Protein Sparing Modified Fasting AKA: PSMF or “Cut fat intake and up protein to break stalls” – with or without Keto Chow
The concept of a “Protein Sparing Modified Fast” or PSMF can sound a bit complicated at first, but it can be a fantastic way to break through a stall and cut body fat. PSMF isn’t for everyone and, depending on how you implement it, isn’t typically used for extended periods of time. You’re doing a sort of “fast” that’s designed to keep muscle protein intact (or “spare” it) while still letting your body consume stored fat for energy. The PSMF subreddit sums it up as:
PSMF is a ketogenic diet designed to jump-start a weight loss program (either for rapid fat loss for a body builder or those with some weight to lose) or break a stall. It is a modified fast and as such is not a lifestyle. The idea is basically to only eat to prevent lean muscle loss (protein).
The Basics of PSMF
With a typical Ketogenic diet you will be getting 20-50g of carbohydrates as an upper limit, with anywhere from 90-160g of protein (depending on goals, activity, and other factors), with fat as a variable that can come from the food you consume or from your body’s fat storage. For the rest of this article, I’m going to be using numbers from Maria Emmerich’s Macro Calculator. I’m setting the calculator to give numbers for a 220 lb, 40-year-old female with 35% body fat that we will call “Jane”; YOUR numbers will be different so please make sure you pull up the page and enter in YOUR measurements. The Calculator says that if Jane wants to lose weight quickly, she should use 2 different calorie/fat/protein/carb combinations (click to embiggen!):
If Jane had selected regular “Fat Loss” instead of PSMF, it would have told her to do 1659 calories with 118g of fat, 130g protein, and 20 total carbs. There are a few important points that I would like to cover here:
- You will notice that we are ALWAYS talking about grams of stuff, we are not using percentages for the fat/protein/carbs. Macro percentages are ONLY used for treating epilepsy and even then it’s more properly done with a 4:1 or other ratios of fat calories to other calories instead of percentages. If you’re looking at a “Keto Macro Calculator” that uses percentages it isn’t going to be useful, that’s why we consistently recommend Maria’s calculator over all others.
- If you have looked at other “Keto Macro” calculators, you may notice that the amount of protein recommended is WAY higher. Craig Emmerich covers a lot of the old fear that people used to have about protein and why it’s unfounded in his presentations about PSMF given at Keto Salt Lake 2021 – I highly recommend checking it out.
- The text above the figures reminds you that protein in a MINIMUM, get at least that much and you can go over if you stay below the calories (by getting less fat).
- Right there in the calculator results, it explains the basic setup of how to do PSMF “Add 1-3 days a week of PSMF to speed up fat loss or break stalls. Then Fast Fat Loss macros above on the other days. If doing this two or more weeks in a row, add an overfeeding day each week with 400-600 additional calories of protein and fat.“
- Maria recommends you stay under 10g of TOTAL carbs. You will quickly find that 10g of total carbs and 30g of total fat will necessitate a major change in how you eat on your PSMF days (hello chicken breast!).
OK, we’ve covered some of what PSMF is and how to do it. How can you use Keto Chow as a tool to help you be successful with PSMF? First things first: we need to address the TOTAL carbs situation.
Most flavors of Keto Chow contain around 7.6g of total carbohydrates. If you wanted to use 3 meals of Keto Chow on your PSMF days, that would be 22.8g of total carbs before you even add any other food and 22.8 is more than 10! Here’s the thing about the total carbs in Keto Chow: 5.71g of that is acacia and xanthan gum fiber (mostly acacia). Acacia gum is some REALLY cool stuff, especially for a keto diet. There’s a long explanation of the benefits of acacia gum on keto on this page, but the short version is: your body can’t digest acacia gum, but your gut bacteria DOES and it turns the former carbohydrate into short-chain fats. Carbs in -> turned into fats = happy gut biome with energy for your intestinal cells. All of this is why I, personally, do not count acacia gum (or xanthan gum) towards my total carbohydrate limit. With that acacia and xanthan gum quantity removed, the result is 1.8g of fiber and lactose carbohydrates – let’s call it 2g just for fun. 6g of carbs from 3 meals of Keto Chow still leaves me with 4g and that’ll be taken up by the incidental carbs in mostly meat that I’m eating to cover the rest of my protein goal after 3x Keto Chow meals made with 10g of butter each.
Enough about me, let’s go back to Jane and her goals! Jane needs to get 159g of protein, under 30g of fat. For Jane, that means 78.6g of protein from 3 meals of Keto Chow (or 52.4g if she uses 2 meals of Keto Chow – the number of meals of Keto Chow is entirely up to you!). Jane will be 80g of protein short doing 3x Keto Chow, but she knows that she got a full 100% of her vitamins and minerals because of the Keto Chow. How can Jane get that additional 80g?
It’s time for Cron-o-meter!
