The ketogenic or keto eating plan has been accepted as a viable option for shredding body fat, dropping overall weight, and improving certain factors of health.
But keto plateau (slow to no progress) is a real thing and it can be frustrating.
The good news is that you’re not doomed to ‘no gains land’ for good. Dieting isn’t always a linear process (neither is life though). But with a pinch of strategy and a hefty serving of patience, persistence, and trusting the process, you’ll have the recipe you need to start seeing results again.
Let’s talk about how to overcome the dreaded plateau.
What is Keto?
We’ll keep this short and sweet because we’ve got lots of in-depth content on keto. For example, if you’re completely new to keto or feel you don’t know as much as you should about it, we have an awesome guide that’ll help you understand the basics and more.
But in a nutshell, keto involves replacing carbohydrates with dietary fat as the body’s primary source of energy.
You’ll still have carbs but daily intake is typically kept to 20-50 grams/day to ensure the body remains in a state of ketosis.
Ketosis is a metabolic state that occurs when glucose or blood sugar (body’s preferred energy source) is too low which causes the body to create ketones from fat to be used as energy instead (1).
Dieting, fasting, starvation, and pregnancy can all cause this metabolic change.
What’s the goal with keto?
While ketogenic dieting is known to have been a successful treatment in children with epilepsy, more recent uses have focused on the potential fat loss and health-promoting benefits.
There are several mechanisms that likely contribute to weight/fat loss with the keto diet. For example, ketosis lowers insulin which actually improves our ability to use up fat and this is also why it can be helpful for those with diabetes.
Not to mention, keto can have positive effects on the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin and various processes that occur in the body (e.g, gluconeogenesis, lipogenesis).
Again, there’ve been mixed opinions on keto, however, a lot of people have found great success with it and there are several positive studies as well.
Is it for everyone? Of course not but many times, nutrition is an individual thing and not everything works for everyone. We’re also referring to the discipline required to stick with an unconventional diet plan as well (not everyone’s cup of tea).
Why Have You Hit a Keto Plateau?
So you’ve made some fat loss progress but you’re wondering why you’re not seeing gains at the same rate anymore or at all for that matter. Typically, after about 6 months on an eating regime, progress starts to slow for most people.
Here are a few reasons why you’re probably not making a lot of progress anymore.
Plateaus are normal!
If you’re manipulating calories and macronutrients in an effort to achieve a specific goal, then you will inevitably experience stagnation at some point. That’s just how the body works.
After a certain point, our bodies want to protect us from harm by engaging various protective mechanisms to ensure we don’t expend too much energy and lose more weight.
Consequently, you will eventually need to change things up to let the body know you still want to see those gains right on schedule.
Whether you lose or gain weight, your body composition, metabolism, and other variables will change and your requirements are going to be different.
In fact, you may have already experienced this if you’ve done a cutting phase or experienced a weight loss transformation. The body fat/weight comes off rather easily at first but then your progress begins to decelerate.
Completely normal but that doesn’t mean you’re done for.
You aren’t in a state of ketosis… anymore
Are you sure that you’re consuming fewer than 50 or even 20 grams of carbs per day? Maybe you’re not even in a state of ketosis anymore and therefore, you haven’t gotten everything out of this eating strategy that you could.
Maybe you’re overindulging on a certain food item/supplement and you didn’t realize that it has more carbs than you’d like to consume. Make sure to sit down and look at your food choices to ensure you’re not sabotaging your own progress.
Also, you need to plan your meals to ensure that you stay on the right track. This is common sense sure, but things happen and you have to be able to go back and track down the culprit.
You can also check to see if you’re ketotic via the following methods:
- Blood ketone meter/monitor
- Ketone breath analyzer
- Ketone urine indicator strips
Then, of course, there are common symptoms of ketosis initially which include rapid weight loss (mostly water weight), bad breath, decreased performance, fatigue, low appetite, insomnia.
You’ll also know if you’re in ketosis if you experience a boost in energy after the initial period, but, of course, you still have to make sure your carbs are low because carbs can increase energy too.
It’s not some miracle eating plan
Keto works, and many have had great success with it. But it’s not necessarily some cream of the crop miracle eating method that beats out all others, contrary to what many might say or think.
Typically, rapid weight loss occurs initially because of water loss from carb/glycogen depletion and ketone excretion.
Then fat loss ensues because calories are restricted. Sure, reducing carbs can lower insulin and keto may help to enhance fat loss via several mechanisms.
But really, the rate of overall weight loss starts to even out over the long haul compared with other eating methods.
