“What about physical energy?” That’s the header of a paragraph of a story on the home page of a UK website called “The Low Carb Diabetic.” It describes how many people report they feel more energized on a low carb diet than they do on a “balanced” diet that includes lots of carbohydrates. I have reported this myself here many times.
J. Stanton of Gnolls.org reported it also in a blog post about the same time. His headline was “There’s Another Level Above ‘I’m Feeling Fine.” His conclusion: “Result: I’m in the best physical and mental shape of my life. I don’t feel ‘fine’: I feel great. Some days I even feel unstoppable.” I couldn’t agree more, but it’s very subjective.
So, how do you measure it? Well, “The Low Carb Diabetic” article gives us a way. Here is their postulation:
“Strictly speaking, we burn neither glucose nor fat for physical energy. Energy within our cells actually comes from a molecule called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. When its molecular bonds are broken, energy is released in the mitochondria, the power plants of our cells. A glucose molecule will generate 36 ATP molecules. A 6-carbon fatty acid molecule will generate 48 ATP molecules. Therefore, when insulin levels are low and the body can access fatty acids as a fuel source, physical energy levels can actually increase on a low carb diet.”
Do the math: 48 ATP molecules from a fatty acid molecule vs. 36 ATP molecules from a glucose molecule. That’s one third more energy! Of course, I don’t know if it really works that way, but it is reaffirming for me to see a tangible and plausible explanation for my sense of an increased and stable level of energy. I like to say I feel “pumped” when I am in a ketogenic state. Is it because I am using ketones for energy? Who knows, really, but it is a very real feeling for me. I like never feeling tired and always full of energy and “pep.” I feel like I’m a kid again.
The reality is that you can feel great on a diet that is Very Low Carb (VLC), i.e., 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrate a day (or less, even). The body has no minimum requirement for dietary carbs. It will make all the glucose it needs (for certain cells that do not have ATP “power plants”). And the brain and the heart love to use ketones for energy.
Besides the increased physical energy benefit from eating VLC, there is the element of mood elevation. Again, this is anecdotal, but I am almost “hyper” when I am in a ketogenic state. I’m not talking about “ups” and “downs” though. I am talking about a stable and elevated mood level. Sort of like being on “speed” (amphetamines). Oops.
But I am older and wiser now. I have come to accept that 1) I have a broken metabolism with the result that I am Insulin Resistant and as a consequence cannot tolerate carbohydrates in my diet; 2) that the best way to “correct” my hyperglycemia, hyperinsulinemia, hypertension and hyperlipidemia, as well as lose weight permanently and regulate and stabilize my energy levels, is to eat a Very Low Carb ketogenic diet every day for the rest of my life. It is a lifestyle change. It is a Way of Eating (WOE) that I find delicious and very satisfying – both pleasurable and satiating. I feel “full” on very little food. I don’t feel hungry. I hardly ever snack and often “forget” to eat lunch.
Feeling full on a really small meal is a new paradigm, and it takes a little getting used to. When I told my egg vendor at the farmer’s market recently that I had decided to increase my daily serving of eggs at breakfast from 2 to 3, and reduce the bacon from 2 strips to 1, she asked me, “Is that all you have?” She was genuinely surprised. No juice. No bread. No jam or jelly. Just protein and fat. I told her “yes,” except for a little heavy cream in my coffee.
When I recently told the nanny of my step daughter’s children that I just eat a can of sardines packed in olive oil for lunch, she said, “Is that all you eat?” Again, I said “yes,” and I eat it even though I am not hungry at lunch time. Maybe I need to rethink that lunch. Why am I eating lunch if I am not hungry?
Why indeed! I am running on my fat reserves, my body loves its ketones, and I am full of energy. Maybe even one-third (48 vs. 36 ATP molecules) more physical energy than it was while it was running on glucose!