Science

How Long Does It Take to Get into Ketosis?

Published on: August 20, 2019

How Long Does It Take to Get into Ketosis?

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Those who plan to try a ketogenic way of life ask, “How long does it take to get into ketosis?” The truth is that each person responds to the keto diet differently. However, there is a typical timeline in which you can expect your ketone levels to increase.

That’s what we’re going to talk about in today’s guide. Here, you’ll learn the different stages of ketosis, how soon you can enter this state, and things that may stop you from entering.

Keep reading.


How Long Does It Take to Get into Ketosis?

Here’s the truth: Ketosis does not happen overnight.

It can take up to 1 day to several weeks for you to enter ketosis.

Ketones-replace-glucose-as-fuel

This is especially true if you have been burning carbohydrates for fuel. You cannot enter ketosis unless you deplete your glycogen stores first [1].

Keeping your dietary carbs low forces your liver to increase its production of ketones. With that, ketones or ketone bodies now become your alternative metabolic fuel instead of glucose [1, 2].


getting-into-ketosis

Stages of ketosis

As your body tries to reach ketosis, it goes through a series of processes. Read on to learn about these 3 essential stages.


1. Deplete glycogen

Your body uses glucose from the food you eat to sustain its different functions. When glucose is in excess, it gets stored in your liver and muscle cells in the form of glycogen. Any time your body needs energy, it mobilizes glycogen [3].

As long as you maintain a carbohydrate-rich diet, your glycogen stores will always be full. However, when you reduce your carbs to 50 grams or less per day, your glycogen stores become depleted [1].

With this low glycogen, you may notice a rapid loss of water weight. The reason? Glycogen is bound to water molecules. 1 gram of glycogen is stored with at least3 grams of water [4].

You might not have heard of gluconeogenesis, so here’s what it’s about. It’s a process where your body produces its own glucose to compensate for low glycogen.

  • Gluco: “Glucose”
  • Neo: “New”
  • Genesis: “Creation”

To make its own glucose, your liver turns to non-carbohydrate compounds. They include lactate, amino acids, and glycerol [5].


2. Break down fats

When gluconeogenesis isn’t enough to supply your body with glucose, ketogenesis takes place.

As glycogen stores are further depleted and insulin decreases, your stored fat gets liberated. Triglycerides in your adipose tissue are broken down into free fatty acids. These free fatty acids can now be used for ketogenesis [6].


salmon-and-avocado-salad-with-arugula-on-a-white-plate

3. Start making ketones

Ketogenesis or the creation of new ketones occurs in the mitochondria of your liver. Your liver metabolizes free fatty acids to form acetoacetate (AcAc), the first ketone body [1, 7].

Acetoacetate gets reduced into beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB). Another ketone body that’s formed from AcAc is acetone [1, 7].

That said, your 3 ketone bodies are:

  • Acetoacetate (AcAc)
  • Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB)
  • Acetone

Out of these 3 ketones, BHB is the most abundant. It can also be measured in the blood.


how-long-does-it-take-to-reach-ketosis

How fast can you get into ketosis?

Again, “how soon” a person reaches ketosis can vary. However, it can take you a minimum of 1 day to achieve ketosis [8].

Let’s dig deeper by referring to the studies below.

In a 2018 study, the researchers observed the following [8]:

  • Participants who fasted attained a BHB level of at least 0.5 mmol/L 1 day after starting a ketogenic diet.
  • Those on a 1:1 keto diet entered ketosis 2 days after starting the diet.
  • The average time to reach ketosis is between 33 and 58 hours.

Another study showed that it can take weeks for people to reach ketosis if they fast for more than 72 hours or follow a keto diet [9].

Bottom line?

Ketosis is a unique experience for most people. You may find yourself not reaching ketosis sooner than you expected.

How-soon-to-enter-ketosis

Why some people take longer to enter ketosis

Wondering why you’re not in ketosis yet?

A common reason is that you’ve been a carbohydrate burner before you started doing keto. A massive chunk of your diet consisted of carbohydrates. That means your glycogen stores were always full.

It’s also possible that you’re eating more protein on keto. Too much protein causes your insulin levels to rise, promoting fat storage.

Stress is another factor that could delay ketosis. Being under physical or mental stress elevates your blood glucose [10].


how-to-get-into-ketosis

How Can I Stay in Ketosis?

You already know the length of time to reach ketosis. Now, it’s time to discuss the best ways you can remain in ketosis.

Who doesn’t want to?

After all, long-term nutritional ketosis has plenty of benefits. These benefits include possible diabetes reversal, reduced body weight, lower triglyceride levels, higher HDL cholesterol, and more [11, 12].

Here are three simple tips you can follow:


1. Figure out your personal macros.

Pay attention to these 3 macronutrients and follow their required percentages [1]:

  • 55% to 60% fat
  • 30% to 35% protein
  • 5% to 10% carbohydrates

The answer to how much fat, protein, and carbs a person should eat exactly will vary. Several factors affect your macros. Such factors include your age, body fat percentage, and activity level.

As long as you stay within your limits, you should be able to produce ketones.


2. Keep your carbohydrate intake low.

Here’s the deal:

Carbs lurk everywhere. Surprisingly, they hide in foods you think are healthy and harmless. You already know that rice and pasta contain more carbs. But did you know that they also lurk in sauces and salad dressings [13]?

top-view-two-hands-young-woman-been-tied-by-measuring-tape-avoiding-doughnuts

According to WebMD, one tablespoon of barbecue sauce contains 7 grams of carbs. Imagine how high your carb intake can go if you keep on dipping into that sauce [13].

Safeguard yourself by being aware of less-known carb-rich foods and condiments. Also, you should be able to identify the net carbs in each food. That way, you can stay within your daily carbohydrate need on keto.


