Today, we cover part of a part of a huge topic: Ketogenic dieting (KD).

We know that carbohydrates are king for enhancing exercise performance (especially at higher intensities). We also know that carbohydrates are rate limiting for performance as we only have a limited capacity to store them within the body, which could be an issue with ultra-endurance races.

KD typically consist of a very low carb intake (<50g per day) and a very high fat intake. When this is adhered to for ~4 weeks you would typically see adaptations within the muscle where they have a greater ability to burn fat for fuel. I.e. we can tap into a much larger fuel source.

Since KD upregulate the release, transport, uptake and utilisation of fat in the muscle – it seems like a winning formula given we’re highly unlikely to run out of fuel…

However, does this increase in fat utilisation actually translate to performance (Burke, 2020)?

Firstly, the research on KD and performance with athletes is sparse, meaning that we don’t have enough evidence to draw strong conclusions.

That being said, research does suggest that performance benefits are similar in moderate intensity exercise when compared to high carb diets – however you do have responders and non-responders to KD dieting and performance benefits.

Therefore the results you get are inconsistent, unlike high carb diets…

This is more so when exercising at higher intensities – i.e. a sprint at the end of an endurance race.

KD are also less efficient, meaning that more oxygen is required to perform the same physical tasks when compared to high carb diets. In other words, athletes won’t be able to sustain higher workloads nearing their maximal aerobic capacity.

There may however be some utility in low/moderate intensity events where bouts of high intensity efforts don’t determine success. I.e. a 12 hour ultra-endurance event.

But, what happens if you follow a KD to get favourable adaptations to the muscle, but introduce carbs into your diet before a race? Does a best of both worlds scenario exist?

To know the answer…tune in next week for part two – the periodised KD/high carb diet.

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