The Big 3 Electrolytes for Getting Rid of Keto Flu
A comprehensive guide on tackling the dreaded keto flu. You may have experienced symptoms like fatigue, headaches, and muscle cramps. Fear not! In this article, we’ll delve into the causes of keto flu, offer practical strategies to alleviate its effects or avoid it all together, and provide advice on restoring electrolyte balance for a smoother transition to your diet. Get ready to conquer the challenges and unlock the full benefits of your low-carb lifestyle. Let’s dive in!
Disclaimer: The following information is provided for general informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. It is not intended to replace consultation with qualified healthcare professionals. The content is based on my understanding and experience . Medical knowledge and guidelines are subject to constant change and may vary depending on individual circumstances. Always consult a licensed healthcare professional or your primary care physician for personalized advice and treatment options. Reliance on any information provided here is solely at your own risk.
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost or effort to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through the link and make a purchase.
Anyone that has started a keto diet has undoubtedly feared the dreaded keto flu, perhaps you are even suffering through it right now.
The frightening tales of the keto flu may have even scared you off from giving a keto diet a try. The fear of sudden and unwelcome brain fog, fatigue, headaches, lethargy, and overall feeling of wellness that commonly accompany the start of low carb diet, may seem like too much for you to overcome.
But I am here to tell you that its not. Its a very easy side effect to fox and even avoid all together.
The trick is to effectively manage the big 3 electrolytes, sodium, potassium, and magnesium.
In this guide you will learn everything you need to know about the keto flu and how to avoid it or get rid of it by efficiently managing electrolytes.
Remember, I am not a doctor, so take everything with a grain of salt…(ba dum tss).
This guide will answer the following common questions about the keto flu and electrolytes
This is a lengthy and comprehensive guide to managing keto flu and electrolyte intake. Please use the jump links below to jump to the sections your want to read.
Table of Contents (click the links to jump ahead)
What Is The Keto Flu?
Unlike an actual flu, keto flu is not a virus, it is not contagious or dangerous when handled appropriately.
Keto Flu is the name given to a collection of symptoms/side effects that commonly appear in those following low carb and keto diets.
Although referred to as the ‘keto flu’ the name is a bit of a misnomer as it is more accurately an electrolyte deficiency or imbalance, and can affect anyone who is not managing electrolytes appropriately regardless of their chosen diet.
What Are the Signs of Keto Flu?
Common symptoms of keto flu include:
- Brain fog
More sever keto flu symptoms include:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Muscle cramping
This list may appear to be frightening, but any major dietary change can come with some unwanted complications if you are not prepared, so keep reading to make sure you are prepared to manage or avoid keto flu!
What Causes Keto Flu?
As mentioned above, the keto flu is more accurately identified as an electrolyte deficiency or imbalance.
The reason an electrolyte deficiency may occur when starting a keto diet is due to reduction in carbohydrates you are consuming.
Reducing the intake of carbohydrates generally leads to lower levels of insulin which can cause the body to excrete retained water and electrolytes along with it.
(Hence why you can’t stop peeing when you start a low carb or keto diet!)
This flush can cause electrolyte levels to plummet and if not replenished appropriately can lead to an electrolyte imbalance and associated symptoms.
How Do I Avoid or Remedy Keto Flu?
Now that you know what keto flu is, how can you avoid it? Or if you are currently suffering through it, how can you cure the keto flu?
You may have been able to put this together by now, but if foreshadowing isn’t your thing, you can cure, remedy, or avoid getting the keto flu all together by replenishing your electrolytes.
What does that mean?
Well since keto flu is caused by your body flushing electrolytes ultimately leading to an electrolyte deficiency. The most effective cure for keto flu is promptly consuming electrolytes.
Relief from keto flu symptoms can happen in as little as 15 minutes after replenishing your electrolytes!
What Are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are essential minerals that when dissolved in water conduct electrical currents which are required for many of the body’s functions to work properly.
