The science behind the keto diet has been around for more than 100 years now, yet this diet has only lately taken the world by storm. Why? Even though the ketogenic diet has proven very effective in weight management, there have been studies which have also demonstrated a range of health benefits that do not include just weight loss.
For competitive athletes especially, the keto diet helps increase energy levels and every so often improves cognitive function and enhances athletic performance both on and off the playing field.
Advantages for Athletes
- While dietary requirements may vary across gender, sport, and individual athlete, the keto diet has proven benefits for performance athletes.
- When athletes burn ketones in place of glucose, they experience an increase in cognitive as well as physical performance.
- Cognitively, the brain functions better on ketones as opposed to glucose from sugar or carbs.
- Ketones are a competent, slow-burning fuel source with preserved uptake by the brain, leading to increased levels of concentration along with longer periods of focus.
- Ketones furthermore, also increase the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which works in order to support the brain’s existing neurons while also encouraging new neurons and synapses growth.
- Substantially, keto-adaptation and the body’s transition to burning fat instead of glucose for energy that has helped to improve endurance exercise capacity in athletes, in addition to improving fat mobilization and oxidation through exercise performance.
- Keto-adaptation also aids in improving aerobic and anaerobic exercise capacity in endurance athletes.
- The keto diet reduces the breakdown of muscle tissue and increases the body’s ability to maintain the lean body mass while burning fat, which is helpful for performance athletes’ body composition. Moreover, ketones increase mitochondrial glutathione levels, subsequently feeding the mitochondria better and leading to more rapid recovery between exercise sessions.
Taking Endurance To The Next Level
The ultimate potential physical outcome of keto-adaptation for athletes is enhanced endurance capacity during competition. Performance athletes, for example, ultrarunners or soccer players, who are keto-adapted have been shown to experience augmented endurance and less central fatigue throughout their competition or match.
On the ketogenic diet, the body taps into slow burning fat storage, which can help to prevent athletes from actually “hitting the wall.” This is specifically beneficial to those athletes who cannot easily digest foods while exercising.
During keto-adaptation, liver and muscle glycogen deposits are maintained, weakening the glycogen depletion observed in athletes consuming high carbohydrate diets. With the absence of glucose to burn, athletes should not experience the peaks and valleys of fluctuating blood sugar levels.
The keto diet should be adopted during the off-season, also. Athletes looking to improve their fat to muscle ratio, particularly those who are required to meet particular weight goals for their sport, might benefit from an offseason keto diet.Exercising while glycogen storage levels are low is a training technique which is very popular for improving mitochondrial function, and key strategy athletes can utilize if they are looking to improve endurance. By reducing oxidative stress, gut and immune functions are supported in a better manner, which helps athletes sustain their health while they rest. Ketones also make available substrates which help repair damaged neurons.