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The Ketogenic Diet: How to Be Fat Adapted

by Maria Emmerich
Home/Blog/Protect Your Mental Wellbeing During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Fat Adapted

Becoming “fat adapted” is the goal of the ketogenic diet. Find out how it works and how to do it naturally (no crazy fat burning supplements needed)…

Become a Fat Adapted, Fat Burning Machine

The obvious first step to being fat adapted is to cut out sugar, and when I say sugar, I also mean starch.

Complex carbohydrates are just glucose mol­ecules hooked together in a long chain. The digestive tract breaks them down into glucose, AKA sugar.

Therefore, a diet filled with “safe starches” like sweet potatoes is still considered a sugary diet.

To become fat adapted, you need to start using ketones for energy instead of glucose. 

When you do this, you will become a fat burning machine!

So, what are ketones?

Ketones are a byproduct of fat oxi­dation that work like a super-fuel for your body.  Ketones are the fuel your body uses (instead of glucose or sugar) when you are fat adapted.  

Ketones are created in the liver during a process called beta-oxidation:

  1. Fatty acids are broken down into acetyl-CoA
  2. Acetyl-CoA is then oxidized, and its energy is used for the production of ATP (the body’s energy source for all cells)
  3. If excess acetyl-CoA is produced or inadequate quantities of a required precursor called oxaloacetate are present, the extra acetyl-CoA is transformed into “ketone bodies”

When are you are fat adapted, you actually pro­duce ketones and use fat (that you eat and in your body) for ATP at the same time.

Fun Fact: we all naturally go through a mild ketosis (keto-adapted) after fasting during a long night of sleep, if you don’t eat right before bed and after you’ve woken up.

Don’t eat for over 10 hours to be in “mild ketosis.”

start producing ketones

How can I become fat adapted and start producing ketones?

Super simple! Take these 2 steps:

Step 1: Cut the Carbs

To start producing ketones, start with a diet of less than 20 grams of carbohydrates a day.

This may seem like an awful battle that you can’t win, but it really isn’t that hard to do.

Simply favor fatty meats and spoonfuls of coconut oil in order to fuel your cells with the proper macronutrients.

Step 2: Eat A LOT of Fat

In order to enter ketosis, you need to turn up your healthy fat intake to push yourself over the adaptation divide as quickly as possible (while reducing carbohydrates, of course). When this happens, you’ll be fat adapted.

Entering ketosis gets your body used to metabolizing more fats for energy, including stored body fat.

The amount of fat you need to eat in grams-per-day will depend on your caloric needs.

The following is a good equation to determine the amount of fat in grams you need to consume:

Fat grams = (total required calories * 0.8) / 9.

For example, if you are shooting for 1400 calories a day with 80% of those calories coming from fat, then multiply 1400 times 0.8 and divide that number by 9 to get 124 g of fat a day.

Once you have these numbers down for yourself, here are a few other things to know:

What fat can I consume besides meat?

If you want to become fat adapted and you don’t like fatty cuts of meat, you can add medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) to your diet.

MCTs are mainly comprised of medium-chain fatty acids.

MCT oils go directly to the liver to be converted into acetyl-CoA for energy and do not show up in cell membranes or adipose tissue. The acetyl-CoA to ATP pathway becomes overwhelmed, which causes the creation of ketones.

Coconut Butter

Consuming MCT oils increases ketone production

MCTs are different than long-chain tri­glycerides. MCTs are absorbed more like carbohydrates and are used and burned quickly by the body; they are not stored in the fat cells, and any extra MCTs are converted into ketones.

This is why I am very specific with my food recommendations, even with the salad dressings my clients use. It is always best to make your own dressing, because you can make them with MCTs rather than vegetable oils.

Vegetable oils are long-chain triglycerides and will not turn into ketones for fat burning. Instead of using long-chain triglycerides, which do go into cell membranes and can show up in adipose tissue, MCT oils are less likely to overwhelm the liver’s ability to make ATP.

It is therefore better to prefer saturated fats like coconut oil and animal fats, which contain greater concentration of MCTs.

MCTs passively diffuse from the GI (gastrointestinal) tract to the portal system (longer fatty acids are absorbed into the lymphatic system) without requirement for modification like long-chain fatty acids or very-long-chain fatty acids.

In addition, MCTs do not require bile salts for digestion.

Pa­tients that have malnutrition or malabsorption syndromes are treated with MCTs because they do not require energy for absorption, utilization, or storage.

MCTs will speed up the ketone-production process. On rare occasions, MCT oils have caused nausea in some people if they take too much of it, so be cautious and start out slowly.

The common recommendation for a serving of MCT oil is 1-2 tablespoons, but try out 1 teaspoon at a time to begin. This will help your body adjust to it and you can make sure that nausea doesn’t occur!

Eat the Right Amount of Protein to Maintain Ketosis

A ketogenic diet is an extremely low-carb, moderatepro­tein, high-fat diet.

Do not confuse keto with high-protein diets or like you’re training for a body building competition (and needing to slam back protein shakes). While protein is essential for multiple health benefits, as we’ve covered before, too much protein will also become sugar in the blood, through a process called gluconeogenesis. This function exists because it’s so difficult for the body to prioritize burning fat at first, it would rather find other compounds to convert to sugar.

Obviously, this is not ideal when you’re trying to switch from sugar to fat-burning… so you need to eat an appropriate amount of protein for your bodyweight without going overboard!

How much protein is too much when you’re keto?

Everyone has a different tolerance, just like with carbohy­drates.

For instance, I work with lots of extreme diabetics who can’t eat more than 60 grams of protein a day (about 20 grams at each meal) or they will get kicked out of ketosis.

A good rule of thumb is to eat 0.7 times your lean body mass in grams of protein a day.

So if you weigh 150 pounds and have 25% body fat, then your lean mass is 105 pounds (150*0.75). So for your protein goal, take 0.7*105 and you get 73.5g of protein a day.

The Bottom Line of becoming fat adapted:

  1. Cut out sugar and starch: reduce carbohydrates to <10g per day
  2. Keep protein intake to 0.7x your lean body mass in grams of protein per day
  3. Bring on the healthy fat. Fill in the gaps with healthy fats from coconut, avocados, MCTs and animal fats.

It’s that simple!

In the final part of this series, we will explore how to avoid common side-effects of ketosis. See you then!

The Ketogenic Diet Part 4: Avoiding Common Side Effects of Ketosis

Coconut image licensed under the Creative Commons.


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Maria Emmerich

Maria Emmerich

Maria Emmerich is a wellness expert in nutrition and exercise physiology. She shares a passion for helping others reach their goals of optimal health. She struggled with her weight throughout childhood and decided enough was enough. She decided to study health and wellness so she could help others stop wasting their time being discouraged with […]