We love Cron-o-Meter around here! More info here about using Cron-o-meter to track your net carbs. The key difference between Cron-o-Meter and most other tracking programs like MyFitnessPal and Carb Manager is the Cron-o-Meter uses a curated database. That means every entry you find has been verified to be correct. I switched from MyFitnessPal after I tried entering butter into my tracking and there were 7 different entries that were wrong, one even said “butter (net carbs)” butter has 0.01g of total carbs per tablespoon, it doesn’t need a “net carbs” entry! Anyhow, the intricacies of Cron-o-Meter are beyond this particular blog post, but Jane took the numbers from Maria’s calculator and put them into Cron-o-Meter as custom targets:
Jane goes ahead and enters the food she’s planning to eat that day. In this case, it’s 3 different flavors of Keto Chow, along with the 10g of butter that she’s having in each meal to make sure that she will be able to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins in the meals:
Wait a minute: the fat is a little high when she uses 10g of butter in each shake! 10g of butter has 8.1g of fat and each of the skinless chicken breasts also 6.1g of fat. Let’s change the amount of butter in each Keto Chow to 7g. That will make for 21g of butter in total. Jane still wants to get around 10g of fat per meal so she can either have a chicken breast as part of 2 meals, or actually split up the 2 pieces of meat into 3 portions and have 2/3 of a breast with each meal. Check out Jane’s targets NOW!
That looks REALLY good. Jane is half a gram over on fat and 3g over on protein, but both are exceptionally close to her targets. For her non-PSMF days, Jane could take the approach of maybe doing 2 Keto Chow and having some beef for her 3rd meal. In fact: Jane decides to go to have 2 of the same 7g of butter Keto Chow shakes she had the previous day and then she’s going to go to Texas Roadhouse and get a 12oz Prime Rib along with a side salad.
We love a good, homemade, completely-from-scratch meal as much as anyone…but let’s be honest. Sometimes that’s just not in the cards. With work, travel, and general modern life (hello, ever-growing work hours), sometimes a quick stop for takeout or fast food is all we can manage.
When a quick stop at a place like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, or KFC is what you need, it might seem impossible to stay keto. Lucky for you, we’ve done the legwork in pulling together a list of 9 keto-friendly fast food options. Anytime you find yourself in a pinch, you can rest easy, knowing you’ve got some meal solutions even when you’re out and about.
- McDonald’s—Eating at McDonald’s while doing keto may seem like two things that don’t go together at all, but there are some surprising keto-friendly options available at this chain. Consider one of their McMuffins (egg or sausage), and just toss the bun. Tada! You can even go with a Big Mac, Quarter Pounder, McDouble, or Grilled Chicken Sandwich and do the same thing: just say bye to the bun and devour the rest of it!
- Wendy’s—You’ve got quite a few options at this fast food chain. To start with, a Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad or a Cobb Salad are both good choices. You can also go the “sandwich without the bun” route. The Double Stack, Baconator, or the Chicken BLT are pretty safe choices.
- KFC—The traditional fried chicken at this chain is on the higher carb side and is not very keto-friendly. However, their “Kentucky Grilled” options are going to be your best friends to keep you in ketosis whenever this is your stop on a busy evening. You can also go with a Caesar Salad or a House Salad. (Without the croutons—you know the drill.)
- Popeyes—Next time you stop by one of their locations, try their Blackened Chicken Tenders. They’re a great option for all our fellow keto-ers, as they don’t have high-carb breading. Instead, they just have some simple spices and seasonings, making it an easy choice. (Hallelujah!) Don’t forget that the Bacon Green Beans are another offering here that can keep you in ketosis.
- Chick-Fil-A—You’ll be in a similar boat here as you are at KFC and Popeyes. The traditional chicken options available here use a batter that is on the higher carb side. We recommend their Grilled Chicken Salad and Grilled Chicken Nuggets to keep you in ketosis when Chick-Fil-A is on the menu!
- Burger King—A Cheeseburger or a Whopper are some good options here. A Grilled Chicken Sandwich is also low-carb. Just remember: no bun, as always, and you’re golden!
- In-N-Out—If you’re lucky to have one of these restaurants near you, just ask for any burger “protein style.” Your burger will come without a bun and will be wrapped in lettuce instead. This makes it a really easy, failsafe option if you’re lucky enough to have one near you!
- Subway—Ah, the home of enormous, carby sandwiches. But fear not, you can take any sandwich that you love and turn it into a salad, and voila! A low-carb keto meal as easy as 1-2-3, even from a place that not many people would associate with keto options.
- Taco Bell—easy options here, as you can build your own selection. (We love restaurants that make it easy.) Just order lettuce, beef, chicken, guacamole, and sour cream and then enjoy the keto goodness!
We hope these selections from some of the top fast food chains make it easier to stay in ketosis when you’re out and about and need a grab-and-go meal from the nearest restaurant. But what about if you’re at a restaurant that’s not on the list? Here are a few general hacks for when you’re eating out and need a bit of help staying keto.
- Salads can be a generally safe option. (And leafy greens are always great to add to your diet, anyway, so win-win.) Watch out for surprisingly carby dressings, though!
- Sandwiches and burgers can often be made keto friendly by just not eating the bread! (Easy enough, right?) As always, you’ll still want to pay attention to what other ingredients are in the sandwich that may contain sneaky carbs.
