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The Lowdown on Exercise on a Keto Diet

Don’t listen to the rumor mill.

Exercising on a ketogenic diet—the right way—is actually a great idea.

The benefits of the low carb, moderate protein, and high fat diet are just too significant to ignore—it’s nutritional therapy at its finest. Pair it with a smart workout routine, and your body will sing.

First things first. What is ketosis?

Here’s the deal: when you eat a moderate amount of protein and replace carbs with fats, (i.e., following a ketogenic diet) you trigger a metabolic state called ketosis.

Your insulin levels drop, and fatty acids are released from body fat stores in large amounts. With limited access to glucose (blood sugar), which is the fuel source of choice for many cells in the body, you become incredibly efficient at burning fat for energy.

A keto diet can fit seamlessly into a regular, moderate workout routine.

Benefits of a ketogenic diet

Lowered food cravings, ability to go longer between meals, calmer and more resilient immune system, more even mood, brain stability … and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Since the 1920s the ketogenic diet has been used for treatment of resistant epilepsy in children. That’s right. Treatment resistant—meaning medications couldn’t do the job, but this diet could. And it still does.

Another incredible benefit? The ketogenic diet fights cancer. Yup, the big C has found its match. Cancer cells have ten times more insulin receptors on their cellular surface, making them able to fill up on large amounts of glucose in the blood at a high rate. This enables the cells to get bigger. And spread. But, if we cut off their food supply, by drastically lowering carbohydrates, we can starve cancer cells.

You know what else can’t put up a fight against the reduction in carbohydrates? Diabetes. This is precisely why a ketogenic diet is the best medicine for insulin resistance.

In fact, every single disease can be helped through a ketogenic diet. Here’s why: inflammation is the root cause of every single disease, and it occurs when our immune systems are constantly fighting unnecessary battles. Ketogenic diets lower baseline levels of inflammation and therefore stave off diseases.

Of course you can still do the keto diet and exercise!

But a ketogenic diet is more than just a diet. It’s a lifestyle change. It’s a global change to your entire existence, and to do it effectively, you must adopt healthy habits all the way around. Getting enough sleep, managing stress … and exercising. Which brings me to my next point:

The ketogenic diet and exercise plan

Forget what you’ve heard about low carb diets and exercise. It’s a myth. The fact of the matter is, a keto diet can fit seamlessly into a regular, moderate workout routine. Into training heavily? Great. Simply adapt your diet to fit your energy expenditures. All it takes is a little trial and error to find out exactly what works best for your body and your lifestyle.  

Know your exercises and nutrition needs

Plan ahead for the kind of exercise you’ll be doing and then eat accordingly.

For example, low-moderate intensity exercises, like aerobic, flexibility, or stability training are perfect for the keto dieter. Anaerobic exercises, like weight training or high-intensity interval training (HIIT), need more attention. This is because short bursts of energy exertion require carbohydrates for fuel—and fat alone simply can’t power this type of workout.

That said, you can absolutely lift weights and take HIIT classes while in ketosis. Here’s how:

There are a couple keto diet options for high-intensity workouts

Don’t give up your sprints or your deadlifts—simply adjust your diet to get enough carbs to fuel your workout. One option is adopting a targeted ketogenic diet, which incorporates 20-50 grams of net carbs about one hour before exercise. This targeted boost in carbohydrates, using something like fruit, will give your muscles the glycogen needed to not only perform during the training session but also allow your body to recover. And because those carbs will be burned so quickly, you’ll be able to return to ketosis after your workout.

Another diet method of choice for athletes is the cyclical ketogenic diet—where a couple days a week you eat high carb foods for your body to store. Then throughout the week, you go back to very low carb while also working out to deplete all those carbs your body stored.

With proper planning, the keto diet and weight lifting go together.

The importance of protein and calorie intake

Keep in mind, though, if you’re lifting weights to gain muscle, you’ll need around 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass. You’ll also want to distribute your protein evenly throughout your daily meals, rather than getting 90 grams in one sitting.

When it comes to calories, you’ll need to consume more calories than your body needs if you’re trying to bulk up and build muscle. By the same token, if you’re trying to lose body fat, but maintain lean muscle, you’ll need to up your protein intake and create a calorie deficit.

Always listen to your body

If at any point during a ketogenic diet—with exercise or not—you feel flu-like symptoms coming on, it’s probably what’s known as the keto flu.  This happens because your body is so used to getting so many carbohydrates from the food you eat it has a difficult time switching up its energy source. It’s basically the equivalent of going through drug withdrawal. And the drug? Sugar. The good news is the keto flu usually doesn’t last more than a week, tops. And in most cases, it’s cured in under three days. That said, you don’t have to just accept and live with the symptoms. There are a few key tips to keeping you feeling your best while in ketosis.

  1. Fats are friends. Olive oil, ghee, coconut oil, MCT oil…you name it, your body needs it now more than ever. Getting energy is a basic biological requirement, and since you’re depriving your body of energy from sugars, it needs more fats.
  2. Calories are king. Don’t drop the carbs and forget to replace them with other calorically dense foods. If you’re feeling crummy, chances are you’re simply starving yourself. So go ahead and eat more of whatever you’re eating.
  3. Salt is survival. Dropping insulin levels means you don’t hold on to as much sodium. Plus, carb-laden foods are usually pretty packed with salt, so it’s likely you’re salt deficient.
  4. Water. Water. Water. Those flu symptoms you’re feeling are strikingly similar to the symptoms of dehydration. Be sure you’re getting half your body weight in ounces of water a day to ward off nausea, fatigue, and those nagging headaches.

Chances are, no matter how bad you feel, these tweaks will help you feel better in no time. But remember, if you’re still feeling bad, you can always increase your intake of good, clean carbohydrates bit by bit to help ease you in a little slower.

For more information on how you can incorporate a ketogenic diet into your life and create an exercise plan which works with your health goals, check out Urban Wellness Clinic. We’ve got a team of experts who can help you jumpstart your wellness today.

Best in health,

Dr. Emily Kiberd