Like most people I focused on the staples of a Ketogenic, or Keto diet, replacing my carbohydrate intake with healthy fats like avocados, coconut oil, and oily fish like salmon. However, when starting a Keto diet for the first time or returning from carb-land over the holidays before fat-adaptation has occurred it’s important to consider your body’s need for micronutrients. The reduction in carbs when switching to a Keto diet can result in a reduction in micronutrients that come from carbs, such as vegetables. A specific type of mineral deficiency occurs in those embarking on a Keto diet, and that is electrolytes.
Micronutrients like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium are necessary in small quantities for the body to survive. Often in the early stages of a ketogenic diet micronutrient intake declines.
Electrolytes help our bodies to regulate the nervous system and aid in muscle activity. In short, you’re going to want these to keep your body functioning normally and during the early stages of a Keto diet since your body will typically lose electrolytes through urine due to low insulin levels as a result of reducing carbs and before the body has had a chance to become Keto-adapted. The lack of electrolytes can contribute to the ‘brain fog’ or ‘Keto-flu’ type symptoms people report when first trying a keto diet as their body shifts from using carbohydrates as a primary fuel source to using fats. Further, performing high-intensity exercise may also be more difficult as a result of having fewer electrolytes in your system, keeping your body hydrated and balanced.
There are a few key electrolytes that your body will need to help fuel your workouts and keep your body balanced including Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium, and Calcium. Each of these micronutrients helps the body to maintain and regulate pH balance. Sodium is especially important for regulating water levels and blood pressure in addition to pH balance. Potassium, on the other hand, helps the body build proteins for growth and manages electrical impulses of the heart. Magnesium is the polymath of these micronutrients playing a role in nerve, muscle, and heart function as well as the regulation of glucose and supporting the immune system. Lastly, calcium is absolutely essential for cardiovascular health and is not as strongly affected when starting a keto diet, since you can get calcium readily from foods like fish and cheese.
Good news is after a few weeks into adapting to a Keto diet your body should stabilize and stop excessively excreting these key electrolytes. To help get over the initial hump and make sure you’re feeling your best and able to push through tough workouts here are a few tips that may help balance your electrolytes:
- Eat whole foods like avocados, nuts, and cruciferous vegetables as these are naturally high in the key micronutrients above.
- Use an electrolyte supplement preferably with low or no sugar (non-affiliate options: Onnit Electrolyte Supplement or Robb Wolfs LMNT Supplement).
- Start your morning with high-quality water with half a lemon and a pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt to rehydrate your body after sleeping.
Note that even after a Keto-adaptation period it may still be important to continue supplementing with electrolytes especially if you’re into high-intensity interval training or sports like jiu-jitsu.
Reference Used: For more information on the Ketogenic diet be sure to check out The Ketogenic Bible: The Authoritative Guide to Ketosis by Dr. Jacob Wilson & Ryan Lowery, PhD(c).