A ketogenic diet is a great way to rapidly lose weight and improve general health. Meanwhile, consistent exercise can also greatly improve your health. Both are excellent options for improving health and losing weight, but what happens when the two are combined?
It’s completely reasonable to assume that the combination of exercise and keto will let you take your health to new heights. However, it is a little more complicated than just that. Restricting carbs, one of the primary things you would do in a keto diet causes changes that affect how the body works, which will impact exercise performance.
How Keto Will Change Your Exercise Performance
The effects keto has on exercise directly links to its restriction of carbs, as it limits muscles from accessing sugar, a fuel source that the body wants to obtain quickly. When muscles can’t access sugar, their functionality decreases in high intensity work-outs (such as these, i.e. any exercise activity lasting longer than 10 seconds at maximum capacity). This is because the muscles start using glucose through the metabolic pathway known as glycosis at about the 10 second mark instead of ATP and creatine phosphate.
Because of this, any activity involving your muscles that requires an all-out effort for a period of 10 seconds or more should be using glucose as an energy source. This is how weight is lost as well, as high-intensity exercises are focused on using all of a body’s glucose and forcing the muscles to use fat and ketones.
Here are some exercises that will be limited by a keto diet:
- Heavy-weight lifting at maximum capacity for five reps or more
- High-intensity cardio activities like sprinting for more than 10 seconds (Most cardio activities aren’t restricted though)
- Playing any sport with minimal rest
- Any training focused on high-intensity intervals
This isn’t every exercise that will be restricted by a keto diet and a lack of carbohydrates, but it gives a good general idea on what you can and can’t do.
Another thing to note when exercising on a keto diet is that carbs stimulate muscles. Without them, other vital nutrients will be consumed and muscle gain will be somewhat restricted. This can be negated by including more protein in your ketogenic diet.
Can You Still do High-Intensity Workouts on a Keto Diet?
Keto will cause you to have a loss in performance in high-intensity workouts. You can still do them, but you’ll perform these activities slower and they will take longer. So if you’re looking for a performance-enhancing diet, this isn’t it.
However, it doesn’t affect some high-intensity activities that use large bursts of energy in a very small time frame, examples of this include power-lifting and golf. It’s also worth recognizing that although exercise performance can be impacted at first, it’ll eventually stabilize and become unaffected.
Types of Exercise You Can Do While in Ketosis
Luckily, not every exercise will be limited by a keto diet and some people might even see improved performance with exercises and activities focused on endurance; In fact, some people on keto diets have seen themselves burning 2-3 times more fat in their endurance exercises.
Enough about that though, exercise types you should focus on include weight training and cardio.
Weight Lifting on Keto
Your overall strength and power as well as your muscle mass can be increased through lifting weights. The best part is that they can all be simultaneously improved with your workout program.
Your body won’t require glucose if your high-intensity exercises don’t last longer than 10 seconds. Instead, your body will simply use stored creatine and ATP to fuel your muscles during quick workouts. This means that your keto diet’s carb restrictions won’t impact you if you’re focused on max-effort muscular actions for a very brief amount of time. Overall, this means that weightlifters can continue to improve their strength while on keto as long as their sets don’t last longer than 10 seconds.
To do this, you should focus on finding a weightlifting program that has at least five sets of lifting with only five or less reps. Research has also suggested that sets with lower reps will maximize muscle gain in your workouts. A good and free work-out program that follows these rules is the 5×5 workout, which will be discussed more now.
The 5×5 Weightlifting Program is an Excellent Program For People on a Keto Diet
The 5×5 program will fulfill all of the weightlifting requirements for keto that we mentioned earlier. It only has five sets in most of its workouts and these sets never go above five reps. The workouts in the program include:
- Squats, five sets of five reps
- Bench press, five sets of five reps
- Barbell rows, five sets of five reps
- Deadlifts, one set of five reps
- Overhead presses, five sets of five reps
The program focuses on training only three days of the week as well, so don’t worry about it taking up too much time. Here is the specific schedule it will generally follow:
|Bench Press||Overhead Press||Bench Press|
|Barbell Rows||Deadlifts||Barbell Rows|
|Overhead Press||Bench Press||Overhead Press|
This program will build the overall strength in your entire body. However, it may not be a good program if you’re focused on building strength or mass in a specific muscle, but its principles of at least five sets with five or less reps still apply, meaning you can technically customize this program to your needs.
