How Much Protein Should You Eat on a Keto Diet?
A strict keto diet includes foods that are high in fat and protein, and very, very low in carbs.
You’ve probably heard that protein is important to the keto diet. And you might also know that keto is all about triggering ketosis, which happens when you cut out all the carbs.
But if keto is all about restricting carbs, then why is protein so important? And how much do you really need?
Let’s take a look at why protein is important, why it is especially important for keto, and get a rough estimate of how much you should be eating.
Protein is important to anyone on any diet.
Protein is made up of amino acids. Your body needs 20 different amino acids, and can make 11 of them. The other 9, however, have to be gotten from food.
Most animal meat contains all the amino acids your body needs to survive. Most plant-based proteins contain those same amino acids, but in slightly smaller quantities.
Without those precious amino acids, the human body has trouble with a lot of basic functions. Protein is necessary for:
- building muscle
- regulating cholesterol
- regulating enzymes and hormones
- regulating organs and tissues
- maintaining weight
- repairing bones, muscle, cartilage, blood, and skin
Protein is thus important to anyone on any diet.
Protein is especially important for keto.
If you aren’t eating carbs, those calories have to come from somewhere, right? Fatty meat just happens to be one of the most calorically dense kinds of food available.
Once you start transitioning to a keto diet, your body gets confused. It wonders where all those delicious carbs went, and tells you it is hungry, through stomach rumblings and cravings.
Protein is by far the best food for minimizing hunger, because it helps regulate ghrelin, the “hunger hormone”. Your best bet for transitioning to keto, then, is to be sure to eat a high-protein diet.
A common rule of thumb is to eat 1 gram of protein for every kilogram of your body weight per day. So if you weigh 60 kilograms (about 130 pounds), you should aim for about 60 grams of protein. A single chicken breast contains about 30 grams of protein, so this comes out to two whole chicken breasts.
But can’t your body turn protein into sugar?
Technically, yes, through a process called gluconeogenesis. You might have heard a rumor that gluconeogenesis produces enough sugar to break ketosis, but this is false.
Gluconeogenesis is a natural process whereby the body produces glucose from anything that isn’t carbs. The truth is, your body needs glucose, and it doesn’t matter where it came from. Remember those cellular respiration diagrams from high school? Without glucose, your cells would quickly die off.
Your body won’t make enough glucose from gluconeogenesis to kill ketosis. If anything, gluconeogenesis is made to work with ketosis, as both are part of the survival mechanism your body uses to produce energy when starved of carbs.
You can eat as much protein as you want…
It won’t break ketosis.
In general, it is better to err on the side of more protein rather than less, for keto. Not getting enough protein can lead to hair and nail thinning and muscle loss. Plus, you will feel a lot hungrier and crave bread and cookies more without protein helping you regulate ghrelin.
… as long as you still eat a balanced diet.
You do need all your macronutrients. Be sure to balance meat with lots of fresh veggies.
A common recommendation for keto beginners is to get 70% of your calories from fat, 20% from protein, and 5% from carbs. This isn’t set in stone, however, and you can adjust the proportions at well. Many people choose to go completely zero carbs, to be sure they avoid breaking ketosis.
If you prefer, you can also get a recommendation for your size and weight based off of a macronutrient calculator.
Note that if you are a bodybuilder or work out a lot, you will need more protein than the average person, since you are trying to put on more muscle.
Also be sure to stick to high quality protein. Bacon is protein, and it is tasty, but if all you eat is bacon, then you will feel like garbage. Stick to fatty fish and plants like avocados.
What if I’m vegan or vegetarian?
You should still eat a lot of protein, but it is harder. Tofu and hemp seeds are common non-animal protein sources. There are many options to choose from, so you can experiment and see what works best for you.
The bottom line.
If you are keto, then you need protein and lots of it. Protein helps regulate hunger and repair body tissues.
It’s harder to eat too much than it is to eat too little, so err on the side of more. No matter how much protein you eat, it won’t break ketosis.
Just stay away from the bacon most of the time!