Keto Backpacking Overview: Why go Keto?
In my experience, backpacking on a medium to high fat, low carb diet is nothing short of amazing. Increased and sustained energy, less crashes, better overall health, increased mental clarity and less food weight to carry (more calories per ounce in high fat foods) are some of the benefits. Ever hike all day fasted from the day prior, forget to eat on trail or come off trail into town after a backpacking trip and not have an appetite? Me neither until keto. A ketogenic diet is uniquely suited for endurance sports like backpacking!
There’s quite a learning curve involved and you’ll find a constant stream of conflicting information and general confusion as you navigate forums, blogs and FB groups online, but it’s all worth it, I promise! The good news is that if you put in a little work, the payoff in your health, energy and overall well being is substantial and your backpacking game will be on point like never before!
Ketogenic Fundamentals: What is a Ketogenic Diet?
A ketogenic diet is a medium fat, medium protein and low carb way of eating. After an initial period (4 to 8 weeks) of fat adaptation your body will be deriving most of its energy from ketones (fat) in a state called ketosis, instead of from glucose (sugar / carbs). The result is that you have access to your body’s fat reserves for energy, which results in more sustainable energy and performance, increase mental clarity, faster recovery times and less inflamation. Ketogenic diets are also great for weight loss, enable easier intermittent fasting and are successfully reversing Type 2 Diabetes for many as we speak!
1. Determine Your Body Fat % and Body Weight
The gold standard for finding your body fat % is via a DEXA scan, but you can also use this guide as an alternative or use the Navy Method. Do NOT use your scale to gauge body fat, my scale was telling me I was 10.5% when a DEXA scan showed I was actually at 24.5% body fat.
2. Determine Your Macros (Fat, Protein and Carbs)
Use the Ketogains Calculator to input your body weight and body fat % and choose your “Daily Calories” goal. Be sure to leave the “Activity Level” as sedentary per the Ketogains admins.Y ou now have your daily macros of x grams of fat, x grams of protein and x grams of carbs.
Less than 25 gram of net carbs is a standard macro used in most ketogenic diets. For backpacking and other endurance sports, 50 grams of carbs once you are fat adapted is a widely used rule of thumb. Net carbs equals carbs – fiber, so 10 grams of carbs with 5 grams of fiber would result in 5 net carbs.
Your protein macro is static and you need to hit it every day. Too little protein can lead to loss of lean body mass and too much protein can lead to production of glycogen, which can kick you out of ketosis, via a process called gluconeogenesis. This is also why you should consume your protein evenly throughout the day as consuming more than 30 or 40 grams of protein in one sitting can kick you out of ketosis.
Finally, fat is your lever. Eat more fat if you want to gain muscle if you’re lifting weights and eat less fat if you want to lose weight.
4. Track Your Macros
Now that you know your macros, it’s time to track them! Do not use macros percentages, use grams when tracking. Tracking is how you get to become intimately familiar with what you’re putting in your body. It is very easy once you get going and this is a critical part of the journey. Seriously, track your food!
5. Keto Fat Adaptation
This is the hard part, but you’ve got this! Once your cut your carbs down to < 25 grams, your body is going to adjust and start deriving energy from ketones / fat. Experiencing lethargy and headaches during this fat adaptation phase is common and is referred to as “The Keto Flu”. Supplementing electrolytes and rest can help but the reality is that this adaptation period sucks in varying degrees from person to person. Embrace the suck! The initial fat adaptation phase is generally complete after 4 to 8 weeks and can vary from person to person. Once the initial fat adaptation phase is over, your body will continue to adapt to athletic exertion over time as your body becomes more efficient using ketones as its new fuel source. It also goes without saying, if you want to be successful, rid your house of all carb laden foods or put them out of sight where there will be less temptation.
Fast Track Fat Adaptation with a Three Day Fast
- Stop eating on Thursday night.
- Walk for a few hours on Friday to help deplete glycogen stores while making sure to stay hydrated with electrolytes as detailed below. Take MCT Oil or Coconut Oil (Trader Joe’s has great stuff) two or three times as necessary throughout the day.
- Repeat step 2 on Saturday and Sunday and begin eating on Sunday night.
*Keep in mind that even with electrolytes and bed rest, this can be an intense and miserable period, you need to be committed and ready for some pain. I was basically in bed with a headache for most of day two and the first half of day 3, which is why timing this event into a 3 day weekend is ideal.
6. Electrolyte Supplementation is Necessary
Hydration and electrolyte supplementation (potassium, sodium and magnesium) is critical on a ketogenic diet as you will urinate more frequently once you drastically reduce carb intake, even more so when you’re hiking from sun up to sun down. If you are experiencing lethargy, headaches or heart arrythmia once you have completed the initial fat adaptation period, electrolytes are usually the culprit.
Electrolyte Requirements for Athletes
Sodium (Na): 5000 – 7000 mg / day or 13 – 18 g of salt / day (there are 388 mg of Na in 1 gram of salt).
Potassium (K): 1000 – 3500 mg / day.
Magnesium (Mg): 300 – 500 mg / day. Magnesium glycinate as a daily supplement is easy and affordable.
Electrolytes need to be tracked, just like food, do not guess your intake or assume your “electrolyte supplement” will meet your needs, for example, Nuun Electrolyte tablets only have 172.5 mg of sodium (only 4% of need or 4800 mg short), 48.5 mg of potassium (only 5% or need or 950 mg short) and 12.5 mg of magnesium (only 4% of need or 290 mg short).
Finally Note: Go Keto, Tell Nobody
Going keto is exciting, the health benefits are amazing and you have reason to be excited about the changes you see in your performance and body. That being said, we’ve all experienced the annoying person (throwing shade on you my vegan friends…hahahahahaha) that can’t or won’t stop proselytizing their way of eating.
Don’t that person, please! Say after me, “Nobody cares about my “special diet”, it is simply a way of eating that works for me, that is all!” If offered food that you don’t want to eat or doesn’t fit in your macros, just say you’re good and pass. Don’t say, “I can’t” or “I’m on a special diet” or anything else that will open up the box of worms that is discussing keto. Again, nobody cares about your “special diet” and attempting to discuss why fat is healthy doesn’t work with people that have learned their entire lives that fat is bad! :)
Even in online keto communities you will see conflicting ideas, people parroting ideas and concepts they don’t understand and naysayers that will tell you are “ketoing wrong”. Fuck those people and don’t be one of them. Do your due diligence, read up, think critically, form your own opinions and crush that shit!