So, you’ve considered adopting the keto lifestyle because you’re intrigued by the possible benefits, such as experiencing fewer food cravings and feeling more energetic.†
But now you’re wondering: How will the keto diet affect my athletic efforts? Let’s look at working out while eating the keto way.
Burning Fat Versus Burning Carbs
First a quick recap: The whole idea of cutting carb intake in favor of more fat (and moderate protein) intake is to put your body into ketosis. In this state, your body switches over from glucose, or blood sugar, as its main source of energy to ketones, which are created from fat, as its primary energy source.
This process of becoming adapted to a fat-based metabolism is best known for causing a temporary condition known as the “keto flu,” marked by the same achy, icky feeling caused by influenza. But it can also set back your workouts as well.
The best way to ease this transition is to not push your body too hard.
If you’re already on the keto diet and want to begin working out, “start small as your body adapts to the energy requirements of exercise,” say the folks who blog at I Eat Keto. “This is especially important if you are also new to the keto diet.” Gradually build your exercise capacity over time.
Using Keto to Fuel Cardio
Do you engage in activities that exemplify the slow-and-steady approach, such as distance biking or running, or yoga? If so, you may find that “cardio and the keto diet go hand in hand wonderfully,” as the authors at I Eat Keto put it.
In several studies, athletes who cut carbs in favor of fat saw improvements in performance and fat burning along with reductions in indicators of muscle damage.† (If you’re trying to lose weight, remember that fat contains more calories per gram than either carbs or protein so you’ll still need to keep an eye on your calorie counts.)
For endurance work, 70% of your macros should come from fat. If you’re still struggling with low energy levels during exercise, I Eat Keto suggests that you “consider the use of additional supplementation using exogenous ketones.”
Adapting Keto for High-Intensity Exercise
Do you prefer higher-intensity athletics? Then you’ll probably need to adjust your diet.
Unlike steady-state exercise, activities such as sprinting require short, intense bursts of energy. This is fueled by a form of carbohydrate stored in muscle cells known as muscle glycogen, which can’t be replenished by fat intake.
In short, no carbs equals no glycogen, which equals reduced performance.
The way around this problem? Carefully adding carbs back into your diet to fuel higher-intensity exercise—without kicking yourself out of ketosis.
Following a keto diet generally means limiting your daily carb intake to between 20 and 35 grams. However, “if you are highly active then it’s very likely you will be able to increase your carb intake above this base range without significantly affecting your state of ketosis,” says I Eat Keto.
In one approach, you would eat between 25 and 50 grams of readily digestible carbs about 30 minutes before a workout.
The idea is to give your body “the boost of energy needed for the exercise,” according to I Eat Keto. “The hope is that by the time you finish working out, the glucose you consumed beforehand will have been used up by your muscles.”
For most high-intensity exercisers, this system should work just fine. (There are ways to test for ketones—an indication of whether or not you’re in ketosis—in your blood, breath and urine, with blood meters generally being the most accurate.)
If you do extensive high-intensity work, however, you’ll need to level up your game another notch by interspersing five or six days of strict carb limitation with one or two days of carb intake to replenish your glycogen stores.
“This glycogen then needs to be used for high-intensity exercise, using up the stores before the next refeed,” explains I Eat Keto. “This approach allows for days of high-performance training fed by carbs along with days of ketosis for weight control, making this an ideal approach for gaining muscle without gaining fat.”
Keto in the Weight Room
Are you trying to maximize muscle growth? Then don’t forget about protein, the other main nutrient.
When you engage in strength training, your muscle tissue suffers tiny areas of damage known as microtears. Your body responds by fixing the microtears and creating even more muscle tissue in the process...and it rebuilds that damaged tissue with protein.
To gain muscle, I Eat Keto recommends a protein intake of 1 gram for every pound of body weight, along with eating an extra 250 to 500 calories’ worth of fat.
Want to work with a certified trainer? You can find one through the American Council on Exercise here; ask prospective candidates if they have experience working with athletes who follow the keto diet.
†The information provided is not an endorsement of any product, and is intended for educational purposes only. NaturesPlus does not provide medical advice and does not offer diagnosis of any conditions. Current research on this topic is not conclusive and further research may be needed in order to prove the benefits described.
The conditions and symptoms described may be indicative of serious health problems, and therefore should be brought to the attention of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.