Woman-testing-blood

3. Test your ketone levels.

Are you still reaching the ideal ketone range for ketosis which is 0.5 and 2 mmol/L [14]? Make sure that you measure beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) levels in your blood.

BHB is the most prominent ketone body in your circulation. Testing for its presence gives you accurate readings.

Here’s a useful tip:

Test your ketones before and after a meal. Doing this is a great way to know how your body responds to certain foods.

Some foods spike your blood glucose levels fast. These spikes also increase your insulin levels. Insulin rises to transport glucose back into your cells.

In case you don’t know, insulin helps regulate the ketogenic pathway. You need to keep your insulin low to increase your free fatty acids [6]. (Recall that free fatty acids are utilized to make ketones.)


colorful-fresh-berries-arranged-in-metallic-cans-on-rustic-white-wooden-table-with-fruits-spilled-on-the-table

How many carbs can you eat and still be in ketosis?

The straightforward answer is:

It depends.

Different people have different personal carbohydrate limits. This will explain why some individuals reach ketosis faster than others. You may also hear about people who can tolerate more carbs. For example, athletes.

While a ketoer limits carbohydrates, how much he or she should limit depends on some factors. These include:

  • Activity level
  • Body composition
  • Basal metabolic rate

Most people, however, can remain in ketosis by consuming 20-50 grams of carbs per day. Ideally, you should get 5-10% of your calorie needs from carbohydrates [1].


Things That Stop or Slow You Down from Entering Ketosis

Getting into ketosis can be an uphill struggle. No wonder, some people give up too soon. If you’re experiencing the same thing, you might ask yourself:

“What’s stopping or slowing me down?”

“How can I speed up the process?”

Here’s what you should know.


stress-can-stop-you-from-entering-ketosis

1. Long-term stress or too much stress

You may not realize this, but stress is one big factor that’s keeping you from entering ketosis.

You could be staying within your macro limits, taking exogenous ketones, and exercising. But if you’re stressed, your cortisol levels increase.

When cortisol increases, your blood glucose levels also increase. Cortisol increases your blood glucose to give you the energy to fight the stress [15]. However, elevated cortisol over the long term damages your health.

As you may already know, an increase in blood glucose leads to a rise in insulin. High insulin kicks you out of ketosis. It promotes fat storage [16].

Now that you know how stress affects ketosis, aim to keep it under control. Get enough sleep. Maintain a positive attitude.


2. Not enough fat in your diet

Nutritional ketosis is not just about limiting your carbohydrates. It also involves getting most of your calories from healthy fat. It makes sense. If you’re reducing a macronutrient, there has to be a replacement for it.

But why is fat essential in your keto journey?

The secret is satiety, also known as fullness.

not-enough-far-in-your-diet-no-ketosis

Various studies on high-carbohydrate and high-fat diets revealed that fat is more satiating [17].

Dr. Guenther Boden and his team did a 3-week in-hospital study. The study involved 10 participants who had mild Type 2 Diabetes. They were also obese  [17, 18].

For week 1, the participants ate whatever they want and as much as they want. They consumed about 3,000 calories and 300 grams of carbs per day. For weeks 2 and 3, the researchers changed the participants’ diet to low-carb and high-fat [18].

The result?

The participants experienced greater satiety on the high-fat diet. What’s surprising is that they consumed fewer calories even when eating more fat [18].

Dr. Boden believes that carbohydrates increased the participants’ appetite during the first week [18].


3. Too much protein in your diet

Aside from not having enough dietary fat, some people new to keto tend to do this: They overeat protein.

Keep in mind that on a keto diet, you need moderate protein. That’s 1.2-2 grams of protein per kg of body weight [19].

Going above 2 g/kg won’t provide you with any added benefit. However, some people exceed this upper limit because they’re afraid to eat fat to satiety [19].

What happens if you eat too much protein?

Protein moderately stimulates the release of insulin. With that, excessive amounts of protein increase your insulin levels. High insulin interferes with your body’s ketone production [20].

So, you have to keep insulin low by keeping protein moderate.


be-patient-when-starting-keto-diet

4. Being impatient with the results

Before you throw in the towel, remind yourself that you’ve been running on carbs for most of your life. Everyone can enter ketosis - we were all built with this metabolic machinery. It’s just a matter of time.

Stay patient. Give yourself at least 1 day to several weeks to reach this metabolic state. Do the things that speed it up, such as decreasing your carbohydrates to 20-50 grams daily.

Consider your lifestyle as well. Are you active, getting enough sleep, and controlling your stress levels? Remember: Anything that spikes your blood glucose and insulin can drive ketones down.


Conclusion

It should take at least 1 day to reach ketosis. However, you can also enter this physiologic state after weeks.

You will reach it, but first, you need to deplete your glycogen stores. That way, your body can start looking for an alternative source of fuel.

Are you excited to partake in this journey?

Before you do, speak with a trained physician who understands the keto diet. He or she will be able to help you reach your goals safely.


Takeaways

  • Ketosis doesn’t happen right away. It varies from person to person.
  • Some individuals can get into ketosis within 24 hours while others find themselves waiting for several weeks.
  • There are three primary stages of ketosis. These are glycogen depletion, fat breakdown, and ketone production.
  • Ketosis produces an alternative fuel which is ketone bodies. These ketone bodies include acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate, and acetone.
  • Stay the course and get medical supervision. Soon, you will produce ketones and reap their benefits.

References:

  1. Masood W, Uppaluri KR. Ketogenic Diet. Last update: 2019 March 21 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499830/
  2. Puchalska P, Crawford PA. Multi-dimensional roles of ketone bodies in fuel metabolism, signaling, and therapeutics. 2018 February 7 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5313038/
  3. Berg JM, Tymoczko JL, Stryer L.... View all references

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