Burning Fat (While Building Muscle) on a Ketogenic Diet Jan 05, 2024 by Chris S. Cornell


In this article, Chris S. Cornell dives deeper into the science-based fat-burning potential of the ketogenic diet and explores some of its other benefits, along with the power of continuous ketone monitoring from the SiBio CKM system.

Six years ago, shortly after New Year’s 2018, I embarked on a transformative journey by adopting a therapeutic carbohydrate restriction diet. This path wasn't solely about shedding 80 pounds of body fat; it was a quest to learn how to sustainably maintain that weight loss.

The holiday season often tests my resolve with its tempting array of treats. This past New Year's was no exception. Returning home from my holiday travels, I faced a stark reality: the scale read 218.2 pounds—more than 15 pounds higher than what I weighed this past September.

This was more than a wake-up call; it was the perfect opportunity to embark on a disciplined ketogenic diet experiment with both the SiBio continuous ketone monitor (CKM) and continuous glucose monitor (CGM).

The sleek CKM and CGM sensors from SiBionics are attached to the back of my upper arm and transmit data to an app on my smartphone. They provide real-time insights into my body's metabolic state. Observing my ketone and glucose levels isn’t merely informative; it’s a revelation of how my dietary choices impact my body over both the short and long term.

My journey has always encompassed more than weight loss. It's been a pursuit of optimal health, fitness, and quality of life. The array of benefits offered by a ketogenic diet—such as enhanced fat burning and improved mental clarity—motivated me to dive deeper. This time, I chose to limit my daily carb intake to 30 grams or less, a much stricter approach than my usual regimen.

Understanding Ketosis: The Science Behind the Ketogenic Diet

In my quest to better comprehend the ketogenic diet process and the potential benefits of ketosis, I turned to the textbook, Ketogenic: The Science of Therapeutic Carbohydrate Restriction in Human Health (2023). This book, a collaboration of over 70 practitioners, researchers, and scientists, is a treasure trove of the latest evidence-based science in the field of therapeutic carbohydrate restriction.

Designed to train medical and allied healthcare professionals in the effective therapeutic use of low-carbohydrate and ketogenic nutrition, this book has also proved invaluable for someone like me, aiming to effectively incorporate the ketogenic diet into my life.

Here’s a glimpse of what I learned:

Ketosis is a remarkable and natural metabolic state, particularly significant when adopting a ketogenic diet. Let's simplify this complex process to understand why it's so effective for fat burning.

What is Ketosis?

Simply put, ketosis occurs when your body becomes a fat-burning machine. This metabolic state is triggered when energy demand is high, but glucose—the body's usual fuel source—is low. Glucose typically comes from dietary carbohydrates. When you significantly limit these carbs, as you do in a ketogenic diet, your body starts searching for an alternative fuel source.

How Does Ketosis Work?

Reducing carbs and moderating protein intake causes your body to deplete its primary energy source: glucose. In response, your liver begins converting fats into ketone bodies, which then become a crucial energy source, particularly for your brain, as it can't directly use fat for energy.

This transition from burning glucose to fat is what we refer to as 'ketosis'. It's a natural bodily response, sharing similarities with the metabolic state during fasting, but without the need to stop eating.

Why is Ketosis Relevant for Fat Burning?

Ketosis is critically relevant for fat burning for several reasons:

  • Alternative Energy Source: With limited glucose, your body turns to stored fats, breaking them down into ketones. This effectively transforms fat into fuel, aiding in weight loss and fat reduction.
  • Brain Energy Efficiency: The human brain, a high-energy organ, cannot utilize fat directly. However, it can efficiently use ketones, allowing the brain to function without needing large amounts of glucose, thus reducing the overall need for carbohydrates.
  • Reduced Hunger: Many on a ketogenic diet report lower hunger levels, likely due to the satiating effects of fat and protein and the stable energy supply from ketones.
  • Flexibility in Energy Production: As omnivores, humans have a flexible metabolism. When carbs are scarce, our bodies adapt to produce glucose from non-carb sources (a process known as gluconeogenesis) and utilize ketones from fat breakdown.

