Ketogenic diets are defined by chasing ketosis: the state of burning fats as fuel.
They’re also interested in getting better at this over the long-term: keto-adaptation. This isn’t about whether or not you’re using fats as fuel, but rather how good you are at it.
Ketosis for sustained periods of time is how you keto-adapt. Your body takes its time, but will happily use fats as the main source of fuel in the body.
Today, you’re going to learn methods of finding out if you’re in ketosis and what to focus on during your time on keto.
Ketosis: The Key Facts
How do you get fats as fuel? There are really two distinct things we call ketosis: the kind that happens when you use up all of your carbs with exercise and ‘nutritional’ ketosis.
The latter is the ketogenic diet: restricting carbohydrate intake to force your body to rely on fats. This is why you keep your dietary carbs as low as 5-7.5% of your overall diet.
So when you ask yourself if you’re in ketosis, there are some important changes that we want to be looking out for. There are generally going to be a few ways we can look for ketosis:
- The biological changes happening in your body
- The changes you experience in response to adjusting your diet
- The performance and output changes in your exercise and physique results
This means we have a few places to look – and they don’t all involve scientific or medical testing!
Biological Tests for Ketosis
These are the most certain ways of figuring out if you’re in ketosis, but they also come with the demands of medical-grade testing.
You can’t always take a check for your blood markers, so these are going to be useful every so often.
Unless you’re an elite athlete, in which case congratulations; you can get testing all the time. Otherwise, this should be done if you have concerns about keto diets or you’re not seeing results.
Blood glucose levels drop during a ketogenic diet, but this is going to be the positive effects of a lot of diets.
If you’re changing from a high-carb, low-quality diet to a healthier diet, blood sugar levels will be lower. This isn’t a 100% certain way of getting into keto, but if you get it added with the others, it paints a good picture of your diet’s effects.
This is also the easiest way to check your own blood markers since blood sugar monitors are widely- and cheaply-available.
looking to keep your Blood Sugar in Check while on the Keto Diet? Check out our Collection of Keto Mug Cakes
This might actually require a full bloodwork profile – but it’s very certain and clear.
If your blood ketone levels are nutritionally-induced and very high, you’re probably in ketosis. It’s a rather clear and decisive way of knowing if you’re in ketosis.
This is also the most difficult, expensive, and rare way of finding out. You might not ever need this level of scientific certainty unless you’re an elite athlete.
This is something that you can get tested with a sports medic but is still going to be hard to implement often.
You can get your urine tested to check for ketones and sugar-metabolites. This is pretty high-level, but ketosis has noticeable changes to the urine, so this could be a reliable and practical way of testing.
Home testing kits - such as keto strips - are a common way of dealing with this. They’re relatively cheap and effective, but you’ll only find them useful during the first few weeks. After a while, ketone levels in urine become less relevant as you adapt.
Again – you probably only need to do this kind of test during the first few weeks: if you are in ketosis and your diet doesn’t change, you’re probably still in ketosis!
Experiencing Ketosis: What Fat-Burning Feels Like
These are somewhere between the performance and biological changes. They’re the result of the things we’ve mentioned above, but you’re likely to feel them without any testing.
These are the changes we recommend keeping tabs on relatively often. They’re moderately reliable and very easy to check for.
This isn’t just a myth: keto gives you bad breath.
It’s a problem you can fix with lots of brushing and sugar-free gum, but it’s noticeable. If you notice that you’re experiencing breath changes, you’re probably transitioning to keto.
This is because your body is carrying plenty of acetone-metabolites. When you break down ketones, your breath starts to smell like nail polish remover: a sickly-sweet, acidic smell.
It’s also been said to smell like pear drops, but that’s not really bad breath. This isn’t always reliable, but you’ll notice it when it happens to you.
This is a set of symptoms that we usually try and avoid – easier said than done!
However, when you get through keto flu you’re probably in ketosis. These negative symptoms – dehydration, fatigue, and a mild sense of soreness – are associated with the transition from carbs to fats as your main fuel source.
