Since you’re reading this article it’s safe to assume you like to train to be strong and fit enough to lift, sprint, throw, and jump. You’re also most likely interested in the keto diet.
I bet that you’d like to know whether your strength, power (jumping, etc) and the endurance you need to exercise intensely (sprints, HIIT) will be hurt if you follow a ketogenic diet. I get it. There’s lots of conflicting information on the topic on the internet. Lots of sports nutritionists, coaches, and other athletes will swear to you that eating keto will make you weak, slow, and unable to push yourself in the gym. Their reasoning is that carbohydrates are necessary for fuel during these types of exercise.
Fortunately we have scientific research and people like us who like to experiment on ourselves to learn the truth.
This articles gets to the truth. In it I review research that tests whether or not following a keto diet will make your workouts suffer. After reading, you’ll see that just like the research I reviewed on Crossfit and low carb what the ‘experts’ say can differ from the results we get in the lab, gym, and playing field.
Keto Diets, Strength And Endurance Loss – What The Research Finds
The study I review for this article used fit, semi-professional soccer players that were split into two groups. Each followed a different type of diet for 30 days. One was a ketogenic diet, eating less than 30 grams of carbohydrates a day. The second a typical Western diet.
Before and after the 30 day study, both groups of athletes underwent a series of tests and measurements.
- Body weight and at percentage
- Cardiovascular fitness
- Intense exercise performance
- Muscular strength
- Changes in muscle size
What makes this study particularly interesting is the amount of protein both groups ate. Instead of following the standard protocol for keto dieting: plenty of fat, very little carbs, and a moderate amount of protein they consumed about 1 gram of protein per pound of their body weight every day. I think this made all the difference in the results they achieved.
So, What Did The Researchers Learn?
In a nutshell, this study shows that following a keto diet does not hurt their performance. The keto group actually performed better in the jumping tests than the athletes on the Western Diet. Their cardio didn’t suffer and neither did their strength. They didn’t lose muscle mass either, a common concern for athletes who want to try eating keto.
Another interesting finding is the differences in the amount of body fat both groups lost. The keto group lost almost 3.5 pounds of body fat while the Western diet group lost about 2 pounds. Thats a 70% difference! In just one month. While their percent body fat is a little high for pro soccer players (19%) they weren’t overweight, making this even more impressive.
Another really cool thing about these results is that the study only lasted 30 days. It normally takes up to 4 weeks for your body to adapt to a ketogenic diet. Sometimes even longer. Perhaps eating enough protein for your activity levels while eating keto seems can keep your performance levels high, while you lose weight and excess body fat.
Perhaps one reason eating 1 gram of protein per pound of their weight helped the keto group maintain their strength, power, and sprint endurance was that it kept their bodies from breaking down their muscle mass for energy. This can lead to a decrease in strength and endurance if enough muscle is lost.
How You Can Use This Information
Whether you are a semi-professional soccer player, do CrossFit, HIIT or just like to do intense workouts like lifting weights and hill sprints, you can when you’re eating keto. Without your performance going down the tubes.
Here are a few tips to help keep your performance levels high when you are eating keto.
- Eat Enough Protein
When you’re eating low carb/keto and working out hard, you need to make your protein intake the cornerstone of your diet.
Research from this and other studies finds eating about 1 gram of protein per pound of your body weight is the right amount. In addition to helping you still workout as hard as you’re used to, you’ll lose fat faster (especially belly fat), stay full between meals, and maintain or even build muscle.
If you have trouble eating this much, protein shakes make it simple. Whey is your best choice as it has high amounts of amino acids that are proven to help melt off belly fat fast (link), build muscle, and help you train hard.
- Consider Using Caffeine Pre-Workout
If you’re feeling low on energy while your body adapts to a keto diet, try a little caffeine before you train.
In addition to giving you a boost of energy, caffeine will also help you burn off a little more body fat. Studies show it also helps you get into a deeper state of nutritional ketosis (link) (fat burning mode).
You don’t need much, a cup of coffee should be enough. If you don’t like coffee you can take it as a supplement.
- Get Enough Electrolytes In Your Diet
Perhaps the main reason you feel low on energy and have brain fog when you eat keto is that you’re low in electrolytes. Especially sodium.
When you first go on a keto diet electrolytes (sodium, magnesium, and potassium, etc.) are lost at a greater rate than normal. This is due to the increased amount of water your body loses when you eat less carbs. Low carb experts like Dr. Stephen Phinney say that this decrease in electrolytes is what causes the dreaded keto flu.
Replacing these electrolytes will help you feel, think, and perform better. Instead of feeling weak, confused, and tired you’ll have energy, strength, and a clear mind. All you need to do is add a little more salt to your food, eat foods rich in these minerals, or drink bone broth. You can also take an electrolyte supplement.
- Take Creatine Monohydrate
Often called ‘nature’s muscle builder’ for its ability to help you gain 5 or more pounds of muscle in just a few weeks, creatine is also great for improving your ability to train at higher intensities. I like to say it helps you train harder, longer. It’s also great for increasing your strength and power.
If you’re feeling sluggish during your workouts on keto, a scoop of creatine a day will help you put 100% into your workouts. Make sure you take it the right way and only use creatine monohydrate powder. After 1-2 weeks of doing this you’ll see and feel the difference.
- Use MCT Oil To Get Into Ketosis Faster
The quicker you can get yourself into nutritional ketosis, the faster you kick your body into fat loss mode. You’ll also experience the increases in energy and mental focus that comes with eating keto sooner.
One way to do this is take MCT oil. It’s a fat unlike any other. What makes it different is that they help your body make more ketones. As a result, your body gets into ketosis faster so you feel and perform better.
Studies find that taking a tablespoon of MCT oil daily does the trick. It’ll also help you lose weight faster along with increasing your mental and physical energy.
Now you know that eating keto won’t make you weaker and unable to jump and sprint. Instead it’ll help you lose body fat and weight faster than a traditional diet without hurting your performance in the gym or on the playing field. You may actually perform better than before, which is nice.
Antonio Paoli A, Mancin L, Caprio M, Monti E, Narici MV, Cenci L, Piccini F, Pincella M, Grigoletto D, Marcolin G. Effects of 30 days of ketogenic diet on body composition, muscle strength, muscle area, metabolism, and performance in semi-professional soccer players. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2021 Sep 16;18(1):62.