Doing Cardio While on a Keto Diet
Keto will only impact cardio if you’re an athlete focused on high-intensity cardio. If your main form of exercise is cardio you won’t really have to change your regimen once you enter ketosis. If you have to train at high-intensities, you’ll notice that your results are a little worse at first because your body needs sugar and glycogen to get the best results, but your body will eventually adapt. It’s worth noting that cardio might not necessarily build strength in your body, but it will improve your general health and really help your heart.
Because most cardio exercises are of low to moderate intensity, you should be able to do them without any impact on your performance. In fact, in cardio work-outs focused on training endurance you’ll find that you’re able to run much longer without getting tired.
You should aim for moderate-intensity cardio if you’re doing it on a keto diet. The CDC defines moderate-intensity as 50-70% of your maximum heart-rate. If you want to find out your maximum heart-rate you can get an estimate by subtracting your age from 220. As an example, a 20 year old would have a maximum heart-rate of 200, because 220-20= 200, so they should aim for a heart-rate between 100-140 BPM during their work-out. However, if you’re just starting a keto diet, you should aim for about 50% of your maximum heart-rate at first because your body could still be adapting to the new diet.
Here are just a few examples of cardio exercises you can do while on keto:
Cycling is a great way to get your cardio in during a ketogenic diet. Long endurance rides for a few hours are the best choice, as they won’t push your heart-rate too hard and they’ll stay at a low to moderate intensity. You can do more high-intensity cycling, but you’ll struggle at first and it might be a bit difficult in general. Here are some of the benefits you’ll get from cycling:
- You’ll lose fat
- It works all of the major muscle groups
- Cycling will promote flexibility and mobility in both joints and muscles
- Combines transportation and exercise
- You can go as slow or as fast as you want to
Swimming is another excellent cardio option for you while you’re on a keto diet. Low to moderate intensity swimming is best and you should favor long endurance swimming over quick bursts.
High-intensity swimming while on Keto might be dangerous as you don’t want to run out of energy while swimming and risk drowning, so you should probably avoid it. Swimming for some people is also much more fun compared to just running or cycling, so there’s that to consider as well. However, a swimming pool might not be available depending on where you’re located.
Here are the benefits of swimming:
- Less impact stress when compared to other cardio work-outs
- Great way to build endurance and muscle strength
- It’s an all-body work-out
- It can be relaxing compared to other work-outs
- Promotes flexibility
- Can easily be done with injuries and other conditions
Running is one of the most popular forms of exercise all over the globe. It’s easy to see why, it can be done almost anywhere and it doesn’t require much equipment. If you’re on keto though you should only focus on jogging and/or long distance running, as sprinting will be hard for you, especially during the early stages of a keto diet. All you’ll really need is a decent pair of shoes and comfortable clothes and you’ll be able to get started.
The benefits of running include:
- Great economic choice, you can run anywhere
- Promotes cardiovascular health greatly
- It burns fat, like all other cardio exercises
- It naturally improves your mood
- Can improve joint health
Other Things to Keep in Mind When Exercising on Keto
If you’re exercising on Keto, you may have to modify your diet to include more calories and more protein. This is because you need to ensure that your body is building muscle and using fat as a fuel source. If you don’t modify your diet, your body could end up using vital nutrients and/or muscle as a fuel source instead of eliminating fat. Another solution to this is “cycling” your keto diet, which is something that would be especially helpful if you’re a competitive athlete that can’t afford to lose performance. You can do this by following a keto diet for five to six days and then moving to a diet with more carbs when you have high-intensity activities planned.
You should also know that there are a lot of keto-friendy supplements that can help you maintain or improve your performance in the gym. Some of these include:
- Medium chain triglycerides
- Exogenous ketones
- Caffeine pills at a limited level
- Protein powder
- Fish oil
- Alpha GPC
- A keto-friendly pre-workout supplement
You should extensively research any and all supplements you’re planning on taking, so be sure to do so. You can also work-in a lot of these supplements into pre-workout shakes and/or protein-packed post workout meals, the latter of which being another essential for building muscle.
Keto may not be the best diet for athletes that need to perform high-intensity activities, but it is one of the best diets for losing weight and improving health. You can definitely still exercise on Keto, but you have to make sure you adjust your exercise to a more moderate intensity.
You also might have to change your diet a bit, adding more protein and calories, to ensure that you build muscle while exercising. A lot of supplements can also help you with building muscle and losing weight when working-out, so be sure to look into them. Overall, you can exercise and follow a keto diet at the same time, but you should limit yourself to moderate-intensity exercises.