Keto and Athletic Performance
"Pickleball is physically demanding so it’s important that I stay fueled properly during play. With Keto Krisp, I feel I get the right nutrients to keep me energized and fresh throughout a match. It’s the perfect blend of protein and carbs—-I have noticed a massive change in my performance since switching to the bar.” Matt Manasse
Athletes have to manage every aspect of their body to stay on top of their game. They need to be physically fit, get plenty of sleep, and eat a healthy diet.
With many people enjoying keto these days, you might ask: how does keto affect athletic performance?
The answer is complicated. Different types of athletes tend to have different results on keto. But more importantly, every body is unique.
Here’s what we’ll cover in this guide:
- How does keto affect athletic performance?
- Keto and anaerobic exercise
- Keto and aerobic exercise
- When should athletes do keto?
How does keto affect athletic performance?
Keto does not have a single effect on athletic performance. In fact, different types of athletes will respond to keto differently. A weightlifter’s experience will be very different from a marathon runner’s.
If you are an athlete, the unique details of your own body matter just as much as the type of athletics you do. Everyone’s body responds differently to keto, so there is often no way to know for sure how keto will affect your performance without trying it.
Since the effects of keto on anaerobic exercise are so different form the effects on aerobic exercise, let’s take a look at what happens for each.
Keto and anaerobic exercise
Anaerobic exercise breaks down glucose for energy, without oxygen. This means that anaerobic exercises are shorter and more intense than aerobic exercises.
Examples of anaerobic exercise include weightlifting, sprints, and HIIT.
Research has suggested that anaerobic athletes may perform worse under keto. A 2017 meta-analysis of existing research found that the keto diet impaired the ability of athletes to perform anaerobic exercises. One Saint Louis University study found a difference of 4 to 15 percent- enough to make a big difference at a competition.
While this research is not conclusive, it is likely that anaerobic activity works better with carbs. The mechanism behind this is not fully understood, but it appears that keto influences the body’s ability to use muscle glycogen stores.
Keto and aerobic exercise
Aerobic exercise, on the other hand, breaks down glucose using oxygen (it puts the “Air” in “Aerobic”). This includes activities like endurance running, swimming, and rowing.
Unlike for anaerobic exercise, there is less evidence suggesting that keto hurts performance, and some evidence suggesting that keto can improve performance.
The key difference, however, lies in the length of the “fat adaptation period”- the time it takes for your body to get used to keto. Everyone feels lousy for the first few weeks of keto, so it’s not that surprising that athletic performance would suffer. But after several months, the body adapts and athletic performance returns to previous levels.
In some cases, researchers have found that athletic performance actually improves after the body adapts to keto. The reason why might have something to do with the way the body normally uses carbs for aerobic activity.
Under a traditional diet, carbohydrates are like fuel. Once your body runs out of carbs, it gets sluggish and weak. That’s why endurance athletes often “carbo load” before an event by eating tons of carbs.
With keto, on the other hand, the body primarily consumes fat as a fuel. Fat is more energy dense than carbohydrates (it contains about 9 kilocalories per gram, as opposed to 4 for carbs). This means that keto athletes can theoretically “fill up the tank” with less weight.
When you should do keto as an athlete
Changing your diet is always a serious decision. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about whether keto is right for you. If you plan on doing keto for a specific health related reason, such as losing weight or managing diabetes, then you should take that into consideration.
In general, endurance or aerobic athletes are likely to fare better with keto than are anaerobic athletes. However, research in this areas is not conclusive, and every athlete’s experience is unique. In any case, performance will likely fall for at least a few weeks as the body gets adapted to keto.
And even if you aren’t fully keto, lots of keto foods can actually help you. They are lighter than carb-heavy foods, and contain lots of fat and protein. Keto snacks like our Almond Butter Bar are healthy and nutritious, whether you are fully keto or not.
“Competing on the professional pickleball tour is not only mentally but physically demanding. For someone like myself who has a sensitive stomach and doesn’t like to eat too much during tournaments. Keto Krisp bars provide me with that perfect balance of feeling refueled. I’m not bloated or feel that I’m still hungry. Keto Krisp has helped me get through my singles journey and battling through the extreme weather conditions as well”. - Gabriel Joseph
"WE are SO GRATEFUL to TASTE CANDO for not only the INCREDIBLE taste of the keto Krisp bar, but also the amount of FUEL one bar provides. We fueled 4 hours of play on one bar and felt not only satiated BUT incredibly energized and ready for more play. We come into contact with athletic women on a daily basis and are so excited to share with them what has been working for us. Thank you for allowing us to represent TASTE CANDO, we are so grateful for your support in our pickleball journey and are excited for the opportunity to GROW TOGETHER!" - Team 321