No Keto for athletes


    It’s that one diet that has got everyone talking about and a lot of followers both in the form of celebrities and laypersons as well. The Ketogenic Diet almost seems to have gained a cult following of sorts. But just like there are two sides to a coin, the diet has many people singing its praises and advocating it, on the other hand there are health experts who are expressing concerns about this extreme diet and shedding light on its pitfalls. Now, a new research says that athletes shouldn’t follow this diet as it hampers their performance.

    The study

    A study found that just four days after banishing carbohydrates, a sportsperson’s running distance is reduced by 15 per cent and their strength by up to seven per cent. The study analysed 16 adults who underwent exercise training after four days of following a Keto Diet. Cycling and high-intensity interval training was included in the exercise regimen. According to the researchers, it’s unclear exactly why this occurs, keto diets are thought to affect people’s anaerobic energy.

    Study author Dr Edward Weiss, Saint Louis University, US, said, “This diet is especially hot among people who are trying to optimise their health. What this study tells me is that athletes should be advised to avoid these diets. The Keto Diet forces the body to burn fat, rather than carbohydrates, for energy, which effectively starves it of carbs but not calories.

    Findings also apply to non-athletes 

    Dr Weiss further adds, “You might say that this doesn’t relate to me. But for someone with low fitness, they use this same metabolism to get up the stairs. Everyday people use this kind of metabolism without realising it. Yet, certain individuals may benefit. Patients who have epilepsy benefit from this diet. For those with abnormal cell metabolism that causes seizures, causing cells to feed on ketones instead can be helpful.”

    Expert speak

    The Keto Diet can help athletes control their body weight and reduce body fat percentage while maintaining the muscle mass necessary for weight-sensitive sports. But there have been lot more negatives than positives for athletes who follow Keto Diet, opines Prateek Dabholkar, senior trainer, Prosport Fitness Centre, who has played cricket professionally.

    Dabholkar explains, “Levels of free fatty acids and ammonia in the blood goes very high, which results in impaired metabolism and central nervous system fatigue. Several months are required for an athlete to see positive metabolic changes and muscle glycogen to occur. Before starting on a Keto Diet, an adaption period of several months is recommended in order for endurance athletes to improve their exercise performance. Without long-term adaptation to the diet, an athlete would experience adverse effects including reduced muscle glycogen, hypoglycemia, and impaired athletic performance. Also, post adaptation there hasn’t been too much difference between the performance of endurance athletes who go Keto and those who don’t. So I won’t really  recommend the Ketogenic Diet for athletes to improve their performance as it takes several months to adapt to the diet and one’s performance will be badly affected during this period.”

    The downside 

    Luke Coutinho, Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine — Holistic Nutrition, gives his share of reasons. Keto Diet can negatively affect the performance of an athlete because there is no source of instant energy or quick digesting carbohydrates in their pre-training as well as post-training meals. Any exercise that requires explosive movements like HIIT, Tabata, CrossFit, sprinting, jumping ropes are affected if one is following a Keto Diet. This is irrespective of being an athlete or a non-athlete because both run on same metabolic pathways.

    “Secondly, athletes train heavy. Heavy training requires one to have sufficient crabs pre and post-training because that is what fuels muscles first in the form of glycogen. Lack of enough glycogen can cause extreme fatigue and loss of energy often referred to as ‘bonking’, dizziness and hallucinations. Thirdly, athletes go through a lot of muscle wear and tear. When it comes to muscle repair and building muscle, the Keto Diet fails because the sheer process of muscle gain and muscle repair requires energy that comes from carbohydrates. Apart from this, the Keto Diet is also quite vitamin and mineral deficient, impairs sleep and mood and can strain kidneys which at some point can affect an athlete’s performance,” adds Countinho.

    Although the Keto Diet gives a sustained energy and helps shed extra kilos however, it’s not adequate to perform a high intensity workout that requires carbohydrates for fuel and this leads to a dip in performance, says Dr Deepti Bagree, Head of Department, Healthcare, RESET — Holistic Living Concepts. She adds, “The demand of oxygen to derive energy from fat is 20 per cent extra than burning carbohydrates for energy and this affects the endurance, however, it’s a good idea to be on periodic Keto Diet during an off season and then switching to high carbohydrates during on season giving a boost to power and endurance.”dnaindia

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