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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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January 16 2019

Keto for Men: 6 Tips to Optimize Your Results

By Mark Sisson
14 Comments

Men occupy an interesting place in the health sphere. While there’s a disparity—albeit one that’s approaching parity—between men and women in the conventional medical literature, in the alternative health world, it’s flipped. Women are a “special interest” group, and their specific health issues and special considerations related to diet and exercise receive a lot of attention, often as a way to counteract the conventional imbalance—and because women tend to be higher consumers of health information. I have far more posts (including a post on Keto For Women) explicitly directed toward women and women’s issues (and the same can be said across many ancestral health sites).

Men are assumed to be “the default,” requiring no special consideration, but is that actually true?

Today, I’ll be talking about any special considerations men should make when following a Keto Reset plan.

Play At the Margins

Historically, anthropologically, and biologically speaking, men can tolerate great variations in environmental intensity. They’re usually (not always of course) the ones going to war, performing great feats of physical endurance and strength, willingly subjecting themselves to misery and pain, as well as being more violent and getting into the most trouble. (On the whole) carrying more muscle mass, secreting more testosterone, and being physically larger than the opposite sex will tend to make all that possible. We see this kind of sexual dimorphism play out across most mammals, and there’s no reason to think humans are any different.

Most of us don’t have these extreme situations foisted on us any more, but we still thrive doing them. Try a 2-day fast. Do one meal a day. Eat a 3-pound steak, then no meat at all the next day. Eat a dozen eggs for breakfast (whenever that happens). Try lots of seemingly extreme experiments to see what works. It may be that you thrive doing the occasional intense bout of keto bravado. Only one way to find out.

Whereas women tend to have a lower tolerance for perturbations in caloric intake for their potential impact on fertility status, men have far more leeway. Take advantage of that.

Be As Strict As Possible Early On

I’m not going to mince words. Get strict. Most of the men I encounter who are having problems with keto do better the stricter they are. For women, it’s often the opposite—they need to relax their keto adherence and just eat.

Don’t mess around with carb refeeds, pre-workout carbs, or “just one donut hole” until you have a good thing going. Get those fat-burning mitochondria built. Stay strong and stay strict.

Manage Your Stress Levels

This is good general advice for everyone on any diet, but it’s especially so for men eating keto.

A big part of traditional masculinity (for better and worse) is stoicism—the ability to soldier on through a difficult situation. This is, on balance, often a good yet misunderstood trait that gets a bad rap that it doesn’t always deserve. Stoicism isn’t unfeeling. At its healthiest, it’s the ability to address the feelings without being ruled by them. It’s feeling grief without letting your life fall to pieces. These are positive ways to respond to life’s slings and arrows. But this can lead to a denial of the physiological ramifications of stress and a failure to manage them with anti-stress behaviors.

Keto does not make you impervious to stress. Being a man does not make you impervious to stress. There are still limits to the amount of stress we can tolerate, physiological ones that no one should try to transcend. At those levels, “mind over matter” stops working. Stress will spike cortisol, blunt testosterone, and make all that decidedly non-keto junk food all the more attractive and alluring.

Monitor Your Testosterone Levels

For the most part, going keto tends to improve testosterone levels:

It reduces body fat. Researchers have known for decades that carrying extra body fat depresses testosterone levels, and that losing the extra fat restores them. In fact, a recent study found that a man’s body weight is such a fantastic predictor of low testosterone and poor sexual function that the authors recommend it should be used as a standard biomarker for evaluating testosterone levels. If keto is helping you lose body fat, it’s probably improving your T levels.

It increases saturated fat and cholesterol intake. Both nutrients (yes, nutrients) are important building blocks for the production of testosterone. Studies show that low-fat, high-fiber diets lower testosterone in men, while diets higher in saturated fat increase it.

Once the initial exodus of body fat is over, though, you have to be more vigilant. Calories can dip too low. Deficiencies of micronutrients you haven’t been thinking about may start to surface. And this can all impact your testosterone levels.

Make sure you’re not starving yourself. Men are built to handle and even prosper from acute boluses of extreme caloric restriction or expenditure (fasts, heavy training), but extended bouts can destroy our hormonal profile. Just look at what happens to a seasoned bodybuilder preparing for competition with caloric restriction and intense training—their testosterone tanks and their cortisol shoots up.

Make sure you’re getting adequate amounts of the pro-testosterone micronutrients. Zinc, vitamin D (either through sun exposure, vitamin D-rich foods like wild salmon, eggs, cod liver oil, or supplementation), saturated fat, cholesterol, magnesium. Using a tool like Cronometer can help you track them and get your diet in order.

Don’t Let Keto Take Over

Men tend to obsess over things that interest them. We scour the literature, try to optimize everything, spend every waking moment thinking about how to do something—in this case, keto—better. We can get a little iron-willed and myopic if we don’t watch ourselves.

Focus is all well and good, but not if it starts impeding your ability to handle other aspects of health that are no less important.

Don’t stay up ’til 2 A.M. arguing on keto forums and reading PubMed abstracts. Get your sleep.

Don’t become a recluse because none of your friends understand your “weird keto thing.” Maintain your social relationships, your community.

Don’t stop sprinting because you measured your blood glucose once after a hill session and it spiked. Exercise is equally important.

Make Sure You’re Lifting

Keto does not replace strength training.

I’m a firm proponent of weight lifting for everyone—man, woman, elderly, and sometimes child (depending on the child). The benefits are unassailable and vast. Carrying lean muscle mass is a wholly beneficial trait for everyone.

