Should I Count Calories on the Keto Diet?
– Karla S.
Hi Karla, thanks for bringing up this commonly asked question! The answer depends on what you’re trying to get out of the keto diet. From body fat reduction to energy level improvements, your personal goals are what will determine if counting calories on the keto diet makes sense for you.
What is a Calorie?
From your food packaging to restaurant menus, it seems like calories are listed everywhere. But what exactly is a calorie? A dietary calorie is the amount of energy required to heat 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree Celsius. The body uses calories as energy to drive chemical reactions in the body, such as moving, breathing and even thinking. So, the amount of calories you need is dependent on the total amount of work your body typically performs!
Are All Calories the Same?
For ages, people have tried to lose weight with extreme dietary restrictions. However, there is more to weight loss than simply reducing your caloric intake. The concept of calorie counting is based on the idea that you can successfully lose weight by simply eating fewer calories than you burn. Or, if your goal is to gain weight, you must consume more calories than you burn. It is often thought of as the end-all-be-all of weight loss. However, it’s not always that simple. Using a simple equation to guide a major change to your body ignores the nuances of what your body is trying to tell you.
When Should I Combine Keto & Calorie Counting?
The answer to this question depends on your goals, lifestyle and health status. Below is a summary of a few common goals and lifestyle changes associated with the keto diet, and whether or not they align well with calorie counting.
Weight loss is one of the most common goals set by keto dieters. The purpose of the keto diet is to reach a state of ketosis, which shifts the body’s metabolic state to burn fat as its primary source of fuel. Often times, people on the keto diet will eat less simply because they are more satisfied due to the high-fat content of their food. If your goal is weight loss, it may still be helpful to pay attention to your daily caloric intake. Although calories aren’t the central focus of the keto diet, weight loss still occurs when your body is in a caloric deficit. Pay attention to your fullness and hunger cues to help maintain proper caloric intake.
Entering full-blown ketosis can take time. To reach this fat-burning state quicker, people often turn to intermittent fasting. However, it can take days of fasting to reach a ketosis state, and it should not be solely relied on by those just starting the ketogenic diet. In addition, intermittent fasting in conjunction with ketosis may result in a greater reduction in weight over a shorter period of time. Even though benefits exist, intermittent fasting with ketosis can be very restrictive and can lead to underfeeding and fatigue. If you’re considering combining intermittent fasting with the keto diet, consult with a dietitian before starting to ensure you’re still adequately nourishing your body. 
For more information on the different Intermittent Fasting styles and cadences, check out this article.
Reduce Body Fat
Overall, studies often show that the ketogenic diet can be excellent for fat loss even when your calorie intake is consistent with your body’s daily needs. Many gym-goers look to keto to help them reduce their body fat because ketosis causes your body to burn fat as its primary fuel source, which increases the amount of fat burned at rest and during daily activity. It also helps people feel more satisfied with less food. However, if you eat more calories than your body needs, they will get stored as fat, regardless of what diet plan you’re following. Fat also has more calories per gram than protein or carbs. So, if fat loss is your goal, it may still be helpful to pay attention to the number of calories you consume while on the keto diet. 
Athletic Performance Improvements
If your goal is to improve your athletic performance, calorie counting on the keto diet may not be necessary. Listening to your body’s needs, hunger cues and recovery process is likely the best way to determine your energy needs. If you’re an athlete training to get faster, stronger or quicker, consuming too few calories would actually be more detrimental than consuming too many. Instead, listen to your body during activity and recovery, and eat accordingly!
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