I recently started a new job (now working 2 jobs), began endurance training (registered to run the Saratoga Springs half marathon in July!), and drastically changed my diet. After attending a recent seminar by CNYDA, a sports dietitian explained her training program for (mostly) women which involved the ketogenic diet (low carb, high protein, and high fat) and carbohydrate cycling. At first, I was susceptible because through my nutrition education, I was always under the impression that ketogenesis and low carbohydrate diets were dangerous such as the Atkins diet. But after doing quick research on the topic, I realized that ketoacidosis (DKA) is what may be harmful to your body which is not the same as ketogenesis. And if you have a normal working pancreas that secretes insulin correctly then your body will not ever go into DKA therefore there is no harm. Although, a low carb diet is not recommended for the long-term. One of my favorite workout programs is P90X, although I don’t agree with everything beachbody promotes, after learning more about the ketogenic diet, I realized that the P90X diet plan is a ketogenic diet (low carb, high protein diet). And many people have seen results! And it makes sense why!
But even as a recent nutrition graduate and prior athlete, I have struggled to understand the effects and benefits of the ketogenic diet. Also, I believe every body is different and you have to experiment yourself to know if something would be beneficial for your body. So I decided to experiment and try the ketogenic diet myself. I believe in eating all food groups which are needed to get all the macro and micronutrients, real food in moderation, and physical activity to maintain weight. But I wanted to see if it worked to not only lose the extra body fat I have never been able to lose since my body weight has plateaued for many years, but also I have read about possible benefits for running such as preventing hitting the wall. I have not done too much research on this yet, but from my understanding, if your body trains on using fat as fuel then you will less likely “hit the wall” since this is due to not having enough glucose for your muscles to keep going or in other words not eating enough carbohydrates to fuel your run. I would like to do more research on this and found a book I look forward to reading on this topic, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by Jeff S. Volek and Stephen D. Phinney. But I have found following the diet correctly is challenging and is it beneficial or worth it?
This weekend, I ran a 5K on Friday (Fleet Feet Syracuse’s RUNapalooza), ran my long-run (10 miles), and catered a wedding. After the race they offered free beer and pizza (and who could pass up free beer and pizza) after a hard run (placed 5th in my age category, it wasn’t a PR, but I know I was dehydrated and it was humid). Then, the next morning, I needed to get my long-run in then went to work (catered a wedding for 8 hours with nothing to eat after my run besides a couple spoonfuls of what was left of my greek yogurt, an apple, and granola – there was nothing else fast and easy to eat) until I ate leftovers from the dinner (and of course, since I was hungry and needed calories, I ate what I could – the tomato and cucumber salad, potatoes, and mac and cheese). I didn’t have any protein since I do not eat meat.
My challenges are not only do I have a crazy schedule, but I am also a vegetarian or a pescatarian since I do eat fish and eggs, but I do not eat chicken or red meat. I have been a pescatarian for over a year. I will admit I have accidentally ate chicken, but I have kept pretty well to my “diet.” But since I started the ketogenic diet 2 weeks ago or at least have tried by eliminating breads and pasta mostly (but I have not actually counted my carbohydrates as you should if you wanted to follow this diet correctly). And am I getting enough protein? Most likely, even though I eat a lot of eggs, drink milk, and many plant based protein sources, I probably am not getting enough protein to see the benefits. I eat eggs almost every morning, greek yogurt, peanut butter, fish (salmon; tuna), beans, tofu, cottage cheese, vegetarian burgers, and use olive oil. I should be eating more healthier high fat sources such as avocados. Also, plant proteins absorb less efficiently than animal sources.
I also know that I am possibly depleting my body of important micronutrients, so I should take a multivitamin. Also, I have realized that I am not eating enough fiber. I usually eat a healthy balanced diet including all food groups (except poultry and meat) and know the importance of fiber for your digestive system. But I experienced not having enough fiber to help my digestive tract and it was not fun. A fiber supplement is an option, but it is hard for me to take supplements. I believe in eating food for nutrients before taking supplements.
Why the ketogenic diet? More interest has been towards the ketogenic diet and the benefits for athletes. But the ketogenic diet has actually been around for a long time. It was founded by Dr. Russell Wilder at Mayo Clinic in the 1900’s. Originally, the diet was to reduce seizures in epilepsy patients (before seizure medications). Also, studies have shown benefits for other neurological disorders such as brain cancer, Alzheimers, and Parkinsons. Misunderstanding of ketogenesis has created a negative connotation even though benefits may most likely outweigh the possible negative effects. For athletes, a low carbohydrate (50 g or less), high protein (25% or 20-30%), and high fat (60-65%) is beneficial for fat utilization. During exercise, most people want to burn more fat so by creating ketone bodies, your body will become metabolic efficient which means your body will be more efficient at losing weight. Also, as an endurance runner, if I am successful at putting my body in ketosis then I may not need as much carbohydrates when I start doing more long distances (as I briefly mentioned above). My body will be able to use fat as fuel instead of glucose.
I would like to note that these are my interpretations from what I have found and my own personal experience, but more research is still needed for recommending the ketogenic diet. But the evidence that there is, shows benefits under uncontrolled experiments. Have you tried the ketogenic diet? What were the results? What were your challenges? Are you also a runner and followed the ketogenci diet? Share in the comments, I would love to hear your stories and experiences too!
Here are the resources that I used and for anyone that may be interested in also reading more on this topic:
Ellis, D. (2014). Low-carb training getting mileage with endurance athletes. Egg Nutrition Center, Nutrition Close-Up Summer 2014. Retrieved from http://www.eggnutritioncenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Summer-2014-Close-Up.pdf#page=5
Klement, R. J. Frobel, T., Albers, T., Fikenzer, S., Prinzhausen, & J. Kammerer, U. (2013). A pilot case study on the impact of a self-prescribed ketogenic diet on biochemical parameters and running performance in healthy and physically active individuals. Nutrition and Medicine Journal, 1 (1).
Noakes, T., Volek J.S., & Phinney, S. D. (2014). Low-carbohydrate diets from athletes: what evidence? Br J Sports Med. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2014-093824
Ketogenic diet resource:
The Eating Academy: Personal Blog of Peter Attia, MD:
Joseph Arcita Blog:
In Depth Look At Ketogenic Diets and Ketosis by Jonathon Deprospo: