Ah, carbs. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them — or can you? The thing about carbs is, most foods have ‘em, from nutrient-dense veggies to processed breads to, yes, butter (in case Mean Girls hadn’t already cleared that up for you). Carbs are broken down into sugars that are then absorbed and used as energy, so it makes sense that if you were to transition from a high- to low-carb diet, your body’s energy levels might take time to adjust. For example, the keto diet makes you tired for a little while because you’re still adjusting to some of the carb restrictions. Luckily, this type of diet is more or less a trade-off of energy sources, so the fatigue should subside sooner rather than later.
I know myself, and I’ve come to find that any significant life change — a later bedtime, a new workout routine, the foods I'm eating — will have an obvious effect on my sleep cycle and, ultimately, how I feel throughout the day. In terms of food specifically, the meals you prepare and the snacks you graze on play a role in determining your energy levels; healthier options like veggies, fruit, protein, and yes, carbs, fuel your body fast. When you eliminate the bulk of your carbs, however, it’s likely your body will feel lethargic until a routine has been established, and your body has had time to adjust.
The keto diet is a very low-carb food program, in which your body to get its energy from fats instead of the sugars from carbohydrates. According to Mayo Clinic, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that about 45 to 65 percent of your daily caloric intake should be made up of carbohydrates (which comes to about 225 to 325 grams per day). On the keto diet, Dr. Robert Silverman, founder of Westchester Integrative Health, tells Elite Daily that your diet is made up of 70 percent healthy fats, 20 percent high-quality protein, and only 10 percent carbohydrates. Now, math isn’t exactly my subject, but even I know that’s a huge difference.
Going keto means you're essentially eating in a way that encourages your body to produce ketone bodies for fuel. What’s a ketone body, you ask? When you eliminate carbs from your diet, your body doesn’t have the same amount of glucose it used to as a source of energy, so it looks for an alternative. In an exclusive interview with Elite Daily, co-founder of Raw Generation and certified holistic health coach, Jessica Rosen, explains that being in a state of ketosis means "the liver is producing ketones, also known as ketone bodies," aka the "byproducts of the body metabolizing fat for energy." In other words, you're basically doing away with excess sugars and, instead, breaking down stored fats as a primary source of fuel.
So, if your body is basically just switching energy sources, what's the problem? Here’s the story, morning glory: If you’ve been carbo-loading for the past 20 (or more) years of your life, saying bye-bye to bulkier items, like bread and pasta and oatmeal, is going to take some adjusting. You’re essentially depriving your body of the only energy source it’s ever known, and for a while, it’s going to feel frazzled and leave you feeling fatigued.
“While your body is transitioning from a sugar burner to a fat burner, it uses up all of its [energy from sugars] and it will not have enzymes readily available to break down fat," Richard Purvis, a health and wellness practitioner, and author of Recalibrate: Six Secrets to Resetting Your Age, tells Elite Daily. The lethargy you may feel when you first make the switch is essentially your body in limbo, waiting for ketosis to kick in and get that constant flow of energy going.
Unfortunately, Purvis adds, "there's no 'one-size-fits-all'" with how long that fatigue can last. Normally, he says, your body can take anywhere from "a week to 10 days" to shake the sleepiness. Worst-case scenario, Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of DrAxe.com, and co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, adds, you could be sitting pretty on the struggle bus for up to six weeks. Yikes.
It may be fleeting, but exhaustion is still annoying, and the best way to deal during your keto transition is to stick to the foods that'll keep your energy up. Of course, if you’re dead-set on sticking to the keto diet, you can’t exactly take two steps back and eat a few pieces of bread to end your tiresome woes. But the good news is, there are plenty of other snacking options that will provide you with enough energy to make it through one day at a time.
The first option is to consume oils by the spoonful. Indeed, I do understand how gross that probably sounds, but according to Purvis, a tablespoon of virgin, cold-pressed organic coconut oil keeps energy up, thanks to medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs), otherwise known as medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which “the body will use in its energy,” and — bonus — “satiate you and prevent cravings.” I’m sure you can find a ton of MCT oils at your local grocery or health stores, but my personal favorite is Nutiva, for reference.
On top of all the healthy fats you can handle, Dr. Axe tells Elite Daily that eating a lot of alkalizing foods, as well as foods rich in electrolytes, is important to sustaining your energy levels. Think "non-starchy vegetables, avocado, nuts, seaweed, and green juices," he says, in addition to an abundance of "leafy greens and cocoa."
Plus, as random as this is going to sound, both Purvis and Axe agree, condiments are going to be helpful, too. Himalayan pink salt, Purvis says, "will help keep your electrolytes replenished and reduce bodily fatigue," while Axe notes that "sources of B vitamins, like nutritional yeast," are excellent additives when you're in dire need of an energy boost.
Bottom line: Food is fuel, and a lack of fuel is bound to make you feel tired. Before switching to the keto diet, chat with your doctor to make sure the change is right for you. If it is, that's awesome, but just be aware that sleepiness is a side effect that you should be able to overcome with time and, of course, the right snacks.
This post was originally published on March 22, 2018. It was updated on Aug. 21, 2019.