But you have to admit, it’s especially crucial for a man. There’s nothing more indicative of poor metabolic health than the male skinny fat look. I see far too many men on keto diets who carry around the skinny fat look, and it’s usually because they aren’t lifting anything heavy. Yeah, you’re burning a lot of fat. Yeah, you’ve got some nice-looking mitochondria. Yeah, keto is protein-sparing. But are you using those mitochondria? Are you taking advantage of that lost dead weight to do some extra pull-ups? Are you content with merely limiting the number of amino acids your ketogenic metabolic state extracts from your muscle tissue, or are you going to build brand new muscle tissue?

Get to it.

That’s what I’ve got. What about you? Can you folks recommend any special tips, tricks, or tactics for men doing a keto diet?

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care.

References:

Masterson JM, Soodana-prakash N, Patel AS, Kargi AY, Ramasamy R. Elevated Body Mass Index Is Associated with Secondary Hypogonadism Among Men Presenting to a Tertiary Academic Medical Center. World J Mens Health. 2019;37(1):93-98.

Wang C, Catlin DH, Starcevic B, et al. Low-fat high-fiber diet decreased serum and urine androgens in men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2005;90(6):3550-9.

Pardue A, Trexler ET, Sprod LK. Case Study: Unfavorable But Transient Physiological Changes During Contest Preparation in a Drug-Free Male Bodybuilder. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2017;27(6):550-559.

TAGS:  keto, men's health

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14 thoughts on “Keto for Men: 6 Tips to Optimize Your Results”

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  1. “Make sure you’re getting adequate amounts of the pro-testosterone micronutrients. Zinc, vitamin D (either through sun exposure, vitamin D-rich foods like wild salmon, eggs, cod liver oil, or supplementation), saturated fat, cholesterol, magnesium.”

    This article, which I linked a couple of days ago, says that vitamin D supplementation doesn’t work: https://www.outsideonline.com/2380751/sunscreen-sun-exposure-skin-cancer-science

    For whatever reason, sunshine is essential, it says. Is this consistent with your understanding? If so, what recommendations do you have for people whose work schedule limits their options, or people who can’t get much sun in winter?

    1. Mark Field:

      I have the blood work to prove that supplementing with 5,000 iu of NOW D3 works for me. And I agree that sunshine is best, but I live in Oregon where supplementing bridges the gap and get’s my dgl levels up in the 60 to 90 range during the winter where I want them.

      My 2 cents. Grock on my paleo/keto/primla brotha’!

      1. Oh, I take the supplements too in winter. But the article says that these aren’t going to give me the benefits of sunlight; hence my questions to Mark.

        1. The article says that the supplements essentially haven’t been shown to provide proven health benefits in scientific studies. It suggested that raised Vitamin D through supplements wasn’t as beneficial as the natural process of sunlight. I think that makes sense but it would also seem that testing specific supplements for improving all cause mortality would be a difficult task. I think the bottom line is that supplements likely aren’t going to be as beneficial as sunlight but won’t hurt and likely are helping some, especially in the winter.

    2. Primal Rule 8 is “Get adequate sunlight.” Which is hard to do here in the Upper Midwest where the sun largely disappears from January to mid-March, and when it does come out, it means its too cold to spend much time outdoors.

  2. Very good read

    I have a gym at work, where I attend yoga and zumba classes. In both of them I am the only man. Sometimes a guy shows up in the yoga class and IF (big IF) he completes it, he never comes back.
    My inspiration in the gym always comes from the women: they show up to all classes, do movements with full range of motion and enjoy every minute of it. If the gym staff come up with something new (let’s say a kickboxing class) 99 percent of the attendees will be women.
    The men: they seem to be living in Curlistan, always in front of the mirrors. Yes, some have arms the size of my thigh and it is normal for them to be 5 feet and 6 inches tall and weight 210 pounds. Thanks but no thanks

    1. Kudoes for you, Wildgrok! A lot of folks out there are either a) ignorant of the benefits of the favorite exercise modes of the opposite gender, or b) unwilling to take the social pressure that comes with being the outlier. Being female, I personally found it very uncomfortable at first to venture into the weights and machines end of the gym, and do my lifting routine. I imagine it is pretty much the same from the other side! But we all do better with increased flexibility, aerobic conditioning, and strength. This needs more marketing!!

      1. Marge you hit it with this line:

        “I personally found it very uncomfortable at first”

        The first time (years ago) I saw a zumba demo I was hooked: well cut girls and guys having a good time with amazing moves.
        Well, lucky me. Some time after this they announced in the gym at work the incoming zumba classes. I was the first to sign for the class and made an email campaign for the start date.

        I went to two classes and … did not go back for more than a year.

        “I personally found it very uncomfortable at first”

        After the year I got some sort of illumination, came back and never miss a class since 🙂

    2. You seem to be categorizing men who lift weights. The man you mention is not typical of most guys I know who enjoy strength training.

      1. Good point, agreed
        But in my gym they are the absolute minority
        Believe me when I used the word Curlistan 🙂

  3. I am now wondering if the relationship between excess body fat and testosterone levels holds true for women, too… I know that – while less important than for men – testosterone is important to women’s systems, too. I know that for myself, carrying extra fat lowers my energy levels. Now I am thinking that this may be the mechanism.

    1. I didn’t really learn anything new out of this article. I’m prediabetic, 51 yo, and keto does help with my blood sugar. I also noticed when my body is in keto mode, I have great energy and thinking capability is awesome. I heard it is good to occasionally cycle in carbs to help your thyroid. I also increased my choline intake with supplementation and eating more eggs to help with fat metabolism. I learned the problem with modern health problems is inflammation. I have hard time being strict since I do like my beer and pizza on Friday night.

  4. Wonderful article. I always appreciate a little attention on our men.

  5. Excellent, thoughtful discourse on many topics of interest to me. Thanks!