Most runners know the long-revered fundamentals of running diet: Plan an excellent pre-race meal, eat a protein and carb-rich recovery meal and hydrate properly. Then there are diets, like the favored Ketogenic plan, that promises more power and weight loss. But is the high-fat, low-carb keto diet for runners?
Brett Osborn, neurosurgeon and diet adviser to nutrition and complement web site BPI Sports says yes. “Endurance athletes in particular will benefit from the Ketogenic diet because during long sporting events, their bodies are running primarily on fats and/or ketones,” he says. “So why not go into the race, for example, already in a robust fat-burning state?”
The Keto diet is a high-fat, low-carb diet where the body is forced into Ketosis, a state where the body doesn’t have enough carbs for energy. Instead, the body starts making ketones, which are used instead of carbs for energy. The diet also burns fats for more energy. Others, nevertheless, aren’t satisfied the diet is the best alternative for runners.
“I’m going on the record saying Keto is terrible for any serious athlete,” says James Fell, runner, columnist and writer of Lose it Right: “Fat is low combustion fuel. When you are engaged in high-intensity activity, you need rapid access to quick-burning fuel. When you have carbs in your system, you get it,” he added.
Fell says runners can use the Keto diet for lower or average intensity exercises, but these longer, harder efforts need carbohydrates. “Fat simply burns too slow, so it’s like trying to suck fuel through a straw and it holds you back from a maximum intensity effort,” he says.
Osborn disagrees. The need for carbohydrates could also be a “myth.” The most well-liked energy source is fats, or ketones, he says. “For eons, marathon runners have carbed-up the night before a race, and for what?” he urges. “Nothing. The primary energy source of the body during a race is fat, so why fill up on carbohydrates?”
If you wish to give the Keto diet a try, Osborn says you don’t wish to begin it a few days before a big race. “An athlete should be burning fat and/or Ketones before the race begins,” he says, suggesting that the diet be started months in advance. “Runners might not suffer, performance-wise, on trying the Keto diet.”
Another hallmark of the Keto diet is what’s been dubbed “Keto flu,” where you might really feel tried or sick because the physique adjusts to the brand new energy source. Those unwanted side effects can last between seven to 10 days. “Stick with it even though you may experience fatigue as your body morphs into a fat-burning machine,” Osborn says. “Show your body its newly-preferred energy source.”
Fell, in the meantime, says the Keto diet may be a fad diet, and he suggests runners discover a diet that fuels the body and doesn’t cause any gastrointestinal issues. He says it’s not about selecting the perfect diet, “but rather listening to what my body says I need to perform well … Sometimes it’s best to ignore all the dietary hype and go with what makes you feel good, powerful and energized.”