One question I get asked often is, “I’m an athlete. Can I do keto?”
As I work with clients, I meet people with a variety of lifestyles. Some clients prefer not to exercise, which is just fine and they do wonderful on the diet (proof that weight loss is 80% diet). Then there is the other extreme, where I get clients who are training for a marathon and are wanting to increase carbs now because they need to “carb load.” I often get asked “My high school son is in football and if you don’t recommend Gatorade, what should he drink?” Um, how about water? There is a much better way to fuel our bodies for performance than carbs.
I am an athlete. I have been running marathons for many many years eating keto. I do not drink Gatorade or “carb up’ before a race. I drink water and for energy, I love LMNT. LMNT is an electrolyte mix that finally gets things right! They use the proper amount of sodium, potassium, magnesium as well as use the proper form of magnesium that won’t upset the stomach or cause diarrhea.
Any person training for a marathon or endurance race MUST read the book The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance. But if the idea of running until your big toe nail falls off (which mine did on my first marathon) doesn’t appeal to you, this book is still a fantastic read on how to increase energy on the ketogenic lifestyle.
It is especially interesting when Dr. Volek points out that he thought with all the data in the studies they conducted (him and Dr. Phinney have over 60 years of research combined) and low carb approaches, he thought they would change the world of performance. Yet, we have been so brain-washed that these studies came out with a “thud.” (not to mention our government driven high carb industry that doesn’t want you to know this). The idea that you can run marathons on coconut oil (which is what I do) is still considered crazy! It does take a few weeks to become “keto-adapted” with a very low carbohydrate approach, but if you give it time, I promise you, your energy will be “through the roof!”
So, if you are like me and it took about 6 months to sit and read a book cover to cover because cute little toddlers are demanding your attention instead, here are some awesome things that I highlighted in the book:
Myth: You need carbohydrates for fuel
1. Our bodies store over 40,000 calories as fat, but we can only store 2,000 calories of carbs, which when “carb-burning” is why marathoners “hit-the-wall” and constantly need Gel Packs and Gatorade, yet still are low in performance at the end of races due to the depletion of carbs in their muscles/liver.
2. Carb-fueling tactics and sugar-based fuel sources create a body that fuels on carbs while simultaneously inhibiting fat burning. “This suppression of fat burning lasts for DAYS after carbs are consumed, not just the few hours following their digestion.” (pg. 7)
3. Even in athletes who have very little body fat are able to work out 20 times longer at their max level. Vigorous exercise fueled on carbs depletes the athlete in a few hours, but burning fat for fuel you can exercise for days. (pg. 10)
I love this chart; fat release plummets with a moderate increase in insulin; this is why I am so extreme… even a banana will cause fat burning to stop and you are no longer “keto-adapted.” Is a banana the “devil?” No, but for what we want to accomplish, it is going to stop your efforts.
The chart below demonstrates why I LOVE weight lifting, not only for myself, but for my clients. For example, one man who was training for a triathlon started a very low carb diet. He was 57 years old, 180 pounds with a BMI of 25. After the first 2 weeks (which his training intensity was decreased) he had the best training and energy of his life! In only 12 weeks, he lost 23 pounds of FAT and gained 6 pounds of muscle!
BENEFITS OF KETO-ADAPTATION (LOW CARB/HIGH FAT DIET)
1. It improves insulin sensitivity and speeds recovery time in-between training sessions. Low carb diets are anti-inflammatory. This produces less oxidative stress while exercising, which speeds recovery time in between exercise sessions. This is why I was able to run every day while training for my marathons.
2. It spares protein from being oxidized, which preserves muscle. Branch chain amino acids are considered essential, because your body can’t make them, so you need to consume them for proper muscle building and repair (as well replenishing red blood cells). What I found so interesting is that BCAA oxidation rates usually rise with exercise, which means you need more if you are an athlete. BUT in keto-adapted athletes, ketones are burned in place of BCAA. Critics of low carb diets, claim that you NEED insulin to grow muscles; however, a well-designed low carb/high fat diet there is less protein oxidation and double the amount of fat oxidation, which leaves your muscles in place while all you burn is fat!
