There is a word that many seem to fear in the community of keto dieters – gluconeogenesis. From social media posts, to other websites stating that this process is bad, recent studies have discovered that while in a state of ketosis, it is not. It further enhances the process. There is of course a risk of overdoing anything, and this should be avoided at all costs on any diet. When you are on a diet, you are usually pushing yourself past your limits, and you don’t want to go over that fine line between pushing your limits and teetering over the line.
What Exactly is Gluconeogenesis?
Glugoneogenesis, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is the formation of glucose within the body from means other than carbohydrates. The two common organs that perform this action are primarily the liver and kidneys. The utilize amino acids which are derived from proteins, the glycerols extracted from fats, as well as lactic acid (which is made by our muscles) and breaks them down into glucose, which can then be recycled and burned.
Think of gluconeogenesis as the recreation of glucose, because that’s all that it is. It is just a way that your body’s metabolism changes things (and your metabolism, as you may know, have read, or simply need to read) is one of the things that is supposed to be boosted by the so-called “keto diet”. Our bodies are actually so complete, we can even break down citric acid into glucose.
Is Gluconeogenesis Necessary?
The answer this is absolutely. While many times, our body creates glucose from carbohydrates that we ingest, but it isn’t always the case when we have to fast or are doing the keto diet. Therefore, just as our ancestors long ago, our bodies are made to create their own glucose for numerous reasons. Think of it as a way for our bodies to survive and keep themselves from crashing from various causes, such as giving our body nutrients and sugars it needs to sustain itself, fueling our blood with glucose (without glucose, we can’t survive – our blood cells would be lacking a key chemical that makes them function), as well as giving parts of our bodies the glucose they need because they can’t use ketones as a source of nutrient. Our kidneys, a man’s testicles (yes, this is why fruits are good for men… contrary to many other myths out there), and even the insides of our kidneys all have to utilize glucose to function properly along with our blood. Even our brain needs a certain amount of glucose to function right. Which is why hypoglycemia and diabetes cause so many people problems with brain functions, strokes, and other disorders.
While it is a common necessity to be sure you are getting enough glucose from natural sources (fruits, vegetables, and many other things actually have natural glucose from every food group) when cutting out carbs for a ketogenic diet, there are times in our lives when we may not have time to just “stop and eat an apple”. This is where gluconeogenesis comes into play. And this wonderful biochemical tool is something that our bodies have created to ensure that we are getting the proper nutrients and natural sugars we need in order to sustain ourselves.
How Lactates are Transported
Lactate gets transferred partially to your livers and your kidneys in the GNG (gluconeogenesis) process. This can vary if you are fasting; after you fast overnight, most of the glucose is delivered from the liver. After even longer periods of time, the body’s kidneys start going into overdrive to produce the right amount of glucose to keep our bodies functioning.
Your livers and kidneys are responsible for a complete balance of glucose production. What this means, is that if one of your organs are unable, then the other must work twice as hard and pick up the slack. Lactate is also one of our most common biochemicals that the body relies on in order to produce glucose, which is why it is also important to exercise (even when you don’t want to) with any keto diet. If you ask someone who is hypoglycemic (naturally has low blood sugar), if they wake up and do not eat and get some sort of activity, they are sluggish all day, and just walk around their daily life like a zombie. Because we need that activity to produce what our bodies don’t make. And this is why when on a ketogenic diet, you must keep the production of ketones, but also the production of natural glucose active.
The lactate, glycerol, alanine, or citric acid, gets transported to the liver, where the liver uses enzymes that ultimately (there is a long chain of events and enzymes that are converted) become glucose. The liver and kidneys make the different chemicals which when they are formed together, actually build the molecule for glucose, and then it is filtered back into the body to the muscles, where glycolysis can take place, which results in creation of more lactate, and so on. Wash, rinse, and repeat. Who would have thought we were that complex at taking care of itself, right?
So why do we need to eat?
One cannot simply survive and thrive and be healthy when it comes to relying solely on gluconeogenisis. Our bodies just wouldn’t be able to keep up. However, when you are ingesting low amounts of carbs because of something such as a ketogenic diet, you then in turn are sparking your body to actually jump start this auto-immune process.
So when does GNG happen?
- GNG happens less, generally after a meal, especially if any form of carbohydrates are eaten. While the process is slowed down, it is still going on in the background, just “minimized”.
