Keto and Athletes,The Potential Downsides
The ketogenic diet is all the buzz right now, and most of us are aware of the many health benefits to eating a ketogenic diet, such as fat loss, increased energy, blood sugar regulation, and decreased brain fog to name a few. The ketogenic diet fuels our brain and muscles with fat, converted into ketones for energy. This provides for an excellent fuel source for the brain and body.
The ketogenic diet has been used to treat a variety of brain disorders, such as seizures, epilepsy, autism, and parkinson’s. Many people are trying it for the fat loss, because it forces the body to pull from stored fat for energy. More recently, the keto diet is being used by athletes, as a way of increasing their athletic potential.
Why Does the Ketogenic Diet Work for Athletes?
Athletes require high performance nutrition to aid in endurance, strength, and muscle recovery. The ketogenic diet (when done properly, with well chosen nutrient dense foods) can be amazing for many athletes! Fat makes for an efficient fuel source for athletes. Through restricting carbohydrates and fueling with fat, the body can oxidize fat stores more effectively, thus bringing physical performance to the next level.
Anecdotally, athletes are experiencing some amazing results, once the body has fully adapted to ketosis. Many see a great improvement in their level of strength and endurance, as well as improved recovery time. Ketosis has been shown to improve respiration during exercise, reduce glycolysis, and improve overall sports performance . Very recent research shows ketosis provides for an improved hormonal response in male athletes as well. The ketogenic diet combined with resistance training increased male testosterone significantly. The ketogenic diet combined with CrossFit helps with fat loss, improved endurance, and increased power and performance.
Can Keto Improve Performance for Endurance Athletes?
Historically, endurance athletes who train longer than an hour, fuel up on carbohydrates. Loading up on carbohydrates for endurance events has been the primary recommendation by fitness authorities for the past few decades. Most of the research on ketosis has been done on the sedentary population- ketosis for endurance athletes is a fairly new, and controversial
Recent studies are showing conflicting results. However, endurance athletes do metabolize fat more efficiently, due to increased blood and oxygen delivery. In a study examining long distance cyclists, the researchers found that the ketogenic diet promoted better fat oxidation, slowed carbohydrate utilization, enhanced endurance performance during distance events, and decreased post-exercise muscle damage. Long-term ketosis, or fat adapted athletes, provided for the best performance increases.
Every individual has their own body composition, and metabolism, so the ketogenic diet may not be for every athlete. In a recent study, researchers found that the ketogenic diet did have a small negative effect on the athlete’s endurance and power. However, researchers did find significant reduction in one of the active Human Growth Hormones associated with aging and inflammation in individuals using the ketogenic diet. These researchers concluded that this may be concerning for athletes who are highly competitive.
When making the decision to go keto as an athlete, an important factor to consider is food quality and sourcing. Often times people want a quick fix, don’t pay attention to the quality of food they are consuming, and just increase their fat intake mindlessly. The quality of the food we are consuming impacts every area of our health, and will have a profound effect on how the ketogenic diet works. Focus on high quality fats from wild and pasture raised animals, and be sure to feed your mitochondria with leafy green vegetables.
Although the ketogenic diet has been well researched to be effective for athletes, it can easily be done incorrectly. This can impact athletic performance, as well as recovery. It’s important to seek guidance in determining the precise amount of macronutrients for your athletic needs (based on your level, and type of training), rather than just guessing. Adequate fluid and mineral intake are also imperative when fueling the body with fat. Although the research on athletes is young, ketosis can be a great tool to bring your performance to the next level, and is definitely worth trying.