Electrolytes are without a doubt 100% vital to nerve and muscle function, blood acidity and pressure, tissue regeneration and repair, and the big one, proper hydration.
Although many minerals can act as electrolytes in water, the important ones for a properly functioning human body include:
All of these are important and should not be ignored, but this guide for managing the keto flu will discuss the importance of the big 3 electrolytes Sodium, Potassium, and magnesium as well as effective methods replenishing these electrolytes which have the largest impact on the keto flu and seem to be the most difficult for people to stay on top of.
The best electrolytes for keto flu and how To Get Them
The essential electrolytes for getting rid of the keto flu, known as the big 3 electrolytes are Sodium, Potassium, and Magnesium.
Sodium is arguably the most important electrolyte to get enough of regularly. Think of it as the master controller of hydration and the other electrolytes. While each electrolyte is important and part of a puzzle you need every piece of. Without proper sodium the other electrolytes are not able to do their job properly.
Sodium helps maintain water and mineral balance throughout the body. When experiencing keto flu, it’s a good idea to start by making sure your sodium intake is adequate.
How do you increase your sodium intake on a keto diet?
The most efficient method of getting sodium in terms of, effectiveness, cost, and availability is a good quality salt.
Salt is the chemical compound Sodium chloride [NaCl], two of the essential electrolytes identified on our list of vitally important minerals for maintaining proper function in the human body making salt an excellent choice for replenishing electrolytes.
How Much Sodium Do I Need to Avoid Keto Flu?
Both salt and sodium have become very controversial topics over the last few decades.
If you are interested in the topic of salt and its importance as a part of your diet two must reads are The Truth About Salt by Dr. Jason Fung, and for a really in depth but eye opening read, The Salt Fix by Dr. James DiNicolantonio.
Regardless of your stance, it is an incontrovertible truth that humans need proper amounts of sodium regularly to function properly.
Avoiding keto flu isn’t about eating high or low amounts of sodium. It’s about getting adequate amounts of sodium.
In general, most people seem to operate well and completely avoid the keto flu is in the range of 3500-5000 mg of sodium per day. However your mileage may vary.
Salt is truly your best weapon for fighting the keto flu and it is the first place you should start. It is an easy box to check when determining why you are experiencing an electrolyte deficiency.
Relief from a sodium deficiency can be remedied with salt in a matter of 15 minutes.
Some Notes On Salt:
Not all salt is the same, so do some research and choose one you are comfortable with. That being said, regular table salt is perfectly fine. Fancy salt like Himalayan pink salt comes with various claims about its superiority, but is often 97-99% similar to regular salt.
Sodium chloride is a chemical compound and barring some impurities the chemical compound can only exist in so many ways. So get salt you can afford.
Another important note often overlooked, 1 gram of salt does not equal 1 gram of sodium!!!!
In fact 1 gram of salt is about 0.39g (390mg) of sodium the remainder is mostly chloride which is important too, but remember you need to get enough sodium first so make sure your numbers add up.
Low Carb Foods Rich In Sodium:
Aside from salting your food here are some foods rich in sodium to help you with your keto flu:
- Bone broth/stock
- Cured meats
- Pickles/Pickle Juice
- Salted nuts
The second of the big 3 electrolytes for managing keto flu is potassium. Potassium is scary to a lot of people as they are worried about consuming so much that it is dangerous or toxic.
You may put those fears aside as the lethal dose of compounds like potassium chloride consumed orally is hundreds of grams. So like with everything in life, be smart.
On the other hand the dangers of not consuming enough potassium are quite serious.
As with sodium, it’s not about consuming ludicrous levels of potassium we are talking about getting adequate levels so that we are not experiencing the symptoms of a potassium deficiency.
Talk to your Doctor About Supplementing Potassium
**IMPORTANT!** If you are on any prescribed medications, especially blood pressure meds like ace inhibitors, or you have a medical condition you absolutely MUST speak with your doctor before supplementing potassium in any form. It can be dangerous and its not worth the risk.
