The Keto Protein Myth: How Much Protein To Eat On a Keto Diet
- August 22, 2020
You likely already know that restricting carbohydrates is a top priority on the ketogenic diet, but protein intake matters just as much.
One of the biggest mistakes people run into when going keto is eating too little protein.
Most beginners will fall into the belief that high protein consumption may turn to glucose — through a process called gluconeogenesis — which supposedly hinders your body’s ability to burn ketones for fuel.
Because of this assumption, many keto dieters never get to experience the full benefits of a properly formulated ketogenic diet. So how much protein should you actually eat on a low-carb, high fat diet?
How Much Protein To Eat on a Keto Diet
How much protein you need on a keto diet depends on your unique body and goals. Using the example of a 140-lb person, you would multiply that number by 0.6 to get your minimum protein amount (140 x 0.6 = 84 grams).
You can then do the same for your maximum protein intake by multiplying by 1 (140 x 1.0 = 140 grams), which gives you an ideal intake range. In this case, would be between 84-140 grams of protein per day.
You can also use an automated keto macro calculator. It’s quick, easy, accurate, and takes your unique measurements into account.
Why Eating Too Much Protein on Keto is a Myth
Many keto dieters — beginners and experts alike — believe that eating too much protein can increase the amount of blood sugar present in the blood through a metabolic pathway called gluconeogenesis.
Gluconeogenesis (GNG) is the creation of new glucose in the body from non-carbohydrate sources such as lactate, pyruvate, and protein.
Its name has the following three components:
Gluco: Meaning glucose.
- Neo: Meaning new.
- Genesis: Meaning origin or creation.
GNG is literally the creation of glucose from anything but carbohydrates.
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Your body uses compounds like lactate, amino acids (protein), and glycerol to create glucose when no carbohydrates are present.
By this very definition, it’s safe to assume that gluconeogenesis should be avoided at all costs. After all, when glucose is present, it means your body can’t produce ketones and use it as the main fuel source.
But some glucose is required for us to live.
In fact, your cells use gluconeogenesis to ensure you don’t die when there are no carbohydrates present in your system.
The three main responsibilities of GNG include:
- Preventing hypoglycemia
- Fueling the tissues that can’t use ketones
- Replenishing glycogen stores
Do not consume lower amounts of protein to avoid gluconeogenesis. Too little protein is worse for your health than too much.
This doesn’t mean you have to consume a high carbohydrate diet to survive. Yes, your body needs glucose and glycogen to stay healthy (even in ketosis), but it can create just the right amount from survival mechanisms like gluconeogenesis.
The Role of Protein in Ketosis
Protein is an important component necessary in every vital function of your body. It’s built from amino acids that come from food.
- Regulation and function of the organs and tissues
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Building muscle
- Required for healthy bones, muscle, cartilage, skin, and blood
- Optimal enzyme and hormonal function
- Lowering blood pressure
- Regulate cholesterol
Restricting carbohydrates is one of the main elements of the ketogenic diet. But as mentioned above, our bodies need some glucose for certain functions of the body.
This means protein plays an even larger role for optimal health in people who follow a low-carb diet. When your body doesn’t produce glucose from protein (via gluconeogenesis), it will start looking for other sources, like your muscles.
If you are just starting a low-carb, high-fat keto diet, keeping protein intake low can negatively affect your overall body composition, strength, and endurance.
- Weight loss plateaus
- Thyroid issues
- Hormonal imbalances
- Hair, skin and nail problems
- Increased severity of infections
In fact, several keto dieters have experienced significant improvements in overall health after increasing protein intake.
Now let’s get into how much protein you should be eating on keto.
How Much Protein Can You Eat on the Ketogenic Diet?
Everyone knows that the bulk of your calories should come from fats to successfully start burning ketones for energy while keeping carbohydrates low.
But one of the most widely debated food sources on keto is protein.
The traditional ketogenic macronutrient protocol recommends:
- 75-80% of calories from fat
- 20% of calories from protein
- 5% of calories from carbohydrates
This is the most common breakdown for macros to enter ketosis. But for many people — especially those who exercise frequently — protein intake should make up a larger percentage of your total daily caloric allowance.
Here is a more effective way to calculate your macronutrients on keto:
Step #1: Prioritize Protein
Against popular opinion, protein should be your first priority, not fat.
Calculating your protein intake will differ depending on the activity level per individual.
If you work a desk job, don’t exercise often and live a sedentary lifestyle:
- Protein intake should be 0.8 grams per pound of lean body mass minimum. Lean body mass (LBM) is how much weight you carry that isn’t fat.
- To find your LBM, you can get calipers from Amazon, use a bioelectrical impedance scale, or get a DEXA scan.
- Multiply your LBM by 0.8 to get your daily protein consumption.
If you’re physically fit, an athlete, or want to build muscle:
- Protein intake should be 1-1.2 grams per pound of body weight, not lean body mass.
- Consume the upper threshold if you want to gain more muscle or need to stay in peak physical shape for athletic competition.
Remember: This should be the minimum amount of protein to consume. Don’t be afraid to eat more as it will not hinder your ketogenic diet goals. Eating less protein can be worse for your health than having more.
