Keto for Athletes Part 2

In Keto for Athletes Part 1,  we took a deep dive into the science of the keto diet for athletes. Catch up here if you missed it.

To sum up, keto has potential benefits for endurance, strength and power, team sports, and combat athletes, but it doesn’t appear to be effective when used as a 24/7 strategy. 

Here’s what athletes and high-performance individuals should know when it comes to experimenting with the keto diet.

Carb Timing Is Everything

The biggest takeaway in the nutrition science is that athletes need carbs to perform at peak levels, period[1].

You simply can’t maximize performance or break records when you’re fasting or carb depleted.

However, that doesn’t mean you need carbs around the clock, either. Here’s what I recommend:

  • Recovery days : OK to eat low-carb or keto
  • Easy training days: OK to eat low-carb or keto
  • Intensive training days: eat moderate to high carbs (100-200g of carbs or more per day, up to 400-500g depending on the individual)
  • Competition day: eat high carbs (200-300g of carbs or more per day, up to 1000g depending on circumstances)

Following that schedule, most people can achieve ketosis temporarily without the performance decrease.

Young woman running in Barcelona

Skip the Post-workout Carbs (With Some Exceptions)

Your body uses the most energy during training. Carbs are like high-octane fuel for your body – they fuel performance better than anything else.

Yes, you also need plenty of calories post-workout for recovery, but it’s fine to get them from high-quality protein and fats. Research shows that consuming carbs post-workout doesn’t necessarily offer any advantages for muscle recovery[2].

The main exception is for athletes who training frequently. If you’re training twice in one day, it makes sense to “carb up” between workouts which means you should consider post-workout carbs for that reason.

Consider Full Keto in the Off-season

Keto offers huge advantages for appetite, energy, weight management, and insulin sensitivity[3].

Going 100% keto in your competitive season could reduce your performance, but if you don’t compete year-round, you can still reap low-carb, high-fat advantages out of season.

The logical time to go keto is as soon as your season ends. Then you can add carbs back in slowly as your practice sessions ramp up.

When to Avoid Keto Altogether

Here’s when I’d recommend against keto for athletes:

  • If you’re looking to gain weight
  • If you are a strength and power athlete who is building a foundation
  • If you struggle with unwanted weight loss
  • If you notice recovery suffers when you go low-carb

Eat Plenty of Protein

Last but not least, remember to get 25-35% or more of your calories from high quality protein sources.

For an adult eating 2500 calories per day, that’s approximately 155-220g of protein per day. You can also eat approximately 1 gram per pound of bodyweight for similar results.

Whether or not you’re keto, eating a high protein diet is filling, boosts your metabolism, and works wonders for lean muscle and recovery[4].

The Science