The ketogenic diet – one of, if not THE most popular diet trends today because of how it allows men and women to eat fat without getting fat. In fact, it comes with the promise of lean gains from foods that normally wouldn’t be recommended in most other diets.
Along with its increasing prominence, however, lingers controversy. That being said, I think it’s safe to say that the ketogenic diet works based on literally millions of reports all over the world of people who have transformed their bodies. However, is it safe? Is it sustainable? Is it for everyone? And, more importantly to this topic, does the keto diet affect testosterone?
Let me help you find answers to those questions. So, keep tuning in and let’s get to it.
WHAT IS THE KETOGENIC DIET?
Unbeknown to most people, the ketogenic diet was actually done by Dr. R.M. Wilder back in the early 1920’s to treat children with epilepsy – yeah, that long ago. Today, the same therapy is still used on epileptic patients who don’t respond well (or at all) to traditional treatments. Apparently, however, the diet is currently better known for its benefits on weight loss.
Regardless of what you plan on using it for, however, the mechanics of the diet remain the same – high fat, low carb.
Obviously, this isn’t what most people eat on a daily basis. Soon enough, this drastic change is going to shift your body’s state from primarily metabolizing glucose into that of ketosis. But…
WHAT IS KETOSIS?
Normally, your body uses glucose, a kind of sugar, from the carbohydrates that you eat to provide you with energy. Glucose is also the easiest molecule to process into energy which is why it’s what most of your cells prefer.
In the ketogenic diet, however, where carbohydrate intake is taken to a minimum, your body doesn’t get enough glucose. Consequently, your insulin, the hormone that processes glucose, will have lower levels as well. To survive, your body then turns to fat instead of carbs — this metabolic state is ketosis.
While in this state, your liver oxidizes fatty acids and turns them into ketones which is what your body will now be using for energy rather than glucose.
On that note, there are different ways to tackle the ketogenic diet.
From my observation, perhaps the most common type that people try is the standard ketogenic diet where your carbs only take 5% of your entire nutrition while protein and fat take up 20% and 75% respectively.
Of course, there are other variations – there’s one that allows you to take in more protein, a couple others that are mostly used by athletes and bodybuilders, and a few more that are a bit more complicated. I won’t go into detail about all of them but essentially, all these types lead to ketosis.
Regardless of what method you use to achieve ketosis, however, the fact is that ALL of them require you to eat fat, carbs, and protein at drastically different percentages than what’s normally recommended. This leads us to the next question.
IS THE KETO DIET HEALTHY?
Apart from being an effective treatment for epilepsy, switching to a ketogenic diet has numerous other health benefits. These include the following:
Weight loss and cardiovascular benefits
One research compared the effects of low fat vs.very low carbohydrate (keto) diets on body composition and cardiovascular health. On body weight alone, both diet regimens resulted in weight loss but the subjects who underwent the ketogenic diet significantly lost more weight (see figure below).
Moreover, the same research noted no abnormalities in blood pressure and plasma lipids in people who underwent ketosis (low carb group) “despite eating a high percentage of calories as fat and having relatively high intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol”.
While were on the topic of fat and cholesterol, another research noted favorable changes in triglycerides and HDL (good) cholesterol with the ketogenic diet, along with its already impressive effects on weight loss.
Suppress Appetite and Maintain Muscle Mass (from high protein intake)
As mentioned earlier, the ketogenic diet isn’t just about replacing carbs with fat; it sometimes increases protein intake, too. This has its own share of benefits.
Similar to the previous research, this next study showed keto resulting in significant weight loss. However, beyond just losing weight, the study also showed a suppression of a hunger hormone known as ghrelin, and this has a lot to do with the increased protein intake that comes with the ketogenic diet.
Basically, with less ghrelin, you don’t feel the urge to eat more food which naturally helps you eat fewer calories.
Along with appetite suppression, increasing one’s protein intake can also help with muscle growth – as I’m pretty sure you already know. In this case, however, where the ketogenic diet is mostly used for weight loss, research suggests that the higher protein intake can help maintain lean muscle mass while losing weight.
The benefits of keto don’t stop here. Because of its effects on insulin, it can also be beneficial to people with high insulin resistance (i.e. diabetes) and to a female with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). That being said, I believe I’ve said enough to prove that the ketogenic diet is indeed a healthy diet – or at least it is in the short-term. But what does it have to do with T?
DOES THE KETO DIET AFFECT TESTOSTERONE?
Ah, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Allow me to cut straight to the point here.
Does the ketogenic diet affect T? YES, it does, but whether it has a positive or negative influence on testosterone remains debatable.
That being said, let’s talk about both ends of the keto-testosterone spectrum.
Does the keto diet decrease testosterone?
There are few good reasons to believe that being on a ketogenic diet can decrease testosterone and they all revolve around the crazy macronutrient percentages that come with the controversial diet; specifically, the insanely low carb intake. Take a look at what research has to say:
- Men consistently had higher testosterone after a high carbohydrate diet than during a high protein diet despite being equal in both fat and calories. (research)
- Men with a low carbohydrate diets (~30% of daily calories) had significantly less free testosterone:cortisol ratio compared to men who consumed moderately high carbohydrates (~60% of daily calories). (research)
As you can see, low carb diets such as the ketogenic and atkins diet have been associated with lower levels of testosterone. In fact, the 2nd research which decreased carb intake to approximately 30% of the total calories – way more than the 5% recommended in keto – still resulted in less test.