My Experiences with Burning Fat on the Ketogenic Diet

I have found the ketogenic diet to offer numerous benefits, including the ones listed above. The ketogenic diet has made me a much more effective fat burner, which helps me in several ways. Being able to get through a day without constantly worrying about where my next snack is coming from is a blessing on so many levels. Being able to do several hours of uninterrupted yard work without hunger or cravings is great. I am able to run 10 miles or more without needing fuel, and I can drive past convenience stores without feeling the need to stop.

The ketogenic diet routinely leaves me with heightened levels of energy, and I am able to focus like I never could when eating a diet loaded with sugar and refined carbs.

After losing 80 pounds of body fat six years ago, I started looking for ways to improve my fitness, and I discovered that despite misconceptions to the contrary, the low-carb, ketogenic lifestyle is also extremely compatible with endurance training and muscle and strength building.

My own anecdotal experience has been rather enlightening. At age 59, I am currently stronger than I have ever been. On New Year’s Day, I bench-pressed 300 pounds, and I’ve recently set lifetime PRs for body weight pull-ups (16) and dips (33). I ran my first-ever marathon last March, and plan to run another in 2024.

In my research on how the ketogenic diet supports muscle and strength building, I again turned to the insights offered in the textbook Ketogenic: The Science of Therapeutic Carbohydrate Restriction in Human Health (2023) to deepen my understanding of this subject.

Combating Sarcopenia and Building Muscle on a Ketogenic Diet

As we age, our bodies face challenges in maintaining muscle mass and bone strength. One such challenge is sarcopenia, a condition characterized by the progressive loss of muscle mass and function. It's more common than you might think, affecting 5% to 13% of individuals aged 60 to 70, and rising to 11% to 50% in those over 80. Sarcopenia can be accompanied by obesity, inflammation, insulin resistance, hormonal changes, and chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Similarly, osteoporosis, which leads to decreased bone mass and increased fracture risk, becomes a concern as we age. While we spend the first two to three decades of life building up our bones, after that, bone mass and density gradually decline. Women have a 40% to 50% lifetime risk of developing osteoporosis, while men have a 13% to 22% risk.

The good news is that these conditions can be addressed, and a ketogenic diet might be part of the solution. Preventing or delaying sarcopenia involves two key strategies: eating enough protein and engaging in resistance exercises to maintain or build skeletal muscle.

The Role of Protein in Preventing Muscle Loss

Interestingly, research suggests that a diet low in carbohydrates, like the ketogenic diet, may help preserve more muscle mass compared to other diets, especially during weight loss. This could be a crucial factor in counteracting sarcopenia. Protein is essential here; nutritional interventions using protein supplementation, particularly when combined with resistance training, have shown effectiveness in opposing the effects of sarcopenia in older adults.

Older adults are less sensitive to the muscle-building effects of protein, so they might need more protein than younger individuals. Consuming 35 to 40 grams of protein, particularly after exercise, can stimulate muscle protein synthesis more effectively. For older adults, a protein intake of 1 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight per day is recommended. Some experts recommend even more, as much as 1 gram (or more) per pound of desired body weight.

Exercise and Resistance Training

The power of exercise, particularly resistance training, in combating muscle loss is well-documented. Numerous studies have shown that resistance training helps older individuals increase muscle mass and strength. A diet higher in protein, especially from quality sources like animal-based proteins and supplemental whey, combined with consistent resistance training, is an effective strategy to offset sarcopenia.

By including these strategies in your ketogenic lifestyle, you can help safeguard your muscle mass and bone health, particularly as you get older. This approach is not only about weight management but also about ensuring a robust, healthy body through the years.

A Work in Progress

As I continue this fascinating journey with the ketogenic diet, it's clear that my experiments are still a work in progress. The insights I've gained are not just fleeting observations but stepping stones towards a larger goal. As I venture into my 60s and beyond, my focus remains on maintaining muscle and fitness, enjoying good health, and embracing a high quality of life.

The ketogenic lifestyle has been a transformative tool in this pursuit, and I am excited to share more of my experiences and learnings in the coming weeks and months. This ongoing exploration is not just about personal achievements, such as my recent marathon run or weightlifting milestones, but also about understanding the deeper implications of dietary choices on our long-term health. 

Final Thought

Incorporating the CKM technology into my diet and resistance training routine adds a new dimension to this synergy by providing real-time feedback on ketone levels. This data allows me to keep track of and fine-tune my dietary and exercise strategies. The continuous monitoring of ketone levels builds a more personalized and dynamic approach to my keto lifestyle.