Do You Need Supplements When On a Ketogenic Diet?
The ketogenic diet is a popular approach for losing weight and improving overall health. Commonly called the keto diet, it focuses primarily on high fat foods, while eliminating most, if not all, carbohydrates.
Research indicates that this diet could provide quite a few health benefits. In fact, studies show that it could be a more effective than a low-fat diet when trying to lose weight.
How it Works
The ketogenetic diet gets it’s name from a process called ketosis.
Normally, the body uses carbohydrates for it’s primary source of fuel. Ketosis occurs when the body stops using glucose as an energy source (derived from carboydrates), and instead burns ketones in its place (which are byproducts of fat).
As a result, the body stores less fat and burns more of it.
When the body is initially adapting to ketosis, many people experience a period of unpleasant side effects, commonly referred to as the “keto flu“. Some of these symptoms may include:
- Fatigue and/0r weakness
- Poor concentration or mental fog
- Difficulty sleeping
- Dizziness and/or nausea
- Abdominal cramps/stomach aches
- Sore muscles
- Sugar cravings
- Muscle cramps
These symptoms usually last anywhere from a couple of days to a week, or even more in rare cases.
Why Supplements May Help
Those of you who follow this diet will have completely eliminated a large variety of foods from your daily menu. However, if you’re eating a variety of nutritious foods on the keto diet, you’ll probably have very few, if any, nutritional deficiencies.
That said, there are several supplements you can take to prevent nutritional deficiencies or to compensate for any extra nutritional needs you might require. They can also combat the negative side effects that can occur when the body is adapting itself to ketosis.
Top Supplements for the Keto Diet
Taking the following supplements may help to transition into, or help maintain, the keto diet:
If you’re on the keto diet, it’s important to focus on getting additional electrolytes in your diet, especially during the initial transition period. You could also experience an increase loss of water during this phase.
The amount of electrolytes (specifically, magnesium, potassium, and sodium) in the body can also become diminished. This can result in many of the keto flu symptoms, including fatigue, headache, and muscle cramps. This applies even more so to athletes on the keto diet, since they can have an even greater decrease in electrolytes due to increased sweating. (1)
Eating more foods rich in magnesium and potassium can help maintain necessary levels of these important minerals as well.
The easiest approach for most people is to increase sodium intake by simply salting your food, or consuming drinks formulated to replenish electrolytes. Dark green leafy vegetables, avocados, seeds, and nuts not only contain high amounts of magnesium and potassium, but are keto-friendly as well.
Consuming electrolyte drinks or supplements with added sodium, magnesium, and potassium is also a convenient and effective option.
Magnesium is an electrolyte mineral that increases energy, maintains immune function, and supports healthy blood sugar levels.
Studies show that a large percentage of the population either has, or is at risk for, magnesium deficiency. The ketogenic diet may put you even further at risk, since many foods rich in magnesium are also high in carbohydrates.
Therefore, getting 200-400 mg per day of magnesium would be a good idea for those following a ketogenic diet. Doing so can help reduce many initial keto diet side effect, such as poor sleep, crankiness, and muscle cramps. (2)
Magnesium citrate, magnesium glycinate, and magnesium gluconate are some forms of magnesium that are easiest for the body to absorb. You can also boost your magnesium intake by consuming magnesium-rich foods that are also keto diet-friendly, such as: kale, almonds, avocados, tuna, chard, pumpkin seeds, and spinach, just to name a few.
3. Digestive Enzymes
Because a ketogenic diet can consist of up to 75% fat, people who are accustomed to eating lower fat diets might experience unpleasant side effects, such as diarrhea, bloating, nausea, or constipation. Additionally, even though the keto diet calls for only moderate amounts of protein, it might still be more than some individuals are used to, which might also lead to unpleasant digestive symptoms.
For those starting the keto diet who end up with gastrointestinal issues like these, using a digestive enzyme blend containing lipases (to break down fats) and proteases (that break down proteins) may provide relief.
Another type of enzyme, called proteolytic enzymes, help digest and break down protein as well. They are also believed to relieve soreness after exercise, which may be of particular interest for those on a ketogenic diet who work out. (3)
4. Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCT’s)
Medium-chain triglycerides, or MCT’s, are a type of fatty acid that is metabolized by the liver, where it gets converted into fuel for the body. One of the richest natural sources of MCTs is coconut oil, which contains around 17% MCT’s in its overall fatty acid content.
MCTs have been shown to provide many potential benefits to metabolism. One study saw a definite ketogenic effect in participants who supplemented with MCT’s. Other findings suggest that MCT’s can help stimulate weight loss.
Although coconut oil is a great source of MCT’s, taking MCT oil (which is concentrated from coconut or palm oil) gives an even greater, more efficient dose of MCTs. This can be of benefit to ketogenic dieters because it rapidly increases fat intake, thereby boosting ketones to help keep you in ketosis. (4)
You can easily add MCT oil to shakes and smoothies, or just take a spoonful for a fast fat boost.
