What Is Low Carb Flu, or Keto Flu? And Ways to Beat It
Over the first few days (up to two weeks) of eating low-carb, you may run into some frustration. Where is all of this energy I’m supposed to have? Why do I want to mow through that bag of chips right now? Am I coming down with a cold? For some people, the transition from burning glucose to burning fat comes with unwanted symptoms that range from slightly uncomfortable to miserable. This transition period is known as keto flu, or low-carb flu. It’s real, and it can be pretty terrible.
But, it’s temporary.
What is Low Carb Flu?
Low carb flu, or keto flu, is a set of symptoms that you may feel over the first few days of limiting carbohydrates. Low carb flu isn’t a flu or infection at all, and it’s not a medical term. It got its name because some of the symptoms of carb restriction can feel like you’re sick with the flu.
Low carb flu has dissuaded millions of people from pursuing and sticking to a healthy diet. You can laugh now that you’re fat-adapted and humming along on stored body fat, but you’ve forgotten just how terrible the transition from sugar-burning to fat-burning can be.
Symptoms of Keto Flu, or Low Carb Flu
It shows up differently for everyone. Some people, likely the ones who are metabolically flexible to a degree before even starting, won’t notice much trouble. That’s somewhat rare. More often, people new to carb restriction will experience some degree of:
- Brain fog
- Malaise, fatigue, listlessness, and other synonyms for “exhaustion”
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Mood changes
- Muscle aches
- Lack of motivation
- Feelings of anxiousness
At some point, you’ll just have to accept the reality of the situation: you’re shifting from a sugar-burning metabolism to a fat-burning metabolism. You’re building the metabolic machinery necessary to burn fat. You’re updating your body’s firmware, and it’s a big update. That takes time.
How Long Does Keto Flu Last?
Generally, you can expect keto flu to last 4-7 days.
Most commonly, people who have symptoms with low-carb will experience symptoms If the results of one study are representative, it takes about five days on a low-carb, high-fat diet to increase AMPK and start building new fat-burning mitochondria.https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/abstract/10.1055/s-0032-1312656‘>2 And sure enough, most people report that the low-carb flu lasts from four to seven days—right on target.
But that doesn’t mean we have to like it. So, what can you do to speed up the transition and reduce the pain and suffering?
Here are a few strategies to help you cross the rocky terrain of keto flu more quickly.
11 Keto Flu Remedies to Make Low Carb Easier
- Eat fatty fish or take fish oil
- Support your stress systems
- Don’t skimp on salt
- Eat enough potassium
- Take magnesium
- Stay hydrated
- Eat more fat
- Include medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs)
- Consider ketone supplements
- Move around at a slow pace
- Reduce carbs gradually
1. Eat fatty fish or take fish oil
One theory is that low-carb flu is caused by the release of stored arachidonic acid from adipose tissue. Since AA is the precursor to inflammatory molecules implicated in headaches,http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1901193‘>4 If this is true, taking extra fish oil or eating fatty fish like sardines or salmon should counter the omega-6-induced inflammatory response triggering the headaches. If this isn’t true, eating fish is still a good idea.
2. Support your stress systems
There’s a good chance you have been fueled by glucose for most of your life. So, when glucose suddenly isn’t available, your body might think you’re in danger – that you’re in a time of scarcity or famine. That triggers your stress response, and your adrenal glands release cortisol, which makes you store body fat.
An easy way to combat this is with adaptogens – supplements that act directly on your body’s stress mechanisms. Adaptogens help to modulate the stress response so that the physical effects of stress are less pronounced.
3. Don’t skimp on salt
Going low-carb increases salt requirements on multiple levels. First, when your body dumps glycogen, it doesn’t just dump the water that accompanies it. You’re also losing tons of sodium. Second, a byproduct of low insulin is reduced sodium retention,http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7332312‘>6 To replenish your stores, Use Lite-Salt (a potassium salt) along with your regular salt, and eat lots of non-starchy green vegetation, like spinach. Other great potassium sources include avocados and yogurt (if you get real yogurt, the bacteria have consumed most of the sugar).
5. Take magnesium
Notice a theme here? Electrolytes matter when you’re going keto.