Written by: Ryan Robertson
Fad diets are in constant rotation in today’s world. Many come and go while few that have staying power and lead to consistent success for participants looking to meet their weight loss and/or performance goals. The keto diet, with its various subsets has been around for a while and has even gained noticeable popularity among the masses. In an effort to illustrate the pros and cons of the diet as well as the general information on what keto is I will look at research using the diet for both weight loss and performance.
The keto diet isn’t much different than some of the other fad diets that have come and gone or that are still around. Diets like the Paleo or Atkins diet operate on a plan of low carbs. The difference between them and keto is that it looks specifically to switch the energy systems the body uses to convert food into energy. In the main versions of keto the primary goal is to have low carb or low sugar levels in the muscle and liver making the body resort to converting fat as the main fuel source This is known as being in ketosis which is where the name originated. Arguably the quickest way to reach ketosis is through fasting but that is of course not a sustainable practice for most unless done intermittently. The keto diet allows participants to still eat and enjoy the benefits of ketosis without feeling hungry or fasting. While those who are on certain medications or have been diagnosed with such conditions like diabetes are advised not to partake in keto, the diet has been shown to be relatively safe for other normally healthy people with minor side effects reported such as keto headaches and some gastrointestinal distress.
From a performance standpoint, keto has shown to benefit some exercise modalities but not others as much. In many sports it is common to load up on carbs for energy during performance. Carbs are more readily available and quicker for the body to breakdown through a process called glycolysis. This makes it the optimal method for energy when quicker means are needed. Over an extended period of time this system is not greatly sustainable as stores can be depleted fairly quickly which is where those of the keto diet shine. Endurance athletes that have been studied while on the keto diet would able to sustain a high performance level for a longer period of time. This is because those increase of fat in their diets. Transforming fat into energy is a longer process than breaking down carbohydrates. Since the energy demand is lower and through an extended period of time the energy available for the type of exercise is more abundant hence why these endurance athletes in the studies performed better with fat as their fuel source. Athletes in that study were able to spare muscle glycogen or energy from carbs and were able to tap into the more abundant and sustainable energy source. On the other hand those endurance athletes who had a higher carb low fat diet tended not to perform as well. In all, the studies conduct that were observed show the keto diet does not benefit intense exercise significantly but can improve endurance performance.
The keto diet has held strong because of the proven weight loss results. A significant amount of people have meet their health and performance goals using the diet. However, like all multifaceted things it is not for everyone. It all depends on what your goals are and how your body reacts to certain foods and modalities of exercise. There will always be risks so do your research and weigh your potential outcomes before participating in a diet or exercise program. As always sticking to your program and being consistent is a key factor for your results!