Keto is described as a “high fat, low carb, moderate protein diet,” but what does moderate mean exactly? How much protein is too much on the ketogenic diet? Beyond that, what are the best (and worst) clean keto protein options?
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- How Many Grams of Protein Should I Eat on Keto?
- Can Too Much Protein Ruin Ketosis?
- 4 Benefits of a High-Protein Ketogenic Diet
- How to Select High-Quality Meat
- Best Protein Choices on Clean Keto
- 3 Protein Options to Avoid on Clean Keto
- How to Know if You Should be Eating a High-Protein Keto Diet
With the ketogenic diet catching on like mom jeans, there’s a good chance you’re already familiar with the basic principles of “keto.” But just in case you need a little reminder— the ketogenic diet is a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb diet.
Okay. So high fat means the bulk of your caloric intake should come from fat. And low-carb means— well— avoid carbs like the damn plague. But moderate protein— what does that mean exactly?
Understanding what moderate means for you may take some experimenting. The thing is, there are a lot of variables involved. Individual protein needs vary depending upon age, activity level, and metabolic tolerance.1 Beyond unique variations, determining appropriate protein intake also involves some math (just a little bit)— and don’t worry— I’m here to walk you through it.
How to Calculate Protein Needs on Keto
The first thing most keto dieters want to know is how many grams of protein they should be eating on keto. Although there is not a definitive dietary guideline for protein amongst ketogenic experts, the widely agreed upon requirement (for most people) falls between 1.2 and 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight. Protein intake within this range preserves muscle mass, improves body composition, and provides other keto-related health benefits.2
4 Steps to Calculating Protein Needs on Keto
1. STEP ONE: Determine how active you are.
Would you consider yourself sedentary (no to low physical activity), moderately active (working out 3-4 times a week), or highly active (working out 5-7 times a week)?
Daily Protein Requirements
- Sedentary Lifestyle: 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
- Moderately Active: 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
- Highly Active: 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
- Professional Athlete: 2 to 3.3 grams per kilogram of body weight
2. STEP TWO: Approximate body fat percentage.
I’m going to share two ways of approximating body fat percentage. Neither are super accurate (but both will work just fine). BTW, the only way to guarantee accuracy would be to cut you open and carve you up.
- Option one is to check out this handy little infographic and find the closest match to your body type.
- Option two is to take measurements of your waist (at its most narrow point), hips (at their widest point), and neck (at its thinnest point). After doing so, click here to fill in your data and check the results.
3. STEP THREE: Calculate your lean body mass.
Calculating lean body mass simply involves multiplying your weight by body fat percentage. For example, a 150lb woman with 25% body fat has roughly 113lbs of lean body mass (150lbs x 25% = 113lbs lean mass).
4. STEP FOUR: Do the math.
The following is the formula used to determine your appropriate daily protein intake on keto.
113lbs (lean mass) x 0.8 (sedentary) = 90.4 grams (daily protein intake)
Alternatively, you could use a keto calculator, such as the one provided by PerfectKeto.com. Just keep in mind, when using their calculator, you will still need to determine your activity level and body fat percentage.
Can Too Much Protein Ruin Ketosis?
A common misconception within the ketogenic community is that too much protein will effectively throw you out of ketosis. The claim is that excess protein breaks down into glucose via gluconeogenesis.
What is gluconeogenesis?
Gluconeogenesis (GNG) is a metabolic pathway that allows your liver and kidneys to make glucose from non-carbohydrate sources. Now, this might not sound ideal when you’re effectively trying to avoid glucose on the ketogenic diet. But the fact is, your body needs glucose and glycogen to keep you alive and well (even in ketosis). So don’t be afraid of protein and a little extra GNG— gluconeogenesis is the reason our bodies can thrive in the absence of dietary carbohydrates.
4 Benefits of a High-Protein Keto Diet
I frequently encourage my clients to experiment with a high-protein ketogenic diet. I do so because there are many benefits associated with protein consumption. What’s more, protein deficiency can be quite dangerous. Insufficient protein intake is linked to various side effects such as neuron atrophy, weakened immune system, and increased risk of diseases.3 The following are four reasons to consider adding more protein to your keto diet.
1. Animal Protein is FULL of nutrients
You might be surprised to learn that beef is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet— more nutritious than kale, blueberries, or any other well-known “superfood.”
I was skeptical as well—until I saw the numbers. Fortunately, international bestselling author Maria Emmerich has done the work for us. Within The Carnivore Cookbook, Maria illustrates the nutritional breakdown of kale versus beef.
I’ve made a replica of the graph so you can see the numbers for yourself.
