Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus. But here on planet Earth, we all want to look and feel our best, which all too often means holding ourselves to unrealistic standards of beauty and/or fitness.
The keto diet (AKA the ketogenic diet) has made its way to the forefront of health and fitness magazines and wellness culture, not to mention popularity among the rich and famous.
This is because it makes the seemingly impossible entirely possible for anyone who can adhere to cutting out carbohydrates from their diet. What wasn't immediately apparent in the early boom of keto (because respective studies had not yet been conducted) is that keto for women may be totally different than keto for men.
Does the keto diet work for women? Of course it does! But it may function differently than it does for men. With that, women may need to develop a unique plan of attack for optimized success and to maintain healthy reproductive organs and functionality.
Male and female body types are unique, and each have a unique set of needs. In this article, we will explore the nuances of the keto diet for women vs. men. Women (unlike men) have ovaries.
Therefore, by nature, they experience a constant cycle of hormonal changes. This impacts every facet of their health, including but not limited to their diet. Does the keto diet work for women?
The answer is yes.
The caveat is that there are factors to be aware of, such as age and which part of their menstrual cycle women are in. Women also (typically) have a higher percentage of body fat than men due to their natural makeup and their different reproductive needs.
This impacts keto for women since the diet's premise is all about converting your metabolism into a fat-burning machine. Read on to learn more.
WHAT IS THE KETO DIET?
To understand the specifics of keto for women versus men, you first must understand what keto is and how it works. Essentially, the main goal is to get into and stay in ketosis.
Ketosis is a metabolic state that occurs when your body switches from using glucose for energy to using fat. Glucose is a saccharide (AKA sugar). Any carbohydrates (which include sugar and starches) will convert to glucose in your system. When this happens, your body will fuel itself on those macros before it begins working on (metabolizing) anything else.
A macro is a dietary building block. Everything you eat falls into one of three macro categories. It is either a protein, a fat, or a carbohydrate.
Your digestive system has its very own order of operations. Before you burn off any excess fat in your body, you will burn off the glucose.
So, suppose you eat spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. In that case, no matter how many sit-ups or push-ups you do, your body will metabolize and process the spaghetti (and any other starches, sugars, or carbs in your system) before it will work on processing the meatballs.
If you never restrict your glucose levels, your body will never rid itself of excess fat reserves, and you will never lose the weight and mass, allowing you to reach your target goals.
This sounds pretty simple, right? Sort of. To switch gears (or metabolic processes), you must restrict your intake of carbs almost entirely.
Depending on your BMI (body mass index), age, gender, and weight, your macros' target goal is approximately 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbohydrates. Most of the carbs will come from produce, so you will essentially stop eating all breads, pastas, sweets, potatoes, etc.
You will also need to keep careful track of net carbs (which equals total carbs, minus fiber and sugar) for everything you eat until you have a solid routine and understanding.
To put it in perspective, a single banana contains roughly 16.5 grams of net carbs. That will be almost all your total allowance for an entire day. (The average keto dieter will be restricting their carb macros to 20 to 50 net grams per day.) Most fruits will need to be restricted.
Although they are tasty and provide many healthy vitamins and minerals, they usually have a high sugar (glucose) content. This translates directly to carbohydrates, which translates directly to getting kicked out of ketosis.
Other sneaky carb sources include condiments, sauces, and beverages. You will need to avoid any and all sodas and juices and stick to either sugar-free condiments or mustard and hot sauce.
If you aim for less than 20 or 50 grams of carbs per day, those will almost all come from vegetables. With keto, you really cannot cheat. You are either in ketosis or out of ketosis.
Luckily, with the gaining popularity and traction of the keto diet, the market has exploded with many worthy keto-friendly alternatives to your favorite carb-laden foods.
Most flour-based items (like bread, pasta, pizza, and baked goods) can be made with nut flours (such as almond flour). The results (when executed correctly) can be so delicious and convincing that you may not even miss the "real" thing.
In adhering to the carb-restricted keto diet, you will likely experience rapid weight loss. (The average complete cycle for keto is about 28 days.)
During that time, your body will be feeding off its supply of excess fat, propelling you to an increase of energy, a decrease of weight, and a smaller waistline. So, what does the keto diet mean for women specifically?
KETO FOR WOMEN VS. KETO FOR MEN
In a recent study conducted at the University of Iowa by Abel Lab member Jesse Cochran, the differences between keto for men versus women was put under the microscope (literally).
Male and female mice were fed a strict keto diet for 15 weeks. After the trial period, it was found that male mice maintained blood glucose control and lost body weight. They also displayed indications of fatty liver disease.
The female mice gained weight. They also had less blood sugar control. To put it plainly, they "developed impaired glucose tolerance."
The Abel Lab researchers' initial conclusion was that perhaps estrogen was the distinguishing difference in results from the male and female mice.
They conducted a subsequent trial in which the female mice were fed the same strict keto diet as in the trial before, but they first removed their ovaries. The results were substantially different.
Female mice without ovaries that were fed the keto diet maintained blood glucose control and showed a reduction in body fat. This finding led researchers to conclude that the keto diet may be more effective for postmenopausal women than those in their younger years of life.
Keto for women over 50 may be the ticket to rapid weight loss results and more energy. So, what does that mean for women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s?
Because of the proven correlation between the keto diet and a woman's menstrual cycle, it is essential to consult with a doctor before greatly altering your diet.
That being said, one of the most obvious signs that you are A-okay to continue restricting your carb intake is a healthy and regular menstrual cycle. We know that estrogen plays a crucial role in a standard period.
Another naturally occurring hormone that is associated with regular period rhythm is gonadotropin (GnRH). Any changes to a woman's body composition (such as rapid weight loss via the keto diet or otherwise) can alter your GnRH levels.
Therefore, younger women need to keep a close eye on their monthly cycles. Perhaps keep a notebook or download a menstruation app to help keep track of when your period starts and stops each month, so you can have total awareness of any signs that your body is experiencing distress.
If you experience no changes, you are free and clear to continue with your keto journey. For those who are sensitive to the restriction of carbs and to weight loss, perhaps you need to alter your keto diet so that it is not a long-term commitment or that you give your body a break to recover periodically.
Perhaps going keto for a month and then switching to the paleo diet for a month and moving back and forth is a bit healthier or more sustainable for women with certain body types.
Joe Rogan (a keto diet enthusiast and an acclaimed comedian, podcast host, and mixed martial arts commentator) promotes the back and forth between ketosis and glucose metabolization.
He recommends this for men and women alike, claiming that this triggers a response in your digestive system similar to that of a hybrid vehicle. Rogan claims that your body is actually better keto adapted and optimized when you can fluidly alternate between metabolic processes.
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