Endurance athletes and other highly active individuals are well-suited for a high-fat, low-carb diet that improves physical endurance, boosts cognitive function and mental focus, and helps the body manufacture and access energy consistently.
Whether your athletic goals include hitting your lifts, finishing strong at 26.2 miles, or training for an upcoming triathlon, the keto diet offers many advantages when it comes to performance. Keep the following tips in mind as you work toward your goals:
Keep an Eye on Calories
As an athlete using a keto diet, it’s very important to ensure that you get enough calories for fuel. One of the most significant effects of the keto diet is a marked feeling of satiety, or fullness--which can be both an advantage and a disadvantage as an athlete! Listen to your body’s signals, ensure that you maintain a proper proportion of protein in your diet, and be very cautious of restricting calories. On intense workout days, it may be a good idea to schedule regular breaks to refuel, since the sating effect of the keto diet combined with the sating effect of intense exercise can eventually lead to a sudden crash.
The keto diet can have a natural diuretic effect, which increases the importance of proper hydration--and the importance of managing of electrolyte levels. A vigorous exercise routine means accelerated electrolyte depletion through water consumption, sweat, and energy production. It’s particularly easy for athletes to become deficient in micronutrients like potassium and magnesium, so you’ll want to make doubly sure that your diet is filled with foods rich in these electrolytes. You may also decide to supplement with potassium, magnesium, or calcium on heavy workout days.
Fuel Up with Healthy Fats
For many athletes who have become accustomed to fueling up with carbohydrates prior to competitions or races, the idea of loading up on fat can be a difficult transition. However, with a little understanding of how the keto diet helps the body create ketones in the liver to use fat--instead of sugar--for energy, this diet will become second nature.
Fuel up pre- and post-workout with nutrient dense, real foods that are high in fat and contain moderate amounts of protein (eggs, fish, avocado and bone broth, to name a few!).
Keep in mind, however, that keto isn’t a zero-carb diet. Eating the bulk of your daily carbohydrate limit post-workout can improve recovery and allow you to benefit from the heightened post-workout insulin sensitivity.
Tailor Your Workout on Keto
Whatever your preferred training method, use the following tips to maximize the keto diet to help you reach your goals.
High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, is one of the best ways to reach your performance goals with keto. Be sure to listen to your body’s signals; it’s possible to overdo HIIT, which can lead to muscle loss. Stick to 2 or 3 HIIT workouts per week, with no less than 24 hours between each session, and fuel up properly before and after your workouts.
You’re certain to hear that it’s impossible to build muscle without a steady bulk of carbohydrates. Fortunately, that’s far from true. Strength training is a terrific way to build muscle and overall body strength with keto, provided you maintain proper protein intake and allow your body time to adapt to using fat as an energy source.
Cardio exercise that is longer duration and low to medium intensity, is particularly compatible with a keto diet, since keto improves endurance keeps exhaustion at bay with a steady supply of energy from fat. Aerobic exercise is great for burning through fat stores. Just make sure to keep those protein levels high to keep your muscles in good shape.
Anaerobic exercise like sprinting, which requires short, intense bursts of energy, depletes carbohydrates quickly and can be difficult--particularly at the beginning of a keto diet. Eating 20 to 30 grams of carbs prior to beginning your workout, and then again afterward, will give your muscles enough glycogen to perform properly during anaerobic exercise without taking you out of ketosis.
While keto requires careful attention to nutrient intake, the results speak for themselves. Numerous studies show the benefits of a keto diet for athletes, including dramatically improved performance and endurance.