A diet that says it’s okay to eat bacon and butter and doesn’t require you to eat any cardboard-like meal replacement bars? Who wouldn’t be interested? There are some important considerations to make, but otherwise, the Ketogenic Diet falls squarely into this category! Familiarizing oneself with the ins and outs of going Keto can help better understand when and how it can be leveraged for health and wellness.
Keto 101: Understanding the Basics
The ketogenic diet is all the rage these days, and for good reason. The diet comes with a lot of benefits, including weight loss (R), more stable blood sugar levels (R), and increased mental clarity (R).
Essentially, the Ketogenic Diet is a body-hack that shifts our normally carbohydrate-fueled metabolism into a state that utilizes fat-derived ketone bodies to synthesize glucose. Naturally, this might happen during an extended fast when the body shifts into burning stored fat for energy to replace the sudden loss of food!
The Ketogenic Diet has shown powerful applications for addressing major disease and losing weight but, at the same time, many people who are interested in the ketogenic diet are also worried about how it will affect their workouts. Don’t you need carbohydrates to fuel your training? Will you lose muscle mass while you’re in ketosis?
The ketogenic diet is best characterized as a metabolic shift. One’s body changes from seeking glycogen from primarily-carbohydrate sources to seeking it from primarily-fat sources (R). In other words: your body uses fat for fuel instead of carbs. The human body naturally enters into a state of prolonged Ketosis during periods of food deprivation; both intentional (fasting) and unintentional (starving.)
From the perspective of efficiency, such a shift makes complete sense: the body no longer has access to carbs so it begins dipping into stored fat. This approach is an excellent one for mitigating the uncertainty of food sources during our evolution. One might compare it to a car designed to use oil instead of gas once its tank ran dry. It’d help get you down the road in tough times but it wouldn’t be ideal, would it? Not unless one were to make special considerations.
Designing one’s diet to be centered about fats instead of carbs can help mimic many of the same metabolic changes of fasting without the whole starvation aspect. Many of the other benefits seen during fasting, such as the regeneration of white blood cells and hormonal regulation (R), aren’t likely to accompany a ketogenic diet. After all, many of those benefits are attributed to a lack of digestive burden freeing up other bodily systems. Kind of like cleaning your house when you get bored. The benefits of the ketogenic diet are largely, if not entirely, associable to the lack of carbohydrates in one’s diet.
Working Out While on a Ketogenic Diet
First, let’s go ahead and get the simplest question out of the way. Yes, you can workout while you’re on a ketogenic diet.
No matter what your reason is for trying a ketogenic diet, exercise is great for overall health and should remain a part of your routine.
Will I Lose Strength/Endurance?
Not really. Some people get frustrated when they first begin a ketogenic diet because, during the adaptation period, it is normal to feel a bit weaker in the gym. This is because your body is in the process of switching from using carbohydrates as fuel to fat.
This process takes time, and your workouts won’t be as good as they once were during this phase, which typically lasts between two and three weeks.
Now, that doesn’t mean a ketogenic diet makes you weaker or minimizes your endurance. Once you become fat adapted, your strength and endurance should come right back. In fact, your endurance may even be better than it was before because you won’t be dependent on your glycogen stores and will be able to maintain a steady level of energy since you’re using your own body fat for fuel.
If you’re an endurance athlete, you may also find that, when you’re in ketosis, you don’t need to worry about refueling every 90 minutes or so while you’re on long runs or bike rides.
Yes, it’s fine to exercise while on a ketogenic diet, and it’s even fine to exercise during the adaptation period. But, it’s generally not a good idea to start a new workout program or training regimen during this phase.
Dramatically changing up your workouts while also dramatically changing up your diet could end up overwhelming you, and you might find that you have a hard time sticking to both. Make one big change at a time if you want to build lasting habits.
Not only can you workout while on a ketogenic diet, but you can also build muscle.
Here’s the deal. Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred source for building muscle. You will gain muscle mass faster when you’re eating a more carb-heavy diet (but you will also likely gain body fat along with it).
So, if you’re willing to gain muscle mass a bit more slowly, then you can absolutely focus on muscle building while sticking to a ketogenic diet.
There are a few things you need to keep in mind when trying to build muscle while on keto:
- Make sure you’re eating enough protein — the body can convert the amino acids in protein into glucose through a process known as gluconeogenesis
- Eat in a caloric surplus — this is the only way your body can put on muscle mass
- Train correctly to promote muscle hypertrophy — muscle growth
Dietary Optimizations for Performance Increases
Depending on your specific fitness goals, you will need to adjust your diet and the specific number of macronutrients you’re consuming each day. Listed below are some general guidelines to get you started:
Gaining Muscle and Improve Performance
- Eat in a caloric surplus (200-500 calories per day)
- Make sure the majority of your calories come from fat
- Consume moderate amounts of protein (approximately 0.8-1 grams per kilogram of body weight)
Losing Body Fat
- Eat in a caloric deficit (250-500 calories less per day)
- Make sure you’re eating sufficient amounts of fat
- Eat sufficient protein (approximately 0.8-1 grams per kilogram of bodyweight)
- If you are very overweight or obese, you may be able to safely lower the number of calories you’re eating per day to expedite your weight loss
- Eat sufficient amounts of fat and protein
- Assess your performance after 1-2 weeks of eating a standard ketogenic diet
- Slowly increase your carbohydrate intake if you find that your performance is suffering
More Workout Considerations
Listed below are some other tips that can make exercising while on a ketogenic diet easier and more sustainable:
- Replenish your electrolytes after workouts
- Make sure you’re eating enough food — even if you’re trying to lose weight, don’t cut your calories too drastically
- Make sure you’re eating enough fat — remember, in order to experience the benefits of a ketogenic diet, you need to be eating high fat — it should make up approximately 75 percent of your total calories
- Finally, make sure you’re listening to your body — there is an adjustment period when you start a ketogenic diet, and you might not feel great during it, but if you really don’t feel well while on keto, it might not be the right diet for you — and that’s okay!
The ketogenic diet comes with a lot of benefits, and it’s totally possible to reap those benefits while sticking to your favorite workout plan. If you’re interested in trying a ketogenic diet, keep these guidelines in mind and you’ll have no trouble reaching your fitness goals.