- When we are sleeping, we are not intaking glucose. When you actually sleep, our body is making its own glucose. Your body doesn’t break down most of the carbohydrates you ate, because most of the process that takes place is glycogenolysis (the burning of glycol). Your body chooses to eliminate any glycogen before it begins to function on anything else. When you are on a ketogenic diet, GNG makes most of your glucose production.
- When you fast, even for small amounts, the GNG process is kickstarted even more. Your body makes up to 50% of your glucose from gluconeogenisis rather than from the burning of glycol. That’s because you aren’t getting the carbohydrates to make the glycol amounts increase more. When you fast for more than a day (such as an extended fast, which is actually common in some religions even), your body creates more. As your blood sugars decrease from the lack of glycogen, your body relies more and more GNG, until the process reaches to be nearly 100% of your body’s source of glucose.
- Keto diets generally make GNG happen more, just like a long fasting, however there are things that you do during a keto diet which affect how the GNG process works.
Research has shown that after about 5-6 weeks on a ketogenic diet, all of your glucose comes from gluconeogenesis (much like an extended fast), since you are lacking glycols and glycogenolysis ceases to take place.
But after a while, your fat adapts and starts running on ketones, which makes the process change. Higher fat dieters (even if you’re relying solely on ketones) that get more than 80% of their calories from fat have a decrease in glucose, but a significant increase of gluconeogenesis.
Most of the time, gluconeogenesis was also found to be twice as high while in a state of ketosis as compared to an extended fast, or even during the “fat adaptation” process.
One of the reasons for this is because during a keto diet, your body’s using glucose as a primary means to not become hypoglycemic, create and repair tissues that are unable to use ketones, and to resupply your muscles with lactates, and your body with glycogen.
When you’re fasting, this process doesn’t happen because most often times, you aren’t exercising like you would while on a keto diet, and because your body is using all of your glucose from GNG as its primary source of energy.
More on Gluconeogenesis While On a Keto Diet
When you’re on a keto diet and solely relying on ketosis, your excess glucose made from GNG was actually stored inside the body as glycogen, rather than being stored and later used as fuel. This is important because after you work out, a lot of people think that eating carbs soon after your exercise routine. This isn’t the case when it comes to those who are doing a keto diet.
Instead of the normal storage method, the body does the complete opposite when it comes to storing fat. How so? Well, when you’re eating carbohydrates, your body runs completely on glucose and stores the excess as fat, yet on a low carb, high-fat and protein diet, you run completely on ketones and store glucose.
That’s why so many ketogenic diets are extremely successful at helping people lose weight, burn the fat off of their bodies, and get maximized endurance. Even a lot of bodybuilders, although they tell you that they eat carbs and “carbo-load” still intake extremely high amounts of proteins.
So Why the Negativity?
As mentioned above, many health “studies” and news outlets keep claiming that ketosis can cause severe muscle loss because your body is simply not getting enough glucose and glycogen, but they’re wrong. Sure. If you aren’t doing things properly on low-carb diets, then yes, you are in fact going to have muscle loss. That is why it is important to not only cut carbs, but increase your protein drastically. These proposed health authorities and media sources simply don’t have all of their facts completely straight.
There are other outlets telling people that ketosis itself is bad right along with gluconeogenesis because you’re actually causing yourself a slight form of ketoacidosis, which normally affects those who have dieabetes type 1. Yet, there is nothing to fear here, and almost anyone in the medical field you would ask will say that ketosis itself is not what is harmful. The same applies with gluconeogenesis. Reports like this are also in a way kind of funny, because many of the negative articles that can be found online are actually from those in the “low carb community”. Well, then why oh why doubt what happens to your body naturally if you’re going to practice what you’re preaching against?
The main thing one needs to consider when it comes to protein and GNG is that whoever is doing these said diets need to ensure they are consuming an optimal amount of protein, rather than too much or too little. And be sure to keep in mind that factors such as weight, activity, gender, height, body composition, bodily stress, and more. We can also not forget that metabolism, while it can be affected has some to do with genetics as well.
The Atkins Diet
One of the most common forms, and one of the first primarily high protein, low-carb diets that was ever created is what’s known as “The Atkins Diet”. There were numerous studies that many of their patients who couldn’t understand how they were losing weight so fast, and were consuming large amounts of proteins and fats, but next to no carbohydrates. The answer to this is that many of them were probably in fact experiencing GNG, so all of their protein was in turn, being converted to glucose. This made them have more energy, and more stamina, as well as being able to convert muscle more from fat… You don’t say!
