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Keto Flu and Electrolytes

by | Blog, Start Here Keto Basics | 0 comments

This is Part 4 in the Keto For Beginners Series. Find the rest of the series here, 1, 2, 3

What is Keto Flu? Symptoms, Causes and Solutions

If you’ve looked into Keto for more then two seconds, you’ve likely heard about the Dreaded Keto Flu!

In this article, we are going to discuss what the Keto Flu is, likely causes, and what you can do to minimize the effects of the Keto Flu when starting a Ketogenic diet.

When first starting on the Keto diet, many people experience some of a series of symptoms.

Typically around day four or five if you are staying under Carbs daily.

Some never get the Keto Flu at all (my dang Husband) grrr.

These Keto flu symptoms are from carb and sugar withdrawals, as well as changes that our bodies are going through; it is not influenza or any bug.

The symptoms typically last about a week. 

For many, it is the absolute HARDEST part to get through. I’m here to help! 

I’m going to answer the most common questions about the Keto flu like:

 

  • What are the symptoms of the Keto flu?
  • What causes the keto flu? Is there a cure for it?
    • Carb Withdrawal – Breaking an Addiction
    • How to Muscle Through Carb Cravings
    • Electrolyte Depletion – Why does this happen?
    • Electrolytes and What They Do
    • Relieving Keto Flu Symptoms: Supplementing Electrolytes
    • Electrolyte Supplements – Reviewed

What are the symptoms of Keto Flu?

The symptoms and severity differ from person to person, and often reflect how drastically the change in diet was for you.

If you were eating pretty close to the same way before, it wouldn’t be as bad as for somebody who ate a very carb-heavy diet.  

Symptoms can include:

  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Brain Fog
  • Muscle Cramps
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Sugar Cravings
  • Constipation
  • Insomnia

Should I be worried?

Not worried, but you should be prepared for it, because it is likely to happen.

Any time you go through a significant change in diet, you are likely to experience some symptoms as your body adjusts and adapts.

So what causes Keto Flu and is there a cure you ask?

 There are two reasons that this happens:

carb withdrawal and electrolyte depletion.

We’ll discuss both of these, how to relieve the symptoms that you can, and muscle through the rest.

Let’s tackle the common causes first.

Carb Withdrawal: Overcoming Your Addicition

As with any change to a healthy diet, many of the symptoms are from your body detoxing.

You are going through withdrawal!

Think about this – When smokers light up that first cigarette, they will cough and feel terrible.

When a person continues smoking, it starts to feel pleasant and relaxing, and eventually becomes the new normal for the body.

The smoker’s body is so accustomed to having it’s supply of nicotine, that when it stops suddenly, the body revolts and throws a big ol’ hissy fit.

Carb Addiction behaves the same way!

Our bodies are so accustomed to using sugar and carbs as its fuel source, that it is normal for it to do so.

Your body will come to expect those carbs, crave them, demand them.

As soon as the last carbs you consumed are burned up, your body wants MORE.

When you stop suddenly; just like quitting smoking, there’s a REVOLT!

The main symptoms of carb withdrawal are:

  • Irritability
  • Hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Cravings

(This is the one and only physical effect my husband had to deal with, and he admits it was brutal for about 2 days)

Research from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has shown that consuming carbs stimulates the areas in the brain associated with cravings and addictions. (Source: https://academic.oup.com/ajcn)

Further studies (here) show that many times dopamine is released when you eat carbs, which activates the pleasure centers of the brain.

In one study, some of the participants didn’t know that they were eating carbs, and the response was still triggered.

Why is that significant? I’m glad you asked!

It means the sweet taste isn’t necessarily the only thing we are addicted to; it is the carbs themselves and how the body handles them. 

When you quit the carbs, you are going to feel very hungry even if you have eaten plenty. This point alone is worthy of it’s own blog post (in the works)

Your body hasn’t flipped to using fat yet (fat adapted) this takes a while!

Your blood sugar levels will drop, and you are going to feel like absolute garbage. 

Some of what you’re feeling does relate to electrolyte depletion as well;

supplementing electrolytes can help make this process easier.

It won’t relieve the cravings, hunger, or crabbiness, but can help alleviate some of the other symptoms.

How to Overcome Carb Cravings

The surefire bulletproof solution? Eat some.

Just kidding, had to make sure you are paying attention!

In all seriousness though…

Keep yourself occupied – read, play a game, go for a walk, write in a journal; do something other than think about being hungry. 

Drink plenty of water – staying hydrated is always essential, this will also help with the hunger.

Remove temptations (if possible) – I know it can be challenging to do. If you live with others who aren’t on the keto train temptation is likely to be unavoidable.

If you live alone, or your family is on board, think about donating the non-keto food in the house.

We did this, and I genuinely believe that it helped.

The workplace can be another temptation filled place!

Make sure to have keto-friendly options to turn to when you see donuts or pizza in the kitchen at work.

