On a ketogenic diet without additional supplementation, the dieter’s electrolyte levels drop to levels much lower than usual. A low level of electrolytes present in your body will cause lower blood pressure, decreased overall performance, and other symptoms that could be of concern. This is why it’s important to track your diet closely when beginning a new diet – especially the keto diet – and replenish electrolyte levels through dietary interventions or supplementation.
Some Science, Some Side Effects:
Hold onto your seat as we describe something you’ve likely encountered. You start the ketogenic diet, and the weight falls off, sometimes dramatically. You already look leaner and more ferocious than your former glycogen-dependant self. But, out of nowhere, you’re hit with a pseudo-“flu”. You attribute it to your body going through carbohydrate withdrawal, which is certainly a possibility. You might even say it’s your body adapting to the ketone bodies flying through your bloodstream at top-gun speeds. However, the truth is much simpler.
Less Processed Food… Less Sodium to boot
When you begin a ketogenic diet, chances are you wind up eating less processed foods. Processed foods are loaded with sodium, typically as a flavor enhancer and a preservative. Therefore, by cutting out such foods, you cut your sodium intake. Sodium is essential for life functioning.
Don’t believe the propaganda. Sodium is essential
One such example of the use of sodium in the body can be found in every single action-potential producing neuron in the body. Sodium is an essential electrolyte in the formation of intra-cellular signals. Through sodium and potassium, the body can produce the electromagnetic gradients that lead to action potentials occurring. Your brain is literally powered by salt.
The insulin connection and the keto “sodium flush”
Additionally, sodium levels are modulated by rising and falling insulin concentration in the body. When you don’t eat as many carbohydrates and begin moderating protein, your blood sugar stops spiking every time you feast. Interestingly enough, when your body realizes that insulin levels are low, it enters into a state where electrolytes are excreted rapidly through your urine.
For the purpose of this article, electrolytes are salts that can conduct electricity. In terms of biochemistry, it is important to realize that water follows salt. By excreting more electrolytes than usual, you will also excrete more fluids. This will make you look leaner, but also lowers your blood pressure. Low blood pressure could lead to the typical “keto brain” or “keto fog” reported by most people that begin the diet, and is compounded by the transition into becoming fat-adapted rather than craving carbs all day long.
Lower blood pressure can be of great benefit, specifically for those that suffer from hypertension. However, those with normal blood pressure levels may suffer from “orthostatic HYPOtension” which will cause lightheadedness after quick positional changes. Thankfully, such symptoms can be avoided very easily through the interventions discussed below.
Sodium Interventions for Low-Carb and Keto Dieters:
So let’s talk about interventions, the quick fix! For such recommendations, we fall upon the wisdom of the wizard of keto, who’s been writing about this since the late 1990s!. Lyle McDonald, in several instances, has recommended that individuals that prefer a ketogenic diet supplement with electrolytes. The minimum recommendations he stands behind are provided below. Note that these recommendations are in ADDITION to dietary sources.
Lyle Mcdonald Recommendations:
- 5000mg of sodium
- 1000mg of potassium
- 300mg of magnesium
After all is said and done, your electrolyte levels on your favorite food tracking application should be within the following ranges:
Daily Total Electrolyte Consumption for Keto Dieters:
- 5000mg-7500mg of Sodium
- 2000-5000mg of Potassium – we LOVE potassium, so we bumped up the typical RDA!
- 300-500mg of Magnesium (see PricePlow’s best form of magnesium article – long story short, magnesium citrate is the go-to.)
Your first step: track!
Before going crazy over these numbers, you need to realize that “you can’t manage what you don’t measure” — so it’s time to start tracking your foods very precisely using a food scale and an app that counts electrolyte totals such as MyFitnessPal, our preferred app. You will even want to use a small adjustable teaspoon to track how much extra salt you’re adding to your foods such as eggs and vegetables.
New keto dieters need to realize that the keto diet is not a hands-free diet. Tracking is imperative to see where you’re going right and wrong so you can get a routine down before you’re used to having bad keto habits.
Once you see how your diet is going, you’ll be able to compare to some of the numbers above and look at supplementing or simply adding more salt.
