After a quick glance at the headlines on most health-related sites, you’d no doubt notice that intermittent fasting (IF) and the Ketogenic diet are two of the most popular nutrition trends around right now.
Both are commonly used by health-conscious consumers looking to manage their weight and support their general wellbeing, and they each have a solid body of research behind them as standalone dietary interventions.
Nevertheless, you may be wondering whether it's effective (and safe) to practice both at the same time...
In this article, we take a deep dive into all things IF and Keto, exploring how they work, their potential benefits, and how to successfully combine the two.
Keto Diet 101
Without going into the nitty-gritty details, ketosis is a metabolic state in which the body shifts its primary fuel source from using glycogen (stored carbohydrates) to burning fat and ketone bodies for energy.
This metabolic shift occurs in response to a decrease in carbohydrate intake, which can be triggered by fasting (not eating for a prolonged time period), or by following a Ketogenic diet - commonly referred to as Keto.
Keto is a low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein diet that has seen a resurgence in recent years due to a number of potential benefits.
Learn more: Ultimate Guide to the Keto Diet
3 Science-Backed Benefits of a Keto Diet
1. Enhanced Weight Loss
Weight loss is one of the primary reasons people turn to Keto. Indeed, studies have shown that following a high-fat diet can result in a reduced appetite, helping you stay fuller for longer [*].
Research has also shown that Keto can result in faster initial weight loss when compared to high carb diets, although this may be partly due to a loss of water and glycogen stores [*].
Interestingly, Keto has been associated with increased weight loss around the midsection when compared to other dietary interventions. In addition to aesthetic concerns, visceral belly fat is linked with inflammation and chronic disease, so keeping it at a minimum is ideal [*].
2. Epilepsy & Neurological Disorders
Keto was first used in a clinical setting as a supporting treatment for epilepsy [*]. The diet has since shown promise with other neurological conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s [*], with animal studies suggesting that Keto may help to slow cognitive decline [*], although more research is needed.
3. Improved Blood Markers
Aside from body composition, many people turn to Keto in an attempt to help manage various health conditions.
A lower carb intake and more moderate protein consumption may also result in more stable blood sugar levels [*]. One study showed that after following a Keto diet for 6 months, 95% of participants with diabetes were able to reduce or completely eliminate any glucose-lowering medication [*].
Intermittent Fasting: The Basics
There are many ways to practice intermittent fasting (IF for short), but the basic premise is simple:
It starts with separating the day or week into fasting and eating windows. You then simply shorten your feeding window, and extend the window in which you consume little to no food..
Unless you’re prone to a midnight snack, you already practice a short period of fasting overnight between dinner and breakfast.
The idea is that extending that fasted period on certain days of the week can bring about some interesting benefits. This could be as simple as using a 16-hour fasting window each day or opting for longer fasts once every week or two. One of the big plus points for fasting is that it’s easy to customize to your lifestyle.
Although IF may seem like a relatively new dietary trend, fasting is something that human beings have practiced for thousands of years.
Like many other predaceous animals, early humans would have naturally gone without food for prolonged time periods in between successful hunts. While this might seem less than ideal at first glance, natural periods of fasting would have likely put these early humans into ketosis. This may have imparted benefits like appetite reduction and mental clarity, which could have actually assisted them in getting through to their next meal and enjoying another successful hunt.
And it wasn’t just hungry hunter-gatherers who used IF. There’s evidence of intentional fasting being practiced for spiritual and health reasons as early as the ancient Greeks.
“I fast for greater physical and mental efficiency”
7 Potential Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
1. Weight Loss
Like Ketoketo, IF is widely used to help decrease fat mass and increase lean body mass. As the body switches to using fat as a fuel source, studies have demonstrated that fasting can lead to a decrease in belly fat without having to restrict calories, [*] [*]
There’s also evidence that IF can increase fat loss through an increase in fat oxidation (burning fat as a fuel source) and an overall decrease in appetite [*].
For many people, this could prove to be a much more sustainable approach to weight management compared to a typical calorie-controlled diet.
After approximately 24 hours of consuming no food, it’s thought that a bodily process known as autophagy kicks into high gear [*].
This is essentially your body's way of performing cellular housekeeping - cleaning out old, damaged cells in the muscles and organs, which can then be replaced by healthy, new cells. While the mechanism is still not fully understood, many scientists believe autophagy is a key process when it comes to longevity.
As you may have figured out by now, our standard eating window means we rarely reach that 24-hour threshold, so we could be missing out on some of these benefits. Indeed, one animal study showed that subjects who followed an intermittent fasting protocol lived on average 33% longer than those who didn’t fast [*].
3. Reduced Inflammation
Chronic inflammation has been called by many top health professionals ‘the root of all disease’. The good news is that intermittent fasting shows promise when it comes to reducing blood biomarkers linked with inflammation, such as CRP [*].
4. Cognitive Function
Animal studies show that fasting can lead to the generation of new neural cells and an increase in Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) expression - a protein that’s been described as “miracle-grow for your brain'' [*].
5. Heart Health
Heart disease is currently the number one killer in the western world. There’s promising research when it comes to fasting and markers of cardiovascular health. A study of alternate day fasting showed a decrease in cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triacylglycerol concentrations after an 8-week period - similar in some respects to results seen with Keto [*].
Animal studies suggest that alternate-day fasting may have a protective effect against cancer [*]. This may in part be due to the process of autophagy that we touched on above - clearing out old, damaged cells and making way for new, healthy ones.
