The Ketogenic Diet | Fat is the Best Fuel Source?

The Ketogenic Diet | Fat vs Carbs

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Please note this is not intended to discuss all of the research around ketosis, as science has proven its therapeutic benefit for the treatment of chronic conditions including EpilepsyCancer and Type 2 Diabetes. Instead, this article is intended to serve as an overview of the key points, benefits and areas of considerations for those with metabolic and/or performance goals.


Essentially, ketosis is a metabolic state in which you’re predominantly burning stored fat for fuel and converting fat into ketones to be used by the cells. The ketone bodies, acetone, acetoacetic acid, and beta-hydroxybutyric acid (BHB), are usually formed either when liver glycogen is low, or via metabolism of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). Ketone levels are regulated largely by the hormones insulin and glucagon. The exact definition of ketosis refers to blood concentrations of ketone bodies over 0.5 mmol/L, however 1.5 – 3.6 mmol/L is considered optimal nutritional ketosis and is recommended for maximum metabolic and performance benefits.

Please note: these levels do not apply if you are using ketosis for the therapeutic benefits mentioned above.

We know that 1 gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories and 1 gram of fat yields 9 calories. From that, we can derive that fat is more calorically dense than carbohydrates. One thing that people do not realize is how much ATP each yields. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is what our cells use for energy and is the driving force responsible for all cellular function including mitochondrial health. Without ATP our body would not be able to function! For every molecule of glucose, which comes from carbohydrates, our bodies can produce 36 – 38 units of ATP through glycolysis. Depending on the amount of carbon in each fatty acid tail, one triglyceride (fat molecule) can yield up to 496 ATP!⠀


For optimal nutritional health, we recommend eating a diet  high in healthy fats with moderate protein and low net carbs (total carbohydrates minus fiber). This type of diet may be particularly beneficial for endurance athletes. Contrary to conventional sports nutrition advice, research has shown that a high-fat, moderate protein, low carb-ketogenic diet may provide superior benefits. We all have to eat; we need fuel and other nutrients to live. The question is how to get what we need without generating excessive reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can damage your health by attacking cell membranes, proteins, DNA and even your mitochondria — all of which can contribute to disease.

Optimal nutritional health is all about keeping your mitochondria healthy, and low-carb, moderate protein, high healthy-fat diets tend to do that far more effectively than high-carb, protein-rich, low-fat diets. The sad fact is that most people eat foods that drive their metabolism in the wrong direction — away from nutritional health. The typical American diet constantly steers you towards using high net carbs for fuel in the form of glucose. But when you’re burning glucose as your primary fuel, you actually inhibit your body’s ability to access and burn body fat for energy.


Day-to-day you will experience:

  • Improved blood sugar control and satiety
  • Appetite control and a more efficient metabolism – you no longer need to snack every two hours
  • Craving control
  • Increased mental clarity
  • Avoidance of 3.30-itis
  • Weight management
  • Improved recovery
  • Injury prevention
  • Management of chronic disease

In training, competitions and races this will provide:

  • Stable energy levels
  • Decreased reliance on sports nutrition products
  • Logistical ease on competition, sporting and race days
  • Avoidance of gastro-intestinal (GI) distress
  • No more “hitting the wall”
  • Your athletic longevity


There is a potential that long-term elevation of ketones may inhibit glycolysis (the breakdown of glucose by enzymes which releases energy). If you constantly have 4 – 5 mmol/L ketones, your body no longer needs to be good at oxidizing glucose. The end result? You lose your top end (i.e. you get slow) and athletic performance drops off as a result. To prevent this we suggest transitioning off of ketone supplements for a pre-determined period of time every 14 days.


A ketogenic diet has also been shown to provide sharper focus, greater fat loss, better sleep, stabilization of blood sugar levels, anti-inflammatory effects, faster recovery, a reduction in the generation of excessive ROS as well as significantly lower the possibility of developing degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Dementia and Parkinsons when additional healthy lifestyle components are included like exercise and moderate alcohol consumption.



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It’s clear that a ketogenic diet approach provides significantly more energy, utilizing fewer carbs. The presence of ketone bodies has demonstrated an increase in performance in long-duration endurance athletes even when co-ingested with carbohydrates in non-keto adapted athletes. Using ketones to fuel aerobic activity results in the preservation of muscle glycogen. Ketones improve performance in activities that last 20 minutes or more, meaning their positive impact is very duration specific. This is beneficial for athletes such as Middle and long-distance Track and Field athletes, triathletes and ultramarathoners. The ability to efficiently use multiple fuel sources (i.e. metabolic flexibility) means you will never run out of fuel. You essentially avoid “hitting the wall” and become bonk-proof.

Well trained athletes can carb load and have up to 2,000 calories of muscle glycogen available for use. But for extended training, competitions and races where these stores are depleted, an athlete can become catabolic in the absence of external fuel. Burning ketones (and therefore sparing muscle) is extremely important and an essential part of exercise recovery.

