How Much Protein Should I Eat On Keto?Jul 20, 2021
One of the most debated questions with Keto is "How much protein should I eat on Keto?" There is very little debate that you must keep your carbohydrates low and eat fat to satiety, but what do you do about protein?
- When you are fully Keto, please understand that you are not going to be eating unlimited amounts of protein.
- Be smart when planning protein for meals and snacks.
- Even when eating the carnivore diet which is animal products only, you will still be listening to your hunger signals.
- Protein triggers feedback on satiety more efficiently than carbohydrates.
- Pay attention and you will not be having “all-you-can-eat” quantities of meat.
As of the writing of this blog, no organization has established a firm upper limit on what might constitute "too much" protein in a person’s diet.
In a healthy individual, the body will safely rid itself of unneeded protein.
Also, the older you are the more protein you need to consume because your body does not as efficiently process protein as it did when you were younger.
Here is your Roadmap to this blog:
Protein is an essential nutrient
Protein is an essential nutrient
- Proteins are the building blocks of cells and muscles
- They are essential for brain function and other functions, such as healing cuts and wounds.
- The body will recycle much of its protein and you do not need to consume large quantities to have a healthy body.
- Even though scientists do not fully understand the process, human cells break down excess or unusable proteins into amino acids they can use.
- This is referred to as recycling protein or protein turnover.
- By a process called gluconeogenesis, in which the liver can convert amino acids (from protein) into glucose, the liver may produce a little too much glucose, which could impact insulin.
- This, however, is usually not a supply-driven process.
- It is mostly a demand-driven process, meaning that it doesn't automatically happen if you eat a lot of protein.
- It happens if and when your body needs glucose.
- The issue of the liver converting protein into excessive glucose as a supply-driven process tends to happen more in people with very severe insulin resistance or difficult-to-control diabetes.
(An interesting side-fact about consuming too much protein: If you tend to eat a lot of protein that protein contains a lot of phosphorus which is a stimulant. As a result, you will find you might not sleep well after a heavy protein dinner!)
- When you are beginning keto or low carb eating, the only metric you have to pay attention to is your carbohydrate count.
- However, if you want to follow keto you will see a lot of references to your macros.
- Macro is an abbreviation for macronutrient, referring to carbohydrates, proteins or fats.
- When you hear the term macro in a keto discussion, that refers to the grams you are allowed for each category.
The "New Face" of Keto
- Although it is important to be informed about what you are reading, I do not agree with the extremely low protein allotment that most keto sites suggest.
- As of the publishing of my book and the launching of this website, there is what I like to call "the new face of keto" that is popping up among researchers and social media influencers.
- The new wisdom is to do just what I am telling you here: Do not fear protein and certainly do not severely moderate it, and the older you are, the more you need to add to your diet.
Calculating your protein needs
Three ways to calculate your protein needs
- One simple (and older, but prevalent) calculation for keto-protein allotment is 45.5 grams per 5’ of height, then every inch over 5’ multiply by 2.3 and add it to 45.5.
- There are other formulas that may include:
- body mass (BMI)
- basal metabolic rate (BMR)
- total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).
- There are abundant resources for these formulas on the web and I do not include them here. Each one tries to answer the question: How much protein for keto?
- If you are young, an athlete and not metabolically challenged in any way, you can have more than whatever that calculation is.
- You may want to work within that calculated number and pay close attention to the “incidental” protein that I talk about below if you
- are not losing weight
- are not getting into ketosis
- have conditions such as fatty liver disease
- are severely insulin resistant
- have type 2 diabetes
- have other metabolic issues
Easy Way to Figure Protein Needs
- The protein allotment that I prefer and have suggested to my clients since being in practice, is one that is more realistic (and backed by research), which is 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilogram of “reference” body weight.
- The reference weight is not your goal weight necessarily, but what is an average weight for your height.
- For instance, I am 5’4” and my “reference” body weight is approximately 140 pounds (64 kg).
- I got this by using a standard BMI chart, looking up my height and then picking the number that falls at the high end of a “normal” BMI, which is 24. (We can split hairs here: normal is up to 24.9 but then the math gets too hard!)
- My protein allowance falls between 76.8 to 108.8 grams of consumed protein (not grams of weight).
