How does the ketogenic diet affect athletic performance?

Authored by Justin Liau • 
November 16, 2017
 • 2 min read

There is controversy in the scientific and popular communities about the effects of the ketogenic diet on performance.

The reported benefits of a ketogenic diet for athletes are:

  • You can go for longer. The increased ability to burn fat during exercise gives you larger fuel reserves. 
  • You recover faster post-workout.
  • Improved body composition.
  • Greater well-being and less inflammation.

Why nutritional ketosis might detriment athletic performance:

  • Some studies have reported a reduced ability to perform high-intensity exercise.
  • Feelings of subjectively lower energy.
  • Decrease in exercise efficiency.

Scientific Citations

1.Volek, J.S., and Phinney, S.D. (2012). The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance. (Beyond Obesity LLC ).
2.van Loon, L.J., Greenhaff, P.L., Constantin-Teodosiu, D., Saris, W.H., and Wagenmakers, A.J. (2001). The effects of increasing exercise intensity on muscle fuel utilisation in humans. J Physiol (Lond) 536, 295-304.
3.Achten, J., Gleeson, M., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2002). Determination of the exercise intensity that elicits maximal fat oxidation. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 34(1), 92-97. doi:10.1097/00005768-200201000-00015
4.Phinney, S. D., Horton, E. S., Sims, E. A., Hanson, J. S., Danforth, E., & Lagrange, B. M. (1980). Capacity for Moderate Exercise in Obese Subjects after Adaptation to a Hypocaloric, Ketogenic Diet. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 66(5), 1152-1161. doi:10.1172/jci109945
5.Paoli, A., Bianco, A., Grimaldi, K.A., Lodi, A., and Bosco, G. (2013). Long term successful weight loss with a combination biphasic ketogenic Mediterranean diet and Mediterranean diet maintenance protocol. Nutrients 5, 5205-17.
6.Mcswiney, F. T., Wardrop, B., Hyde, P. N., Lafountain, R. A., Volek, J. S., & Doyle, L. (2017). Keto-adaptation enhances exercise performance and body composition responses to training in endurance athletes. Metabolism. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2017.11.016
7.Caryn Zinn, Matthew Wood, Mikki Williden, Simon Chatterton, and Ed Maunder.
8.Shimazu, T., Hirschey, M.D., Newman, J., He, W., Shirakawa, K., Le Moan, N., Grueter, C.A., Lim, H., Saunders, L.R., Stevens, R.D., Newgard, C.B., Farese Jr, R.V., De Cabo, R., Ulrich, S., Akassoglou, K., and Verdin, E. (2013). Suppression of oxidative stress by β-hydroxybutyrate, an endogenous histone deacetylase inhibitor. Science 339, 211-214.
9.Youm, Y.-H., Nguyen, K.Y., Grant, R.W., Goldberg, E.L., Bodogai, M., Kim, D., D'Agostino, D., Planavsky, N., Lupfer, C., Kanneganti, T.D., et al. (2015). The ketone metabolite [beta]-hydroxybutyrate blocks NLRP3 inflammasome-mediated inflammatory disease. Nat. Med. 21, 263-269.
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