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The Ketogenic Diet and Electrolytes

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 08/31/2023

Let’s talk about the ketogenic diet and electrolytes. I’m not sure if you know this or not, but the lack of electrolytes is the primary cause of the keto flu. Low electrolytes can also cause constipation, keto fatigue, cramps, heart flutters, and many other effects you may experience while adapting to the keto diet. We’re going to talk about how you can prevent these problems and much more.

In this article, I will cover:

Woman working out with electrolyte drink | The Ketogenic Diet and Electrolytes


What is the Keto Diet?

The keto diet is a low-carb high-fat diet. By eliminating carbohydrates and sugars, you can switch your body’s primary fuel source from glucose to fat—this is also known as the state of ketosis.

On the keto diet, you cut out foods like bread, pasta, cereal, crackers, pancakes waffles, biscuits, granola, potatoes, and alcohol. Instead, you focus on consuming healthy fats like avocado, salmon, tuna, and olive oil as well as plenty of fresh non-starchy vegetables.

By eliminating glucose, you’re able to reduce Fat Storing Hormone spikes and Fat Storing Hormone resistance. In turn, this can help support a healthy body, prevent chronic diseases like diabetes, and boost weight loss.


What are Electrolytes?

Electrolytes are key minerals that are vital to numerous processes throughout the body. These minerals help form electrically charged particles—also known as ions. Ions carry electrical energy that the body can use.

You might associate electrolytes with hydration. Many sports drink companies advertise how electrolytes can help replenish your fluids. While electrolytes are very important for hydration, they have many more roles in the body.

One function of electrolytes is to keep your body’s pH level in check. pH is the measurement of acidity and alkalinity. If your body is too acidic, this can cause some serious problems in the body, including acidic blood or acidosis.

Another function of electrolytes is to regulate muscle contractions. Your muscles need electrically charged particles (ions) to contract. This includes your heart, which is why low electrolyte levels can cause heart palpitations and blood pressure changes. It’s also common to experience cramps, twitching, and spasming in your muscles when you have low electrolytes.


Why Keto and IF May Cause Low Electrolytes

When you run on glucose (sugar), your body creates glycogen reserves. You store 2.7 grams of water for every 1 gram of glucose. Stored glycogen is like a fluid-filled sponge. As this “sponge” soaks up all of the water, it also soaks up electrolytes.

When you switch your body from running on glucose to running on ketones, you start burning off these reserves, which also gets rid of all that excess water. Along with water, your body also gets rid of stored electrolytes.

Until your body fully adapts to ketosis and consuming fewer carbs, you are particularly vulnerable to electrolyte deficiencies which can cause keto headaches.

Keep in mind that intermittent fasting is another factor in this. Although intermittent fasting alone won’t cause drastic changes in electrolyte levels, it can increase the electrolyte lowering effects of keto. If you do prolong fasting, you can easily become deficient in electrolytes and minerals.

For this reason, it’s essential to replenish your body with extra electrolytes as you adapt to ketosis and intermittent fasting. Otherwise, there’s a good chance you’ll feel the effects of the keto flu.

Plate and silverware clock showing the intermittent fasting window | The Ketogenic Diet and Electrolytes


How Electrolytes Help Improve Fat Storing Hormone Resistance

One of the primary reasons for switching to keto is to help reverse Fat Storing Hormone resistance. Fat Storing Hormone resistance is a huge problem across the world today. Keto and intermittent fasting are incredible tools to use for this issue.

Interestingly, electrolytes can help improve Fat Storing Hormone resistance directly too. You can take electrolyte supplements to help speed up the reversal of Fat Storing Hormone resistance and prevent any keto flu side effects.

In fact, if you have more severe Fat Storing Hormone resistance problems—like pre-diabetes or type II diabetes—a common symptom is low electrolytes. This is because your body tries to flush out excess glucose, and, in the process, this gets rid of important electrolytes.