You might want to start with just a teaspoon to test your tolerance before taking the suggested dosage listed on the supplement label, since MCT oil can cause side effects like nausea or diarrhea in some people.
5. Green Juice Powder
Eating more vegetables is a goal that should be on everyone’s list. They provide a wide range of vitamins, minerals and potent plant compounds that decrease the risk of diseases, protect against inflammation, and prime your body for peak fitness and well-being.
Just because you’re on a ketogenic diet doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not getting enough vegetables, but this type of diet limits the amount of vegetables you can eat, which might make it more difficult for some to consume adequate amounts.
One simple way to increase your veggie intake is to include green juice powder to your daily regimen. The majority of these powders consist of a blend of nutritious powdered plants, such as wheatgrass, spinach, kale, spirulina, broccoli, chlorella, among others.
Green juice powders can be mixed into smoothies, shakes, or just plain water, which makes them a super-easy way to boost your vegetable intake.
It’s important to point out that these powders should not be used as a substitute for eating fresh, healthy low-carb produce, a high-quality green juice powder is a quick and simple way for ketogenic dieters to get a daily boost in nutrients.
6. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Supplements containing Omega-3 fatty acids, including fish and krill oil, are rich in EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which provide positive benefits to health in several ways. Both EPA and DHA have shown an ability to decrease the risk of heart disease, reduce inflammation, and prevent cognitive decline.
Processed foods and vegetable oils tend to be higher in omega-6 fatty acids and lower in omega-3s (found in grass fed animals and fatty fish). When this imbalance occurs, it can produce inflammation in the body, as well as the potential for inflammatory diseases.
Omega-3 supplements can help maintain a healthy omega-3 to omega-6 balance and maximize the keto diet’s benefits on overall health. Research has shown that those following the keto diet who increased omega-3 intake with krill oil supplements saw a greater reduction in triglycerides, inflammatory, and insulin markers. (5)
When selecting an omega-3 supplement, look for a reputable brand that provides a minimum of 500 mg of EPA and DHA per serving.
You can also increase your omega-3 intake by eating keto-friendly fish, like salmon and sardines, or grass-fed beef, which is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acid supplements can reduce inflammation, lower heart disease risk factors and help ensure a healthy balance of omega-3s to omega-6s.
Even though fiber is the part of plant foods that is not digestible, it’s nevertheless important for maintaining a healthy digestive system. Many keto-friendly foods, such as green leafy vegetables, avacodos, nuts and seeds, are sources of fiber. That said, those following a ketogenic diet whose main focus is on animal proteins might not be getting enough fiber.
People who experience constipation while on a ketogenic diet may find fiber supplements to be helpful. Be sure to look for a supplement that is keto-friendly and doesn’t have sugar as an ingredient.
Getting plenty of water is also important, as it helps to keep digestive system working smoothly. In fact, using fiber supplements without consuming sufficient amounts of water could even worsen constipation. (6)
8. Vitamin D
Maintaining optimal vitamin D levels is necessary for peak health, whether you’re on the keto diet or not. Being on a ketogenic diet doesn’t put you in danger of becoming vitamin D deficient, but because vitamin D deficiency is so prevalent overall, ensuring that you’re getting enough is a smart move. (7)
Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium, which is a nutrient that some people who follow the keto diet may not be getting a lot of, especially those not consuming dairy products.
Vitamin D is also plays an important role in several other bodily functions, including cellular growth, immune system support, bone health, and reducing inflammation. Because there aren’t a large number of foods that are considered good sources of this important vitamin, many nutritionists suggest taking vitamin D supplements to ensure you’re getting adequate amounts.
9. Workout Supplements
If you engage in exercise or athletic activity while on the keto diet, you may benefit from supplements that target physical performance, especially when first starting the keto diet. Here are some supplements that can help ensure you’re performing at peak levels.
- BCAA’s (Branched-chain amino acids): BCCA supplements have been shown to decrease muscle injury, soreness, and fatigue both during and after exercise. (8)
- Creatine monohydrate: Creatine is one of the most widely researched nutritional supplements and has been proven to boost muscle gain, strength, and exercise performance. (9)
- Caffeine: Drinking coffee or green tea prior to exercise can improve energy levels and workout performance, and the caffeine can also be a big help when transitioning over to a ketogenic diet. (10)
- Beta-alanine: Taking supplements containing the amino acid beta-alanine can help combat fatigue and muscle exhaustion while on the keto diet. (11)
- Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate (HMB ): HMB can help fight against muscle loss and boost muscle growth, especially in individuals who are starting a new exercise routine or are increasing their level of workout intensity. (12)
L-theanine is an amino acid that is only found in black and green tea. Research indicates that using l-theanine supplements can help improve mental function, promote sleep, and reduce anxiety. This makes l-theanine a perfect option for those experiencing some of the transition symptoms of the keto flu.
The suggested dosage for l-theanine is 100-400 mg per day. You can also drink tea (especially green tea), as it naturally contains this amino acid.