A keto diet in endurance sports is becoming quite popular. Among the benefits that followers of a ketogenic diet receive there are weight loss, an increase in the “energy level” of the body, improved performance, increased psychological stability, and a reduced risk of developing diabetes.
It sounds too good to be true because we all know that our main friends in endurance sports are carbohydrates. Does it turn out that a ketogenic diet is better than a “standard” based on carbohydrates? Do keto diet and running make a good couple? Let’s check.
What is a keto diet?
The basis of the ketogenic diet is the use of a large amount of fat, a moderate amount of protein, and low content of carbohydrates. In other words, it is predominantly a fatty diet, or low carb, if you like.
The idea underlying this diet is not new: the menu was developed back in 1920 and was included in the treatment regimen for children with epilepsy. Since then, the keto diet for beginners has become an object of study for scientists and the medical community as a means of combating the epidemic of obesity and diabetes.
How suitable is a ketogenic diet for endurance sports and running? Do we need carbohydrates?
In addition to the medical community, another, no less curious and extensive community that is very interested in the ketogenic diet are runners. Amateurs and professionals specializing in long and extra-long distances are all looking for proper and simple ways to improve their performance and results.
Of course, most runners will object: they say that the classic approach to feeding runners for long and extra-long distances is based on the use of carbohydrates, not fats at all. And, of course, drinks and gels with high sugar content are what each of us takes during the competition to avoid the famous “wall.” Does it mean that carbohydrates, both simple and complex, are a “vital” necessary component, without which it is unreal to overcome the distance? The answer may not be as simple as it seems.
The main goal of the ketogenic diet is to force the body to use fats as the primary fuel source. It may not seem strange to you; the fact that fats are an energetically more profitable fuel has been known for a long time. The primary source of fuel – carbohydrates – is stored in our body in the form of muscle and liver glycogen. Even though the increased consumption of carbohydrates before the competition allows us to fill the body’s storerooms with glycogen to the maximum, its reserves still run out.
It is estimated, for example, that approximately 1800–2200 calories in the form of glycogen can be stored in the liver; these reserves are not enough to overcome the marathon distance. That is why we are forced to continually replenish glycogen reserves, while overcoming the distance, using various carbohydrates in the form of gels, bars or drinks.
On the other hand, our body has an almost unlimited supply of fuel, but we need to teach the body how to use it. We are talking about fats.
What happens if the body learns to use fats effectively instead of carbohydrates?
We will not need to consume additional sugar; the reserves of glycogen in our body will be quite enough. Besides, the refusal to use sugar at a distance will reduce the risk of developing discomfort in the gastrointestinal tract, and the load on the stomach in the process of overcoming the distance will be lower. Also, following a ketogenic diet will help to avoid additional, often unnecessary calories, from which our weight increases, and we become slower. Of course, the problem of extra-calories can be solved by increasing the volume of weekly mileage, but even in this case, the danger of weight gain remains. When the body begins to use fat instead of sugar as the primary source of fuel, it produces ketones that supply energy to the muscles and brain. Of course, the body never switches to just one type of fuel, and a mixture of carbohydrates and fat is burned.
However, a ketogenic diet will allow the body to use fat as its primary source of energy. The so-called glycogen-saving effect is formed, which helps the body during the competition not to waste carbohydrates, but to enable their use at the right time (say, during the final acceleration). Well, little joys when you need to take only 1-2 gels with you for a marathon, instead of hanging yourself with them in the manner of a bandolier, becoming like a deep space explorer.
What do you need to eat to successfully follow the principles of a ketogenic diet?
Eating more fatty food does not mean regularly visiting everyone’s favorite McDonalds, KFC, or other fast food establishments. It means focusing on “healthy” fats, dairy products, avocados, and nuts in your diet. Here is a keto diet food list.
You can eat chicken meat and fish, consume a large number of vegetables, as well as dairy products with a high-fat content (but only if you do not have lactose intolerance!). Besides, salads, nuts, seeds, and oil (for example, olive) are the best friends of the adherent of the keto diet.
What are the drinks for keto diet while running? Refusing to drink sugar at a distance will reduce the risk of developing discomfort in the gastrointestinal tract, and the load on the stomach in the process of overcoming the distance will be less.
How long does the process of adaptation develop when following the principles of a keto diet?
Of course, when you switch to a new type of diet, you will have a transition period, which can last from several days to several weeks. During this period, you may feel exhausted and tired. The symptoms are often similar to the onset of respiratory viral disease. There is even the term “keto-flu.” This condition usually goes away within a few days, so you can speed keto diet successfully, especially if you will consume a sufficient amount of electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium). There are some best keto supplements, which can help you to go through the keto-flu period without any discomfort.
The principles of the keto diet plan for athletes in the adaptation period:
• You need to remove all carbohydrates. It is quite enough to reduce or completely eliminate cereals, sweets, dairy, fruits, potatoes, bread, etc.
• Continue eating vegetables, protein, and healthy fats: olive, avocado, coconut, and nuts and seeds.
• Exercise only on an empty stomach, preferably in the morning. It is one of the most effective ways to trigger fat adaptation.
What are the additional benefits of a ketogenic diet in endurance sports?
Is keto diet healthy? Most followers of this diet report a reasonably large number of signs of better health: keto diet cholesterol and triglycerides levels are decreased, a reduction in the percentage of subcutaneous fat, and an increase in insulin resistance. Besides, brain activity improves, and the risk of type 2 diabetes is reduced.
Other advantages of keto diet are that sharp surges in blood sugar disappear, and with them, the frequent feeling of hunger goes away. You do not feel noon drowsiness and the need for constant snacks throughout the day.
Conclusion: The ketogenic diet certainly has several attractive qualities that make it potentially suitable for use in endurance sports. Perhaps this diet will allow you to become faster, stronger, a little slimmer, and break all your previous records.
If you like to try new things and want to give a chance to a keto diet, then it is better to start trying it in the off-season and certainly not in the last weeks before an important race. The body needs time to readjust to receive energy from fats, not carbohydrates. Remember that a little inactivity is a frequent companion of the first week on the “keto.”
Have you tried a keto diet while running? Do you use a keto diet app calculator? Do you precisely count carbs in keto diet? Please share your opinion in the comment below.