- Along those lines, remember to stay on the lookout for hidden sugars and carbohydrates when you’re eating out! Sauces, condiments, nuts, and fruit can all have carbs that add up quickly. If you decide to utilize a tracking app like Cronometer, it can be helpful to enter the food ahead of time to get an idea of what your macros will end up looking like.
One thing we love to do with Keto Chow is making ice cream, it’s extremely satisfying to make an entire meal into a delightful frozen, soft-serve treat. There are a LOT of different ice cream makers on the market, which makes picking one a bit difficult and so we frequently get asked “what ice cream makers should I buy?” After getting that same question 3 times in one day a few weeks ago, we decided to try out several Ice Cream makers and see how well they work to make Keto Chow ice cream.
One of the unique challenges with Keto Chow is that compared to traditional ice cream, there is a LOT of water in it and that water tends to form rather large ice crystals. Quality ice cream is marked by small, even ice crystals. Keto Chow also makes a great soft-serve style ice cream but turns into a solid block if you try to put it into the freezer to harden as you would a typical ice cream mix.
There are three main styles of ice cream maker:
- “Old-time” that you need ice and rock salt
- “Freezer bowl” that you put a bowl in the freezer, no ice or salt needed. Under NO circumstances do you EVER wash these in a dishwasher or use hot water to clean.
- “Compressor” where the unit is larger, more expensive, and does the actual freezing using what amounts to a built-in ice maker.
We didn’t test out any of the “old-time” units, those are better for large batches and really don’t work well for Keto Chow. We tested 5 “freezer bowl,” and 2 “compressor” style units. So let’s meet our contenders!
Starting with the smallest, and least expensive, we have the DASH “My Pint” 0.4 quart. This thing is extremely tiny and only holds ⅓ of a serving of Keto Chow. It is cheap at $20 on Amazon and relatively easy to find at stores like Target
Next, we have the Americana Maxi-Matic EIM-520 1 quart. It’s still quite small but was able to hold an entire serving of Keto Chow with no overflow. I bought this one for $33 on Amazon The red one is 1.5 quarts and likely is the same as the next ice cream maker, or at least exceptionally similar.
The next ice cream maker is also by DASH, the DIC001AQ 1 quart. Easily holds a full serving of Keto Chow with ample expansion room. This one’s a bit tricky to find though. I got it on Amazon for $67 but it’s currently only available from 3rd party sellers for $171! Interestingly, the exact same lid and mixer design are also available from VPCOK for $56 leading me to think that it’s the same product with different branding – the VPOCK claims to be 1.5 quarts which actually sounds more accurate than the 1-quart figure.
Next, we have the Cuisinart 1.5 Quart Frozen Yogurt ICE-21P1 which comes in a stink-load of different colors for $70. This is one of the preferred ice cream makers by Carrie Brown, Keto Ice Cream guru extraordinaire and proved to be one of our favorites, as you’ll soon see.
The final “freezer bowl” maker is the Cuisinart ICE-30BC 2-Quart – this one is supposed to be $120 but for whatever reason is the same $70 as the previous Cuisinart despite having a larger capacity and being much cooler looking.
Now we have the first Compressor style, the Whynter ICM-15LS 1.6 quart is far more expensive than the previous models at $220 but the bowl does not need to be pre-frozen for 12-24 hours. You can actually make multiple batches, one right after the other. Strangely, extra bowls are still quite pricey at $30. The 1.6 quart bowl is just the right size for a full serving of Keto Chow.
For a baseline comparison, we also ran a batch in the Cuisinart Cuisinart ICE-100 1.5 quart that Miriam bought for Father’s Day several years ago. At $300, it’s REALLY expensive compared to many of the freezer bowl makers, but it makes REALLY good ice cream.
We could have also tested the Whynter ICM-200LS 2 Quart that we have at the Keto Chow office, but it makes essentially the exact same results as the Cuisinart one. This model is currently $290 but we got it on a prime-day special in 2019 for $260. This ice cream maker gets a lot of use and we have 3 bowls and 2 paddles.
Due to changes related to Brexit with customs and VAT, we simply do not have the ability to devote what amounts to a full-time position JUST for managing the pre-payment of VAT for orders going to the UK, in addition to the added customs and other regulatory overhead involved. It’s really unfortunate, but we will be turning off shipping to the United Kingdom on December 28, 2020.
We’ve really liked being able to ship to anyone worldwide (despite the insane costs to ship to some locations) but the regulatory overhead and high potential for orders to never arrive at their destination mean this is a decision we really have no choice to take. I suspect that in the coming months, our friends in the UK will find shipping forwarding services that will enable them to get around the Brexit regulations with VAT and all.
If all of this is confusing, or you’re unaware; since the UK voted to leave the European Union, on Jan 1, 2021, a lot of things are changing. Goods imported from Europe and other locations will be subject to new taxes. Most notably: any parcel with a value including the shipping over ￡135 is required to have the Value Added Tax pre-paid by the shipper meaning that for any order going to the UK, Keto Chow would need to calculate, collect, and remit the VAT before the package ships. This is a lot more work than we have workers available to perform for the number of orders we ship per year to the UK.