The term “biohacker” conjures images of a cyborg—part man, part machine—a genetically-engineered specimen with electrodes attached to all major muscle groups. While that might be the biohacking of Hollywood movies, the “biohacking” of today refers to the use of natural tools and scientific knowledge to improve your health. The ketogenic diet is one of these tools, and it’s a favorite of biohackers, because it helps them (and you) burn more fat, feel more alert, and cruise through the day with smooth and steady energy.
But did you know that you can biohack the keto biohack? In other words, if you employ certain practices, you can further elevate your results on the keto diet? This article tells you how.
But before we get into details on how to hack it, let’s review how the keto diet works.
What is Ketosis and How to Get into Ketosis
The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carb regimen that promotes ketosis, a naturally occurring state where the body, deprived of carbs, converts fat into ketones (water-soluble molecules) and burns them for energy. In other words, the ketogenic diet is a biohack that forces your body to burn fat (and consequently improve health and increase weight loss).
There are two main strategies for entering and staying in ketosis:
- Following a ketogenic diet
Following a keto diet means consuming about 70 percent of your calories from fat, 20 to 25 percent from protein, and five to 10 percent from carbs on an ongoing basis. Keeping carbs low and fat high is essential for entering and maintaining ketosis.
Fasting has a similar effect on your metabolism. When you fast, your cells run on body fat. The result, as with keto, is a fat-burning ketogenic state.
Why, exactly, do these interventions promote ketosis? Simply put: following a keto diet and/or fasting promote ketosis because they keep blood sugar and insulin levels low. Low insulin, in turn, signals cells in your liver to start burning fat and producing ketones. So anything that keeps insulin low, or improves insulin function, is naturally ketogenic.
Measuring Your Success On Keto
The keto diet is the only diet with a specific biomarker to track success: the ketone. Ketone levels are measurable at home by testing your blood, breath, or urine. (Of the three, blood-ketone testing is the most validated and reliable method.) As a general rule, if your blood measures ketone levels above 0.5 mmol/L, you’re in ketosis.
MORE: Learn more about various types of ketone testing here.
Testing your ketone and blood-glucose levels, understanding your test results, and learning how to affect them is key to successful biohacking via the keto diet.
But don’t stop at ketone measurements and call it a day. A keto biohacker will track many other metrics, including the following:
- Bodyweight. If you’re trying to lose, maintain, or gain weight on keto, it’s important to step on the scale each day to confirm your efforts are working. Measure your weight first thing in the morning, before you’ve had anything to eat, for consistent and reliable bodyweight tracking.
- Glucose levels. Your blood-glucose (or blood sugar) levels not only determine your diabetes risk, but also are a useful marker for general health. Optimally, blood-glucose levels should are between 80-100 mg/dl. Lower blood glucose generally means higher ketones. There are many meters that allow you to test your glucose levels at home, including the Keto-Mojo meter.
- The glucose ketone index (GKI). The GKI is a calculation of the ratio of blood glucose to blood ketones. It gives a good picture of your overall metabolic health and state of ketosis. See this helpful guide to learn how and why to track your GKI.
- Sleep quality. Most adults need eight to nine hours of sleep per night. At the most basic level, sleep tracking records when you go to bed at night, when you wake up, and how you feel in the morning. To really biohack your sleep, use a wearable device (like the Oura Ring), which tracks biomarkers like heart rate, body temperature, and motion to assess your sleep quality each night. Sleep quality can enhance ketosis by improving insulin sensitivity—crucial for remaining in a fat-burning state.
- Mental function. How quickly am I getting work done today? Am I able to focus? How clear is my mind? A keto biohacker frequently asks herself such questions to assess if her keto diet is working and adjusts diet or lifestyle if refinement is needed.
- Exercise performance. The first rule of exercise is simple: Be active every day. If you want to go further, track times, reps, weights, and more with an app like MyFitnessPal. Seeing your numbers improve can be a big boost to your exercise motivation. And since exercise is ketogenic (it increases fat-burning), this is a very good thing.
