Low carb high fat diets have been given a bad rap for the longest time.
Especially in the fitness world.
How many times have you guys experienced someone online, in the gym, next to you on the toilet, tell you how important carbs are if you are doing any form of exercise?
What if I told you this was just another way for the sugar industry to market high carb low fat products to you?
Why ? Because it’s more lucrative. It makes big businesses more money.
I recently read a book called, “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance” by Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney.
This is my review as well as the notes and key takeaways I got from it.
First, the book explains how beneficial a low carbohydrate high fat diet actually is for an athlete.
There are more athletes nowadays that are preaching the low carb high fat craze.
And successfully winning competitions for it.
According to the book, the reason behind why low carb ketogenic diets are so good for athletes is because,
Low carbohydrate diets are anti-inlammatory, producing less oxidative stress during exercise and more rapid recovery between exercise sessions. Physiological adaptation to low carbohydrate living allows much greater reliance on body fat, not just at rest but also during exercise, meaning much less dependence on muscle glycogen and less need to reload with carbohydrates during and after exercise. Low carbohydrate adaptation accelerates the body’s use of saturated fats for fuel, allowing a high intake of total fats (including saturates) without risk. At the practical level, effective training for both endurance and strength/power sports can be done by individuals adapted to carbohydrate restricted diets, with desirable changes in body composition and power-to-weight ratios.
What Jeff and Stephen are trying to say is that your body is way more EFFICIENT in the way it processes its calories through FATS instead of CARBS when you begin to incorporate a low carb diet with your athletic performance regimen..
Think about it, any time after a serious workout, what do you feel?
Sore as all hell.
And why is that? Inflammation.
Being in a state of ketosis helps your recovery time drastically because it has anti-inflammatory properties AND it also helps in utilizing protein for muscle recovery..
Those few reasons why had me sold on the ketogenic diet right there in itself.
There’s much more though.
The book then dives into how ketosis is a much better energy source ESPECIALLY for endurance runners.
A lot of marathon runners, ultra marathoners, and the like are now winning competitions and testifying to a ketogenic diet.
The explanation from the book is as follows:
Body stores of fat fuel (typically >40, 000 Calories [kcal]) vastly exceed its maximum stores of carbohydrate fuel (~2,000 kcal). Fueling tactics that emphasize carbohydrate-based diets and sugar-based supplements bias your metabolism towards carbohydrate while simultaneously inhibiting fat mobilization and utilization. This suppression of fat oxidation lasts for days after carbohydrates are consumed, not just the few hours following their digestion when insulin levels are high. This high carbohydrate paradigm produces unreliable results, especially during prolonged exercise when body carbohydrate stores are exhausted. In order to sustain a high level of performance under conditions of glycogen depletion and decreased glucose availability, cells must adapt to using fat fuels. This process is referred to as keto-adaptation which has the potential to improve human performance and recovery. Previously held beliefs about the magnitude of peak fat burning need to be reconsidered in the context of data obtained after keto-adaptation.
Yup, you read that right.
Our body is able to store 40,000 CALORIES in fat fuel, as opposed to a measly carb load of 2,000 CALORIES.
Just picture a gas tank.
One has the capability of storage 40,000 gallons whereas the other fits only 2,000.
That is exactly how are body performs depending on which fuel source you choose — fats or cabohydrates.
This is why you always hear of runners “bonking” towards the end of a race.
Because their bodies ran out of energy from carbs.
This is also why you always see athletes drinking gel packs, gatorades, and every other quick sugar they can get their hands on while they are competing.
“The more carbs that are available, the more carbs the body burns; while at the same time shutting down access to its much larger fuel reserve – fat.”
Even in very lean athletes, eating high fats becomes more sustainable especially in endurance activities.
The book explains this as:
Keto-adaptation allows rapid mobilization and utilization of “non-carbohydrate” lipid fuel sources. As the name implies, this process involves the conversion of fat to ketones in the liver, and these ketones help supply the brain with energy when glucose levels fall. This affords even a very lean (10% body fat) athlete access to more than 40,000 kcal from body fat, rather than starting a prolonged event depending primarily on ~2000 kcal of glycogen.