That’s because calorie restriction is a key component of weight loss and it may be what levels the playing field between most diets anyway.
But that leads us to the next reason why you may have stopped seeing results.
Your lifestyle isn’t the greatest
Factors such as activity levels, stress, sleep, food choices, and consistency all play a very big role in whether or not you reach your full potential.
Poor sleep and stress are huge for overall health and functioning. When these are off, don’t expect to achieve the body of your dreams much less in a reasonable amount of time.
Also, are you consistent with your exercise and healthy food choices? Maybe you’ve stayed in too long and your body is changing as a result and there’s a chance you’re snacking too much.
Don’t expect to put garbage into your body every day and think because you’re meeting the macro requirements, you’re good to go (doesn’t work that way).
Your body is not meant to be a garbage disposal and it’ll let you know real quick.
How To Break Through A Keto Plateau
OK, so now you have an idea why you’ve probably stopped making gains. Now it’s time to break the plateau.
We’ve provided recommended strategies for just that below.
Sit down and check over everything
How many times have you started something, failed to succeed, and realized that you were making a crucial mistake that could have easily been avoided with proper planning and execution?
The good news is that we’ve all done this at some point so don’t feel terrible. But you can do something about it. Sit down and get to the bottom of why you aren’t seeing the desired results.
Does your diet not quite line up? Or maybe it could be that you’re not as disciplined as you should be and for too many days, you’ve simply slacked off all-around.
We can guide you but we can’t tell you what you need to do. Knowledge is very important but so is being aware of your daily habits.
You might also want to ask yourself the question, “why am I doing this, and what reward am I looking forward to when I reach my goal/s?”
Reduce your calories… but not by too much
This one is kind of a no-brainer. You need to be in a caloric or energy deficit to lose weight and body fat.
Based on our individual stats, our bodies require a certain number of calories per day to maintain our body weight. But our basal metabolic rate (BMR) or metabolism is more indicative of our daily energy requirements.
When we consume fewer calories than we need, this causes the body to be catabolic and therefore, we typically begin to lose body weight.
However, there’s more to weight loss than just counting calories and eating less than we need, especially because the thermogenic (heat-producing) effect of food varies and many of us drop our calories too low out of the gate.
Nutrition and thermogenesis
Some foods are more thermogenic than others and therefore, burn more calories. But protein tends to have the best thermogenic effect compared to carbs and fat and that’s why we need to have a sufficient protein intake (2).
Reducing your calories
Make sure your calorie intake is conducive to your weight loss goals and do not overdo it. Leaner individuals should reduce their calories by no more than 10-15% below maintenance and obese and overweight people can afford to do 20+% below maintenance to lose at a faster rate.
Aim for .5-1kg or 1-2 pounds weight loss per week to be safe. Of course, initial weight loss may be a little more but this is totally fine (2).
While obese or overweight individuals may need to lose a little more weight at a faster rate; everyone else should avoid this as it could have a negative effect on metabolism and other health factors (3).
But if your calories are already super low and you’re not seeing much progress, then you may need to take a step back and use a different strategy such as calorie cycling for example…
We put together a very helpful guide on calorie cycling that we recommend everyone check out if you want to see consistent progress no matter your goal.
What is it?
Calorie cycling involves alternating between lower and higher-calorie days to ideally offset the potential negative effects of long-term energy restriction.
Typically, carbs and fats are manipulated in the diet to elicit the desired effects.
Cyclic ketogenic dieting is a term used for the keto version of this. Typically, you’ll follow the standard keto regime of 5-6 days low-carb, 1-2 days higher-carb.
This strategy is also referred to as refeeding.
How will it help to break plateaus?
Extreme dieting has shown to decrease thyroid levels. The thyroid is vital for metabolism function and this is not good when the goal is weight loss (4).
Not to mention, long-term chronic dieting has also shown to lower testosterone levels as well which is not exactly ideal.
Dieting too strenuously for too long can also cause cravings and make you feel like a ravenous raccoon. In this case, you might want to give your body a little break and let it sort of reset so to speak.
How to get back into ketosis?
Intermittent fasting (IF) is a great strategy that you can use to get back into ketosis and rather quickly, following a refeed.
While there are several different versions of intermittent fasting as there is with keto dieting, a common IF method is to fast for 16 hours and eat a few meals during the remaining 8-hour window in a 24-hour period.
Don’t worry, if you get too hungry at first it will eventually subside and you’ll get used to it.
