When on the ketogenic diet, you have to pay some attention to how many calories in what proportions you’re consuming. In addition to carbs and fat, you need to know how much protein on keto is safe.
How Much Protein on Low Carb Diet
Before I give you the magic answer, let’s look at some of the differences and potential dangers when consuming protein on a low carb diet.
The first of many to pioneer the keto movement was the Atkins diet in the early 2000s. It’s not really a ketogenic diet, but more like a kind of low-carb diet. Basically, you restrict your carbohydrates to almost zero and eat more fat and protein. Sounds ketotic, and it will definitely establish nutritional ketosis at least every once in a while. It’s definitely a lot healthier than the standard American diet with high amounts of processed carbs and sugar.
However, the Atkins diet promotes eating protein until satiated, which is quite an ambiguous recommendation. There are potentially no limits to the foods you’re allowed to eat, such as fish, meat, eggs, sausages, nuts, oils, cheese etc. – all the keto goodies.
What’s wrong with that, you may ask?
The thing is that protein is the only macronutrient that cannot be stored within the body.
- Carbs get stored as liver and muscle glycogen (100-500 grams)
- Fat and extra carbs get stored as triglycerides in the adipose tissue (infinite)
- Protein needs to be converted into glucose through gluconeogenesis first before it can be stored within the body.
So, it doesn’t matter how little carbohydrates you consume, if you still eat too much protein. If there’s excess glucose running through the bloodstream, you won’t shift into ketosis. Herein lies the difference between a low carb diet and a ketogenic one – one maintains a sugar burning metabolism, whereas the other switches over to ketones.
Does Too Much Protein Kick You Out of Ketosis
Another misconception is that eating too much protein will make you convert it into sugar through ‘gluconeogenesis.’ Scary word…
It’s true that it can happen but for that, you’d have to be consuming copious amounts of protein in one sitting. I’m talking about 2 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
Gluconeogenesis is driven by demand not supply – which means your body starts producing glucose only if it needs more energy from glucose.
- In a state of ketosis, your body’s glucose demands get drastically reduced because your muscles can use ketones and fat for fuel instead.
- Your brain and heart need a small amount of glucose every day. The glucose they do need can be created by breaking down fat through the same process of gluconeogenesis. Fatty acid molecules consist of 3 fatty acid chains and 1 glycerol backbone that binds them together. The 3 fatty acid chains will be used for energy and the glycerol will be used as glucose for the brain.
- If you’re not keto-adapted, then your muscles and brain are in a constant state of glucose dependency. They’re not able to use fatty acids for fuel and whenever you skip a meal, or whenever you restrict your calories, or whenever you exercise on empty glycogen stores, you’re creating a demand for more glucose, which is going to promote the gluconeogenesis of muscle tissue and protein.
Which basically means that the healthiest way of losing body fat is to do it in a state of ketosis. This is going to maintain your muscle tissue when in a caloric deficit and it’s going to prevent your organs and bones from catabolizing themselves.
For protein to kick you out of ketosis, you’d have to be consuming copious amounts of protein that exceeds your daily dietary needs.
How Much Protein for Ketosis
But how much is too much?
In order to establish nutritional ketosis, you need to keep stable blood sugar levels and avoid insulin spikes. As glucose goes up, ketones go down. In the presence of both, the body prefers sugar because it’s quicker to burn and easier to store.
The standard ketogenic macros are:
- <5-10% carbohydrates (30-50 grams NET)
- 15-25% protein (0.7-1.2 grams/lb of lean body mass)
- 70-80% fat (the rest of your calories)
But these ratios are correct only on paper. In the real world, you would also consider meal frequency, how fast you’re eating, your insulin sensitivity, overall blood sugar levels, and many other factors.
Also, the metabolic conditions between an athlete and a sedentary person vary hugely. Even the type of training and at what intensities matters for protein requirements.
- The more lean muscle mass you have, the more protein you need.
- If you do resistance training, you need more protein.
- If you do primarily endurance training, you need less protein.
But, the optimal amount of protein for building muscle is 0.8-1.2 grams/lb of LBM. There seem to be no real benefits to consuming more, especially not on a ketogenic diet.
How Much Protein on Keto
However, on keto, your protein requirements decrease significantly and you don’t need to eat as much.
- On a sugar metabolism, you compensate caloric restriction and lack of glucose by catabolizing lean tissue.
- On a fat burning metabolism, you burn your own body fat for fuel exclusively and preserve your glycogen stores.
- Ketones are protein sparing because of providing 25% more energy, which prevents muscle catabolism.
So, if you’re a sedentary lightweight person, around 130-150 pounds, you’d be perfectly fine eating 60-90 grams of protein a day.
I myself weigh around 170-175 pounds and follow an intense resistance training routine with 4-6 workouts a week. To build muscle and strength, I need to consume more, ideally around 135-170 grams.
But more is not definitely better.
How Much Protein is Safe to Consume
Eventually, gluconeogenesis can convert even the juiciest of steaks into cake in your bloodstream but it doesn’t mean you’ll be kicked out of ketosis. Of course, you’ll be burning sugar, but you won’t instantly lose your keto-adaptation. Instead, you’ll burn off that extra glucose, but you’ll most likely revert back to fat shortly, after a few days, by the least.
Being physically more active allows you to get away with more. You can eat slightly more carbs and protein while still maintaining ketosis. But when in ketosis you can even get away with less.
When I was competing in some bodybuilding shows, I ate as little as 100 grams a day, which is quite low for me, but I lost zero muscle. However, because of my rigorous training, I couldn’t maintain it for long.
- How Much Protein on Keto Bodybuilding – 100 grams is enough
When it comes to eating food, you can meet your minimum daily protein requirements quite easily. Here are a few examples.
- How much protein in 8 oz steak? – 50-65 grams with 20-45 fat and 0 carbs.
- How much protein in 9 eggs? – 60-70 grams with 45 fat and 5 carbs.
- How much protein in 9 oz salmon? – 50-60 with 30-35 fat and 0 carbs.
- How much protein in 9 oz chicken breast? – 50 with 6 fat and 0 carbs.
Depending on your protein requirements, you can eat these foods and get enough of the necessary amino acids for maintaining your lean tissue.
I’ve been doing the ketogenic diet since 2015 and have found it incredibly beneficial for improving health, body composition, cognition, and satiety. If you’re interested in learning more about ketosis and how to burn fat for fuel, then check out my Ultimate Keto Meal Plan. It includes 40+ recipes with the exact macronutrient ratios and grams. There’s also a 21-day meal plan for both low calorie and high calorie options.