Saturday Blueprint on Keto to Carbs

A self-experiment in diet and performance: from ketogenic to carbohydrates

Saturday Blueprint on Keto to Carbs
Photo by Louis Hansel / Unsplash
Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards. — Vern Law

I went from eating a very low carbohydrate ketogenic diet to introducing more carbohydrates and noting the difference in how I feel, think and perform.

🍎 Self-experimentation with carbohydrates

Back in Saturday Blueprint 9 on Keto I explained my diet, and how I was eating a very low carbohydrate ketogenic diet. At keto diet is one where carbohydrate intake is typically under 50g a day. There are lots of benefits for eating this way that I outlined previously, and I enjoyed a stable mood, good energy, and feeling satiated by eating this way.

But there were a few things that I wasn’t happy with. A well-reported issue with the keto diet is that it can be hard to maintain electrolyte balance, and often you have to supplement with electrolytes. I found this to be true and would add sodium (salt) liberally and sought out sources of magnesium and potassium too.

The poor electrolyte balance was often evidenced in muscle cramping during my long runs. I hardly ever get cramps but on a strict keto diet I was getting them more and more frequently and it was impacting my training for a half marathon.

On one occasion I was out for a long run, early in the grey light of morning in winter, and about as far away from home as possible, some 7 or 8km, I got a cramp in my calf. It stopped all forward progress, I tried to stretch it out but it was no good. I had to hobble all the way home and it took a long time. It was winter too so it was cold and drizzly.

I also found that meals out and general socialising made a ketogenic diet hard to adhere to. I’d often just fast instead of trying to find something on a menu that was low carb. But this is no good when you are out with family or friends and you’re the odd one not eating!

So I was ready to experiment and see just how sensitive I am to carbs. I started to introduce a bowl of blueberries with yogurt and honey as a breakfast. I began to eat apples, and raisins, and mangoes and dates. I ate sushi, rice and all, which was absolutely glorious. I made one of my favourite running fuel foods - boiled new potatoes rolled in olive oil and salt - utterly delicious.

I still avoided processed carbs when at home - so no pasta, bread, cakes etc. But if out for lunch a nice stone baked pizza was back on my menu as a treat.

What I discovered is that I tended to eat around 100g to 150g of carbohydrates a day without trying too hard or thinking too much. This level is probably what most people would consider to be ‘low carb’. As a percentage of calories it’s about 15-25%, in comparison to the average for a standard American diet which I believe is more like 50% carbohydrates.

My tastebuds enjoyed this change. My cramps stopped overnight, and I’ve not gained any body weight. I can still fast, something I was worried would be harder with more dietary carbohydrate, but turns out not to be the case for me. My energy levels dropped a little, especially by the time the evening came around. And this might be entirely in my mind but I feel more hungry now. When I wake up my stomach is rumbling, not something I had when on a ketogenic diet and my energy levels were rock solid and steady and I was barely ever hungry.

There are some things I’m going to keep an eye on over the next few months - my muscle recovery after exercise and the health of my knees and joints. A keto diet tends to be a low inflammation diet and so is great for joints. I want to see if my old knee injury flares up by eating more carbs. It’s ok so far.

And finally, this may be entirely coincidental but I’ve been ill more since eating carbs again. Again this could be in my mind, or it could be the linked with carbs and inflammation. Or it could just be bad timing with coughing kids, it’s hard to unpick.

I’ve determined then that introducing some more carbs, I do feel a little better. My muscles do not cramp anymore, I can enjoy a wider range of food, and there seems to be no downside in terms of body fat. I would say I’m slightly more hungry, which could be the insulin spikes after eating carbs, and  muscle cramps. But I can still fast, and in fact did my longest ever fast of 60 hours when eating this way.

This isn’t the conclusion. There’s no end goal of the ‘perfect diet’. It’s a process and journey and I’ll keep reflecting and experimenting along the way.

What do you do that you have found, through your own experimentation, that works for you?

🧪 Self-experimentation in general

The specifics of the diet here aren’t really that important. Everyone is entitled to eat what they like. It’s the principle of self-experimentation that I want to emphasise. You should listen to lots of people but never follow blindly any advice. Always test it out yourself.

Derek Sivers put it plainly with his advice to:

Trust, but verify

And one of the best ways to verify is to do the test yourself, and confirm in that way. That is the gift of first hand perception and experience.

Your perception of anything is, quite literally, all that matters. Your view of the world is your world. Don’t overcomplicate things or entangle them in a way they aren’t entangled. For example, back to the diet specific, I don’t have 6-monthly blood work tests, or have access to a Continuous Glucose Monitor. But I have something better - awareness of how I feel.

It’s a case of tuning in to your own senses and signals. They are always there. Just pause and listen.

What do you do that you have found, through your own experimentation, that works for you?

It’s a pleasure writing to you. Have a great week. 😊

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The Saturday Blueprint is a weekly newsletter every Saturday on health, vitality and philosophy by Nick Stevens.

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