Step #2: Keep Carbohydrates Low
Decrease your carbohydrate intake to 20-50 grams of total carbohydrates, not net carbohydrates.
This means you should count the fiber you consume as part of your carb consumption.
People who are lean, physically fit, or want to gain weight and build muscle can consume more carbs while those living an inactive, sedentary lifestyle should keep carbs under 30 grams.
Step #3: The Remainder Of Calories Should Come From Fat
After calculating your protein and carb intake, subtract that number from your total daily calorie allowance.
To find the number of calories per macro:
- Protein = 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates = 4 calories per gram
- Fats = 9 calories per gram
Fill in the rest of your calories from healthy fats.
If your macro goals are 100 grams of protein and 25 grams of carbohydrates with a 1,500 daily calorie allowance, calculate the following to find fat:
- #1 — 100g protein x 4 = 400 calories
- #2 — 25g carbohydrates x 4 = 100 calories
- #3 — 1,500 – (400 + 100) = 1,000 calories
- #4 — Fat intake = 1,000 / 9 = 111g of fat
This macro breakdown for 1,500 calories comes out to:
- 100 grams of protein
- 25 grams of carbohydrates
- 111 grams of fat
Using this approach helps several people conquer their weight loss plateaus and any mental fatigue that may occur from protein deficiencies.
Our Perfect Keto Macro Calculator can help you find your macro breakdown based on your own height, weight, age and goals!
Monitor Overall Body Composition Instead of Obsessing Over Ketone Production
Ketone levels have become the most prioritized metric when assessing a successful ketogenic diet.
A large percentage of the keto community believe that as long as your urine strips show a high indicator of ketones, that you are successfully burning body fat and losing weight.
But this is not the most accurate measurement to monitor on the low-carb, high-fat lifestyle.
Focusing on long-term, lean tissue growth will provide you with a much more accurate evaluation of your ketogenic diet.
This is because your body produces large amounts of excess ketones when you first start the ketogenic diet. And since your body isn’t used to prioritizing fats for fuel yet, these ketones are excreted through your breath and urine.
But the longer you stick to keto, the more efficient your mitochondria become with ketone utilization.
In fact, most long-term ketogenic dieters who are fat-adapted have lower ketone levels (.6 – .8 mmol) because their body has become more efficient in using ketones for energy, rather than excreting it through urine and breath.
Eating large amounts of fats will also produce high ketones.
Many people will experience weight loss plateaus on keto because they are eating well above their calorie needs without realizing it. When this happens, your body will utilize the dietary fats that are being consumed first to produce ketones instead of burning off stored body fat. This means even if you restrict carbs, you’ll still gain weight.
Focusing on building lean mass long-term and monitoring your overall physique will help you determine whether or not you are eating too many calories on keto.
Key Point: Producing high ketone levels does not mean your body is utilizing them for energy and helping you lose weight. Unless you are on the ketogenic diet for serious health conditions like cancer, ketone levels should not be your first priority. Tracking your body composition long-term, energy levels and lean tissue growth are much better metrics to focus on.
The Best (and Worst) Sources of Keto Protein
Not all protein sources are healthy for you. The belief that your body utilizes macros the same way no matter what source it comes from has been debunked by science.
A meta-analysis conducted on over 450,000 men and women observed the difference between processed meats and red meat to evaluate which one has higher carcinogenicity. Based on this review, scientists concluded that processed meats can cause colorectal and stomach cancer whereas red meat did not[*].
Processed meats you should avoid on keto include:
- Corned beef
- Bologna sausage
- Hot dogs
- Vienna sausage
Instead, focus on getting your protein from healthy sources like:
- Beef, preferably fattier cuts like steak, grass-fed beef, NY strip, ribeye and porterhouse
- Poultry, including chicken breast, quail, duck, and turkey
- Fish, including tuna, salmon, trout, halibut, catfish, and cod
- Organ meats, including liver, heart, tongue, and kidney
- Eggs, cooked any way you want (especially the yolk)
- Lamb and goat meat
- Beef protein
- Bone broth
While processed meats may be more convenient and often times tastier, it’s imperative that you get the bulk of your protein from healthy sources to live a healthy life free of disease.
Keto-Friendly Protein Supplements
Whey protein is an excellent and bioavailable form of protein that will help build and repair. Whey protein may help:
Collagen is the protein responsible for binding your body together along with making up the tissue in cartilage, joints, skin, muscles, hair, eyes, gut, and nails.
The health benefits of collagen range from:
- Muscle growth
- Preventing leaky gut
- Strengthens bones
- Promotes gut health
- Improves brain health
- Promotes tissue repair
- Supports skin health
Adequate Amounts of Protein is Optimal on Keto
Just because protein may create some glucose, does not mean it’s bad for the keto diet. Our bodies are smart enough to create just the right amount of glucose to survive via gluconeogenesis, without any complications.
Many ketogenic dieters who are experiencing negative side effects may benefit greatly from increased protein consumption.
You should never worry about eating too much protein on keto. In fact, eating too little can be more problematic.
If you aren’t experiencing the full health benefits of the ketogenic diet, increasing your protein intake while regularly monitoring the change in your overall body composition (instead of tracking ketones) should help you blast through any keto plateaus you’ve fallen victim to.