3. It decreases the build up of lactate, which helps control pH and respiratory function. A myth of low carb diets is that it puts you in a state of acidosis.
4. It improves cognition. Ketones aren’t just fuel for our body, but they are also great for our brain. They provide substrates to help repair damaged neurons and membranes. This is why I really push a high fat/low carb diet for clients who suffer from Alzheimer’s (type 3 diabetes) and seizures.
5. It doesn’t damage our immune system and less free radical damage in our cells. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules produced in the mitochondria that damage protein tissues and membranes of the cells. Free radicals happen as we exercise. But ketones are a ‘clean-burning fuel.’ When ketones are the fuel source, ROS (oxygen free radicals) is drastically reduced. Intense exercise on a high-carb diet overwhelms the antioxidant defenses and cell membranes which explains why extreme athletes have impaired immune systems and decreased gut (intestinal) health. A well-designed ketogenic diet, not only fights off these aging antioxidants, it also reduces inflammation of the gut and immune systems are stronger than ever. After reading this, I am no longer concerned about taking all the anti-oxidant supplements that I do! I also don’t worry about getting as many anti-oxidants in my food like with veggies and definitely not with fruit!
What to Eat?
So what does the suggested diet look like? Focus on getting carbs low enough (below 20g total carbs a day). Then get enough protein for your lean mass (0.8 times lean mass). When your body switches over to ketosis, the liver releases a lot of sodium (and the water associated with it) so you actually need more salt in your diet when in a ketogenic state. Even the very lean subjects had double the fat oxidation rates on low carb versus when they did the same exercise on their typical high carb diet. (see chart below).
I want to also emphasis that the faster you switch your diet, the faster you will become keto-adapted. I use to think that in order to succeed, you should do “baby steps”. I know that if you do something 16 times in a row it becomes a habit. Habits are hard to break in the first place, so changing a habit of eating oatmeal and bananas at breakfast is hard enough.
In the past, I would have clients aim for 3 things to change a week, once you have those habits in place, add in and focus on 3 new goals to change. BUT after reading this book, I think you need to “pull off the band-aid” and go all in! The faster you do this, the faster you will stop being a sugar-burner and become a “fat-burner”. It will still take a few weeks to become a significant fat burner, this is referred to keto-adaptation.
There are some supplements that also help anyone who wants to burn fat for energy (or weight loss), which are discussed in this book as well as my book KETO ADAPTED. The best one would be l-carnitine. I take this in a capsule form before my runs in the morning, but you could also get the powder form and add it to the “gel pack” recipe below.
If you find yourself also needing more electrolytes, this is the only supplement drink I found that is the best: LMNT. I like the unflavored.
|Gel frozen in mini ice cube trays. Easy to grab one before a run!|
“HEALTHIFIED” GEL PACK”
1/2 cup coconut oil
2 TBS Swerve (or a drop of stevia glycerite)
1 tsp strawberry extract (or extract of your choice)
1 teaspoon Redmond Real Salt
3 tsp l-glutamine powder (helps repair muscles faster)
3 tsp l-carnitine powder (increases body’s ability to become keto-adapted)
Melt the coconut oil in a small bowl. Mix in additional ingredients. Pour the coconut oil mixture into gel pack (which I found HERE) or ice cube trays (preferably metal trays… you don’t want to put hot stuff in plastic). This recipe also works great as “Magic Shell” over my “healthified” ice cream (which I also eat almost every day!).
NUTRITIONAL COMPARISON (per 1.3 oz serving)
Honey Stinger Gel = 120 calories, 0g protein, 0g fat, 29g carbs, 0g fiber (29g effective carbs)
“Heahlthified” Gel = 288 calories, 0g protein, 33.6g fat, 0g carbs, 0g fiber (0g effective carbs)
Can you believe in high school I couldn’t do a real push up? I am now 33 and feel the best I ever have!