Beyond the nutrient content, it’s also essential to evaluate the bioavailability of animal proteins. Bioavailability refers to how food is absorbed and utilized by the body.4 Bioavailability takes into account dietary quality and digestibility. Quality refers to the availability of amino acids. Generally, all animal protein sources are considered complete proteins— that is, they contain all of the essential amino acids. Digestibility considers how the protein is best utilized. Protein digestibility ratings typically involve measuring how the body uses dietary protein sources. Protein from animal sources provides the highest quality rating of food sources.5
2. Eating more protein makes losing weight easier
Increasing protein intake will effectively help you lose more weight. There are a few reasons for this.
Protein contains fewer calories than fat.
Your body uses more energy (calories) burning protein than it does burning fat. Your body will store roughly 98% of all calories consumed by fat. Alternatively, your body stores approximately 25% fewer calories with protein.6
When protein levels are low, people tend to fill up on fat.
Often, people will attack keto by drastically reducing their carbohydrate intake, eating some protein, and filling up with excessive fat. If your goal is to lose weight on keto, then the idea is to burn your stored body fat for energy (rather than burning dietary fat). Therefore, by overeating fat, your body won’t have the opportunity to burn stored fat.
3. Protein promotes higher-quality workouts
There are various reasons why eating more protein will lead to improved workouts.
Protein is energizing.
As Dr. Benji Dhillon, Cosmetic Surgeon at Define Clinic and skincare expert at Innermost, explains, “Protein is a long-term energy source and good for endurance.” 7 Beyond increased endurance, with more energy, you’re more likely to work out.
Protein is a crucial component of building and maintaining muscle mass.
It’s no secret that higher-protein diets are advantageous for building muscle mass. Alternatively, there’s not much talk regarding adequate dietary protein consumption as a crucial component of maintaining optimal health during normal growth and aging.8 Perhaps there should be. WebMD states, “Protein is a critical part of the processes that fuel your energy and carry oxygen throughout your body in your blood. It also helps make antibodies that fight off infections and illnesses and helps keep cells healthy and create new ones.” 9
Adequate protein intake promotes enhanced recovery.
In addition to the energizing and muscle-building effects of dietary protein. Adequate protein intake also enhances recovery (be it from injury or exercise). The reason is, protein is made up of amino acids, which act like building blocks for the body. Eating protein after working out gives your muscles the tools necessary to repair and rebuild. The bottom line is that by eating a higher-protein diet, you can recover faster and push yourself harder.10
4. Protein helps curb cravings
Protein is way more satiating than fat. Meaning that protein will hold you down considerably longer. Just think about eating a half-pound steak versus a handful of fat bombs. My guess is, that steak will keep your hunger in check much more effectively than the bombs. Less hunger leads to reduced cravings— and fewer cravings makes sticking to keto much easier!
In addition to its satiation factor, eating more protein generally means eating higher-quality foods. As we discussed, animal protein’s nutrient density and bioavailability are superior to most other foods. Now, keep in mind that this does come with a catch.
How to Select High-Quality Meat
Not all animal protein is superior in nutrient density and bioavailability. The nature of the animal (and the life it led) has everything to do with its quality and impact on your body.
If you purchase meat from conventional factory farms, then you should be deeply concerned about its impact on your body and the sustainability of our planet. Factory farms— or, in industry lingo— Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) such as Tyson, JBS, Cargill, Smithfield, and Perdue mass produce their meat at the expense of your body, the animal, and our planet.
What are factory farms?
Factory farms are large, industrial operations more concerned with the bottom line than animal or planetary welfare.11 Due to the horrific conditions of these commercialized slaughterhouses, the animals are often pumped full of antibiotics to ward off disease.12
How Does Factory Farming Impact the Planet?
Factory farms contribute directly to global warming by releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere—more than the entire global transportation industry.13
According to EcoWatch.com, “Factory farms indirectly contribute to climate disruption by their impact on deforestation and draining of wetlands, and because of the nitrous oxide emissions from huge amounts of pesticides used to grow the genetically engineered corn and soy fed to animals raised in CAFOs. Nitrous oxide pollution is even worse than methane—200 times more damaging per ton than CO2. And just as animal waste leaches antibiotics and hormones into ground and water, pesticides and fertilizers also eventually find their way into our waterways, further damaging the environment.”
Just so we’re clear, over 95% of farm animals in the U.S. are raised on factory farms. So shopping at Whole Foods or dining out at expensive restaurants doesn’t mean you’re safe. I’m not saying you can’t find consciously sourced products at Whole Foods or select restaurants— I’m just saying— you’d better do your homework.14
What Do the Meat Labels Mean?
