The keto diet is known for being a very low-carb, high-fat way of eating, but what about protein? Experts say protein should be consumed in moderation on a keto diet, but what exactly does that mean? Exactly how much protein should keto dieters eat?
In this article, we’ll answer those questions and many others surrounding protein intake on a keto diet. By the time you’re done reading, you should have a clear understanding of your unique protein needs.
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, let’s first cover some basics.
What Is the Keto Diet?
A standard keto (short for “ketogenic”) diet is a very low-carb, high-fat way of eating with these approximate macros:
- 55 to 75 percent of your daily calories from fat
- 15 to 35 percent of your daily calories from protein
- 0 to 10 percent of your daily calories from carbohydrates (carbs)
Following these macros results in a metabolic shift in which the body switches from using glucose (sugar) as energy—its typical fuel source—to using fat and ketones.[*] This fat-burning state is called ketosis and has been shown to support many health benefits, including weight loss, more stable energy, reduced need for insulin in those with diabetes, improved brain health, and reduced hunger.[*][*][*][*]
The Importance of Protein on a Keto Diet and Beyond
Protein is one of three essential macronutrients. The amino acids from protein structure muscle, bone, skin, hair, organs, and virtually every other body part or tissue.
Protein is needed for many critical bodily processes, including:
- Creation of key enzymes and hormones[*]
- Muscle growth and repair[*]
- Supporting healthy bones and joints[*]
- Promoting healthy hair, skin, and nails[*][*][*]
- Maintaining pH of blood and bodily fluids[*]
- Supporting immune function[*]
- Supporting satiety and fat loss[*][*]
Those who don’t get enough protein through their diet are at an increased risk of developing many health issues and effects, including thyroid imbalance, decreased muscle mass, hormonal imbalances, fatty liver, increased cortisol, and weight struggles.[*][*][*]
A Common Concern About Protein on Keto
A widespread fear surrounding protein and keto is that consuming too much protein may throw you out of ketosis due to increased gluconeogenesis.
In reality, gluconeogenesis is what allows you to remain in ketosis. Allow us to explain.
Although the keto diet is centered around carb restriction, the body still requires small amounts of glucose to support important bodily processes, including fueling tissues that can’t run on ketones, preventing low blood sugar, and replenishing glycogen stores in active individuals.[*][*][*]
This is where gluconeogenesis comes in. Gluconeogenesis is a metabolic process in which your liver and kidneys make glucose from non-carb sources, such as amino acids (the building blocks of protein). It’s a natural process that occurs in ketosis regardless of your protein intake.[*]
Getting adequate protein on a keto diet will give your body just enough glucose (via gluconeogenesis) to fuel the above processes while the rest of your body is fueled by ketones.
How Much Protein to Eat on Keto
The amount of protein you need on a keto diet depends on your unique body and goals.
Generally speaking, aim for a minimum of 0.8 grams of daily protein per pound of lean body mass on days you’re not active and a minimum of 1 gram per pound of lean body mass on days you’re active.
You can estimate your lean body mass using an online calculator. For a more precise calculation, you can use calipers or a bioelectrical impedance scale to determine your body fat percentage. Then, simply put your numbers into an online calculator for lean body mass that includes body fat percentage.
While the amount of protein consumed varies depending on your size and body composition, the daily amount usually falls between 100-180 grams.
Tips for Getting Adequate Protein on Keto
We’ve established that getting enough protein on a keto diet (or any diet) is essential, so how can you ensure you’re getting an adequate amount? Here are our top tips:
#1: Prioritize Protein
Contrary to popular advice, protein should be your priority on keto, not fat, especially if your goal is weight loss and muscle building. Consuming fat calories often comes at the expense of protein calories, and not getting enough protein can be very detrimental, as we discussed above.
Additionally, protein is more satiating than fat, making a high-protein diet better suited for weight loss or maintenance goals.
Lastly, fat is largely devoid of vitamins and minerals. If you’re getting 70-80% of your calories from fat, vitamin and mineral deficiencies could be a concern.
To ensure you’re getting enough protein and not too much fat, take your protein intake to the top of the keto macro range (30-35% of calories), fat to the bottom (55-60% of calories), and keep carbs under 10% of calories.
#2: Have High-Quality Protein with Each Meal
When it comes to protein, not all sources are created equal. For example, processed meats provide protein, but they’ve been linked to many health issues, including a potential increased risk of heart disease, bowel and stomach cancer, and all-cause mortality.[*][*]
Keto protein sources to limit or avoid include:
- Deli meats
- Overly-processed bacon
- Overly-processed jerky
- Hot dogs
- Fast food
Keto protein sources to regularly enjoy include:
- Grass-fed meats
- Free-range poultry
- Wild-caught fish
- Organ meats
- Full-fat dairy (if tolerated)
- Bone broth
- Clean protein bars and powders
Aim to include high-quality protein at every meal. This will help with satiety and ensure you get enough throughout the day.
As a bonus, protein from animal sources, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy, are considered complete proteins, as they contain all nine essential amino acids that your body cannot produce on its own.
#3: Have High-Protein Snacks on Hand
Not only should your meals include a protein source, but your snacks should too. Some healthy, high-protein snack ideas include:
- Unsweetened, full-fat yogurt
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Nuts and seeds
- Turkey roll-ups
- Clean jerky
- Keto-approved protein shakes
- Celery and nut butter
- Protein bars, such as IQBAR.
IQBARs are keto and vegan protein bars made using simple, clean ingredients like nuts, seeds, pea protein, coconut oil, and unsweetened chocolate.
These tasty bars have 12 grams of plant-based protein and only three grams of net carbs per bar, plus six brain-boosting nutrients, including lion’s mane, MCTs, omega 3s, flavonoids, vitamin E, and choline.
Protein on Keto: The Bottom Line
Protein is an essential macronutrient that supports a host of bodily processes far beyond muscle growth and repair.
Eating too much protein on a keto diet is largely a myth, as gluconeogenesis only leads to a slight increase in glucose production, but we need that to survive. Not consuming enough protein, on the other hand, can lead to many serious side effects.
Ensure you get enough protein by including high-quality protein in every meal and keeping high-protein snacks on hand, such as IQBARs.Try our 7-Bar Sampler to find your favorite flavors, or go all-in with a custom case!