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Going Keto for Endurance Athletes

Over the past few years, dietary ketosis has become a buzzed-about topic in the endurance world. Runners, cyclists, climbers, and swimmers are giving up usually carb-loaded diets in favor of a low carb, high fat alternative. The promise is this: improved energy, weight loss, and no more bonking. Anti-aging benefits, increased cognitive function, and decreased inflammatory response are also counted amongst the benefits of a ketogenic diet.

But at what cost? Those experts against keto for endurance athletes say it’s a quick road to digestive troubles, lack of moderation, and bad breath.

First- let’s do a breakdown of how it works. A ketogenic diet is meant to change the way your body fuels your muscles and your brain. Usually, your body relies on glucose from carbs to provide energy, but by cutting carbohydrate intake to less than 50 grams a day, your body learns to fuels itself on ketones instead. Ketones are formed in the liver from fatty acids the body creates as a stress response to lack of carbs. In a ketogenic diet, around 75 percent of calories are derived from fats, 20 percent from protein, and the remaining 5 percent from carbohydrates.

The Pros

Weight Loss
Because your body is burning fat as fuel, weight loss happens rapidly. This isn’t only because of increased fat burning, but also because eating high fat foods can reduce appetite. Many individuals will end up eating fewer calories over the course of their days.

Fat Burning During Time Off
Maintaining the high calorie/high carbohydrate diets most athletes are used to during inevitable periods of downtime can wreak havoc. Following a ketogenic diet allows athletes to burn fat even while resting.

Insulin and metabolism
Many athletes experience sensitivity to insulin- a hard time metabolizing glucose and storing it for later. Going ketogenic for a period of time may reset this sensitivity and improve performance.

Mental Clarity
For a number of individuals, following a ketogenic diet can reduce glucose- induced brain fog and help with better mental function.

The Cons

Time to Adapt
Both sides of the keto argument agree that there’s an adjustment period when beginning the diet- headaches, low energy, intense cravings, and cramps are just a few of the symptoms reported after cutting down carbs.

Restrictive and Strict
Results happen when the dieter is extremely diligent- if the dieter messes up, an adjustment period may need to be initiated again. It’s also extremely difficult to get all of the nutrients required in a healthy diet and supplementation is needed.

High Fat
A higher fat diet is connected to heart disease and in keto, a dieter’s consumption of fats is more than double what’s recommended by experts.

Digestive Issues
Any significant change to diet can impact digestion. Furthermore, in a ketogenic diet, fiber consumption tends to be extremely low, leading to constipation and a host of other issues.

Negative Impact on High Intensity
Endurance performance may be maintained, but high intensity exercise will be impacted without an adequate glucose supply. Most training plans include high intensity work to reach relevant endurance goals so this should be a serious consideration.

Ultimately, every athlete reacts differently to the introduction of an extreme diet and adequate research is required. For every athlete who swears by a keto diet, there’s another who reports negative results. If you decide that you’re committed to trying it out, there are a few things you should do to be as safe as possible, including working with a nutritionist to hold you accountable to nutrition goals, taking supplements to cover any deficits you may have, choosing healthy fats, and staying hydrated as a keto diet may impact your ability to store water.

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