If you have any concern at all about adding more electrolytes to your diet, do not hesitate to speak with you doctor.
Signs of a Potassium Deficiency
- Abnormal weakness
- Muscle cramping
- Muscle twitching or tingles
- Heart palpitations/irregular heartbeat
- Digestive distress
Some low carb foods naturally rich in potassium to help with keto flu
You have probably heard that bananas are an excellent source of potassium. But they are also an excellent source of sugar! There are better lower carb methods of getting adequate potassium.
For instance, did you know that nearly all meat contains potassium? It is almost never listed on the nutrition label, but using a verified database, or simply using a food tracker that does, like cronometer. Allows you to see what your daily intake of potassium really is.
- Meat and poultry
- Bone broth
- Dark leafy greens
Isn’t there a salt for potassium?
Yes there is! Potassium salt is a common table salt substitute composed of potassium chloride and is found in many grocer under various names.
Common names for potassium salts are:
- No Salt
- Low Blood Pressure Salt
While some are offered as mixes which are half sodium chloride half potassium chloride. These are my favourites:
These are all common items that can be found in grocery stores and are cheap and effective method of consuming potassium
Potassium salts are often on the shelf with the regular salt, so keep an eye out or order some online.
!! Remember to speak to your doctor about any concerns regarding potassium supplementation, especially if you are taking ANY meds or have a medical condition. !!
How much potassium do you need per day to avoid keto flu?
Again following the guidance from sodium you need to be comfortable consuming whatever it is, so do your research and ask qualified professionals when in doubt.
But most people tend to operate well in the range of 3500 mg of potassium per day. Again, your mileage may vary, some need more, some need less.
Some notes about potassium chloride salts:
Again 1 gram of potassium salt does not equal 1 gram of potassium.
Potassium chloride should be consumed in safe amounts over a period of time, not all at once.
Consuming too much of any salt all at once will have you running for a bathroom and parked there for a while.
Can I take a Potassium Pill?
It is not generally recommended to use potassium pills.
While potassium pills are available most are very low in potassium and many would be required daily to get enough potassium since in most places potassium supplements and pills are limited to 99mg per pill for safety reasons.
It’s simpler and more effective to use potassium salts, or eat foods rich in potassium.
Magnesium is the often overlooked but important member of the big 3, and not just by the keto community. It is estimated that due to the overwhelming amount of highly processed and modified food we eat, the magnesium content of the food we eat is declining and most people are not getting enough magnesium.
Magnesium deficiencies can lead to a number of complications.
Common side effects of a magnesium deficiency
- Muscle Spasms
- Leg and muscle cramps (especially at night!)
- Numbness and tingling
Some Low Carb foods rich in Magnesium:
- Dark leafy greens
While there are many foods apparently rich in magnesium, the quoted nutritional information is dated and modern foods are estimated to have less and less magnesium than previously tested.
In order to get proper magnesium, many people choose to take magnesium supplements.
Quick Tips For Magnesium Supplementation
How much magnesium do I need per day for keto flu and cramps?
The proper amount of magnesium will vary, but generally around 300g-500g of elemental magnesium per day is needed to avoid side effects.
How to choose a good magnesium supplement for keto flu?
When choosing a magnesium supplement there are two important things to look for. Which magnesium compound the supplement contains, and how much elemental magnesium is present in the supplement.
Choosing the right Magnesium Supplement for keto flu
Unfortunately not all magnesium supplements are effective, and some can even have nasty side effects.
The most common form of magnesium, which is mostly found in multivitamins and other off the shelf supplements is magnesium oxide, and quite frankly it’s garbage.
Magnesium oxide is not very bio-available to the body meaning your body cannot use or access the magnesium in the compound very well, it just goes right through you.
Magnesium oxide has a bioavailability of around 6%!! What a waste! That means your 1000mg mag oxide supplement is giving you at most 60mg of usable magnesium!