An Even Easier Way
All that being said....
- In my practice I find that women settle in nicely at at least 100 grams of protein.
- Men do well with 125-150 grams of protein.
- The older you are, the less efficiently protein is used, so don't skimp on protein - it is always better to go a little over.
What does this look like?
- When you start out, you will probably be eating three meals a day.
- I recommend STRONGLY that you limit yourself to three adequate meals that cut out any need for snacking.
- Start with that and arrange your protein grams accordingly.
- The best way to approach this is to split your protein fairly evenly between these three meals.
- Dividing your day into three meals, comes out to about 30 grams of protein per meal.
- This is main-course protein.
- You will also be eating “incidental” protein in
- coffee cream
- nuts and seeds
- The biggest “struggle” is just mindfulness.
- Pay attention to what you eat and learn protein counts of food.
- I know I promised you an escape route out of diet prison, but do begin by counting "macros" just to get things in line.
- I looked things up when I started, and I was so surprised to find that fish and shellfish and other lean protein pack a lot of protein into each serving size.
- As long as you are eating good quality protein, don’t worry too much about that.
- It is unlikely that a woman is going to overeat protein (in fact, most women are not getting enough!)
- Please don’t have to run back and forth to your food scale to shave off an ounce of something.
- You need to make this a lifestyle and not a diet!
War of the Grams: Weighing your protein
- The term “grams of protein” means the number of grams of protein that is in a food, not the weight of the food in grams.
- For example, three ounces of ground chuck, cooked, weighs 85 grams and contains 22 grams of protein.
- The same three ounces (85g) of cooked bacon, contains 9 grams of protein.
- This is a question that comes up frequently when people are new to Keto.
- Not to worry – just make sure you are measuring the correct thing!
- To measure how much protein you “should” be eating, there are various calculations and formulas that I mentioned.
Listen to your body
Human beings are not machines, and calculators should not rule your life.
- Eat good quality protein.
- Pay attention to your hunger signals.
- Remember, do not fear protein.
- If you are still afraid of protein after all you have read on social media, and want to avoid overeating, engage in sequential eating as coined by Dr. Robert Cywes.
- Some people call this putting in a speed bump.
- Take what you feel is an adequate portion of food and divide it onto two plates.
- Put the plate in front of you that you are going to eat and put the other plate either in the middle of the table or on a kitchen counter.
- Finish what is in front of you, then see if you want the rest.
- Other mindfulness practices that will help you listen to your body are just slowing down and tuning into your hunger scale.
Do not take 3 ounces of protein (the standard “deck-of-cards” or “palm-of-your-hand” sized portion) and divide that.
- Take something substantially more to start.
- If you are still hungry and want to eat more, EAT MORE!!!
- Choose protein sources where the fat is part of the protein such as
- chicken thighs with the skin
- egg yolks (not just the whites)
- steak that is marbled or has the fat layer around it, like a good ribeye.
- These choices will automatically align protein and fat recommendations and will keep you full longer on less food!
Don’t make yourself crazy with macros but rather, really begin to listen to your body.
- Again, pick protein options that come packaged with their own fat
- marbled and higher fat meats
- chicken legs with the skin on
- full fat dairy
- oily fish like salmon and sardines, etc.
- You will find your sweet spot with protein.
- Just a little more than some might recommend for Keto might make you feel better, energy-wise and digestion-wise.
- This might make the difference between being successful or not.
You need to make this a lifestyle and not a diet. As with carbohydrates, once you have an awareness of what you are eating you can let go of the tracking and break free from diet prison. Use your hunger scale to determine how much protein for keto you need.
Planning your meals and snacks
- Take your elements in this order: protein, fat and carbohydrate.
- Decide on a protein choice: Meat, chicken or fish.
- Assess the fat content.
- If you are making short ribs, for instance, or having chicken thighs with skin, you might be all set for the fat that accompanies the protein.
- If you are eating something lean, make sure to enhance it with butter or cream sauce or prepare it in a nice avocado or olive oil.
- For instance, when I am making a skinless cut of chicken, I might put mayonnaise on it when I bake it or bake it in a cream sauce.
