So you’re interested in starting the high-fat, low-carbohydrate keto diet, because you’ve heard about how quickly it can cause weight loss. Your next question may well be: how quickly is quickly, how long to get into ketosis? We’ll explain how the ketogenic process works, and how quickly you might start seeing changes once ketone production sets in.
The Keto Diet Process
The ketogenic diet is an incredibly popular low-carb, high-fat diet. It works to switch your body’s fuel source away from the glucose sugar found in carbs to ketones, which are made from breaking down fat in your body. Not only does this switch help you lose weight, but it also brings other health benefits, like helping to increase your good HDL cholesterol while reducing triglyceride levels, insulin levels, and blood sugar.
The time it takes from starting this diet to reaching a fat-burning state of ketosis varies from person to person, and some may struggle more than others. Read on to find out what factors can help you reach ketosis as quickly as possible, so you can better identify how long it will take to get into ketosis.
How Long to Get into Ketosis: Averages and Factors to Consider
Ketosis is the metabolic state wherein your body breaks down fat into ketone bodies, an alternative energy source to glucose sugar, which your body often stores in the muscles and liver as glycogen. You can force your body into doing the extra work it takes to burn fat for fuel by denying it easy sugar sources like carbohydrates.
That is the first step to reaching ketosis: drastically reduced carbohydrate intake. By limiting your net carb intake, your body is then forced to exhaust its glycogen stores. When those stores are all used up, your body will switch to using ketones for fuel instead, which breaks down your fat stores and causes rapid weight loss.
Ketosis generally takes about two to four days if you can successfully limit your carb intake to between 20-50 grams per day. That seems like a quick payoff, but some people find the transition to a keto diet harder than others. Transitioning suddenly from a high-carb to a low-carb diet is a difficult change for your body to make. It might take your body longer to adjust due in part to its high stores of glycogen. It also may be hard psychologically to break old habits. Then there are the infamous keto flu symptoms, which can be discouraging enough to lead to backsliding.
Keto-induction can cause what’s commonly known as “keto flu” symptoms, as well as other uncomfortable side effects like dry mouth and increased thirst, digestive upset, keto breath, and insomnia. Whether or not you have these symptoms will depend on many factors, including your age, your metabolism, how much you exercise, and your daily carb vs. fat vs. protein intake ratio.
One way to make this transition somewhat easier is to gradually lower your carbs at first, starting with a few days of moderate carb intake before switching over to the keto golden ratio (75% of your calories coming from fats, 20% from protein, and only 5% from carbohydrates).
Another way is to utilize supplements like MCT oil (medium-chain triglycerides) to curb hunger, boost energy, and speed up ketone production. There is also BHB oil, another ready-to-go ketone body that can additionally help with post-exercise recovery. BHB oil can be had in both capsule and powder form.
Signs That You’re Entering Ketosis
It’s not all bad—–while keto flu symptoms may be an unpleasant hassle, achieving ketosis also comes with good symptoms too, like waning appetite, improved mental clarity, and rapid fat loss, one of the best benefits of ketosis.
If you don’t want to play a guessing game, there are test strips you can use to test for ketone bodies in your urine, as well as blood ketone meters if you don’t mind piercing your skin. Three types of ketones can be pretty easily measured in your breath (acetone), urine (acetoacetate), and blood (beta-hydroxybutyrate). Here are some details on how they work.
- Acetone measurement: You can measure acetone with a ketone breath meter. These tests are fairly accurate and easy to use regularly.
- Acetoacetate measurement: Ketone test strips for urine are easy and affordable, if not the most precise way to measure. They’ll turn colors to indicate your ketone levels, various shades of pink and purple, with darker colors signaling higher levels of ketone bodies.
- Beta-hydroxybutyrate measurement: This blood testing is the most accurate, but using a blood ketone meter might be too expensive or invasive for your liking—it works about the same way a glucometer does, which is often used for diabetic testing of blood sugar levels. A blood ketone range between 1.5-3 millimoles per liter (mmol) is ideal for maintaining ketosis.
Each of these tests let you know whether or not you’re in ketosis and how high your ketone bodies are. With that information, you can make adjustments to your diet and habits, get into ketosis quickly, and stay there as long as you choose.
Reaching Ketosis: What’s Taking So Long?
Here are some of the reasons people find it more difficult than others to reach ketosis quickly.
Overeating on Carbs
What we’re used to eating is a long habit to break. You have to change how you shop, how you meal prep, how you cook, and how you eat, all at the same time. Moreover, you’re not simply eliminating carbs (that would be easier), but are instead strictly limiting them; the line before too many carbs can be very easy to accidentally cross at first. Not only that, each person is unique, so while some people need to eat as few as 25 grams of carbs per day to reach the desired level of ketosis, others can maintain ketosis and lose body fat eating up to 90 grams of carbs per day. Discovering your personal limit may take some time.
Undereating on Fat
Another common mistake is not eating enough fat. It can be difficult to get into the habit of eating fat to lose weight, in part because all our lives we’re told less fat in our diets means less fat on our bodies. To maintain ketosis, you’ll need to eat what might at first seem like an overwhelming amount of fat, which is why some people up their fat intake with fat bomb recipes and MCT oil.
Overeating on Protein
Though this may not be as much of a problem for those eating a vegetarian or vegan keto diet, others may still be eating slightly too much protein. While protein intake is needed to maintain and build muscle mass, too much of it may encourage the use of gluconeogenesis, a process that converts amino acids into sugar. Too much sugar can knock you out of ketosis, even if your high-fat and low-carb ratio is on point.
How much you sleep and exercise and how much stress you’re under can affect how long it takes to get into ketosis. Exercise in particular can help you enter ketosis more quickly, as it helps you burn through your carb and glycogen stores faster. Exercise may also help you sleep better, and counteract the insomnia some people experience when first transitioning to this new diet.
Quick Tips: How to Get into Ketosis Faster
Here are a few ideas for how to avoid some of the most common pitfalls people struggle with when starting a keto diet.
- Beware of hidden carbs. Things like condiments and salad dressings can have carbs you never expected. You can easily use MCT oil as a base for homemade sauces and dressings instead.
- Don’t eat out. Even keto-friendly restaurants may make it harder for you to track your macronutrients because you’re not doing the measuring yourself.
- Track your carbs. Aim for between 20-50 grams of carbs per day, and always overestimate rather than underestimate your amounts to hedge the margin of error.
- Up your fats. Because so much of your diet now needs to come from fat, look into cooking with oils and healthy fats like avocado, fatty fish, nut butters, and coconut oil.
- Take an MCT or BHB supplement. These types of fats are rapidly converted to ketones and can get the process going more quickly.
- Exercise more often. This will rev up the speed it takes to reach ketosis by burning out your glycogen stores faster.
- Try intermittent fasting. Short fasts like this can help your body transition into a state of ketosis without draining your energy.
- Regularly test your ketone levels. This will give you precise knowledge of your own body’s behavior, which will then allow you to refine your diet and daily habits.
Ideally, it should take around two to four days to reach ketosis, but getting there and staying there could be difficult for some at first. You can also increase the amount of time it takes you to get into ketosis by supplementing with BHB and MCT oils. By tracking your carbs and your ketone levels, and boosting your fats and exercise level, you can get to a state of ketosis faster and stay there longer. Use the above tips and suggestions to fight the keto flu and get to ketosis ASAP!