Sodium supplementation outside of salt
Here at Priceplow, we prefer convenience. By far, the easiest way to supplement sodium will be through sodium pills or by salting your food consistently. Available at an insanely reasonable price, sodium pills will ensure that you are in optimal electrolyte balance and will guarantee that you don’t become a walking zombie. Salt at most restaurants or homes, so feel free to splurge a bit!
Consider BHB salts
Another is to look into the BHB Salt supplements, which typically have the ketone beta hydroxybutyrate bound to various salts. Compound Solutions’ GoBHB brand BHB Salts come in calcium BHB, potassium BHB, and sodium BHB forms.
These BHB you to supplement exogenous ketones for some energy… but sometimes we believe that it’s the additional potassium and sodium that really makes users feel better. So while these have some benefits, they’re costly for those on a budget, and it may still be easier to simply add supplemental sodium.
Potassium may be the tougher problem
But truth be told, sodium is easy to get, especially just by adding salt to your food. Potassium, on the other hand, is a bit more difficult, so we cover potassium deficiencies in-depth in our keto series as well, but real quickly, we recommend looking for table salts that are composed of both sodium and potassium. Lite Salt (or the name-brand LoSalt), for instance, is composed of 50% sodium and 50% potassium. Throwing a teaspoon into a shake or on the plate will help out a lot!
For those out there that like to eat their way out of health risks, here are a few foods that will help out with sticking to the strict electrolyte demands of the ketogenic diet.
You might notice a recurring theme throughout our keto series. Beef jerky is salted to preserve its flavor and shelf-life. Readily available at almost any convenience store, with a range of flavor profiles, low-carbohydrate beef jerky is a surefire way to hit your sodium levels for the day.
However, don’t snack on too much jerky. Always remember, fats over everything on the keto diet. Many of the beef jerkies out there are high-protein, moderate-carb, zero-fat… and that’s nearly the opposite of what we want for optimal ketosis levels.
So if you go this route, you’ll need to find a very fatty meat (tough to find), some additional fats, or to be aware of the potential blood sugar spike.
Salted Nuts (the higher the fat, the better)
A multi hit combo! Nuts, combined with salt, will fulfill several dietary requirements all at once. While nuts are typically loaded with healthy fats, throwing some salt on top will ensure that your electrolyte balance remains in check.
The highest-fat, lowest-carb nuts are
If you haven’t run into Pili Nuts yet, check out their macros – they’re insanely high in fat! We’ll need to review them soon.
While less of a travel-friendly option, and definitely not for someone looking for a chewy or crunchy snack, broth and bouillon are perhaps two of the easiest ways to bump your sodium levels up for the day.
Typically available from a grocery store in easy to pour containers, a cup of broth or bouillon could throw you an upward of 900mg per serving!
Blood Tests Tell All
So how do you know if you’re doing it right? How do you know if you need to tweak the ratios above?
The honest truth is that there are two ways to make sure you’re getting the right amount of salt, potassium, and other electrolytes:
- Get blood tests
- Monitor your overall well-being and performance
The first is objective, and the second is subjective, so the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle. At some point, the “keto flu” should be over — you will be fat-adapted, your fasted blood sugar will be lower, and you will no longer crave carbs like your former roller-coaster-riding self.
So if you’re weeks into ketosis, and still feeling low, then there’s a great chance that it’s an electrolyte problem, so it’s time to crack down, track, and even get blood work if you’re not sure.
We firmly believe that many of those who think they have the “keto flu” are really just electrolyte depleted. After some time, you should be used to the lower-carb diet. So if you’re still struggling, it’s time to track closely, and see if you need to add in more sodium, potassium or both.
It all depends on your diet, and there’s a good chance that your real problem is potassium, but the only real way to know is by tracking and even getting blood tests.
- Lodish H, Berk A, Zipursky SL, et al. The Action Potential and Conduction of Electric Impulses. Molecular Cell Biology. 4th edition. 2000; 12(2), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK21668/
- Gupta AK, Clark RV, Kirchner KA. Effects of insulin on renal sodium excretion. Department of Medicine, University of Mississippi Medical Center http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1730458
- Phinney SD et. al. The human metabolic response to chronic ketosis without caloric restriction: physical and biochemical adaptations. Metabolism (1983) 32: 757-768. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6865775
- McDonald, L. (1998). The Ketogenic Diet: A Complete Guide for the Dieter and Practitioner