If you’re not in the mood to do homework, I’ve done the work for you. First, you should know that words on a package mean pretty much nothing. Written words on packaged goods do require governmental approval.15 However, you can imagine how companies often abuse this. For instance, a product could claim “all-natural” because their livestock isn’t fed plastic. Labels, on the other hand, are far more significant. Labels require specific certifications, ensuring a higher-quality product.
Understanding Meat Labels
To ensure you’re doing right by your body (and the animal), you’ll need to pay attention to packaging labels. The following is a list of labels to look out for when purchasing meat.
Within the U.S., it’s illegal to use hormones in the production of chicken or pigs. So when you see pork labeled as “Hormone Free,” it means the company is complying with U.S. law.16
What’s more, the reason for this legislative action has little to do with health and more to do with effectiveness. Hormones are not as effective at causing rapid weight gain in pigs and chickens as antibiotics are.
Antibiotics wreak havoc on our gut microbiota. And our gut microbiota influences essential human functions, including digestion, energy metabolism, and inflammation response.17
The problem with “Antibiotic Free” labels is that they’re fully loaded and largely unregulated. Producers must send documentation to the USDA to support their claims, but there are no mandated inspections. And considering the statistics, I think it’s safe to assume that few hold true to their word.
“Some 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to animals—not people—in their feed or water, mostly to promote growth and/or prevent disease,” says Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports. “And that’s a major contributor to the public health threat of antibiotic resistance, which is when the bacteria that cause infections become resistant to the effects of the drugs designed to kill them.” 18
The Bottom Line: Antibiotic-free alone isn’t enough. Pay extra for organic— or even better— spring for Animal Welfare Approved.
Organic meat is a good place to start considering routine antibiotic use is prohibited.19 However, keep in mind that an organic label tells us nothing about animal welfare or additional “natural” additives such as sugar or MSG. So it doesn’t necessarily ensure that we’re practicing conscious carnivorism.
Certified Humane is an even better choice than organic.20 The Certified Humane label ensures continuous outdoor access for ruminants.21 Although, outdoor access is not required for birds and pigs unless the words “free-range” or “pasture” also appear on the packages. Moreover, Certified Humane prohibits cage confinement, hormones, and subtherapeutic antibiotics. Certified Humane represents a significant improvement over conventional standards.
Animal Welfare Approved
Currently, the “Animal Welfare Approved” label is as good as it gets. Under this seal, animals are ensured continuous access to pasture or range, meaning there are no feedlots. What’s more, Animal Welfare Approved prohibits cage confinement, hormones, and subtherapeutic (preventative or growth-promoting) antibiotics.22 Even better, these standards extend to the breeding, transporting, and slaughtering of animals. And to be sure the farm complies, every Animal Welfare Approved farm is subject to audit.
MSC SEAFOOD LABEL
Unfortunately, fish and seafood are amongst the most misunderstood and unregulated of all animal products.
Currently, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label is the best we can do. The MSC has developed a science-based set of requirements for sustainable fishing. Fish and seafood carrying the MSC label guarantee that the product is wild, traceable, and sustainable. The blue fish label applies only to wild fish or seafood from fisheries that have been certified to the MSC Fisheries Standard.23
Click here for a complete breakdown of meat labels.
Best Choice: Regenerative Agriculture
For optimal consideration of your health and the environment, you’d be wise to purchase meat sourced from farms practicing regenerative agriculture. According to FoodPrint.org, “Sustainable livestock farmers use a wide variety of practices, not only to raise animals humanely, produce better products and provide a living for themselves and their families but also to build soil and sequester carbon, mitigating the effects of greenhouse gases.” Properly raised ruminants such as cows that graze on grass help remove carbon from the environment.24
Click here to find regenerative agriculture participating farms near you.
The Bottom Line: Quality is essential when it comes to eating meat! Be sure your beef carries one of the check-marked certifications or falls within the higher-welfare brand list.
Best Protein Choices on Clean Keto
Now that you better understand meat labels, let’s talk specifically about which protein choices are optimal for clean keto.
Remember beef is jam-packed with nutrients (micro and macronutrients). Grass-fed beef is best. I’d recommend reaching for fattier cuts such as short ribs, ribeyes, and stews. Fattier cuts tend to be more satiating and hold you down longer.
Although not my top choice, poultry is certainly fair game on keto. Poultry includes chicken, duck, quail, turkey, etc. Don’t be afraid of the dark meat and the skin— not only are those parts super tasty, but they’re also healthy.
