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Guide In Exercising While Keto

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Dr. Stephen Phinney, an esteemed researcher of the Keto diet, introduced the concept of Keto-adaptation, which refers to the adjustment of the body to utilize fat as its primary energy source. Achieving this state of fat-adaptation generally requires following a low-carbohydrate regimen for several weeks. In practical terms, this entails limiting carbohydrate intake to approximately 5-10% of total daily calories, while compensating for the deficit with higher consumption of fats and proteins.

What is the reason behind the need to limit carbs in order to become fat-adapted? It is because consuming excessive amounts of carbohydrates causes an increase in blood sugar and insulin levels. When insulin levels are high, the breakdown of body fat is hindered. Insulin functions as a storage hormone for fat, rather than promoting its burning. However, by restricting carb intake, insulin levels decrease. This signals your cells that carbs are scarce, prompting them to seek alternative sources of energy.

Body fat, when accessible, is similar to winning the energy jackpot.

The reason behind this is that fat cells (triglycerides) have the ability to store a significantly greater amount of energy compared to glycogen, which serves as the storage form of carbohydrates. In comparison to glycogen, you are only capable of storing a small quantity of 2,000 calories.

However, even a lean athlete stores approximately 40,000 calories in body fat. This signifies a 20-fold disparity! Visualize two endurance athletes: one constantly needs to replenish their carbohydrate reserves, while the other can tap into an extra 40,000 calories of stored body fat. The advantage lies with the Keto athlete.

Although we will discuss Keto endurance exercise in more detail in a subsequent article, it’s important to comprehend that fat can adequately sustain longer exertion. This fact is substantiated by studies conducted on Keto-adapted ultra-endurance athletes, in case you were curious.

Do you need carbs for exercise

Carbohydrates play a crucial role in providing energy for various exercise types, particularly those that are more challenging and longer in duration. These exercises, referred to as glycolytic, heavily rely on glucose as their fuel source. For individuals who are not adapted to a ketogenic diet, consuming carbs can potentially improve performance during these exercises. However, it does not necessarily imply that optimal performance cannot be achieved while following a keto diet.

To begin with, you have the option to try out different carbohydrate approaches such as the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet or Targeted Ketogenic Diet. For further information on exercising while on the Keto diet, refer to this guide.

Prior to testing out carbs, it is advisable to undergo a four-week period of Keto-adaptation. This process will assist in providing fuel for all varieties of exercise, not solely low-intensity exercises typically linked with the concept of the “fat-burning zone”.

There are numerous documented instances of individuals who have exhibited improved performance after adjusting to the Keto diet. An example of this is when Dr. Stephen Phinney and his team conducted a study in 1980, where they demonstrated that obese individuals, following several weeks of Keto dieting, were able to exercise on the treadmill for twice the duration.

In recent studies, it has been demonstrated that combining a Keto diet with resistance training is an effective method for losing fat and preserving muscle mass. In certain instances, it may even result in muscle gain. Nonetheless, it should be noted that Keto is not the most optimal diet for substantial muscle building, as a higher carbohydrate intake is necessary for efficient muscle growth.

During the transition period, it is advisable to moderate your training regimen, as studies indicating positive athletic performance on Keto required participants to undergo 8 to 12 weeks of Keto adaptation.

Exercise while you keto-adapt

Once your body adapts to the Keto diet, instead of relying on carbs for energy, it takes time to teach your cells to rely on fat. After achieving a state of ketosis, you should be capable of engaging in high-intensity exercises such as sprints, Crossfit, or other intense activities and experience their positive effects. This is possible because athletes who are adapted to the ketogenic diet can:

  1. Burn more fat to fuel exercise
  2. Preserve glycogen more efficiently, saving it up for glucose-demanding efforts.

In the initial four to eight weeks of following a Keto diet, it is advisable to proceed with caution and avoid pushing yourself too hard. However, this does not imply that you should adopt a sedentary lifestyle for two months. Just bear in mind that engaging in intense physical activity might overburden your body.

Taking that into consideration, here are three exercise categories to help you gradually transition into Keto.

LISS stands for Low-Intensity Steady State cardio exercises, which involve performing physical activities at a low intensity and maintaining a consistent pace throughout the duration of the exercise.

LISS, also known as low intensity sustained state cardio, should be the foundation of your workout routine during the fat-adaptation phase. Engaging in activities such as light jogging, cycling, swimming, hiking, and walking is highly recommended. When it comes to LISS, a helpful tip is to put in roughly 50% of your maximum effort or heart rate. You should be able to continue these exercises comfortably for at least one hour.

2. Strength training made simple.

While adapting to a Keto diet, it is recommended to engage in high-repetition and low-weight resistance training in order to preserve your strength. Exercises such as push-ups, planks, lunges, and squats that utilize your body weight are considered ideal.

Maintaining a light intensity will prevent you from entering the anaerobic (glucose dependent) zone. However, there’s no need to worry, as you can increase the weight once you become fat-adapted. In subsequent parts of this series, you will gain knowledge on developing strength while following a Keto diet.

Training for balance, flexibility, and stability.

In order to maintain functional fitness in your later years, it is not enough to rely solely on strength and endurance. It is also essential to incorporate balance, flexibility, and stability into your routine. Yoga and pilates offer comprehensive solutions in this regard. It is advisable to start with the easier classes during the initial weeks of the Keto diet. Once you have become fat-adapted, you can confidently tackle the challenging 100-degree power vinyasa class.

