Out of so many dieting trends that have taken the fitness world by storm in recent years, few have received so much attention as the famous keto diet. Used by people in all spheres of life, from those who are trying to control their diabetes, epilepsy, to fitness gurus who swear on low-carb eats to get and stay fit, the typical menu of an athlete has drastically changed with the help of keto.
On the other hand, research is still in its early stages, and studies are few in numbers for the results to be completely conclusive. One thing is for sure – just like with everything else in life, this solution doesn’t fit us all equally well, and you should listen to your body to see if you will benefit from it or damage your health in the long-run. Let’s see how the pros use it to feed their performance and to what extent it can help you reach your fitness goals.
The Keto basics
The ketogenic diet is named after a metabolic process in our body that occurs when you don’t have enough carbs in your system, which is a typical source of energy, and your body needs to burn fat instead, leading to a production of ketones. The standard variant of this diet means only 5% of your diet comes from carbs, while 75% comes from healthy fats. The cyclical keto diet allows you to have re-feed days when you increase your carb intake for a day or two, and the targeted keto allows eating more carbs before and after your workout.
As a result, your body becomes more proficient at burning fat and maintaining muscle. That is why this diet is often recommended as a weight-loss strategy, and it’s slowly gaining more popularity as a strategy to improve performance for some athletes. However, it takes several months for your body to fully adapt to this switch, while it goes back to its carb-fueled state quickly after you reintroduce them into your diet, thus raising the question of sustainability both for athletes and the average gym-goer.
Glycogen vs. fat
The tale as old as time goes that if you want to train hard, you need carbs to fuel your muscles with glycogen in order to have enough energy stored to tackle a rough training routine, but this effect lasts up to 2 hours. We already know that a healthy dose of healthy carbs helps boost athletic performance, but what happens if you teach your body to use fat as fuel through the process of ketosis?
Apparently, a study has shown that our body works very well with fat as the primary source of energy, even in extremely demanding conditions, such as with ultra-endurance athletes. Interestingly enough, those on a keto diet were able to burn a significant amount of fat, which is beneficial especially for those who wish to lose weight, but their glycogen repletion was surprisingly similar to that of athletes on high-carb diets. Then again, other studies show the opposite, as athletes have experienced muscle loss and their performance suffered as the result of ketosis, so the jury is still out.
The intensity factor
To put this metabolic story in real-life perspective, it still matters what type of workouts you choose, and your reaction to the keto diet will therefore differ. If you are into high-intensity workouts that require momentary bursts of energy, your body will benefit from having access to stored glycogen, and carbs are a must in such a training regimen.
On the other hand, if you opt for lower-intensity workouts, you might benefit from burning fat instead. In that case, it’s advisable to always keep track of your metabolic changes, for example, by using Ketostix strips to make sure the level of ketones in your body is healthy. While a balanced low-carb diet shouldn’t cause such a severe issue, it’s still recommended to monitor your metabolism in order to safeguard your health.
The complex truth
So, we return to the beginning of the keto conundrum – how do you make use of this dieting strategy to your benefit? First of all, since research shows conflicting results, both beneficial and harmful for various activities, you should always check with your nutritionist if you need to decrease your carb intake in the first place, and if your metabolism will benefit from it. While it’s considered an excellent method to lose weight and improve body composition, it’s best when paired with low-intensity routines, while high-intensity still works best with carbs in the equation.
Furthermore, remember that every single one of us is different, so your central nervous system, your muscles, and your energy levels may vary from what you discover in any research paper you come across. Just like with everything else fitness-related, make the choice based on your fitness goals and take it slow to help your body adapt, but stay consistent in order to see the true effects of this diet.