Pork products include tenderloin, chops, bacon, and sausage. Keep in mind, sausage and bacon are often highly processed. Be sure to reach for packages with the “Certified Humane” or “Animal Welfare Approved” food labels.
Animal organs such as liver, heart, and kidneys are excellent choices on the ketogenic diet. Eating animal organs may sound revolting, but I’m telling you— they’re serious superfood! If you’re not a fan of the flavor, I recommend trying the Force of Nature brand. This company does an excellent job blending organs with beef, pork, and wild game. What’s more, their products are delicious!
5. Wild game + Other Four-Legged Friends
For the record, by design, ruminants eat grass— not corn or animal byproducts. By consuming corn-fed animals, you’re consuming adulterated grains as a byproduct. If you’re purchasing bison, elk, venison, lamb, etc., just be sure to select grass-fed animal products.
6. Bone Broth
When talking about bone broth, protein may not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, not only is bone broth super healthy, but it’s also a quality source of protein.
Not sure when the whole egg white omlette became a thing, but in order to maximize nutritional benefit, you’re gonna want to eat thee whole egg. Quail, chicken, and duck eggs are all excellent choices, or if you’re feeling adventurous, salmon roe is my personal favorite.
Fish is certainly a high quality protein source on keto. However, its important to select sustainably souced fish and seafood products. For up to date info on quality fish and seafood choices, I’d recommend checking out the site, SeafoodWatch.org.
Next to organ meats, shellfish takes second place in nutrient density. As long as you’re not allergic, shellfish is a go on keto. Shellfish include (but are certainly not limited to) clams, crab, mussels, oysters, scallops, and shrimp.
10. Grass-fed Dairy
Although dairy is not a necessary part of a healthy diet, it is a welcomed protein choice on clean keto. Just be sure to reach for grass-fed or raw varieties whenever possible. Some examples include heavy cream, butter, and whole-fat cheese.
11. Protein Powder
If you’re struggling to meet your protein needs, adding a daily protein shake isn’t a bad idea. Just be aware that many brands on the market contain a fair amount of junk ingredients. Currently, Naked and Primal Kitchen are a few of the cleanest brands on the market.
12. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are top choices for ketotarians. Be sure to reach for nuts and seeds high in fat and low in carbohydrates. Examples include macadamia nuts, Brazilian nuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and hazelnuts.
3 Protein Options to Avoid on Clean Keto
1. Processed Meats and Cheeses
It’s not exactly new news that processed food products are harmful to our health. However, we don’t often think of “keto-friendly” proteins such as meats and cheeses as highly processed. And yet, often they are. Any packaged animal protein that has been smoked, salted, cured, dried, or canned is considered processed. This includes sausages, hot dogs, salami, ham, and cured bacon.25 Processed cheese can be identified when the product contains any ingredients other than cheese.26
2. Deli Meats
The majority of deli meats are also highly processed. In fact, most deli meats are pumped full of sodium, nitrates, and other harmful additives to maintain moisture and preserve shelf life.
3. Fast Food Meats
Obviously, fast food is designed to be fast (and inexpensive). I don’t know of any fast food joint that promotes grass-fed, sustainably sources protein options. Fast food is best avoided for the betterment of your health (and the planet).
How to Know if you Should be Eating a High-Protein Keto Diet
Let’s wrap things up with a few final questions.
- Is your hair falling out on account of the ketogenic diet?
- Are you feeling sluggish and lethargic (even though you’re well past the keto flu)?
- Do you often feel hungry on keto?
- Are you struggling to lose weight (even when you feel you’re doing everything right)?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then high-protein keto could be just what you need to achieve ultimate ketogenic success.
Are you a fan of high-protein keto? I’d love to hear about your experience with the ketogenic (or carnivore) diet. Comment below and fill me in on your story!
Interested in high-protein keto but have no idea what to eat?
I’ve got you! Check out my free cheatsheet, Best Choice Keto Proteins!
This downloadable PDF is for you if:
- You’re living (or want to be living) that high-protein keto lifestyle.
- You’re unsure which protein choices are best for a clean ketogenic diet.
- You’d like to mix it up with new recipes and high-protein snack ideas.
Whether you’re well-versed or brand spankin’ new to keto life and looking for some help, you should check out Katie’s coaching program. Coach Katie lives keto all day, errryday. She keeps up to date on the latest science, so you don’t have to. But more importantly, she addresses your specific goals to help you achieve ultimate success on your keto journey. And it’s always better to have someone in your corner, guiding you along. So if you’re ready for total life transformation and ultimate keto success, schedule your FREE keto strategy sesh today!
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Katie Rodriguez nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.
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