- It is important to pick filling food choices that include protein and fat, otherwise, you might be hungry almost immediately.
- As you are progressing through keto you might find that you are not hungry at all for snacks.
- See my blogs on breakfast ideas and lunch ideas to get great suggestions for things that would work for Keto snacks.
- For low carbohydrate programs, a candy bar or popcorn might be nice treats if you can fit them in to your carbohydrate allowance, but they raise insulin, and you will get hungry sooner.
- Also for low carbohydrate plans, when you are planning snacks for the week, try not to include high starch or sugary items more than once or twice.
- Carnivore is eating only animal products and fat.
- There are no plant products at all (except, usually, olives, olive oil, avocados and avocado oil).
- People who follow this way of eating do not count anything – they just eat and enjoy!
- Eating the fat and protein is self-limiting when you tune in to your hunger cues.
- There are people who have found tremendous health benefits eating this way.
- I am not looking to defend or deny the virtues of the carnivore way of eating Keto, but there are a few questions that often come up in a carnivore discussion:
- Will I become constipated?
- Do I risk kidney damage?
- Am I getting enough vitamins?
- The short answers are NO, NO and YES, respectively.
- The full answers to these, and other questions, are in Chapter 11, Questions and Dispelling Myths, in my book, Breaking Free From Diet Prison: Common Sense Keto and Low Carb.
Many foods are sources of protein. These include nuts, dairy and some vegetables.
But here is a list of animal proteins that are complete and filling sources for you to use in planning your meals, and you don't have to be carnivore to enjoy them!
- Beef (all cuts)
- Beef deli meats (but check for the carb counts — some may be high if there is added sugar or fillers)
- Pork (all cuts)
- Pork deli meats (but check carb counts — some may be high if there is added sugar or fillers)
- Beef and Pork "snack" items such as:
- Pork rinds/skins
- Pepperoni slices
- Bacon (sugar used in the curing process will burn off but do not have sugared bacon such as maple-flavored; just buy plain)
- Other meats such as venison
- Chicken (preferably dark meat with skin)
- Turkey (preferably dark meat with skin)
- Eggs (any kind)
- All Fish
- All Shellfish
One last thing before we leave the topic of protein. I often get asked - even for regular keto, not even carnivore, is, "Do I risk kidney damage?"
- There is strong research that disproves that eating protein above the recommended daily allowance damages kidney function.
- It was thought that excess protein causes kidney disease, but about 20 years ago that was disproven.
- If you have healthy kidneys, they will be able to handle the nitrogenous waste of protein.
- It is at stages 3 to 5 of kidney disease that you have to be concerned about too much protein.
- Protein itself will not cause kidney disease.
- Jason Fung uses a wonderful analogy using a sieve and blueberries
- The sieve is your kidneys.
- The blueberries is the protein.
- If your sieve has no holes, it will hold the blueberries and the water will wash right over them and drain through the sieve.
- If you have holes in the netting, then the blueberries will fall through.
- It is not the blueberries that damage the sieve.
- It is the already-damaged sieve that is the problem.
His books and the prominent study he refers to, are in the reference section of this book. I encourage you to listen to the short-lived “Obesity Podcast” with Jason Fung and Megan Ramos, hosted by Carl Franklin. In Episode 10 he specifically talks about the connection between protein and the kidneys.
Remember these two concepts
Remember these two concepts when choosing how much protein to eat:
(1) We are not machines and must eat according to what makes us feel best. For some, it might be a little more protein and a little less fat than a standard macro calculation would have you eating.
(2) DO NOT FEAR protein. Gluconeogenesis is almost always a demand-driven process and not a supply-driven process.
Remember that protein is an essential nutrient and the older you are, the more you need because the body does not process this nutrient as efficiently as it did in younger days.
Listen to your body. Use the bonus guide (The Hunger Scale) below to home in on your signals. There is a natural feedback loop with protein and fat. If you truly listen, you will not be overeating this nutrient. It will become easier and easier to answer the question: How much protein for keto? You are in charge. Your body is in charge. Listen!
Learn more about this with my book and course:
Book Breaking Free From Diet Prison: Common Sense Keto and Low Carb
Course Breaking Free From Diet Prison: The Roadmap to Low Carb and Keto Success