I explained this before as the gas tank analogy. Personally, I have witnessed awesome sustainable energy when doing cardio while in ketosis.
I was never a long distance runner but i’ve started to incorporate it into my exercise regimen.
The first week I was able to run 10 miles without stopping. Mind you, it wasn’t fast, probably a 9 or 10 minute mile pace, but the fact that I was able to even run that distance with no prior training or experience blew my mind.
This was my way of testing out ketosis as an energy source and it worked great.
It is important to note though, that utilizing ketones for energy is something you have to work into. You can’t just not eat carbs for a day and expect to feel a rush of energy for your workouts.
Volek backs up these statements by stating:
Keto-adaptation provides a steady and sustained source of fuel for the brain, thereby protecting athletes from hitting the wall. Keto-adaptation may improve insulin sensitivity and recovery from exercise. Keto-adaptation spares protein from being oxidized thereby preserving lean tissue. Keto-adaptation decreases the accumulation of lactate, contributing to better control of pH and respiratory function. The benefits of keto-adaptation may be relevant for improving endurance, strength/power, and cognitive performance, as well as speeding recovery.
Again, you can try it out for yourself and see how it affects your body. Everyone is different but for the majority of athletes, I personally believe that becoming keto-adapted will have a lot of benefits.
Before we get into the rest of the book talking about nutrition, I want to give my quick two cents on optimizing ketosis for the common athlete.
So far I’ve explained how beneficial it can be for athletes because it prevents you from running out of a fuel source within your body.
Here’s my only counter argument (I don’t remember if they talked about this in the book).
There are certain types of exercises / workouts / athletic competitions that simply wouldn’t work on a standard ketogenic diet. This would be the exercises that require a glycolytic response. Bursts of movements (sprints), 1 repetition heavy compound lifts, strongman competitions. For sure eat your carbs in that case. It is simply required for your body to maintain explosive power with those types of workouts.
But if you are doing lifts in the range of 6+ or longer endurance competitions like a marathon, the ketogenic diet reigns supreme without a doubt.
Now there is something called a targeted ketogenic diet where an athlete would eat immediately before or after their workout, this can work very well, but is a topic for another blog post as I would like to get on with this review..
The rest of the book goes on to talk about what you should eat, how many carbs you’re allowed to have, and other common ketogenic diet practices.
Volek and Phinney recommend consuming the following veggies while on the keto diet:
Asparagus, Broccoli, Celery, Cucumber, Cauliflower, Chard, Collards, Eggplant, Endive, Green beans, Kale, Mushrooms, Mustard, Green Lettuce, Onions, Pea pods, Peppers, Radish, Spinach, and Summer squash
It was also recommended to include a good source of essential amino acids after resistance exercise, especially if your goal is to increase muscle mass. They say it doesn’t have to come directly from a protein supplement — it can come from a fruit smoothie made with naturally fermented yogurt, a cup of home-made meat broth, or creamed soups made from this broth.
As you can tell this book is where a lot of ketogenic knowledge was derived from. It’s like the holy grail of the keto culture and should be read by everyone who is interested in adopting a low carb high fat diet.
One of the last tidbits I want to quote that is towards the end of the book:
To maintain nutritional ketosis, as a proportion of total calories, your fat intake will need to be high (~65 to 80%). Since your amounts of carbohydrate and protein are locked into a relatively narrow range, the amount of fat you eat will vary depending on whether you want to lose or maintain weight. The fat you eat provides important fuel and therefore should emphasize the fuel sources the body prefers to burn, namely monounsaturated and saturated fats. Limit foods with a high proportion of the vegetable (omega-6) polyunsaturates. Balance your intake of omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fat.
That pretty much explains how you should be forming your diet and everything you eat.
65 to 80 % of calories NEED to be coming from fats if you want to properly stay in ketosis.
Just like I just quoted, it IS important to get your fats from healthy sources.
Don’t be one of those ketoer’s who think they can get away with eating just eggs and bacon every day, using vegetable oil all the time, mayonnaise — no.
If you’re going to go on the keto diet, do it right and get your damn fats from the proper sources.
Be sure to sign up for my email list. I send keto tips and it’s a fun time so subscribe below!