scale goes down pretty quickly when you lose that water. If you see the scale fluctuating, please keep in mind that there’s a biological reason for it.

    Pick yourself up, get back on track, and stay strict to keep cravings down. If you’re having trouble with the planning aspect, you may want to consider looking into our Keto Academy Program.

    Q: I’m not losing any more weight. Now what?

    A: Many things can cause a slow down in weight loss: stress, lack of sleep, exercise, hormonal changes, and alcohol use among other things are factors. Weight loss will not always be a linear process, either. We have fluctuations in water that happens every day.

    On average people will lose 1-2 lbs. a week, but that doesn’t mean the scale will drop consistently. Take measurements as well as tracking your weight via scale, as often there can be changes in size but no change on the scale. If you’re still experiencing problems after 4-5 weeks, start looking into your dietary choices.

    The first thing people typically recommend is re-tracking your macros to make sure you’ve been on track, making sure you’re drinking enough water and supplementing electrolytes, and finally reducing the amount of dairy being used. You can also read more about overcoming a keto weight loss plateau >

    Q: I don’t like meat/eggs/dairy/[insert disliked food], can I still do a ketogenic diet?

    A: The short answer is yes. Aside from the broad guidelines stated above, there are no real “rules” so long as you’re low carb, moderate protein and getting the rest of your calories from fat. If it fits within your macros, then you’re fine.

    Some drink coffee with butter (recipe here) and eat plenty of meat; some do vegetarian recipes, some are dairy and nut-free. There are lots of options out there to suit any dietary restrictions.

    Q: What happens after you reach your goal weight on keto?

    A: Some people want to go off keto once they’ve reached their goal weight, others choose to stay on keto or take up a clean-eating diet. I’ve been on keto for almost a decade now. One thing to always remember – if you go back to your old habits you will put the weight back on.

    If you keep your intake in check, you may still notice an increase in weight because of glycogen stores refilling. Many people find they stick to keto or a low-carb diet simply because it makes them feel better.

    You can read more common keto questions on our frequently asked keto questions >

    Saving Money and Budgeting

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    A common misconception is that the ketogenic diet is more expensive than other diets out there. And, while it may be a little bit more expensive than buying grain-stuffed foods, it’s much cheaper than many people think. To get an idea, I’ve broken down the costs of some of our most favorite recipes that you can read here >

    A ketogenic diet may be more expensive than a standard American diet, but it’s no different than other clean eating lifestyles. That said, there’s still numerous ways to save money while cooking keto. The best ways to save money is the same as with any other budgeting:

    • Search for deals. There’s always a sale or a coupon to be found for keto-friendly items out there. Typically you can find significant savings in magazines and newspapers that are sent to your house, but they can also be combined with in-store specials and manager cuts. When combined, you can save a significant amount of your keto groceries.
    • Bulk buy and cook. If you’re someone who doesn’t like to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, this is the best of both worlds. Buying your food at bulk (specifically from wholesalers) can reduce the cost per pound tremendously. Plus, you can make ahead food (bulk cook chicken thighs for pre-made meat, or cook entire meals) that are used as leftovers, so you spend less time cooking.
    • Make things yourself. While it’s extremely convenient to buy most things pre-made or pre-cooked, it always adds to the price per pound on items. Try prepping veggies ahead of time instead of buying pre-cut ones. Try making your stew meat from a chuck roast. Or, simply try to make your mayo and salad dressings at home. The simplest of things can work to cut down on your overall grocery shopping.

    You can read more advice on how to save money on eating keto on a budget >

    Takeaways and Advice

    Overall, eating a high amount of fat, moderate protein, and a low amount of carbs can have a massive impact on your health – lowering your cholesterol, body weight, blood sugar, and raising your energy and mood levels.

    A ketogenic diet can be hard to fathom in the beginning but isn’t as hard as it’s made out to be. The transition can be a little bit tough, but the growing popularity of the clean eating movement makes it easier and easier to find available low-carb foods.

    After reading this page in its entirety, my best cut and dry advice for someone starting off and wanting to lose weight are listed below:

    1. Keep it straightforward and strict. You usually see better results in people who restrict their carb intake further. Try to keep your carbs as low as possible for the first month of keto. Keep it strict by cutting out excess sweets and artificial sweeteners altogether (like diet soda). Cutting these out dramatically decreases sugar cravings.
    2. Drink water and supplement electrolytes. The most common problems come from dehydration or lack of electrolytes. When you start keto (and even in the long run), make sure that you drink plenty of water, salt your foods, and take a multivitamin. If you’re still experiencing issues, you can order electrolyte supplements individually.
    3. Track what you eat. It’s so easy to over-consume on carbs when they’re hidden in just about everything you pick up. Keeping track of what you eat helps control your carb intake and keep yourself accountable.

    If you’re still not sure where to start or you want to learn a little bit more about me and the website, I’d highly recommend reading through my “Start Here” page.

    Keto Diet: A Comprehensive Beginner's Guide [Tips, Recipes, FAQ] (2024)
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