If you have spent any time looking into one of the most popular diets around, the ketogenic or “keto” diet, you may have come across some controversy over how much protein is allowed on this diet.
Not only is the amount of protein you should eat on keto somewhat controversial, there are also a lot of differing opinions about what type of protein should be included. So, what about whey protein? Is whey protein keto friendly? Or are there better protein options if you are eating a keto diet?
What is the keto diet?
The keto diet is a very low carbohydrate, moderate protein, high fat diet. There are different variations of the ketogenic diet, each differing in the recommended amounts of macronutrients.
A typical ketogenic macronutrient breakdown consists of:
- Carbohydrates: 5-10% of calories
- Protein: 15-25% of calories
- Fat: 75-85% of calories
The ketogenic diet takes a “standard” diet where most calories come from carbohydrates and flips it on its head. Carbohydrates on the keto diet are a small percentage of the overall macronutrient makeup and fats are the primary fuel source.
The goal of eating so few carbohydrates, while significantly increasing fat, is to encourage the body to get into a state of nutritional ketosis.
What is ketosis?
In order to understand nutritional ketosis, we must first acknowledge that the body’s preferred source of energy is from carbohydrates. Under normal dietary conditions, the body can also use fats as an energy source, but carbohydrates are typically the main energy source.
Ketosis is a metabolic state that occurs when the body is starved of its primary fuel source, carbohydrates. When the body doesn’t have enough carbs, it switches to burning fat as fuel in a process called ketogenesis.
During ketogenesis, an alternate fuel source called ketone bodies are produced and replace glucose as the primary fuel source. This is where the ketogenic diet gets its name. This shift leads to a decrease in hunger, weight loss, improved blood sugar, and stable energy levels.
Can You Have Whey Protein on a Keto Diet?
It is clear that to stay in ketosis, you have to eat more fat and fewer carbs. But, what about protein? How much protein should you eat?
Is Whey Protein Good for Keto?
First, you want to understand some basics of biochemistry. To start, you should know that the only energy source the brain can function on is glucose which primarily comes from the carbohydrates in our diet. When the body is deprived of carbs or glucose from the diet, it needs to make its own glucose in order to continue fueling the brain.
To offset the lack of this essential nutrient, the body will make its own glucose by taking protein, breaking it down, and construct its own glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis. Unless absolutely necessary, the body does not like to rely on gluconeogenesis. This is because gluconeogenesis takes a lot of protein and energy to make a small amount of glucose which is more taxing on the body and its natural processes.
The body is also designed to preserve protein at all costs in order to prevent damage to its essential organs every time we skip a meal. This means it will look for other sources of fuel like the ketone bodies mentioned above before converting protein for its energy source.
Eating more protein may be beneficial for keto dieters. A higher protein intake may be one of the reasons why the keto diet works so well to suppress appetiteand promote weight loss. Protein helps satisfy hunger, which means you are more likely to consume less overall.
Whey protein is a nutritionally complete protein source providing all the essential amino acids. When taken in the right amounts, whey protein can work well for a ketogenic diet.
Is Whey Protein Keto Friendly?
Now that you understand the role of protein on a keto diet, what about whey protein? Is whey protein keto friendly?
Yes, whey protein is keto friendly, but you have to be careful with the number of carbs in the product you choose.
There are three main types of whey protein powders on the market: concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate. These protein powders have varying amounts of lactose or milk sugar, which determines their carbohydrate content.
Types of Whey Protein
- Whey Concentrate has the highest amount of lactose which is a form of carbohydrate, but lower levels of fat and cholesterol than other types of whey.
- Whey Isolate is a more “pure” type of whey protein with minimal amounts of lactose and fat. The whey protein is “isolated” from lactose and fat which as a result has the lowest amount of carbohydrates.
- Whey Hydrolysate or hydrolyzed whey proteins are broken down into smaller, more digestible pieces. This type of whey is also more easily absorbed.
Any protein powder can have added sugar or other ingredients that contribute to the carbohydrate count. But, if you choose the right product, whey protein powder can be keto friendly.
All types of whey protein are generally lower in carbohydrates. If you are looking for the lowest carbohydrate containing protein powder, whey protein isolate typically has the lowest amount of carbohydrates with 6 to 8 grams per serving.
If you are trying a keto diet to lose weight, whey protein has many well-established benefits for weight loss. It can help increase satiety, support a healthy metabolism and help make weight loss easier.
Does Whey Protein Kick You Out of Ketosis?
Successful maintenance of ketosis while on a ketogenic diet requires a delicate balance and strict adherence to the macronutrient guidelines. Eating too many carbohydrates or too much protein can quickly kick you out of ketosis.
Recall that the body prefers to use glucose as its main fuel source. If we overconsume carbohydrates, the body quickly switches to the metabolic pathways that use glucose first.
What it means to be kicked out of ketosis is that the body is no longer using ketones and fat as energy and instead is using glucose as a primary energy source.
Carbs and Ketosis
A ketogenic diet contains 5 to 10% carbohydrates. Therefore, a 2,000 calorie ketogenic diet would allow for 25 to 50 grams of carbohydrates per day.
So, does whey protein kick you out of ketosis for carbohydrates? No, the average whey protein contains 6 to 8 grams of carbohydrates, which would fit into a ketogenic diet.
Whey Protein and Keto
A ketogenic diet allows for 15 to 25% of calories from protein. A 2,000 calorie ketogenic diet would include 75 to 125 grams of protein per day.
Whey protein would not kick you out of ketosis for protein content. A serving of whey protein contains approximately 20 grams of protein, which works within the recommended amount.
A study by the American Diabetes Association found that during a period of low carbohydrate intake, only about 3 grams of carbs/glucose was produced via gluconeogenesis from protein ingested during an 8 hour period. Three grams is not enough to kick you out of ketosis.
There is no clear answer as to how much protein will kick you out of ketosis. Though, it is known that too much protein will do that. Therefore, it is a good idea to space your protein servings throughout the day instead.
Choosing a Keto Whey Protein Powder
If you are looking for a keto whey protein powder, here are a few tips that you might want to consider before making a purchase:
- Total carbohydrates. Most keto-dieters aim to eat between 20-50 grams of carbs per day. When looking at a protein powder, you will have to know how many carbs you are aiming for and determine if the product can easily fit into your daily allotment.
- Net carbs. Some protein powders contain fiber, which you can subtract from the total carbohydrate number. This will give you the “net carbs” in the product. Net carbs are the only carbs that matter for staying in ketosis. This will allow you to choose a product higher in carbs, while sticking with your goals.
- Total protein. Be sure you know how much protein you need daily, so you can evaluate if your protein powder is giving you enough.
- Personal goals. What is your reason for doing keto or wanting to drink whey protein? This can help you determine the best protein powder for you and how it fits into your lifestyle. Whey protein is a great option for those wanting to build muscle or lose weight while on keto.
- Good taste. Even if a protein powder is perfectly keto-friendly, if it tastes awful, you probably won’t want to drink it regularly. Protein powder should be something you can see yourself taking consistently. If your routine is not sustainable then starting it may be pointless!
There are many keto whey protein powders available on the market, you just have to be sure to take a look at the label and understand its content to avoid overdoing it on your carbs. Our Vital Whey protein powder only contains 2 grams of carbs per serving, perfect to help you meet your daily carb goals, while also meeting your protein needs.
Now that we’ve made the whey protein keto connection, maintaining a ketogenic diet becomes easier. Whey is naturally low in carbohydrates and a complete source of protein for those following a keto diet. A daily scoop of whey protein can be a quick and convenient way to meet your protein goals, while staying low on carbohydrates.