The Difference Between Ketones and Gluconeogenesis
There are many people who say that ketones and gluconeogenesis aren’t compatible, and that they are unrelatable, and many other stories. These things couldn’t be further from the truth. During ketosis, your body creates a bunch of ketones as the main source of energy because you get more benefits from ketones than glucose, but you never stop experiencing GNG. It is always going on in your body of course. It may be operating at a slower pace than if necessary during the process, but as learned above, it picks back up to normal, and even above normal levels to give you more metabolism and energy, because you are also getting those ketones alongside your body’s natural glucose creations.
The key? You would have to consume more proteins every day in order to achieve optimal GNG that would create enough GNG for you, so muscle loss would be the only problem. However, you cannot just simply live off of protein alone. By utilizing ketones for your body, muscle loss is in fact only higher on a ONLY PROTEIN diet, whereas most of these keto diets still include other means of getting glucose at a normal level.
If I Eat Too Much Protein, Will I Lose Muscle?
No. You may have read the reports that eating a bunch of protein is what will cause you to lose muscle because too much protein will actually cause gluconeogenesis, but the real truth behind this is something nobody has to really worry about at all.
The main real reasons why you don’t have to worry about anything, is because gluconeogenesis is always happening, both with or without ketosis present. The main thing that it would do if you consumed too much protein is not allow the ketones to be used as the primary fuel.
Once you achieve a state of ketosis, it’s actually harder for your body to rebound itself and go into a glucose-only state. Our bodies like to be able to see itself perfectly aligned inside and out. This is why it always tries to keep itself in tune.
All ketones would do is help your body keep GNG from overworking itself. Your body knows that if GNG lasts for too long, it can start breaking down muscle and eventually cause damage or even in severe cases death, and your body starts to release ketones to compensate for that.
Not only that, but it has been proven that the rate at which GNG is stabilized is often not affected, no matter how many resources you have. Once you achieve a form of ketosis, you are not that likely to easily make your rate of GNG spike because you eat more protein.
Aside from this factor, the body’s favorite source for GNG to take place is actually the lactate, as mentioned before. Amino acids are the building blocks of muscles, and we can think of lactate as the “waste” that muscles secrete. When your muscles are sore the night of or day after a workout, it’s because they are full of lactic acid, and they are sending that lactate to your liver to be converted to glucose while you sleep for example.
So should I eat More Protein then?
Many keto dieters simply think that too much protein will cause them to go into a state of pure gluconeogenesis… therefore, they will limit their protein, or eat too little. By doing this, they are doing actually more harm than good. Why? Because they experience lower endurance levels, atrophy of the brain (your brain needs amino acids to function properly and well), lower immunities to simple illnesses, and can get many other diseases because they put themselves at risk of danger. Let’s explain these things in more detail.
Effects of Not Getting Enough proteins
- By not eating enough protein, you are not only in a ketosis state, but you can decrease the gluconeogenesis process rate by not getting the valid amount you need, along with not getting enough protein to keep constant muscle from building and rebuilding itself. Anytime you lose muscle (especially by the tissue destroying itself), you feel more levels of fatigue and weakness, and actually your performance is affected.
- When it comes to your brain, as we said, it needs amino acids to do it’s job. This has been proven in the medical field both on animals, and people experience it too. So yes, you can actually kill brain cells by not getting enough protein, as weird as it may sound. It’s almost as bad as drugs.
- Your immune system thrives on amino acids, and not having enough Arginine, a common amindo acid found in meats can actually cause problem with your T cells, which is a type of white blood cell that helps your immune system drastically. T cells are needed to destroy bad cells which cause illness or cause cancer.
- Without the proper amino acids that you can get by consuming protein, you are putting your body at risk for many various diseases, and make yourself susceptible to contracting them.
- Sickle cell anemia – With a lack of protein (and in extreme cases… this is VERY rare), your body can mutate the HBB gene because you are not getting the proper amino acids you need in order to survive. As mentioned, this is very rare, but is possible, and it has been found that sickle cell anemia does not only happen to African Americans and Hispanic Americans.
- Various Cancers – There are many studies and medical reports that have proven that eating too low of levels of both protein levels, proper amino acid intake (eating various forms of protein including meats), and even simply high ketone levels can create many types of internal genetic mutations which result in liver cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer, rectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, and even prostate cancer (in men).
So what does this all mean? It means this; your body actually needs (all caps wouldn’t stress the word need enough) to be able to perform gluconeogenesis in order to properly function, fight off diseases, and ward off harmful things that can enter your body. At the same time, in order to function properly, gluconeogenesis is more important for our bodies to have happening at all times than not at all. If our bodies were unable to perform this miracle cure which actually helps our organs feed other organs in our bodies, then we would simply die. This is why it is important to achieve a balance of nutrients, because only proteins could cause our bodies to not produce other nutrients we need, and the same result would happen.