Practice Positive Self-Talk – Imagine a close friend seeking support. Can you picture saying, “This is hard, there is no way you’re going to be successful.”

Not likely, right? You’d probably say something like: “This is hard, but you’re a tough cookie. You’ve got this!”

Be nice to yourself! Be your own best friend and support system. DO NOT tell yourself things that you wouldn’t say to somebody you love.

Seek support from others – If you have the support of family, friends, and loved ones, it does make things easier. If you don’t have that support system, reach out to others in the same boat!

You can find groups locally or online that are full of people who can relate.

If you are looking for a great bunch of like minded folks you can lean on and be inspired by check out our Cultured Keto FB Support Group. 

There is a little bit more going on in our bodies besides withdrawal from a life-long addiction to carbohydrates, and that is the other half of what I mentioned above.

Electrolyte Depletion

Electrolyte Depletion has everything to do with water in your body and the processes that occur before you switch from being carb-fueled to being a fat-burning machine. 

I’m gonna get a little sciency on you now, bear with me. 

It all starts with glycogen.

Glycogen is excess glucose that gets stored in your body.

When you consume excess carbohydrates, the glucose from them are linked together in a chain, resulting in glycogen.

When you run out of dietary carbs, it taps into these stores for energy.

Let’s take a look at what’s going on 

Once your body burns through dietary carbs, it taps into the glycogen stores.

Take note that each gram of glycogen is associated with 3-4 grams of water.

  • As we burn through our stored glycogen, we lose a lot of weight, but it ISN’T fat, it’s water weight (aka The Woosh). It is why most people lose up to 12 pounds or more in the first couple of weeks of Keto!
  • Your body will go from retaining water to excreting it through urine and sweat. This is GREAT, because right away you will feel less bloated. (Plus you’ll get some extra steps in going to the bathroom every 5 minutes) not to mention how motivating it is to see that number on the scale drop!
  • The “not so great” side effect of losing all this water is that you are also flushing out essential vitamins and minerals, aka electrolytes. It throws things out of balance and can cause a host of symptoms until your body adjusts to the changes.

But Sterling, what the heck are Electrolytes? Great question!

Electrolytes and What They Do

Here are the big three that are typically at the root of many Keto Flu symptoms, so we are going to focus on them. 

  • Sodium

Sodium in the body is a critical component in helping to regulate the generation of electrical signals.

These signals are part of how the body regulates things like muscles, your nervous system as well as your brain.

Getting way too much or too little can result in problems.

When we eat a standard American diet, we are told to keep sodium low,

but then we are eating a diet full of processed carbs and sugar.

Now that we are restricting carbs, we lose massive amounts of sodium, and it is essential!

The easiest way to get more good sodium in your diet is to use pink Himalayan salt or sea salt on your food; or by drinking pickle juice or bouillon cubes.

For most, it really is as simple as that.

  • Magnesium

More than 250 functions in the body require magnesium.

These include:

  • muscle function
  • production of energy and protein
  • and hormone regulation.

It’s also known to help with issues related to sleep, muscle cramps, and constipation.

Keto-friendly magnesium-rich foods include spinach, kale, and nuts.

  • Potassium

Potassium is essential to regulate your heartbeat and blood pressure levels.

BE CAREFUL supplementing potassium!

Having too much can harm your body by significantly lowering your blood pressure.

Over-the-counter potassium supplements contain minimal levels of potassium, specifically for this reason.

It’s okay to supplement if you need to, know that you should not take a handful of potassium supplements all at once!

Low-carb options high in potassium include avocados, dark chocolate, meat, leafy greens, and nuts.

Alright, but is there a CURE for it?

How to Relieve Keto Flu Symptoms

Especially in the beginning stages, just getting the electrolytes that you need from food sources is VERY difficult as your body adapts.

Using a high-quality supplement can relieve many of the symptoms that you are likely to experience. 

Will I have to Supplement forever?

Maybe. It’s going to depend largely on the variety of your foods and their macro-nutrients.

Some people do, and some don’t.

It comes down to what you’re eating, what your body needs, how much you’re exerting yourself, etc.

Everybody is different.

You may need to continue, but perhaps not as much.

My husband and I still do! Though that can be attributed to the need for us to add more variety to what we eat regularly.  

Be careful not to over do it

Having too much of these supplements can cause some digestive upset, among other things.

So start with one or two servings a day depending on what you choose to use, and try not to drink them too fast.

If you’re looking for some good suggestions on supplements I have a few here for you.

My Review of 5 Electrolyte Supplements to Kick Keto Flu. 

In our 18+ months of being Keto, my husband and I have tried out all of these options for electrolyte supplements.

Some great, and some not so great. Here’s the down-low:

Coming in at Number one!

Ultima Replenisher get it here https://amzn.to/31F6JUN 

<–(affiliate link, come on T-rex costume fund).

It took a while to find an electrolyte supplement that fit the bill without breaking the bank, but this one takes the cake (Keto-fied, cake that is!)