There are better options out there that are also easy to come by.
What is elemental magnesium?
Elemental magnesium is the number you are after, as it is the amount of actual magnesium present in the compound.
Many brands do not state this number and it can be misleading.
To determine the amount of elemental magnesium from the label pay attention to how the magnesium content is listed.
For instance if a label says:
300mg magnesium (as magnesium glycinate)
That generally means that there are 300mg of the compound magnesium glycinate, not 300mg of actual elemental magnesium.
However, if the label says,
300mg of magnesium (glycinate)
300mg of magnesium from magnesium glycinate.
That generally means it contains 300mg of actual elemental magnesium.
How Do I know If I Am Getting Enough Electrolytes?
Electrolyte intake is a funny thing because the amount required is different for everyone.
While the sections above gave estimated ranges for intake, the reality is, you need what you need.
Some people need lots, some people don’t seem to need as much.
Rather than targeting a specific number, I believe it’s best to go by how you feel. If you feel fine, your are probably fine, if not have some more.
If you arent experience any of the effects of keto flu, then you are likely getting enough, if you are, then have some more.
If you are a numbers person then use a food tracker like Cronometer to check your daily intake.
Truths and Myths about Keto Flu
Unfortunately over time, the fact and myths about what keto flu actually is and how to treat it have become intertwined making it very difficult to find accurate information to help you combat the keto flu.
Lets explore some of the common myths surrounding the keto flu and put some truth to them.
Myth: Keto flu is a sign that you are in ketosis and it’s just something you have to go through.
Truth: Keto flu in and of itself is not a concrete sign you are in ketosis. It is a sign that your body has depleted its electrolytes and it is telling you to replenish them.
Lowering your carb intake generally means lowering the levels of insulin in your body. A drop in insulin levels can cause the body to excrete stored water and along with it electrolytes. Aka you pee more, which you may have noticed!
Keto flu is not something you simply have to ride out. Appropriately replenishing your electrolytes can help you remedy or avoid the keto flu altogether.
Myth: Keto flu only strikes at the beginning of a low carb or keto diet
Truth: Keto flu can strike at any time and to anyone keto or not if they are not consuming adequate electrolytes regularly.
Although keto flu does appear to be more common in beginners, this is primarily because of the habits people form as they are formulating their keto diet that allow them to properly maintain their electrolytes.
As people gain experience with their new keto diet, they become more efficient at keeping their electrolyte balance in check and the keto flu becomes less of a concern.
Myth: Keto flu happens because your body is craving sugar or experiencing carb withdrawals
Truth: While there is some anecdotal evidence that carb withdrawals can be problematic. The brunt of keto flu is caused by an electrolyte deficiency.
Even though a reduction in carbs can cause the body to flush water rapidly, it is not technically the lack of sugar or carbohydrates that is causing keto flu symptoms. It is the imbalance or lack of adequate electrolytes in your system that is causing the headaches, fatigue, and feeling of un-wellness.
Myth: You need to buy special low carb electrolyte supplements to adequately replenish your electrolytes.
Truth: A big pet peeve of mine is the way “keto electrolytes” are marketed to low carb dieters. Electrolytes are electrolytes, minerals are minerals. You don’t need special low carb ones, or expensive electrolyte powders to get rid of keto flu.
Keto flu is is easily and efficiently remedied with the use of the big 3 electrolytes discussed in this article (sodium, potassium, and magnesium) which are readily available at most common grocery stores or pharmacies for cheap.
Myth: The reason you get keto flu on a low carb or keto diet is because keto is deficient in minerals and electrolytes.
Truth: Although a reasonable thought, it is in fact a myth.
For many, a keto diet revolves around vegetables such as leafy greens and various cuts of meat, both of which are packed full of minerals such as electrolytes.
As discussed in the super awesome article above, lowering your carbohydrate intake simply changes the manner in which your body retains and excretes water and electrolytes making it easier to become deficient.
