As a sports dietitian, I work daily with professional athletes and active individuals looking for fueling strategies to improve performance, body composition and health. One popular and enticing eating plan is the ketogenic diet, also known as the keto diet. The keto diet has taken the internet by storm with highly influential followers. Some athletes report that following a keto diet has dramatically improved their performance. If keto is something you’re considering, make sure it is a good fit before making your decision.
When I ask if considering if it is right for you, I’m not talking about more than just the foods you have to eat or not eat. It is important to consider how it could impact your body physiology, your physique and your sports performance. This post will focus on how the keto diet may help or, in some instances, hurt people who are active and exercise regularly.
Keto Diet & Athletes: Questions to Consider
Before you embark on a keto diet, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you willing to monitor for the presence of ketones in your blood?
- What do you notice as result of the diet? When you swap rice for cauliflower or pasta for rutabaga noodles you may experience some digestive distress.
- Are you willing to dramatically decrease intake of fruits, beans, potatoes, corn, grains, sweets and alcohol?
- Do you like high-fat foods and low-carbohydrate vegetables?
- Do you have the financial means to support the foods on the diet?
- Are you prepared to put in the time for meal preparation?
- Are these foods sports friendly? Can you keep them in your bag, take them on your bike or run or when you travel?
If you go for it, be sure to eat a variety of the allowed foods rather than relying on keto bars, shakes, dessert and ketogenic coffee.
Plan your meals with a variety of meats, nuts, avocado, olive oil, high-fat dairy foods, a few low-carbohydrate fruits and adequate vegetables. And, add lots of herbs and spices for phytonutrients and flavor.
- Here are a few nutrient-rich, keto-friendly snack combinations to consider:
Cheese +mini carrots
- Full-fat cottage cheese + tomato slices
- Full-fat yogurt with a few berries
- Full-fat Greek flavored yogurt dip + savory spices
- Chicken kabobs + full-fat flavored yogurt dip
If the true keto diet sounds too extreme, you can also consider a modified keto approach. While many variations exist, aiming for 30 percent protein, 55 percent fat and 15 precent carbs would allow for some legumes and starch veggies, fruit, nuts and seeds. This may be a better choice if your sport or activity is high intensity or if you’re looking to build muscle mass and size.
Eating and exercise are not mutually exclusive. Sure it is great to feel lean and fit, but if your sports performance takes a hit, you may want to decide if keto is a go or a no.