As reported by Reuters:

“Usually, energy for muscle cells comes from carbohydrates or fat, but when those fuels aren’t available and the body is in ‘starvation mode’ the liver will break down fat stores into ketones to use as fuel …

In the new study, researchers found that when ketones are provided in a drink, the body will use them for muscle fuel. Ketone-powered workouts resulted in less lactate, a byproduct of breaking down sugar that causes muscle cramps and soreness.

The researchers studied 39 high-level athletes, including former Olympic cyclists, to see how their metabolism changed after consuming the ketone drink and exercising.”

When given the ketones, the competitive cyclists were able to cycle an average of 411 meters (m) further during the 30-minute workout trial, compared to when they were given a drink high in carbohydrates or fat. This amounts to a 2% increase in speed. While that may not sound like much, it can make a big difference where just fractions of a second often separate winners from the rest of the pack.

According to the authors, by supplying your body with ketones, you can give your metabolism a temporary — and totally legal — boost. As reported in Science Daily, the ketone drink “works by temporarily switching the primary source of cellular energy from glucose or fat to ketones — molecules derived from fat that are known to be elevated in people consuming a low-carb … diet.” Commenting on the findings, Timothy Noakes, Ph.D., a professor of exercise science and sports medicine at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and a long-time low-carb advocate told Reuters:

“Hopefully this finding will help many athletes realize that optimum fueling for sport is not simply to ingest as much carbohydrate as possible — before, during and after exercise. Most athletes will perform better by simply training more and eating fewer carbohydrates.”


Burning fat is a more effective long-term fuel but is more complex to process and isn’t as readily accessible for quick bursts of muscle activity as is a fuel like glucose. Elevated blood ketones seem to inhibit the body’s use of glycogen, the stored form of glucose, and favors burning fat instead. That means that the body’s quick-burning fuel (i.e. glucose) cannot be accessed during short-duration and high-intensity bursts of activity (i.e. high-intensity interval training) like sprinting or running up a hill. That’s because during short, intense bursts of activity your muscles work anaerobically, meaning without oxygen, and since ketones cannot be broken down without oxygen, your muscles are prevented from using ketones for fuel.


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There are 2 types of ketone bodies your body can use for energy: beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) and acetoacetate (AcAc). A third ketone body, acetone, is excreted as waste, primarily through your breath.

Ketone supplements are usually some combination of BHB salts, BHB powders, MCT powder, MCT OILS and ketogenic amino acids, such as leucine or lysine. If you use these as ketone supplements, follow the package directions for dosage.

Also understand that more is not better — the salt load in BHB salts can add up quickly. You want to be sure to keep your ketone levels close to what your body would make on its own, so that you don’t exceed your ability to buffer the pH in your blood. 

1.5 – 3.6 mmol/L is considered optimal nutritional ketosis and is recommended for maximum metabolic and performance benefits. If you constantly have 4 – 5 mmol/L ketones, your body may longer efficiently oxidize glucose to produce ATP (i.e. energy).


Besides taking exogenous ketone supplements you can increase your body’s natural production of ketones by:

  • Water-only fasting or other types of intermittent fasts, such as Peak Fasting. 3NB prefers Peak Fasting.
  • Exercise in a fasted state (for example, if you’re Peak Fasting, you could exercise in the morning, while still in a fasted state, before eating your first meal).
  • Adopting a ketogenic diet


We also want to provide you with some additional information that you can use to make an informed decision not only about Ketosis and its benefits but about implementing a Ketogenic diet as well. A Ketogenic diet means eating foods high in healthy fats, with moderate protein and low net carbs (think non-fiber carbs).

The 3natural Bionutrition version, that provides the same results, is set up in a tier structure as opposed to jumping in cold turkey and is more of a lifestyle change. It’s also somewhat more inclusive and focuses on the effects of a ketogenic diet and not just producing ketones for energy. We like to look at it as a full version of the ketogenic diet and call it Mitochondrial Metabolic Nutrition. The second group of foods listed on the 2nd to last pages are foods NOT to be consumed. And the fruits listed are low carb, high fiber fruits and all of the dairy items are high fat.

Simply producing enough ketones to officially be in nutritional ketosis is not the main goal of MMN. This is not the case. Eating a supremely healthful diet that keeps your body in a fat-burning state is the ultimate goal. The main goals are to increase performance and metabolic benefits by optimizing your mitochondria, reducing the damage of excessive ROS and address the root cause of chronic and degenerative disease.

Optimally functioning mitochondria are absolutely vital to your health. They generate 90% of the energy you need to survive and stay healthy. When mitochondrial function is impaired your body is unable to prevent and fight cancer and most all major diseases. And the primary way to improve mitochondrial health is to provide them with the best possible fuel. Ketones are a means to these, not the end.


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