Can I Eat Too Much Protein on a Ketogenic Diet?

Short Answer: Yes

Protein is a very important part of any well formulated ketogenic diet as the amino acids that protein is broken down to are used in the body as the basic building blocks of cells, hormones and enzymes used to maintain the body.  Also protein helps keep us feeling full and provides many nutrients our bodies need for optimum health.

But the important thing to remember about the ketogenic diet is it’s not just Low Carb and High Fat but also Moderate Protein.  In other words, you are really trying to hit a “sweet spot” in your protein consumption in order to make sure your body has exactly what it needs but not too much.

What Does Consuming Too Much Protein Do?

You have to remember here that the body doesn’t store protein like it does fat and carbohydrate.  In other words, your fat cells don’t contain excess amino acids like it does glucose and fatty acids, which it transforms into triglycerides.  So in order to make sure that excess protein doesn’t go to waste, if you eat more than the body can use those excess amino acids are sent back to the liver where they undergo a transformation through gluconeogenesis (“gluco”-sugar, “neo”-new, “genesis”-creation, literally the creation of new sugar) into blood glucose where it can then be used as fuel for the body or stored as fat just like any other sugar molecule.

How Do You Avoid Gluconeogenesis?

There are a several different ways to avoid this.

1. Increased Exercise

This is the most basic and important thing to do on the ketogenic diet.  Increased exercise will create bigger muscles and in order for your body to make those muscles, it will use protein.  The more exercise you do, the more protein you can get away with consuming.  Also, bigger muscles act as a “sugar sink”, using any excess sugar in the blood stream so less is stored as fat.

2.  Track Your Macros

Keeping track of the amount of protein consumed is another way to avoid gluconeogenesis.  You are shooting for between .6 and 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass. (You can use your goal weight as a cheap and easy way to figure lean body mass)  If you are measuring ketones and are finding it difficult to get into ketosis, protein is control knob you want to fiddle with in order to fine tune your diet.  Finding out what protein level you can tolerate is one of those fun little journeys of self-discovery that make the ketogenic diet so interesting!  If you are looking for an app to track your macros, I have been using Lose It! and have been pretty happy with it.

3.  Just eat fatty meats

If you don’t like to track or measure anything, just try to focus on eating the fattiest cuts of meal possible to keep your fat to protein ratio high.  This would be chicken thighs on the bone with skin over boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  (Dark meat over light meat for any poultry and always leave the skin on)  Rib-Eyes and T-Bones and any cuts of beef with heavy marbling over leaner cuts and 80%-20% hamburger meat over 93%-7%.  Try to eat more sardines packed in olive oil (Wild Planet FTW!) and fattier cuts of pork.  Just be sure that every time you are eating protein, you are eating a fair amount of fat as well.

But Don’t Be Scared of Protein!

Having said all this, you might think that protein is something to be scared of.  It’s just not true.  No matter how much protein you eat, it’s not going to turn to chocolate cake in your blood stream.  Just watch what you are doing and if you have trouble producing ketones after a few weeks, this is probably where you would want to look first when making adjustments.

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Can I Eat Too Much Protein on a Ketogenic Diet?

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