AT A GLANCE

Recently, the ketogenic, or “keto” diet, has picked up a lot of traction and several individuals swear by their weight loss and athletic strides after following the diet. But what exactly does the keto diet entail? Is it good for athletes? Is it harmful? Continue reading to clear up any questions or confusion you may have.


What is the Keto Diet?

The definition of ketosis is a metabolic state in which the body is burning fat for fuel (or energy) instead of carbohydrates, or glucose. The body’s preferred source of energy is carbohydrates, however, if the body is not given carbs, it will start to burn fat for fuel. 

After about two weeks of following a diet plan that typically provides around 50 grams of carbs per day or less, you will start to produce ketones and achieve a state of ketosis. However, it is important to note that once carbs are reintroduced into the diet, the body will switch back over to burning carbs for fuel over burning fat. This can make staying in ketosis difficult without being on a strict diet plan.

The ketogenic diet has been proven effective for certain medical conditions such as epilepsy and even for individuals with cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s and/or Dementia. The mechanisms of action for why decreasing carbs benefits these medical conditions is unique and not the focus of this article, as these are not the individuals often promoting the keto diet day-to-day. 

It is important to note that once carbs are reintroduced into the diet, the body will switch back over to burning carbs for fuel over burning fat
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Athletes and Keto

If you scroll through social media, everyday individuals and athletes are promoting a ketogenic diet plan. Typically, this plan includes cutting out carbohydrates (or minimizing them to low amounts), and filling one’s calories with fats and proteins instead. This can actually be detrimental for one’s health if the shift towards fat places too much of an emphasis on animal-based proteins, or coconut-based products, high in saturated fats. This can raise cholesterol, which can be dangerous for individuals predisposed to heart health issues.  

If you choose to minimize carbs and substitute fats and protein, try to place an emphasis on lean proteins low in saturated fat such as fish, chicken, turkey and plant-based sources of protein such as tofu and legumes. Also, choose heart-healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado. 

Is the Keto Diet for You?

For the average individual, cutting out carbs to achieve a state of ketosis is not necessary for overall health or for fat loss. If you want to lose fat, a caloric deficit is necessary, no matter if these calories are minimized from carbs, fat, or protein. 

If you choose to minimize carbs and substitute fats and protein, try to place an emphasis on lean proteins low in saturated fat such as fish, chicken, turkey and plant-based sources of protein such as tofu and legumes. Also, choose heart-healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado
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For an athlete, over-restricting carbohydrates can actually be counterproductive, and you may find that your workouts, recovery and/or strength gaining potential is compromised. This would prove especially true for athletes who burn a lot of energy in their workouts such as runners, powerlifters, gymnasts, soccer players, etc. 

If you are interested in the keto diet and your goals are to lose fat, minimizing carbohydrates and adding in heart-healthy fats and protein could be beneficial as long as it is moderate and strategic. For help with this, it is recommended to consult your local dietitian or healthcare practitioner to receive a personalized plan of action.

Take Home Points
  • The definition of ketosis is a metabolic state in which the body is burning fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates, or glucose.
  • For the average individual, cutting out carbs to achieve a state of ketosis is not necessary for overall health or for fat loss.
  • For the average individual, cutting out carbs to achieve a state of ketosis is not necessary for overall health or for fat loss.

For an athlete, over-restricting carbohydrates can actually be counterproductive, and you may find that your workouts, recovery and/or strength gaining potential is compromised
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Registered Dietitian
Jordan Stachel is a Registered Dietitian passionate about nutrition, health and longevity. Jordan graduated from the University of Southern California, where she completed a Master’s degree in Nutrition, Healthspan, and Longevity. Jordan graduated from Chapman University in 2016 with a Bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Science. Jordan is ene... Continue