People who are serious about their high-intensity athletic training often investigate the benefits and drawbacks of various diets as they tweak and tune their exercise plans. Optimizing hydration, sleep, and diet is essential for any endurance athlete. So can athletes benefit from ketosis? Are ketones better than carbs when it comes to powering the body? Should endurance athletes go keto? Here are all your questions answered.
Fueling Endurance Exercise
The human body runs on energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and glycogen stores, which it produces by breaking down carbohydrates or fats. Most of the time, our bodies default to using carbs, which are broken down into glucose to use as fuel. Carbs aren’t intrinsically bad for you; they’re a highly efficient source of fuel because the body requires less oxygen to break them down.
However, carbs are not the only option, nor are they always the best option. Your body will switch to burning fat when deprived of carbs—this is the ultimate goal of the ketogenic diet, a low-carb, high-fat diet designed to induce ketosis. A ketogenic diet is typically between 5-10% carbs and roughly 60% fat, with the rest consisting of protein. During ketosis, fat is broken down into fatty acids, which are then converted into ketones by the liver. Fat provides a concentrated source of energy, and ketones are highly efficient at delivering it.
Keto fans claim that the ensuing ketogenic state ultimately reduces blood sugar spikes and crashes, trims down unwanted fat, enhances cognitive function, and provides them with more consistent energy over the course of the day. While everyone’s mileage may vary, the benefits provided by ketones for endurance athletes are backed by science and impossible to ignore.
Fat-Adaptation and Ketosis
Fat adaptation, also known as keto-adaptation, is a state in which the body uses fat as its primary source of fuel and effectively uses ketones for energy. It’s related to, but not synonymous with, ketosis, the metabolic state in which your body transforms fatty acids into ketones.
Ketones are a robust fuel source, providing more energy per unit of oxygen used than glucose; when powered by ketones, the muscles and heart can do nearly 30% more work with the same amount of oxygen than they can use solely carbohydrates. Ketone metabolism optimizes both physical and cognitive acuity for sports performance; ketones can help athletes stay sharp while powering through exertion.
Is the Keto Diet Good for Endurance Athletes?
Now for the major question: should endurance athletes go keto? The truth is that scientific opinion and studies have been mixed. For example, one study divided 20 endurance athletes into two groups; one followed a high-carb, low-fat diet, and the other followed a high-fat, low-carb diet—a variation of the standard keto diet. After 12 weeks, it was found that the groups performed similarly on a long-time trial, but the athletes adhering to the keto-adjacent diet were better able to harness fat as fuel and increase fat oxidation during exercise, increasing their sprinting power.
However, the Journal of Physiology published a review stating that any evidence linking greater fat utilization to endurance performance in athletes was “only anecdotal”, positing that high-carb diets are ultimately more effective for athletes’ purposes.
Ultimately, there’s no definitive answer when it comes to the effect of a keto diet on athletic performance. The ketogenic diet may be beneficial for some and have no effect or negative impact on others; everyone’s body functions a little differently, and it would be irresponsible of us to fully endorse the keto diet or discourage people from trying it. That said, if you’re an endurance athlete considering the switch to keto dieting for the first time, know that there’s a “break-in” period in which it’s common to experience a set of symptoms known as the “keto flu” as your body adjusts to using fat for fuel. While these symptoms rarely last long, they can negatively impact your athletic performance in the short term. As always, it’s a good idea to run any major dietary shifts by your doctor, personal trainer, or dietician.
Exogenous Ketones for Endurance Athletes
While the low-carb diet may be hit-or-miss for endurance athletes, ketones' benefits are well-documented. Technology exists that allows those of us here at Kenetik to harness the power of exogenous (externally sourced) ketones. We take our proprietary ketone blend and put it into a delicious drink that replicates the effects of ketosis. Kenetik is a plant-based, soy, dairy, and gluten-free exogenous ketone beverage that delivers all the benefits of ketones without the hassle of rigorous dieting.
For the endurance athlete, combining a steady intake of exogenous ketones as well as protein and carbs (a technique known as dual-fueling) can lead to an increased ability to sustain greater training loads and boosts a higher power output during training.
Kenetik has been tested by athletes and reliably delivers a smooth burst of energy levels that can help you power through exertion. Kenetik has no added sugar and zero caffeine; all its energy comes from ketones, so you can treat yourself to a glass each morning, noon, and night without disrupting your sleep schedule. Exogenous ketones are proven to sharpen cognitive performance and enhance muscle mass recovery, so you can get back to training faster and better than ever. Grab a bottle today and see for yourself how good you can feel when powered by ketones. Fuel better with Kenetik—it’s what your body deserves.