This means that you must adapt and change the way you manage your electrolytes in order to avoid an electrolyte deficiency or remedy the keto flu.
The only nutrient a well formulated keto diet is deficient in is carbohydrates.
Ketoade: A simple remedy for fighting keto flu
Okay, we know what the big three are, and how to get them, but how to make sure you are getting enough in your day?
Well the magnesium supplement is easy. Sit it on your bedside table, and take it before bed. Done.
As discussed above, it important to make sure you are choosing a good bio-available form of magnesium. Jump to that section now for a refresher.
Sodium and potassium on the other hand can be a bit trickier. You can only salt your food so much, and while for many this will be adequate, there are still some who cannot add enough salt to their food to both enjoy it and get adequate electrolytes.
For these people, ketoade will be your best friend.
What is ketoade?
Ketoade is essentially salt water that is sometimes flavoured to make it more palatable.
It is an effective and easy method of fighting keto flu because unlike overpriced and underwhelming store bought electrolyte drinks you completely control the amount of salts/electrolytes in the beverage.
Warning! Start slow with ketoade as too many electrolytes at once can lead to a severe and sudden trip to the bathroom so when using salts, spread your intake throughout the day. Ketoade should be sipped, not chugged!
How to Make Ketoade
The general formula for ketoade is:
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp potassium salt (no salt. Nu salt)
- 20 oz water
- Optional flavouring (mio, lemon juice, etc.)
- ½ tsp lite salt/half salt
- 20 oz water
- Optional flavouring (mio, lemon juice, etc)
This is a weaker mix but will still deliver around 600 mg of potassium and 590mg of sodium. You can play with the ratios and figure out what works for you.
You can check the electrolyte content of your ketoade by using a food tracker like Cronometer.
Be Smart About Electrolyte Intake
Listen, I am of the belief that too little is more of a concern than too much, but that doesn’t mean that too much is not a concern. I am not a doctor. Be smart, do whats right for you. No one is telling you to go out and consume these things a heaping spoonful at a time.
Use your head, and start slow, you can always take more if needed.
You are trying to get adequate electrolytes not bombard your body with more than it needs.
While being irresponsible could land you in trouble if you are eating insane amounts, the big concern is the osmotic flush that can happen when too many electrolytes are consumed at once.
You will be running for a bathroom, and you will be hoping it’s private and comfortable, you will be in there a while as your body purges.
My Thoughts on Electrolytes and Keto
I personally don’t drink ketoade in any capacity as I don’t like it and don’t need it. I salt my food, I cook with plenty of seasonings, and I eat A LOT of meat. So far, in nearly 6 years I have had no issues.
If you don’t like ketoade but are still struggling to get your electrolytes in, you should reformulate how you cook and eat to work these into your diet. You may need to get accustomed to adding more to your recipes and your plate.
Over time there appears to be a bit of an adaptation period where constant supplementation of electrolytes becomes less pressing. This is likely due to some physical and psychological changes around how you eat and prepare food.
It’s possible that as your body adapts to a lower carb diet you are no longer flushing the same amount of water. At a certain point people also seem to figure out how they need to cook and eat to feel their best without worrying about supplementation.
For instance, I rarely ever worry about keto flu anymore. Not because I am immune, but because I know how I need to cook. And eat to keep it at bay. I use sea salt and potassium salt in my cooking, I season my food, and if I am feeling low, I have something like a pickle or cured meat and it does that trick.
I do notice however that when I am away and not eating my cooking, it gets worse. Other people don’t use the same amount of salt or types of salt I use and at those times, it’s nice to have ketoade to lean on.
I also always pack potassium salt and magnesium supplements when I am travelling!
I learned the hard way that when you are in a foreign country, or in the middle of the woods camping, there are very few options for nighttime leg cramps and the general feeling of fatigue. I’d rather have them and not need them that be stuck sleeping in the woods for 7 days with terrible leg cramps and brain fog.
References and Resources about Electrolytes
Information and resources used in this article: