Imagine there was a way to:
- Restore the boundless energy of your youth
- Improve your body composition and mood
- Eliminate the gas and bloating that plagues your every race
- Fuel your races without the need for super sweet gels and bars
- Eat amazing foods like bacon, eggs, butter, cream Everyday!
Sounds too good to be true, right?
Well, the truth is that all of the above (and more) is achievable by embracing some nutrition and lifestyle changes. The basics of it hinges on Keto.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the ketogenic diet being touted for its weight loss efficacy. Or maybe you’ve heard it mentioned on Internet forums as the cure-all for everything from migraines to Alzheimer’s to the pain in your little toe.
But it’s not for you, You’re an Endurance athlete and You NEED carbohydrates to fuel your races, right? Unfortunately, following that conventional sports nutrition advice has brought many desperate athletes to their knees, and raceday porta-loo’s searching for an alternative when their health and training begin to suffer despite eating all those “healthy” whole grains.
We will introduce you to the Keto nutritional strategy, specifically for the Endurance athlete.
What is Keto?
Keto is a metabolic state in which you’re predominantly burning fat for fuel. Otherwise known as nutritional Keto, which is a natural metabolic state involving a safe (and healthy) drop in blood glucose and insulin, and a rise in ketones . Most people are highly dependent on carbohydrate, and switching to a fat-based metabolism has some huge benefits. This is particularly true for the endurance athlete.
Why Keto for Endurance?
So now that you know what Keto is, the next logical question is “why would I want to be in Keto as an Endurance athlete?”
Here are some of the benefits an Endurance athlete could benefit from going keto:
- Burn more fat for fuel at a given intensity
- Lose weight and reach your optimal body composition
- Tap into your own body fat stores during training and races… forget carrying hundreds of carbohydrate calories with you
- Obtain a more stable blood sugar – no more hitting the wall!
- Recover faster from your workouts – keto is anti-inflammatory
- Prevent the long-term health consequences from consuming copious amounts of processed carbs
- Get rid of all that gas and bloating – GI Distress
- Attain a higher degree of mental clarity, both on and off the race course
- racing just as fast or faster than your carb-dependent opponents
So how to turn your body into a fat-burning machine.
How to get into Keto
The saying goes ‘ you can’t outrun your Knife and Folk” Changing the way you eat is the first and most important step to getting into fat-burning mode.
Macronutrients are the most important key to unlocking the Fat burning machine!
Eat fat. Lots and lots of healthy fat. Do not fear the fat!
Want to burn fat? You’ve got to start eating more of it! Embracing fat will allow you to reach your energy needs since you’ll be drastically dropping your dietary carbohydrate load. Choose fats that are unprocessed and as close to nature as possible (i.e. no vegetable oils).
Healthy options include extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, ghee, avocados, nuts, seeds, egg yolks, and fats from healthy animals. Medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil has a special place in a ketogenic diet, as (unlike other types of fats) it goes straight to the liver and can be rapidly used for production of ketones MCT can be convenient and useful for ketogenic athletes on the go.
Many people get this wrong to start, still fearing the “fat will make you fat” mantra, and essentially moving to a low-carb , low-fat diet. This will leave you feeling sluggish, irritable and generally unwell. Teach your body to burn fat, my providing the fat fuel.
Many people make the mistake of thinking keto means low carb, high protein. Excess protein can actually reduce ketone levels which may be counter-productive. However, you also have to remember that eating enough quality protein is vital for muscle repair, recovery, and immunity. Self-experimentation with monitoring (see below) will allow you to find your unique protein threshold. A good starting place for protein is 1.2g/kg/day.
Carbs: Keto is not a Zero Carb strategy!
Often keto diets are misconstrued as zero carb diets. While it’s true that in order to get into Keto you must drop your carbohydrate load significantly from what a typical Endurance consumes, athletes can get away with a lot more carbs than sedentary people.
Those who are fat-adapted and training hard can often consume upwards of 200 grams of carbs per day while in Keto (this would be right at the top end). The amount of carbohydrate you can get away with while staying in a fat-burning state is highly individual and dependent on training volume and intensity, as well as overall health (insulin sensitivity).
When making the metabolic switch in the beginning, you may need to go lower-carb than when you’re fully fat-adapted down the road. Here are a few things to keep in mind when considering your carbohydrate load:
- Opt for whole-food, unrefined carbohydrate sources (i.e. starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, squash and nuts)
- Strategically time carbs after intense training sessions. Don’t have carbs just before training or racing. More on this later….
- Once adapted Carbohydrate refeeds after your afternoon or evening workout and before bed can be especially helpful for sleep and recovery
- Roughly 50 g/day (of net carbs) is a good place to start
Other diet considerations
- Eat enough calories! It’s easy to under-eat while in Keto but remember – athletes need fuel
- Sodium and electrolyte needs will increase on keto – use salt liberally upto 10g per day
- For race day fuel and long training sessions, think about MCT oil Nut butters, exogenous ketones, and slow carbohydrate sources in small amounts.