- Appetite. If you’re on a keto diet and craving snacks all the time, you may be doing something wrong. Ketosis, after all, is very effective at reducing hunger. See the following keto biohacks for possible fixes.
5 Ways To Biohack the Keto Diet
Now that you know how and why the keto diet is a biohack itself, you can biohack the keto biohack! Following are five evidence-based recommendations for how to enter ketosis and feel better faster than you will if you simply begin eating a ketogenic diet.
#1: Mind your macros
As we mentioned, on a keto diet you must limit carbohydrates to a maximum of 10 percent of daily calories. Why? Because if you eat too many carbs, your rising blood sugar and insulin levels will kick you out ketosis.
If you’re new to keto, it’s probably not enough to simply eat with an aim for optimal daily macronutrients (macros). Hidden carbs are everywhere, so you’ll want to scrutinize labels whenever necessary and make a point of avoiding anything with sugar, starchy carbs (think wheat flour, starchy vegetables, rice, and more). But even more important is utilizing a macros-tracking app like Cronometer, which will make your carb intake crystal clear and help you avoid unintentionally overindulging. This simple hack can be the difference between success and failure on a keto diet.
#2: Eat more salt
On a keto diet, you need to work extra hard to prevent sodium deficiency because you’re likely eating less salt than before (unlike processed foods, a whole-foods keto diet contains little added salt) and you excrete more sodium through urine in a low-carb (aka ketogenic) state.
Sodium deficiency commonly leads to headaches, cramps, fatigue, or insomnia, and it’s so common for people new to the ketogenic diet that there’s a name for it: “the keto flu.”
Here’s where the hack comes in: if you fix the deficiency, you fix the symptoms.
Or more plainly put, eat more salt and consider a high-sodium electrolyte supplement. A good place to start? Add 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams of sodium to your current intake (either by measuring out salt or taking an electrolyte supplement), and see if your energy levels improve.
#3: Fast intermittently
The keto diet keeps insulin low, but fasting keeps it even lower. No food equals no insulin response. For this reason, intermittent fasting can accelerate your transition to a keto-adapted state.
If you’re new to fasting, start slow with 16-hour overnight fasts (meaning stop eating at a specific time at night, say 6pm, then don’t eat again until 16 hours later). Once you’re comfortable with this regimen, work your way up to longer daily fasts, or consider a weekly fasting program like 5:2. For more info on getting started, check out this helpful guide to fasting.
All forms of exercise improve the function of insulin, your blood sugar boss. And when you improve insulin function, you need less insulin to do the same job. Expressed more simply: less insulin equals more ketosis.
Exercise is also ketogenic in and of itself. A long hike, for instance,will increase your ketone levels. This happens, most likely, because your body releases fatty acids (fat) during activity, which serve as fuel for ketone production.
#5: Take MCT Oil
Medium chain triglyceride oil (MCT oil) is a form of saturated fat derived from coconut oil. It comes in a bottle and is available at most health food stores and well-stocked grocers.
Unlike other fats, MCT oil bypasses most of the gut and heads straight to your liver for ketone production, consequently effortlessly boosting your ketone levels. (In one study, older adults supplementing MCT oil saw a boost in both ketone production and mental performance.)
So, supplementing your diet with 1 to 2 tablespoons of MCT oil per day is a quick way to boost ketone levels. It’s not a substitute for the keto diet, but it’s a good keto biohack to have in your toolbelt if you want to enter higher, more therapeutic levels of ketosis.
The Final Word
You don’t need fancy gadgets or gene splicing to biohack the keto diet. You just need an understanding of ketosis and how to biohack your keto diet through various means, including keeping carbs low and fat high, getting enough sodium, intermittent fasting, exercising, and adding MCT oil to your diet.
Finally, to confirm you’re succeeding on keto, track your ketone levels, bodyweight, body measurements, energy, mood, and mental acuity; they should be improving with your efforts. Happy biohacking.