At ACTIONETIX, we’ve worked with countless athletes and evaluated a number of nutritional approaches. One of the most common questions we get is, “Can I use the Ketogenic Diet in my training?” The simple answer is yes… and no. Read on for evaluation of this nutritional approach and how it pertains to athletics, health and performance.
While we are not trying to confuse you with our answer above, we have to first explain what the diet is and then, if and when you can use it for action sports and endurance events.
Ketogenic Diet 101
The Ketogenic Diet, or “Keto” diet as it is often called is simply a diet very low in carbohydrates (sugars and starches) and higher in fat, with consistent intake of protein from various sources. The Ketogenic Diet was originally developed and used to help manage Epilepsy in pre-adult patients, but has been since adapted for weight loss.
Carbohydrates, protein, fats and alcohol are all known as macronutrients and depending on how much of each daily, it can force your body to react in certain ways. Your body, depending on the amount of physical exertion will use a combination of these macronutrients to provide energy. And like many things in life, your body generally has a preference to what macronutrients it uses.
Macronutrient Preference for Energy Production
Although your body will combine and use different sources of macronutrients, you can clearly see that if you eliminate alcohol and severely restrict carbohydrates, your body is left with protein and fat for energy. This sets the stage for fat loss and a potential for muscle loss as well.
One of the options for your body when you eliminate carbohydrates and alcohol is to use protein (protein is made up of amino acids) from your diet and in extreme cases from your existing muscle mass to produce glucose (sugar). This process is known to the scientific and medical communities as gluconeogenesis and is used to fuel certain types of energy production in your body.
In the Ketogenic Diet, when you all but eliminate carbohydrates, and you increase your fat intake, the liver will eventually be forced to help out and convert fat into ketone bodies or “ketones” for short, which can then be used for many bodily functions that require energy. By consistently lowering your carbohydrate intake and for that matter alcohol, your body will tend to start converting more fat, which can in fact lead to weight loss and changes in other things like certain blood work indicators.
The recommended amount of carbohydrates per day to invoke Ketosis is somewhere between 20g and 50g daily, depending on the source you reference and the size of your body. To put 20g of carbohydrates into perspective, it is equivalent to a small apple… per day. No rice, no pasta, no bread, almost no fruit and a low intake of vegetable. Further to that, virtually eliminating alcohol and any sugary drinks like soda, sweet tea, sports drinks and even milk are pretty much essential to abiding by a ketogenic diet.
The Keto Diet – Athlete Feedback
Admittedly, we do not utilize the Ketogenic Diet in its purest form as there tends to be issues that can negatively affect athletes, particularly athletes that are performing at a high intensity, where their muscles require glucose. Some side effects that have been reported, particularly in the early stages of converting to a Ketogenic Diet are muscle weakness, dizziness, lethargy and even a lowered libido. We didn’t have a term for this, but many people refer to this as the “Keto Flu”, which is usually felt early on in the process.
A high rate of urination due to less water being stored in your body is also very common – drink in in… pee it out. Unfortunately with this, electrolytes such as salt, potassium and magnesium can be excreted as well. They can become unbalanced, particularly early on in the process which can place undue stress on the kidneys and negatively affect muscular performance. This is where supplementation with a top-quality high performance multi-vitamin and mineral like PerformaVit comes into play. This along with lightly salting your foods and hydrating with water can help combat this situation.
Learning From the Ketogenic Diet
At ACTIONETIX, we know there is more than one way to achieve your goals. Some people need more strength, others need to lower their body fat and others need to increase their VO2 Max and lung capacity. When we look at fueling the body for performance and achieving an ideal body weight, we do manipulate macronutrients including protein, fat, carbohydrates and alcohol. lowering one of these macronutrients will change the way your body uses food as fuel. We can also manipulate this to gain or lose weight amongst many other things.
Depending on the athlete and the phase of their training and preparation we may lower carbohydrates in order to force their body to utilize more fat as a fuel, ultimately resulting in weight loss. We rarely however go under 100g of carbohydrates or 400 calories from carbohydrates per day so as to avoid a hard state of ketosis, yet still change their body composition. Other athletes with a different metabolism may require additional carbohydrates to help stimulate muscle growth. We tailor the nutrition plan to the particular needs of each athlete as the individual.
If you have more questions on the Ketogenic Diet or want to work contact us for a customized Nutrition Plan for motocross, as well as other action and endurance sports, please use the Contact Us form.
Common Foods Found in the Ketogenic Diet
- Fatty fish: Salmon, trout, tuna, and mackerel.
- Meat: Red meat, steak, ham, sausage, bacon, chicken, and turkey.
- Eggs: Pastured or omega-3 whole eggs.
- Butter and cream: Grass-fed butter and heavy cream.
- Cheese: Unprocessed cheeses like cheddar, goat, cream, blue, or mozzarella.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, cashews, walnuts, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, etc.
- Healthy oils: Coconut, extra virgin olive oil, and avocado oil.
- Avocados: Whole avocados or freshly made guacamole with diced tomatoes, onions and garlic.
- Low-carb veggies: Green veggies, tomatoes, onions, peppers, etc.
- Condiments: Salt, pepper, herbs, and spices.
For more information on the Ketogenic Diet, click here.