Once you’re through this, you can be pretty sure you’re in ketosis. This is probably the least pleasant way to figure it out, but it’s pretty certain!
Another simple marker, you’re going to be peeing a lot on keto.
Carbohydrates tend to be rich in trace minerals and electrolytes that reduce your urinary frequency.
Basically, keto makes you pee because you’re lower in carbs and the electrolytes they bring. If you keep your hydration stable and have noticeably more visits to the toilet, you’re on the right path.
Remember to supplement electrolytes, too, to keep hydrated and avoid peeing out key nutrients.
More regular energy levels (and conflating things)
This is a really controversial one: some people report improved energy levels on keto.
There are dozens of reasons this could be happening. Improving your diet at all will energise you, improved vitamin/mineral intake from plant foods, the hormonal changes associated with healthy weight loss, and more.
This makes for a unreliable, but ideal, outcome-measure. We wouldn’t rely on this, but if it comes with all the others then we’re not going to complain!
Performance Outcomes: Reverse Engineering Ketosis
This is where it counts: the change to your results.
These are going to be key in any situation – if you’re getting better at everything and improving your body composition, keto is secondary.
As a tool to acquire specific athletic changes, we can use these changes to test for ketosis.
With the increased oxidation of fats on ketosis, you can expect accelerated weight loss. This diet is specifically designed to empower you to lose more weight, especially when combined with the right exercise routine.
This is possible on any diet, but you’re likely to see rapid changes on a ketogenic diet – even if this means building less muscle than a carb-rich diet.
It’s a trade-off of size for bodyfat, so keep your eye on the scales if you’re using them to track your changes.
Endurance Capacity Gains
This is one of the defining characteristics of a ketogenic diet. You’re going to experience much better time-to-exhaustion changes when you’re using fats as a fuel source.
You’re storing 10,000s of calories as bodyfat, and you’re not going to have problems with carb-depletion if you’re not relying on them in the first place!
These results continue to improve for a minimum of 3 months, so allow them a little time.
Maximal Strength/Power Changes
Decreases in top-end strength are predictable on a ketogenic diet. These high-power exercises are fuelled by carbohydrates, so an LCHF diet means a focus on lower-intensity.
You’ll not experience too much loss if you’re a recreational gym-goer or you stay within the 5+ rep ranges.
However, if you’re aiming for maximal strength or size, you may notice changes onwards. This tends to provide a pretty clear image of where you’re at in the keto-adaptation process.
Habits and Behaviours: Does Ketosis even matter?
So, you know how to check if you’re in ketosis. But should you even care?
While strictness is going to be key for those with a high level of performance – like Olympians and elite athletes – for most of us it won’t matter.
For the general population, sustainability is more important than speed. Ketogenic diets work if they’re adhered to – it doesn’t matter how fast you’re going if you’re making progress.
When Ketosis Isn’t Key
The ketogenic diet is a great way to bring about a variety of unique metabolic benefits and changes.
However, you don’t need to check this often and you can generally be assured of the benefits of the diet without checking. For some people, ketosis isn’t even big deal – it might not matter that much.
For example, we might easily consider ketogenic diets to be more important for the habits than the metabolism. The changes to the way you eat bring their own benefits.
The side-effects of ketosis (like keto-adaptation) are beneficial but may not be the goal. Reducing your reliance on carb-rich junk foods, or just reducing diabetes risks, can make a serious difference for the rest of your life.
Its also important to note that the benefits of keto-adaptation are not an on-off switch. You don’t have to be in ketosis to improve fat-metabolism: it is possible to develop on a curve.
The important point is this: trust the process and don’t worry about measuring all the time. If you’re doing the diet properly, you can assume you’re in ketosis. The rest of the benefits will be easy to tell from the way your body and mind respond.
You can’t always tell if you’re in ketosis, but if you trust in the process and put the behaviours first, you’ll gain the benefits.