Furthermore, both studies also showed higher cortisol levels in men with low-carb diets. When chronically elevated, cortisol can have adverse effects on testosterone and consequently, muscle growth. Perhaps that’s one way of explaining the potentially negative relationship between keto and T.
Another reason, perhaps, is the effect carb depletion has on glucose.
Like everything else in the body, testosterone production is a process that involves numerous steps. These steps occur within the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis. This is discussed in more detail in another article but basically, this is how it goes:
- Hypothalamus releases GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone)
- GnRH signals pituitary glands to produce LH (luteinizing hormone)
- LH travels to gonads (testicles/ovaries) where it triggers a chain reaction that ultimately ends in the production of testosterone
This is where the ketogenic diet and its carb restriction comes in.
According to research, reducing glucose availability suppresses the release of GnRH which, in turn, also suppresses the release of LH. This can and will lead to suboptimal T production.
“So… the ketogenic diet is bad for testosterone?”
- According to these studies, yes, but let’s be fair and look at the opposite end of how keto affects T.
Does the keto diet increase testosterone?
Despite the studies I’ve already showed you on the ketogenic diet decreasing testosterone, there are actually quite a few other studies that show opposite results — increased T. Let’s take a look:
- One study compared the effects of the standard ketogenic diet (5 % carbohydrates, 75 % fat, 20 % protein) against the traditional western diet (55 % carbohydrates, 25 % fat, 20 % protein). Regarding testosterone, their results showed keto significantly increasing T compared to the traditional western diet. Other results include:
- Increased HDL cholesterol and triglycerides in the keto group
- Another study comparing the effects of ketogenic vs. western diets showed the former diet having favorable effects on T. According to the research, “total testosterone increased significantly from Weeks 0-11 in the KD (ketogenic) diet (118 ng/dl) as compared to the WD (western diet) (-36 ng/dl)”.
Quite perplexing, isn’t it? One research says something and then another one says something else. Honestly, from my perspective, this just goes to show how much the ketogenic diet still needs to be scientifically explored.
Nonetheless, I think the keto diet can indeed increase testosterone levels due to the accompanying increase in HDL (good) cholesterol. Since testosterone is derived from cholesterol, it’s not hard to hypothesize that this rise in HDL can also lead to higher T.
IS THE KETOGENIC DIET FOR EVERYONE?
I have very little doubt in my mind that the ketogenic diet is indeed an effective diet for weight loss. However, to be totally honest, NO, I don’t think it’s for everyone.
Regardless of whether it can or can’t boost testosterone, it might also increase or decrease triglycerides. The unpredictability of the latter is, quite frankly, what scares me most about the ketogenic diet. That being said, if you already have high levels of triglycerides or any kind of cardiac disease for that matter, I personally wouldn’t recommend you try keto without the approval of your doctor.
On the other hand, if you’re relatively healthy and just want to lose weight, I see no reason why you shouldn’t at least give it a try. After all, it seems to be one of, if not the most effective diet strategy today.
CAN TESTOSTERONE BOOSTERS HELP WITH THE KETOGENIC DIET?
As already mentioned, it seems like the ketogenic diet can either increase or decrease testosterone levels. If you’re one of the unlucky ones who get lower T, the primary benefit of T booster supplementation should be obvious – it offsets the decrease in T with natural test boosts.
However, that’s not to say T boosters won’t be of any help to the fortunate people who experience increased testosterone. In fact, some of the ingredients used in the best testosterone supplements this 2018, particularly ones that are designed for weight loss and cutting, have properties that help with fat metabolism. Essentially, these ingredients bolster ketosis. Take a look:
- Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) – Per research, MCTs are better than LCTs (long-chain triglycerides) for fat loss because MCTs increase energy expenditure (thermogenesis) and fat oxidation.
- Tea – Or more specifically, green tea. This popular drink contains catechins which, according to research, activates fat metabolism in the liver.
- Capsaicin – As concluded in one research, “consumption of 2.56 mg capsaicin per meal promotes fat oxidation in negative energy balance and does not increase blood pressure significantly.”
While the previous ingredients are mostly fat-burners used in testosterone boosters, they don’t actually boost testosterone. Fenugreek, however, gives you the best of both worlds.
This herb is, in my opinion, one of the more versatile natural T boosting ingredients popularly used this 2018. Not only does it boost T, it can decrease estrogen and DHT as well improve exercise performance and libido. When it comes to helping with the ketogenic diet, however, one research says that Fenugreek can promote the use of fatty acids as an energy source.
The Ketogenic Diet is one of the most trending diets of the modern era simply because it works. In terms of losing weight while retaining muscle mass, it’s probably right up there among the best. Furthermore, it has numerous health benefits that, when taken advantage of, can improve one’s quality of life.
However, like every other diet, the ketogenic diet isn’t perfect. For one, some studies have contradicting results regarding testosterone and triglycerides.
That being said, different people respond to diets differently. Personally, I tried keto and it just wasn’t for me. I’m more of an old school kind of guy, you see. If you, however, feel better and can manage to sustain the macronutrients required to maintain ketosis, I say stick to it. After all, we’re all just trying to be better.