The PROS:

  • Tastes great! Good Selection of Flavors
  • I was nervous about stevia being the primary sweetener in it because the stevia aftertaste and I don’t get along, but there is no aftertaste with this!
  • Dissolves well – Ultima is one of the best for easily dissolving.
  • Some reviews talk about sediment left in the bottom, and I do occasionally have a little bit left toward the end, but I swirl it and drink up, no biggie.
  • There are lots of flavors – The first one we tried was orange, and I think it tastes like Tang! I love the grape, and my hubby is partial to the Cherry Pomegranate.
  • It has great ingredients – In my experience, this is the hardest thing about finding a good electrolyte supplement. Many companies skimp on ingredients to keep costs down. Ultima has managed to provide us with a clean product at a reasonable price.

Ultima is:

  • Gluten-free
  • Vegan
  • Non-GMO
  • Plant-based
  • Keto/Paleo friendly
  • Soy/dairy-free
  • Caffeine-free
  • Free of artificial sweeteners

It contains Magnesium, Potassium (in a safe amount) and calcium, as well as vitamin C.

The cost per serving is budget-friendly depending on what size you order. You can’t beat that! 

The CONS:

One of the cons of this supplement in the past has been availability, Our favorites sometimes out of stock for weeks at a time.

Especially of certain flavors and sizes.

It seems to have improved recently, but there have been a few times that we had to order smaller containers or different flavors than we wanted.

This supplement is low in salt/sodium, so you will need to ensure that you are getting enough via other methods.

The Runner up in our review

Key Nutrients Electrolyte Recovery Plus

Get it here https://amzn.to/31Dv3Gp

<–(affiliate link, come on T-rex costume fund).

This one is a very close runner up!

It has all the clean ingredients that Ultima does, and it dissolves very well. 

 Where it has the edge:

  • It is cheaper than Ultima usually. 
  • It has 13 additional vitamins and minerals 

The only drawbacks:

  • Lemon is the only flavor
  • It has a bit of that “vitamin” aftertaste – but it’s not terrible!
  • It only comes in one size – 90 servings
  • Low in sodium (like most electrolyte supplements) 

I will continue to purchase this one and alternate between it and Ultima, so I have some variety.

The budget-friendly option at #3

Keto-ade get it here, ( your kitchen)

A budget-friendly DIY Option

There are a few ways Keto peeps make Keto-ade,

But the primary ingredients are:

  • Himalayan Pink Salt or Sea salt
  • Magnesium powder such as Natural Calm
  • Sometimes – potassium either in No Salt, cream of tartar or potassium chloride.
  • Water or herbal tea
  • Lemon or lime
  • Keto-friendly sweetener

Easy Keto-Aide Recipe

Credit to Brenda here for the recipe.

  • 24oz tap or filtered water

  • 1/8 tsp salt ( you can use any type of salt but himalayan or the colorful salts are ideal as they contain trace minerals)

  • 1/2 TBSP magnesium citrate ( can be found in nearly any drug store, and in a variety of flavors.

  • Each 24oz serving of this will get you 

  • 265mg of sodium
  • 75mg of magnesium
  • *BE CAREFUL SUPPLEMENTING with potassium.
  • It can be very dangerous to have too much at once.
  • I would only add this if you are deficient in potassium. If you do supplement with it, only have a little at a time.

I did this for a long time! I will say that I eventually got burnt out on it, but it is a cheap option for getting what you need!

Number Four

LyteShow: Ionic Electrolyte Concentrate for Rapid Rehydration

The good – This supplement also has clean ingredients.

What we didn’t like:

  • It’s very salty
  • It doesn’t have near as much of the electrolytes in it.
  • It tends to be less budget-friendly.

Number 5

Powerade Zero – 

Powerade Zero is not, in my opinion, a worthy option to supplement electrolytes.

It hardly has any of the main three electrolytes.

It’s also sweetened with sucralose, which is an artificial sweetener.

Stealthily sneaking its way into this topic!

Additional Magnesium Supplementation:

Not everybody needs to supplement with extra magnesium.

If you are using electrolytes supplements and salt, and are having muscle cramps or twitches, you may need more magnesium. 

Magnesium citrate is the most common and affordable version that is out there;

it is what is in the electrolytes already. Adding more of it is not a good idea, as it tends to have a laxative effect.

The best magnesium that I’ve found to alleviate muscle cramps and spasms are

  • Magnesium Malate and
  • Magnesium Bis-Glycinate.

I would start with one malate in the morning and one bis-glycinate in the evening and add one more of one of them at a time, until I was feeling better.

Here is what I take: https://amzn.to/2O8Rdwu and https://amzn.to/2Vgh9rH

<–(affiliate link, come on T-rex costume fund).

Ready to Battle The Keto Flu?!

Now you should know the possible Keto flu symptoms to expect,

why they happen, and how to handle it when they do.  

If you have any questions, feel free to comment below!

 

For additional support and recipes on your Keto journey, join our Cultured Keto FB Support Group

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