The ketogenic diet for endurance athletes has had an explosion in interest over the last few years. And with good reason: weight loss, improved energy, better athletic performance, mental clarity and reversal of diabetes are just some of the claims its fans rave about.
What is the ketogenic diet for endurance athletes?
The ketogenic diet is based on eating high fat, low carb and moderate protein..
It is not a new “fad” diet but was designed by doctors in the 1920s to successfully treat kids with epilepsy
Since then, it is has had increasing interest from scientific and medical communities with respect to reducing the epidemics of obesity and diabetes. Gary Taubes argues that a high-sugar diet leads to both Type-2 diabetes and obesity via the release of excessive insulin. He says obesity and diabetes epidemic is not caused by too many calories but by too much sugar. It appears that the sugar industry may have paid researchers to produce documents that insisted it was fat was the problem behind ill-health, not sugar.
Will the ketogenic diet work for endurance athletes? Don’t we need our carbs?
The ketogenic diet has had increasing interest from athletic communities due to incredible endurance performances by athletes who can perform at a high level all day without the need to be ingesting more sugars every half hour.
We have been schooled our whole athletic lives to “carb-up”. We have also been marketed to over the years to consume sugary gels and drinks, every half hour. Heck, all the races even supply this stuff to us in bulk!
Surely we, as athletes, need these carbs to keep from “bonking”(running out of fuel)? Actually, not too much.
The aim of the ketogenic diet is to change the major fuel source from sugar to fat!
We can only store 1800-2200 calories in the form of glycogen in the liver- then we run out and need to keep topping up with more glycogen. Hence the need to always carry extra sugar for any session over 2 hours.
However fat supplies an almost unlimited energy source, IF we can access it. What if we could use fat for energy instead of sugar?
We would not need to carry extra sugar, we would reduce our risk of gastric distress from giving our stomachs too much work to do during a race and reduce needless extra calories which have us getting fatter each year (even though we have a high training volume).
When the body burns fat instead of sugar, it produces ketone bodies that supply an even amount of energy all day to the muscles and brain.
You are always going to burn a mix of fat and carbohydrate, but the ketogenic diet will help you burn a higher proportion of fat. It has a glycogen sparing effect. In a long race, you may need to top up with some carbs. But how much better will you perform if you only need to take on 2 gels over the whole day at strategic points instead of 3 gels every hour, which your stomach eventually rejects.
What should I be eating then to successfully do ketogenic diet for endurance athletes?
Eating more fats does not mean binge eating McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken and other fast food. It means eating healthy oils, full cream, avocado and nuts.
You can eat meat chicken and fish. You can eat a ton of non-starchy vegetables, you may eat full-fat dairy (unless you are lactose intolerant), you may eat salads, nuts, seeds and healthy oils.
How Long Will It Take To Adapt To The Ketogenic Diet For Endurance Athletes?
There will be a transition period like any diet or new program. This could range from a few days to a few weeks depending on the person. You may feel tired and a bit flu-like (It is called the “keto-flu”). This usually resolves in a few days. It is often eased quickly if you top up your electrolytes (sodium, potassium and magnesium)
What else will the ketogenic diet for endurance athletes do for me?
Most people see a ton of health markers improve like: cholesterol levels, blood triglycerides, body fat %, insulin resistance drops, type 2 diabetes disappears and mental clarity improves.
The sugar spikes also disappear and you will be noticeably less hungry. You will not experience the afternoon slump nor feel the need to snack all day.
Is the ketogenic diet for endurance athletes difficult?
No- one of the beauties of the ketogenic diet is the high % of fat consumed keeps hunger away. And there is no calorie restriction or portion counting. Eat as much as you want, as long as it is low carb and high fat.
Anything else to consider on the ketogenic diet for endurance athletes
It is a simple diet but if you wish to try it out, make sure you understand it before skimming one article then passing judgement.
If you think it makes sense for you, do more reading. There are plenty of good books on the subject. Implement the diet; see what results you are getting, then do some more reading.
For example, one criticism of the Ketogenic diet is it is called the “no-carb diet”! This is false.
You may eat carbs, you just want to keep the proportion low. As a guide: if you are just starting out on the ketogenic diet, you should try to keep your carbs between 25-50grams a day.
Once your body becomes fat-adapted, you may find you can consume up to 100grams a day and stay fat-adapted.
If you have a big frame or regularly run 100 miles a week, you may be able to consume 150grams carbohydrates and remain fat-adapted.
With any diet, use the principles as a guideline but then you need to test it for yourself and measure your results then tweak and adapt.
Any diet you try will need to be adapted to your current fitness level, your current medial history, your preferred tastes and your genetic profile.
The other area where people get it wrong is that they just eat bacon and eggs.
Let’s not go silly!
Everyone knows a balanced diet is best. For good health you must still prioritise getting your vegetables in. If you eat bacon and eggs for breakfast – which is absolutely fine- also add some spinach or avocado on the side.
If you have chicken for lunch- great – but also add a large salad with healthy oils and lots of variety. And the same for dinner, a nice steak smothered in a buttery sauce is perfect but add some vegetables to go with it.
Be sensible, understand the diet and don’t pick and choose the bits you like then complain that it does not work ☺
Have any endurance athletes successfully performed on the ketogenic diet?
There are many successful endurance athletes doing incredible things on the ketogenic diet. In my book The Ketogenic Diet For Athletes, I have a whole chapter on several super successful endurance athletes on the ketogenic diet plus and share with you a typical food day for some of them.
Let me know if you have tried the ketogenic diet and what results you have noticed,
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