Can You Exercise While On the Keto Diet?

If you’re new to the keto diet, you may be wondering how to best supplement your new low-carb and high-fat lifestyle with exercise, especially if you’re used to being active.

While there are some things to be mindful of, exercise on the keto diet is certainly encouraged and comes with plenty of health benefits.

In this article we’ll discuss the following:

The Dos and Don’ts of Exercise

Eating Less and Exercising More

Don’t! When the goal is fat loss, a common misconception is to restrict calories while also adding in more exercise, typically cardio, in an effort to lose as much weight as possible. This is not a helpful nor healthy approach to weight loss on the ketogenic diet.

By severely restricting calories and supplementing it with high-intensity or prolonged cardio workouts, you will burn out. This is a recipe for feeling mentally and physically exhausted, and will not lead to significant weight loss. The more you adhere to this approach, the more likely you will only put more stress on your body.

Some side effects of this are an increase in chronic inflammation and even the accelerated aging of your cells. It’s simply not a sustainable way to lose weight and can hurt your body in the end.

By eating nutritious whole foods that are also low in carbs along with a moderate amount of protein and high-fat foods, you will naturally eat less because of this diet’s appetite-suppressing effects[1]. And then of course, weight loss will come.

Cardio Exercise

Moderate amounts of low-intensity cardio is great for your body, so do it! Activities like walking, swimming, hiking, and cycling are all excellent workouts that are also health-improving.

In regards to cardio exercise, what is not helpful is endless hours of running, extreme spinning, or hard-core classes.

Most people think of cardio as the ultimate fat-burning method, but in the end, it’s a race you cannot win. It’s not a sustainable lifestyle for the majority of people.

Here are some reasons why:

  • Repetitious aerobic training (aka chronic cardio) will increase your appetite and lead to you eating more. Our bodies tend to feel ravenous after prolonged cardio and it will indubitably demand those calories back.
  • Chronic cardio can also increases cortisol, which is a stress hormone responsible for storing fat in the stomach. Long-term high cortisol levels can lead to leptin resistance, which in turn, leads to increased appetite and food intake.
  • Systemic inflammation. A good workout often comes with acute inflammation, which is important for building muscles and improving your overall performance. However, too much exhaustive exercise can lead to systemic inflammation and oxidative stress, so don’t overdo it.

Weight Training

Weight training is perfectly fine on the ketogenic diet, but you may need to make some small adjustments to fit your carb needs for the amount of exercise.

It’s generally a good idea to consume 15-30 grams of fast-acting carbohydrates, like fruit, up to 30 minutes before your workout and up to 30 minutes after.

This ensures your muscles are getting the proper amount of glycogen to perform during training and also during recovery. Your carbs will be used for this specific purpose without the risk of leaving ketosis.

When doing this form of exercise, be sure to focus on your major muscle groups and add some squats into the mix.

The ketogenic diet has the added benefit of muscle-sparing effects that help you preserve and build lean mass.

High-Intensity Intermittent Training (HIIT)

This kind of exercise includes intense bursts of anaerobic exercise, such as sprinting with short intervals for recovery.

Similar to weight training, carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for HIIT, so your typical keto diet alone will most likely not be enough energy for these types of workouts.

Flexibility Exercises

This includes activities like stretching and yoga, and are great for the ketogenic diet. These exercises are helpful for stretching your muscles, improving muscle range motion, and supporting your joints.

Increasing your flexibility can help to prevent injuries that are typically caused by the shortening of the muscles over time, so do it!

Exogenous Ketones

Exogenous ketones are a pretty hot product on the market for keto dieters. These are ketones that are taken externally—typically in the form of a pill, liquid, or powder—as opposed to being

naturally produced by your body, and are an excellent way to supplement your ketogenic diet, especially if you are very active.

If you plan on engaging in more intense exercise and prefer not adding more fast-acting carbs before and after your workout, try supplementing your diet with exogenous ketones instead.

This is a great way to get the energy your body needs for a longer workout while still being able to jump right back into ketosis faster afterwards.

Exercise Health Benefits

Supplementing your ketogenic diet with moderate exercise has been shown to provide some significant benefits. In one three-hour-long study on athletes on a low-carb diet, they were seen to burn 2-3 times more fat than those on a high-carb diet[2].

This same study also showed these low-carb athletes used and replenished the same amount of muscle glycogen as their high-carb counterparts.

Other benefits include:

  • Being in ketosis can help prevent fatigue during longer bouts of aerobic exercise
  • Ketosis has been shown to aid in blood glucose maintenance during exercise
  • Adapting to a keto diet has been shown to help low-carb dieters perform better in all forms of exercise with less carbs over time[3].

There are a lot of carb-heavy philosophies that give ketosis a bad reputation when it comes to exercise, but the truth is that low-carb diets like the ketogenic diet can work well with low-to-moderate forms of exercise and yield plenty of health benefits.

If you have a very active lifestyle and are interested in going keto, it can absolutely work, you just may need to make some small adjustments to your diet.

More Readings:

5 Tips For Optimizing Exercise Performance On The Ketogenic Diet

When to Take Exogenous Ketones

Best Keto Pre-Workout Ingredients Based on Science

5 Measurements to Track on the Ketogenic Diet

References:

[1] Martin C.K., Rosenbaum D., Han H.M., Geiselman P.J., Wyatt H.R., Hill J.O., Brill C., Bailer B., Miller-III B.V., Stein R., et al. Change in food cravings, food preferences, and appetite during a low-carbohydrate and low-fat diet. Obesity. 2011;19:1963–1970. doi: 10.1038/oby.2011.62. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Cross Ref]

[2] Volek JS, Freidenreich DJ, Saenz C, Kunces LJ, Creighton BC, Bartley JM, Davitt PM, Munoz CX, Anderson JM, Maresh CM, Lee EC, Schuenke MD, Aerni G, Kraemer WJ, Phinney SD. Metabolic characteristics of keto-adapted ultra-endurance runners. Metabolism. 2016 Mar;65(3):100-10. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2015.10.028. Epub 2015 Nov 2.

[3] Brinkworth GD, Noakes M, Clifton PM, Buckley JD. Effects of a low carbohydrate weight loss diet on exercise capacity and tolerance in obese subjects. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2009 Oct;17(10):1916-23. doi: 10.1038/oby.2009.134. Epub 2009 Apr 16.

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Jessica Cotzin is a freelance writer, web developer, and avid traveler. Born and raised in South Florida, she graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Multi-Media Journalism from Florida Atlantic University and currently resides in Miami Beach. Her passions lie in reading great literature and traveling the world, bumping blindly into new adventures.

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