Using a food app is a good idea to start and will help you a lot to know how you are going in real time and a summary each day.
As a % of total calories aim for
Fat : 75 – 75%
Protein : 20 – 25%
Carbs : 10 – 15% ( 20- 50g upto No more than 100g per day)
Transitioning to Keto: how to optimize your Endurance training
Fasted morning workouts
Fasted training is an excellent way to prime your body to burn its fat stores instead of relying on calories from conventional sports nutrition. Start small. Even something as simple as a fasted morning walk is a good place to begin. Once you’re comfortable with that, hit the road, trail, or pool for a more focused fasted session.
Use it, but don’t abuse it! Take advantage of that morning cup of coffee. Caffeine is known to decrease the rate of perceived exertion during exercise and stimulate lipolysis (the breakdown of fats). It can be a great way to enhance your fasted workouts when you’re feeling sluggish, but to get the most benefit, save it for the sessions where you really need a boost.
It’s important to train your body to burn fat using smart training strategies in conjunction with diet. Consider your transition to keto as an optimal time to build a strong aerobic base. The MAF Method is an excellent place to start.
While you should focus the majority of your training on building an aerobic, fat-burning engine, there is a time and place for intensity. Adding in some high intensity interval training will help you keep your top-end speed and remain metabolically flexible. Nothing cuts like sprinting!
Dedicating some time every week to strength training will not only make you a better Endurance athlete, but will also help keep you injury-free and build the muscle mass and strength that is critical for longevity.
Strength training can also be done daily. Do daily base lifts like, deadlift, squat or lunges. 1-2 sets 5-7 reps. This can be done once to multiple times per day. Your strength will increase without the sore muscles and DOMS.
Be prepared to sacrifice short-term training performance for long-term race performance.
How do I know my ketogenic diet is working?
The number one way to tell if your new diet and training regimen are working is how you feel. Ask yourself:
- Can I easily complete a fasted morning workout?
- Is the 3pm slump no longer a thing for me?
- Am I am more focused and have better mental clarity?
- Am I no longer “hangry” between meals?
If you answered “yes” to the above, then you’re likely on the right track. You might also notice that your breath smells slightly fruity or metallic. This is acetone – another clue that you’re in Keto.
But what if you like data and want hard numbers? Enter: ketone testing. There are a few options as far as testing goes, each with its pros and cons:
Urine test strips
- Strips don’t provide an exact number
- Results may be influenced by hydration levels
- Urine ketones don’t necessarily reflect blood ketone levels
- Urine ketone levels are higher when beginning a ketogenic diet, and decrease over time
Blood ketone meter
- Measures beta-hydroxybutyrate (the major circulating ketone body) in the blood
- Provides an exact number
- Test strips are expensive
Breath ketone analyzer
- One-time investment
- Results can be highly variable depending on the context (i.e. after drinking alcohol)
- Breath acetone may not correlate with blood beta-hydroxybutyrate
Remember, numbers may be helpful in the beginning to ensure that you’re on the right track, but testing can be cumbersome and unnecessary in the long-run.
When is the right time to start a ketogenic diet?
If any of the following scenarios sound like you, then now might just be the time to start on the ketogenic lifestyle.
- You’re tired of lacking energy or enthusiasm for your daily workouts and life in general
- Your blood sugar is high (maybe even in the pre-diabetic range) despite the fact that you’re an athlete in excellent cardiovascular shape
- You’re sick of having to plan your bike/run route to include multiple toilets
- You’re experiencing symptoms of premature aging and want to increase your athletic longevity
- You train hard and eat ‘well’ but still carry excess body fat
- Your performance in events has plateaued and you can’t work out why
- Your race results are overshadowed with cramps, Gut distress, bloating and generally feeling heavy.
While you may tick the above boxes and want to jump right in at a ketogenic level (less than 20g per day) it will depending on your unique situation, it may be best to take baby steps: switch to a less extreme, lower-carb (approx 120g per day) , unprocessed whole food diet, fix your gut and any hormonal issues, and then begin to implement a ketogenic diet into your life. This could be a couple of weeks to a few months. Start with cutting out sugar and go forward from there. Switch out your high carb drinks and gels for options that are better for your gut and new way of eating. You can pick up the process speed quickly as you find your groove.
Wrapping it up
To summarize the Endurance Guide to Keto:
Put simply, Keto is the metabolic state of burning fat (instead of carbohydrate) for energy.
Fuel workouts with your own body fat stores, reap the health and recovery benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet, and experience less gastric distress during training and races.
Diet strategies: Eat lots of healthy fat, moderate protein, cut down and strategically time carbohydrates, and consume enough calories.
Training strategies: Slow down, take advantage of fasted workouts, and recover appropriately.
There you have it: a comprehensive Endurance guide to Keto. If you’re ready to overhaul your training and health, this is the place to start! Gone will be the days of extreme fatigue and obsession with where you’ll get your next meal. In their place will be a newfound state of boundless energy, health, and freedom in both your training and everyday life.