Ketogenic Diet for Athletes

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The Ketogenic Diet is of interest to athletes as it holds the promise of improved endurance. This article builds on the main article on the Ketogenic Diet, and all pros and cons on that page also apply to athletes.

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This article is under construction.
Caution: This a skeleton article, so only a rough outline exists. This may consist of semi-completed sections, isolated bullet point and notes to the author.
You are welcome to read what exists so far, and feedback is welcomed. Email "feedback <at> fellrnr <dot> com"

1 Advantages of the Ketogenic Diet

  • Improved Endurance. There is limited evidence that for some individuals, endurance may be improved on the ketogenic diet.
    • My personal experience is that my ability to run up to 30 miles at an easy pace with no calorie intake is greatly improved on the ketogenic diet.
  • Improved recovery. The ketogenic diet may improve recovery, and this may be due to changes in protein conservation or a reduction in the oxidative damage that occurs when burning fat/ketones rather than glucose.
  • Reduced crashes. There are anecdotal reports of reduced 'crashes' during prolonged exercise when on the ketogenic diet.
    • My personal experience is that my blood glucose is more stable, I'm less prone to crashes, and when they do occur they happen later and are less severe. However, when I do crash on the ketogenic diet, it's less obvious how to deal with the problem. My current suspicion is that I'm running low on readily available fat, as increasing my fat intake during the run seems to help.
  • Muscle Growth. The ketogenic diet improves protein conservation and may improve recovery, which in turn may lead to improved muscle growth.
    • My personal experience is that I can put on muscle much better on the ketogenic diet. A trivial level of upper body training while on the ketogenic diet increased the muscle volume in my arms more than I've ever been able to achieve with dedicated weight training on a Standard American Diet.
  • Mood State and Overtraining Syndrome. There is evidence that the Ketogenic Diet can help treat bipolar disorder and normalize Mood State. Because Overtraining Syndrome appears to be a form of clinical depression, this may be of benefit to athletes undergoing high levels of training stress or suffering from Overtraining.
    • Personally I found that I am able to handle far higher training volumes without it impacting my Mood State.

2 Disadvantages of the Ketogenic Diet

  • Health risks. The Health Risks of the Ketogenic Diet and the need for medical supervision also apply to athletes. However, because there is so little scientific evidence around athletes on the ketogenic diet, it is unclear how the risks may change.
  • Ketoadaptation. The timeframe to adapt to the ketogenic diet (Ketoadaptation) seems to be broadly similar for athletes, and during this period training can be compromised.
    • My personal experience with ketoadaptation is that for the first few weeks my running was impaired. I found my breathing was much harder at a given pace, and my breathing was also much harder than expected for my heart rate. After ketoadaptation, my breathing returned to normal, then seemed to become more relaxed than before the ketogenic diet.
  • Lack of Speed. There are anecdotal reports that speed is compromised on the ketogenic diet.
  • Longer Warmup. There are some anecdotal reports that it takes a little longer to Warmup on the ketogenic diet.
  • Individuality. There may be some radically different individual responses in athletes to the ketogenic diet. There is little evidence in this area, but looking at The Science of Ketogenic Exercise you can see huge differences in endurance in highly trained cyclists while on the ketogenic diet.
  • Compliance. Personally, I've found that compliance with the ketogenic diet is harder when burning more calories. It seems that the level of Net Carbohydrate and protein intake needed to maintain the Ketone levels does not increase with exercise. This means that the portion of my calories coming from fat has to be much higher than for a sedentary individual. The only exception is my intake during exercise, where the carbohydrate appears to be burned without undue impact on ketone levels.
  • Unknowns. There are many unknowns with the Ketogenic Diet, and this is especially true for athletes.
  • Mid-exercise fueling. I have found no evidence around what types of fuel should be consumed during exercise.

3 See Also