Why Your Mitochondria Need More Electrolytes

Mitochondria are your cell’s power generators. They are small rod-shaped organelles that live inside of your cells that convert oxygen and nutrients into something called ATP. ATP is used as the primary power source for all of the cells throughout your body. In fact, it makes up 90% of the chemical energy that your cells use.

A large part of your metabolism happens in your mitochondria, and they require electrolytes to function. As your metabolisms increase on a ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting plan, your requirement for electrolytes increases. This can be a big problem for those with already low electrolyte levels.

Signs of Low Electrolytes

How do you know if your electrolytes are low on keto? This depends on how low your electrolyte levels are. The signs can range from a slight lack of energy to severe keto flu symptoms, like brain fog and nausea.

If you have low electrolyte levels, you may experience:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle cramps
  • Brain fog
  • Irritability
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Palpitations
  • Low energy levels

If you notice two or more of these symptoms, try increasing your electrolytes and see if they go away.


Causes of Low Electrolytes

There are many causes of low electrolyte levels. As I mentioned before, going on a ketogenic diet may drain your electrolyte levels temporarily because your body loses the excess water stored with glycogen.

Other causes of low electrolytes levels include:

  • Poor diet (not enough vegetables)
  • Kidney disease
  • Excessive exercise or sweating
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Drinking way too much water (this can flush out important minerals)
  • Numerous drugs, including diuretics
  • Cancer treatments

Though young people often experience electrolyte problems, older adults are more at risk for these problems because your kidney function becomes less efficient as you age. This means that someone who is 55+ may need far more electrolytes than a person in their 20s.

Healthy keto-friendly vegetables on table | The Ketogenic Diet and Electrolytes


How to Increase Your Electrolytes

These are the primary electrolytes you need in your body:

  1. Magnesium
  2. Calcium
  3. Sodium
  4. Phosphorous
  5. Potassium

The first four electrolytes are fairly stable—meaning you’re less likely to become deficient in them. That’s because your body stores these in your tissues. When you need these electrolytes, your body can use the ones it has stored.

Potassium is a whole different story. Your body doesn’t store potassium like it does other electrolytes. You need to replenish your potassium levels regularly.

The absolute best way to increase your electrolytes is to consume vegetables!

Most people do not consume enough vegetables. This is a major contributor to low vitamin, mineral, and electrolyte levels. I recommend 7-10 cups of vegetables every single day. This will help supply your body with the potassium it needs.

The most potassium-rich vegetables are:

  • Avacado
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Mushrooms
  • Cucumber

Consuming lots of healthy vegetables won’t throw you out of ketosis. The carbohydrates in most vegetables are low glycemic carbs. We only need to count net carbs, not total carbs. You can do this by subtracting the fiber from the total carbs.

If you are struggling to get enough vegetables in your diet, you can also try an electrolyte supplement, like an electrolyte power. This will help pick up the slack as far as electrolytes go. However, you will still need the other vital nutrients from vegetables. Additionally, I don’t recommend most sports drinks with electrolytes. Most contain far too much sugar and not enough electrolytes to actually replenish the electrolytes your body needs.


Key Takeaways

Electrolytes are incredibly important on a ketogenic diet. For those just starting on keto, keeping your electrolyte levels up could protect you from keto flu symptoms, like nausea, brain fog, and exhaustion.

The body doesn’t store potassium like it does other electrolytes. For this reason, you’re most likely to become deficient in potassium before other electrolytes. Additionally, the ketogenic diet can increase your metabolism, which subsequently increases your need for electrolytes.

Many factors can increase your need for electrolytes, including long workouts, low kidney function, and medications. Older adults are also more at risk for low electrolyte levels.

The best way to increase your electrolytes is to consume 7-10 cups of vegetables a day. Broccoli, spinach, and avocados are rich in electrolytes. If you need an extra electrolyte boost, it can help to use an electrolyte powder. Stay away from sports drinks that advertise electrolytes—they often contain too much sugar and not enough electrolytes to replenish your body.

I hope this article helped clear up any questions you had about the ketogenic diet and electrolytes. Give these tips a try and see if they help you.

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Disclaimer: Our educational content is not meant or intended for medical advice or treatment.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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