General Article Summary
So in this article, we’ve discovered and covered the fact on some of the science behind gluconeogenesis. We’ve also covered many reasons why it is absolutely necessary for the body to be able to perform this wonderful and fascinating process of protecting itself, and why it is crucial for human substantial survival. We’ve covered many topics on how it compares in line with ketosis (achieved by keto dieting), as well as how it is affected by both low and high protein intake, and proper amino acids. What we have not covered is ways to achieve optimal gluconeogenesis, which we will cover below. We have spoke about why proteins are necessary, but while amino acids and proteins are necessary simply for other factors, the key points to remember is that it also helps our body achieve the natural amounts of gluconeogenesis it needs to sustain itself, whether you’re on a keto diet or not.
Achieving Optimal Gluconeogenesis With Keto Dieting
It is important that when trying to achieve a state of ketosis, we’ve stated that we must intake some protein, but not too much. This is because we simply don’t want gluconeogenesis to continue to be the main source of our energy, as well as our bodies glucose. We want our bodies to burn the glycols that are in our fats, but not completely eliminate protein so we get an optimal amount of ketones and keep our body alive with gluconeogenesis. Some keto dieters actually kickstart the process of gluconeogenesisby fasting, so they can get rid of excess glycols before starting their diet to help their bodies get a better grasp on achieving ketosis itself. Once the state is achieved, while there are some low-protein fanatics out there, those who are more active and want to build muscle mass (bulk up) will still eliminate the carbs they are used to consuming, but eat a lot more protein. It generally depends on each individual case, and all of the factors about a person to determin how to achieve an optimal amount of gluconeogenesis compared to ketosis while dieting. Because many other factors such as diabetes, hypoglycemia, and other health risks, weight, and other risks – both genetic and those that can be created – are at a higher risk (which is why protein intake and calories play an important role) as compared to a perfectly healthy individual.
Achieving Optimal GNG For Those Not Dieting
In order to achieve optimal gluconeogenesis while not dieting, a person still has to be sure to have moderate to high protein intakes, as well as eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, a sufficient amount of carbohydrates (which can be the backup when the body is not using our body’s natural lactates), dairy (to help replenish and create extra lactates). A well balanced diet is not only crucial for our health, but it can actually make many people with health problems feel better as long as they are maintaining healthy and are active. People who are at higher risks for health problems due to diseases, weight issues, and more are recommended some activity until their body can achieve the endurance to perform better and be more active. Exercises of some sort is generally not a request even when not dieting, it’s a requirement. However, there are also many who can debate on what is a healthy amount of activity, or what types of activity include exercise (the truth is, it depends on the person; even getting up and briskly walking outside and back in numerous times a day can still be considered a healthy amount of activity).
Gluconeogenesis and Muscle Building
Bodybuilders generally need to eat more protein and carbs to achieve maximum building of muscle tissues. This means they rely more on gluconeogenesis than other forms. Our body’s natural resistance to many factors, as well as one of the most proficient nutrients that our bodies can use while trying to build muscle (or gain healthy weight). Other bodybuilders are big on generating insulin levels, which actually slightly inhibit gluconeogenesis. It just depends on the person. There are many keto dieters who are actually not only losing weight, but gaining muscle. This is because they utilize a high protein intake so that while their bodies use glycols stored in the body, they still have plenty of ketones that the body relies on. This gives them a sufficient amount of energy balance they need.
When it comes to bodybuilding and muscle mass increasing in general, an individual needs to eat a much higher amount of proteins and unsaturated fats, lots of fruits, get plenty of hydration, eat a high amount of healthy vegetables, and still maintain a sufficient amount of carbohydrates. The carbohydrates will be burnt, and all of the other nutrients, amino acids, and lactates will eventually help the body use gluconeogenesis, as well as healthy tissue production that will ultimately result in cell reproduction, and increase an individuals muscle mass in the process.
So have no fear. Gluconeogenesis is not going to be what hurts you. In many cases, as stated numerous times, it is part of our body’s natural building block to achieve a maximum state of self sufficiency. While we can’t solely rely on our bodies abilities to sustain itself, but we can further enhance it to continue to add numerous benefits to our organs so they can perform the wonderful tool that we have been given in order for our bodies to create the amazing amino acids that help us regenerate its own cells – That is the amazing tool known “simply” as gluconeogenesis.