But the 16 hours of fasting promotes ketosis and you can use this strategy before transitioning back to 20-50 grams per day. So, for example, if you go to sleep at 10 P.M., you wouldn’t eat again until 2 P.M.
Plus, there’s a lot of positive research on Intermittent fasting for improving factors of health, so you can knock out two birds with one stone (don’t worry, we’d never actually do that).
Check out our Intermittent fasting calculator.
Eat your protein… but not too much
Unless you’re a caveman (or woman), then you know how important protein is for building muscle and strength. In fact, we were taught this in elementary school.
Not to mention, it’s amazing for keeping you satisfied and has great thermogenic effects.
And with any diet that restricts calories, protein is key to keeping muscle gains and making faster progress.
But the question everyone wants to know is, how much protein should I be consuming?… Well, that has been a debatable topic for a while now. Although, there’s an accepted consensus on a recommended daily intake of 0.7–1 gram per pound (1.6–2.4 grams per kg) of body weight.
The lower end is for the more sedentary while the upper range is for the more active individuals.
Now, keto dieters can aim for a number in this range and be totally good to go. But keep in mind, consuming too much protein and not training hard can inhibit the process of ketosis.
That’s because excess protein/amino acids can be turned into glucose and used as energy, aka gluconeogenesis (5).
So either stick with the standard keto diet, or if you’re going to up your protein intake, make sure you’re hitting those weights with enough intensity.
In addition, try to schedule your protein-heavy meals and shakes around training times. A whey shake works best after a workout because it has a superior initial effect on protein synthesis (building of protein to create muscle tissue).
Also, be sure to check out our review of top keto shake powders.
Tweak/track your macros
Macronutrients or macros for short is a fancy term for carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
Different versions of keto
Now, there are a few different versions of the keto diet regime. Each one has a specific macro ratio requirement.
For example, there’s the standard version, then you have the high-protein keto diet for those who weight train and want to maximize muscle gains.
We already mentioned the cyclical variation and the targeted keto diet includes carbs around exercise times to enhance performance.
You may have to experiment a little to see what works best for you, although the standard variation might be a good method to start with for those new to keto dieting.
But we do recommend using our keto calculator to find an ideal macro ratio for your goals. Ultimately, you’ll have to decide which one best suits your needs.
To track your macros (highly recommended), we like apps such as MyFitnessPal, My Plate, MyMacros+, and Lose It! but there are some other great ones out there too.
Keep an eye on your ketones
That definitely sounds like a meme but we’re not kidding…
If you are really serious about being a keto master and letting your hard work and discipline do the talking, you may want to consider occasionally having your ketone levels checked to ensure you’re up to par.
You could do the blood test but a lot of people would prefer to not get pricked. In that case, a urine or breath test is a viable option.
Get your butt moving
This goes back to the slacking on your efforts. Exercise and resistance training are obviously very beneficial when it comes to changing your body.
If you’re eating too many calories, then you’ll need to use up that excess energy, otherwise, you’re going to either continue to gain weight or remain at a standstill longer than you hoped for.
We definitely recommend resistance training which will help to burn fat and build more muscle but cardio is obviously going to help you to burn the most calories.
But here’s the thing, because keto involves very low-carb dieting – many exercisers may not be able to do higher-intensity training (at least not for long) – unless they incorporate a form of carb cycling to fuel their intense sessions.
Therefore, many find that a lower-intensity, more steady-state form of cardio can allow them to accomplish their goals. Activities such as swimming, biking, moderate-paced cardio on a machine, jogging, etc, are all fantastic options.
But you always want to listen to your body because overtraining is a thing and you want to make sure that your nutrition supports your efforts.
We don’t want you passing out because of inadequate nutrition relative to your training efforts.
Not to mention, too much exercise and inadequate recovery could negatively affect your metabolism and hormones as much as doing little to no exercise.
Use our calories burned by exercise calculator to help keep track of your progress.
Get an accountability partner
Having someone there to encourage you and keep you on track can make all the difference sometimes. Some people can do it on their own but others need a little push from another human being.
It’s understandable that not everyone has someone that can be there with them though and the other options are to hire a coach or use an online service.
We also recommend checking out some of the inspirational workout content on YouTube or apps because it’s really a huge help and can change your mindset and your life too.
While keto plateau exists, you don’t have to let it interfere with your progress. We’ve suggested several possible culprits for keto plateau in addition to recommendations for veering back on track.
Don’t get impatient if your changes don’t take effect immediately. Just listen to your body and use the knowledge that we’ve shared with you to overcome those inevitable roadblocks.
If you have any questions about anything in this article, leave them below.