Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Ketogenic Diet for Endurance Athletes



What it is:

A ketone diet was discovered by doctors in the 1920's who were working with children who were struggling with epilepsy. The diet was used as a therapeutic intervention as they found ketosis lead to a decrease in seizures. The diet decreased in popularity as prescription drugs became the mainstay intervention. Almost 70 years later when a foundation was created to study the results of ketosis on epilepsy, a scientific body of work began.

A ketone diet, in simplistic form, is a diet which forces the body to use fats as energy as opposed to carbohydrates. More specifically, when we are in a state of ketosis, the majority of the body's energy is coming from ketone bodies in the blood. Ketosis is also called "the fat-burning zone." Conversely, when the body is in a state of glycolysis, blood glucose is providing the majority of the body's energy.

The most efficient process of getting energy (i.e., quickest) is via glycolysis. When we are in a glycolic state, insulin levels are increased which stimulates a storage of fat; the body will also block the release of fat lest it's needed when fast-twitch muscles are activated (the Fight or Flight response is activated). As all endurance athletes know, the body can store a great deal of carbs to be released for energy via glycolysis - hello carbo-loading! When we begin a ketogenic diet, we are essentially "tricking" the body to use fats as energy instead of carbs. Because the body doesn't store as much fat as carbs, and fat is not as readily available like carbs, moving towards ketosis is a process.

Benefits:

  • May allow for more focus and cognitive clarity
  • Decreased hypoglycemia and cravings for sugar
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Hunger pains lesson and often disappear 
  • Increased energy
  • Ketones are the preferred fuel for the heart and diaphragm
  • Nearly half of children suffering from epilepsy in a study experienced 50% or more reduction in seizures
  • Weight loss
  • Mood stabilization
How to do it:

We won't go into specifics here; changing from glycolysis to ketosis is a very specific process; one that can be difficult to tolerate for most. Experts in the field compare the symptoms of "Keto Flu" to any other detox program - which are often not pretty! Aside from the physical "detox" symptoms, there is also the need to keep close tabs on what you are eating: protein, macro/micronutrients, fat, carbs). Before you begin, a full blood workup should be done. Ideally, you are in off-season and you are in a stable emotional, physical and mental state.

If you are willing to go through the work it takes to get there, a keto diet has the potential to reap many rewards! For excellent resources, we recommend endurance athlete and speaker, Ben Greenfield. Dr. Josh Axe has lots of resources and recipes as well. We'd love to hear from those of you on a keto diet and how it has affected your endurance sports performance.