Additional preliminary research is beginning to point to the protective effects of fasting during chemotherapy and radiotherapy, as healthy cells are protecting from harm in a fasted state while cancer cells lack the flexibility and actually become more sensitive to the treatments. Research is currently being done to determine the safest ways to provide these benefits of fasting to individuals undergoing treatment for different cancers. [*] [*] [*]
7. Insulin resistance
A 2014 study showed that intermittent fasting was effective in reducing visceral fat mass, fasting insulin, and insulin resistance in type 2 diabetics [*].
Combining Keto & Intermittent Fasting: Benefits + Challenges
Although they may seem different on the surface, Keto and IF share many similarities. They both encourage the body into a Ketogenic state, and have the potential to increase fat burning. There’s also a lot of crossover between the potential wellness benefits, from heart health to insulin sensitivity.
You may be wondering whether it's safe and effective to combine the two -- extending your fasting window, and consuming a high-fat diet during your eating window.
The good news is that because both diets work via similar underlying mechanisms, they have the potential to complement each other. Keto and IF act synergistically towards the same end goal - making the body more adept at burning fat as a fuel. You might also find that the common challenges of each diet are canceled out when you combine them together:
- Restricting food intake through IF may make it easier to get into and stay in ketosis, as this kick-starts the depletion of carbohydrate levels.
- A Ketogenic diet may make intermittent fasting feel easier as your body becomes more fat-adapted, and you feel more satiated from consuming higher-fat foods.
- If you’re fairly new to Keto, you may find that IF helps you stick to the diet, as you have fewer meals to think about and prep.
That being said, there are some potential drawbacks to be aware of:
- You will likely find it challenging if you are brand new to both Keto and fasting, as it's a big shift from the norm. You may be better off starting with one thing at a time.
- Fasting is not suitable for pregnant women, children, and people with eating disorders.
Which Fasting Protocol is Right For You?
There are numerous fasting protocols to choose from, each with their individual benefits and drawbacks. Here are some of the most popular:
Lean Gains - 16:8
As the name suggests, the 16:8 fast involves a 16 hour fasted window, followed by an 8-hour feed. This can be achieved by compressing your normal mealtimes, or simply by skipping breakfast and having two meals a day. It’s a great introductory protocol suitable for both beginners and more experienced fasters, and can be performed on a daily basis.
Warrior Diet / OMAD - 20:4
The Warrior Diet or One Meal a Day protocol involves fasting for 20 hours of the day. It’s a popular choice after adjusting to the 16:8 protocol. Aside from helping you get deeper into a fasted state, this protocol is popular because it can save time and allows you to binge on one big meal in the evening. Some practice OMAD daily, but others prefer using it on a weekly or monthly basis.
Alternate Day Fasts
Alternate day fasts are one of the most commonly studied protocols in the fasting literature. As the name implies, it involves a day of eating, followed by a day of no food, or a day of reduced calories. Alternate day fasts are often used by people seeking significant weight loss, or to help manage a health condition. Because the fasting period is typically around 24 hours or longer, autophagy should kick in, meaning you may get some of the proposed longevity benefits of fasting.
The 5:2 diet is less of a true fast, and more of a “Fasting Mimicking Diet”. It involves five days of normal eating, followed by 2 days eating less than 500 kcal. This can be effective for weight loss, but because you do not enter a completely fasted state, may not provide some of the other potential benefits of fasting.
Extended Water Fasts
Water fasts of 24+ hours are typically used in an attempt to manage or combat long term illnesses like autoimmune conditions, or for significant weight loss. Long fasts are not suitable for everyone, and should only be completed in a supervised medical setting.
How to Supercharge Your Keto Diet With Intermittent Fasting
If you're interested in merging both dietary protocols, below you’ll find a sample daily schedule combining Keto with 16:8 (the most beginner-friendly form of fasting).
8:00 PM - Dinner - Keto Alfredo Chicken Bake
10:30 PM - Bed
7:00 AM - Wake, Meditate, Walk or Yoga
12:15 PM - Breakfast - Low Carb Overnight Chia Almond Pudding
4:00 PM - Lunch - Keto Lemon Chicken Meal Prep
6:00 PM - Evening Workout
8:00 PM - Dinner - Keto Turkey Chili
After day 2, simply repeat this daily schedule, following the same approximate eating and fasting windows, and substituting in whatever Keto-friendly meals appeal to you.
Intermittent Fasting Tips & FAQs
How long should I fast for?
If you are completely new to fasting, start with 16:8, or even 14:10. You may then occasionally start to sprinkle in longer fasts, but listen to your body (and your doctor).
Can I drink liquids during a fast?
Yes, no-calorie liquids like water, unsweetened and milk-free tea and coffee are allowed on most fasting protocols.
Can I take supplements while fasting?
You can take supplements when fasting, but be aware that certain fat-soluble vitamins may not be absorbed as well by the body compared to having them with food. To combat this conundrum, you could potentially shift your supplement-taking regime, taking your usual morning supplements with your noontime meal instead (or whenever you break your fast).
Is fasting suitable for everyone?
No. Fasting is not suitable for pregnant and lactating women, children, people with a history of eating disorders, and those with certain health conditions. If you have a chronic health condition or you're otherwise concerned about whether or not fasting is right for you, please consult a medical professional before attempting your first fast.
Can I work out while fasting?
Yes, many people enjoy training when in a fasted state, although you may need to reduce the intensity of your workouts if you are new to fasting or completing an extended fast.
How can I manage hunger while fasting?
It's completely normal to experience hunger pangs in waves. Although this can feel uncomfortable at first, drinking some water or tea and waiting it out will often result in the wave passing.
Will fasting slow down my metabolism?
Both Keto and intermittent fasting have a wide range of potential benefits, and there is an extensive amount of crossover between the two.
For most people, they can be safely and effectively combined. Just remember to ease in and listen to your body!
If you experiment with them both, let us know how you get on in the comments section below, and feel free to reach out with any questions.