Hello. I’m Tim. I have been using the ketogenic diet since early March 2016 and my approach plus the results have caused interest among friends and colleagues. In particular, people in climbing and mountain biking circles have asked me to write about my experiences, and that’s been the main trigger for creating this blog. I hope it is of some use.
I’ve diarised the diet time itself and written some prologue as well. I wrote the prologue at around Day 30 so forgive me if I muddle tenses here and there.
I am not a medical professional or dietician. I am a professional structural engineer. This is just about my own experiences. Be safe and look after yourselves. Diet is important.
Why am doing this diet?
I want to climb 7a/E3. There are two reasons for this: simple ambition and also to have access to a greater range of quality routes.
I’ve identified finger strength as my primary limiting factor throughout my climbing career, far more so than head state, core strength, cardio-vascular fitness, or strength per-se.
I planned a trip to Mallorca for February 2016 with a mate and for once developed a modest, sensible three month training programme. I was bouldering carefully once a week at TCA in Glasgow or Alien 2 in Edinburgh, and doing routes at EICA once a week, sometimes Alien 1 in Leith. Muscle gets stronger faster than connective tissue. I got a lot stronger but didn’t injure myself. I was delighted!
I went on the trip and partially tore my RH middle finger A2 pulley on the third day, but after a day off, kept on climbing at a reduced level. Stupid me. It was all so very boringly predictable. On my return I needed to stay sane while recovering, recover properly (I followed the advice in Dave MacLeod’s injury book Make or Break which seemed to work well. Basic pulley recovery took six weeks) and then develop a different strategy for climbing harder – get lighter.
My previous experience is that 5% of my body weight equates to about one letter grade. At the end of January 2015 I was at 6b/+ and I want to do 7a. Sure, I needed to get appropriately stronger, but losing 7.5% of body weight would also make a massive difference and I should hit 7a on the right route at that weight. I started at 82kg. 7.5% of that is 6kg. My daily bodily variance, even applying rigour to weighing-in times, is +/-800g, so I needed to aim for 75kg.
I had to do this without digesting muscle fibre and that is an absolutely critical thing with the ketogenic diet – you digest dietary and your own body fat but not your muscle protein (if you do it right).
Background in climbing
I have been climbing since 2005. Full focus was on this 2005-2009 and I got up to 6c redpoint and E2/5c headpoint, E1/5b on sight. So fairly average. Finger strength was always a limiting factor. My training was unscientific (I just climbed really, sometimes 6 times a week, indoor and outdoor). Diet was poor, living on my own; too many takeaways, unbalanced. During 2010-2014, I didn’t climb. In 2015 I came back to climbing to supplement swimming (see below) as I find swimming quite dull.
Background in mountain biking
I don’t go mountain biking any more. In the period 2006-2010 I went once a week and rode at a good level. Since then, nothing; a few times a year maybe.
I’ve done two half marathons. 2004 (1hr 55 mins) and 2009 (1hr 42mins)
Previous weight loss experience
In 2002 I went from 90kg to 76kg working as a cycle courier. No dieting, far from it, just a very large amount of exercise. I then went from 76kg to 73kg while hitch-hiking through Central America. That was a hungry time. I didn’t look too well on my return.
In 2009, for climbing, I went from 84kg to 76kg on a calorie-restricted, high exercise volume, “normal” (i.e. carb-based but calorie-restricted) diet. This was hard work and unpleasant and I put it all back on again within 6 months. Pfff.
Body size and type
I’m 46, 5’11”, 38″ chest, typically 33″ waist, 32″ inside leg. During the last 15 years my weight has ranged from 90kg (14.2 stone) to 73kg (11.5 stone). (I will use kg from now on). Big shoulders and short arms for my height!
Base metabolic rate (BMR)
Currently 1653 cal/day calculated here, with a daily energy requirement of between 2036-2291 cal/day depending and exercise levels. This is the level of detail you need to go to.
Body fat %
I think my composition scales are a bit approximate but I was somewhere around 20-25% at the start of the diet.
General physical health
My physical health is generally very good. I have no allergies, no special dietary requirements, I’m not on any long term medication, I don’t smoke or drink alcohol and I have no congenital conditions or concerns. Cholesterol levels have always been pretty normal; I’ve has tests every couple of years. I have some skeletal issues from old injuries/breaks: right foot and left elbow. I have a tendency to partially rupture A2 pulleys, more than other people I would say, suggesting a genetic predisposition. I also suffer from synovitis, particularly in the PIP joints of my middle fingers and the DIP joints of the ring fingers. So it goes.
General stress levels
Pretty high. Running a business in construction is quite stressful (for me). Home life is a nice counterbalance most of the time: I have a lovely partner and gorgeous stepdaughter. They need time and energy, sometimes both are in short supply, which is hard for them.
Recent weight profile
So, January 2013 I was back at 90 kg and I felt pretty lardy. I decided to take action on my diet and general well being. I dropped to 86kg fairly easily but despite stopping drinking in May 2014 and starting to cycle to work my weight stayed pretty much there or thereabouts. Then around Christmas 2014 I was diagnosed with mild depression. My GP and I decided that less work and more exercise were necessary, so I started swimming as well. That dropped me to 82kg. I started climbing again in the autumn of 2015 but my weight didn’t change significantly as a result. I started looking at low carb diets about a month before my Mallorca trip, which was in the first week of February 2016.
Over the years I have noticed a tendency to fall asleep after lunch. Recently this has become more of an issue. I am guilty of “boss eating” and I do a lot of driving. By “boss eating” I mean stuffing my face at irregular times with anything that comes to hand in order to keep going. It’s what bosses do. I also noticed last year (2015) that I was occasionally actually having to pull over at the side of the road and take ten minutes shut-eye as I was completely unable to stay awake after eating sugary or high GI food.
I did some research and decided that I did not have a condition as such, and that this response to certain foods within the range of “normal”, but obviously undesirable.
So I trained for the Mallorca trip from September 2015 to January 2016 as described above. Blew my finger first week of February 2016. By this time I was experimenting with low-carb, and feeling a bit rubbish as a result, but not taking it seriously enough. The finger injury prevented me climbing, but I needed a productive climbing-related focus, so I got serious about the diet at the end of February 2016.