Preserving performance during the keto transition

Increase fat content

It should be obvious that following a ketogenic diet will involve consuming more fat. Isn’t it clear? What I’m trying to say is that you should actually increase your fat intake even more than what you initially anticipate during the first week. This will result in an increase in AMPK activity, which accelerates the production of mitochondria that burn fat, enhances fat metabolism, and boosts your capacity to utilize ketone bodies.

Increase intake of specific fats

Some specific fatty acids display a greater ability to enhance AMPK compared to others.

Stick to weights and walking

Engaging in high intensity, high volume training is not recommended during the keto transition due to the limited availability of glucose for energy. At this stage, the body struggles to efficiently burn fat and still heavily relies on glucose to fuel physical performance.

Completing a race at a 10k pace will pose a significant challenge. Engaging in the CrossFit Games is not advisable. You are currently lacking the required equipment and glucose to support those activities. However, incorporating weightlifting and walking into your routine will be effective.

Walking is primarily an aerobic activity and does not significantly deplete glycogen stores. Weight training may rely on glycogen, but this can be minimized by using high weights and low volume, such as with low-repetition training (2-6 reps). In any case, the focus should be on avoiding excessive stress during training.

By sticking to weights and walking, you will accelerate keto-adaptation instead of impeding it. Afterward, you can gradually resume some of your regular activities.

Take creatine

Having a higher concentration of creatine in the muscles allows for an increased level of phosphocreatine, which can be utilized to produce significant quantities of ATP rapidly. This enables quick bursts of speed or strength without relying on glycogen or fat stores. This is commonly referred to as ATP-PC, or ATP-phosphocreatine. If you plan on engaging in activities such as sprinting or lifting heavy objects, it is advisable to ensure your muscles have an additional supply of creatine.

There is no requirement to pre-load creatine. Simply consume 5 grams daily, ensuring sufficient water intake and electrolyte consumption (which is already practiced on a keto diet).

Sprint carefully

Keep a few tips in mind if you plan to engage in sprinting while on a keto diet.

Sprints of a short duration, lasting 3-5 seconds.

You should take enough rest to have the energy to perform as intensely as the previous one, as this allows your phosphocreatine levels to be restored.

Although this method won’t completely restore your ATP-PC reserves, it will prevent you from exerting maximum effort and performing as many repetitions in subsequent sprints. However, if sprinting is absolutely necessary, this is the way to do it without relying on glucose. Keep an eye out for a feeling of reduced power, as that indicates you are reaching the limit of ATP-PC and will soon turn to glucose for energy. It is crucial to avoid reaching that point and stop just before it.

If you occasionally consume glucose, there is no need to panic. Nevertheless, frequent consumption of glucose in the initial phases will hinder the progress of keto-adaptation. However, having it once or twice will not have a significant impact. Just ensure that relying heavily on glucose for regular tasks does not become a habit.

Understand the purpose of training

Working out in the gym should not be approached as a competition since there is no monetary reward involved. The main objective of engaging in weightlifting, sprinting, and low-intensity aerobic exercises is to improve one’s performance in these activities. The focus should not be solely on “winning” each workout, but rather on the aspect of training which involves accepting modest outcomes while being confident in the progress made. Take a moment to reflect on this concept.

Increasing the weight on the bar by 50 pounds results in a greater difficulty, causing the bar to move at a reduced pace and decreasing the number of repetitions feasible. In terms of your brain’s viewpoint, this sudden change makes you appear “weaker,” however, this approach is ultimately the most effective means of enhancing strength over time.

If you attempt a different sport or physical endeavor, you will lack proficiency initially as a novice. Individuals whom you are confident of surpassing in your preferred activities are excelling far beyond you. However, this should not deter you from continuing. Instead, it signifies the need for improvement. With perseverance, you will inevitably enhance your skills.

Consider your training on the newly adopted keto diet as similar to adding more weight, intensifying your efforts, or acquiring new skills in a sport. You are not becoming weaker or regressing. Rather, the training is becoming more challenging and the discomfort is increasing. Despite not perceiving it at the moment, in the long term, you will benefit from it.

Once you attain complete fat adaptation and become adept at utilizing fats, ketones, and glycogen, there will be no stopping you.

How to enhance performance long-term with keto

Carb cycle when necessary

After being on a keto diet for at least a month, you shouldn’t hesitate to incorporate carbs into your diet to support your rigorous training. If you have depleted muscle glycogen through intense exercise, it results in a glycogen debt, and the carbohydrates consumed within hours after the workout will be used to replenish the glycogen.

If done correctly, intense training enhances insulin-independent glycogen uptake immediately after exercising, eliminating the need to boost insulin levels in order to transport glucose molecules into your muscles.

Carb cycle the right way

A lot of individuals incorrectly engage in carb cycling while on the keto diet. They mistakenly indulge in bear claws and gummy bears for two days, only to be puzzled by their weight gain and setback. Here are a few suggestions:

It’s likely that you require fewer carbohydrates than you anticipate. Following an intense workout, consuming a small snack containing 20-40 grams of carbs can have a significant impact without disrupting ketosis, as long as you have depleted enough glycogen.

When making a selection, opt for appropriate carbohydrates. Optimal choices include consuming a sweet potato the previous evening to replenish glycogen stores, a cooked-and-cooled white potato, or UCAN Superstarch. The latter option is advantageous due to its gradual absorption which has minimal effects on insulin levels and consequently ketone production.

Carb cycle for the correct purposes, not due to a craving for French fries. Engage in carb cycling when glycogen levels have been depleted.

Even if you briefly exit ketosis, it’s not a disastrous situation. The majority of individuals who follow the keto diet are not treating it as a matter of life or death. Their primary goal is to improve their appearance, well-being, and performance. Avoid turning keto into a rigid ideology; instead, view it as a tool to enhance your enjoyment.

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