How Much Protein Do You Need on a Low Carb Diet? | Ketosis Protein Requirements- Thomas DeLauer:
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When you are fasting your body turns to body tissues at the rate of 26% protein and 74% fat, thus fasting is highly ketogenic, producing more ketones than glucose. You can eat foods that lead to ketosis, including coconut oil and amino acids that form ketones rather than glucose. Leucine and lysine are purely ketogenic amino acids. Consuming lots of short-chain fatty acids, such as those found in coconut oil, also contribute to the liver’s production of ketones. To make a diet ketogenic, consume abundant fats, very few carbs and not excessive protein. You can then supplement with leucine, lysine and short-chain fatty acids such as coconut oil.

So how much protein do you need to provide your brain with enough energy when on a ketogenic diet? Your brain typically needs 100 grams of glucose per day. When you are consuming a ketogenic diet, roughly 75 grams of glucose need to be produced, with the remaining coming from converting glycerol to glucose. After your body has been running off of ketosis for about 3 weeks, the brain’s glucose needs drop to about 40 grams of glucose, over a 50% decrease in the amount of glucose needed. About 18 grams come from the conversion of glycerol with the remaining 25 grams coming from protein. This is because your brain is using more ketones rather than glucose for energy. Because roughly 58% of dietary protein appears in the blood as glucose, we can determine the amount of dietary protein that is required by looking at dietary protein intakes and the amount of glucose that is produced.

When determining how much protein you need you want to consider not only your brain’s needs but the remainder of your body as well. There is not an exact formula that gives an individual the correct amount of protein for them. This varies based on the individual, and factors such as age, sex, physical activity and protein source come into play. Nitrogen balance can be used to determine the quantity of protein needed in a diet. This is because between fats, carbohydrates and protein, only protein contains nitrogen. If you consume excess protein, you will excrete extra nitrogen through your urine, so testing can be done to determine your protein needs.

Your protein intake is not quite as simple as grams of protein, but also must consider the quality of protein. As protein is made up of amino acids, you will need different amino acids for your body to function properly. Complete proteins such as eggs, fish and meat are higher quality than foods that do not contain a complete amino acid profile.

Studies have found that exercise can make it so that your body keeps amino acids rather than secreting them, making it possible that athletes may actually need less rather than more protein as your muscle protein synthesis increases while breakdown decreases. Using nitrogen balance data it was found that the protein requirements for strength athletes is 1.3 grams protein per kg of weight per day (0.6 g/lb) and for endurance athletes 1.1 grams protein per kg of body weight per day (0.5 g/lb).

Taking both nitrogen testing and brain energy needs into consideration, while the beginning of a ketogenic diet does need to be high in protein for brain consumption, it can then fall to as low as 50 grams of protein per day if you are smaller and up to about 0.6 grams/lb of body fat. Because dietary protein in the body is converted to greater quantities of glucose than ketones, you do not want to consume excess protein after a few weeks into the diet or your body will have more glucose than you are intending.


1. What is Ketosis?
2. Diabetes Education Online
3. The fat-fueled brain: unnatural or advantageous?
4. A cDNA microarray analysis of gene expression profiles in rat hippocampus following a ketogenic diet
5. Composition of Weight Loss During Short Term Weight Reduction
6. Ketogenic diets 1: ways to make a diet ketogenic

Ketogenic Diets, I: Ways to Make a Diet Ketogenic

7. Our “Nitrogen Balance” article