Keto Diet and Working Out: Pros, Cons, and Exercise Plan

The keto diet, characterized by its low-carbohydrate and high-fat composition, prompts the body to enter a state of ketosis. During ketosis, the body shifts its primary energy source from glucose to ketones, derived from fats.

This metabolic alteration has intrigued fitness enthusiasts and health-conscious individuals, raising questions about its compatibility with various exercise regimens. This comprehensive exercise guide will teach you everything you need to know about the keto diet and working out.

Key Takeaways:

  • Working out on keto helps burn fat and improve energy levels, lean mass, endurance, and stamina.
  • Squats, lunges, planks, pushups, deadlifts, and bench presses are excellent resistance training exercises on keto.

Table of Contents:

How the Keto Diet Affects Exercise

While ketosis brings the body to a more stable usage of energy through ketones,1 this takes a while, and beginners may experience challenges with exercises during the adaptation stage due to the energy shift.

In a typical diet, the body relies on glucose2 from carbohydrates as its primary energy source. However, when carbohydrate intake is significantly reduced, the liver produces ketones,3 which serve as an alternative fuel.

The body requires time to adapt to utilizing ketones efficiently, leading to a phenomenon commonly known as the keto flu. Symptoms may include fatigue, headaches, and irritability,4 which can affect workout consistency in the initial stages of adopting the diet.

However, as mentioned, this only happens during the adaptation stage, and the energy levels become more stable as the body adapts.

As a result, ketosis offers sustained energy levels during prolonged, low-intensity exercise. This is attributed to the efficient mobilization and utilization of fat stores as a fuel source.

Moreover, ketosis has been associated with increased fat oxidation,5 potentially providing an advantage in activities that demand long-duration efforts, such as marathon running or cycling.

For endurance athletes, the potential advantages of the keto diet6 lie in its ability to spare glycogen stores, allowing for prolonged exercise without hitting the proverbial ‘wall.’

Benefits of Working Out on a Keto Diet

keto diet and working out exercise plan

Improved Fat Burning and Weight Loss

Scientific studies suggest that the keto diet may lead to greater fat loss7 compared to traditional low-fat diets. In ketosis, the body becomes proficient at utilizing stored fat for energy, reducing body fat percentage.

As exercise intensity increases, the metabolic reliance on fats intensifies, making the keto diet an attractive option for those aiming to shed excess weight.

Stable and Sustained Energy Levels

The keto diet’s emphasis on fat metabolism provides a stable and sustained energy supply8 during prolonged exercise. Unlike the peaks and crashes associated with glucose metabolism, using ketones as a fuel source offers a more efficient and consistent energy release.9

Endurance athletes,10 in particular, may benefit from this steadier energy supply, enabling them to perform optimally over extended durations without frequent refueling.

Improved Endurance and Stamina

Adopting a keto diet can improve endurance and stamina,11 particularly in activities that demand prolonged efforts. Research suggests that ketosis may spare glycogen stores, allowing athletes to tap into fat reserves efficiently.

This glycogen preservation becomes advantageous12 during endurance events, where sustained energy is paramount. Athletes may experience reduced reliance on external fuel sources, contributing to enhanced performance and reduced fatigue.

Muscle Preservation and Lean Body Mass

The strategic combination of the keto diet with resistance training can support muscle preservation13 and the maintenance of lean body mass.

While traditional thinking often associates high-carbohydrate diets with muscle building, the protein-rich nature of the keto diet, when appropriately balanced, provides essential amino acids for muscle repair and growth.14

This is crucial for individuals engaging in strength training, ensuring they can achieve their fitness goals while adhering to a low-carbohydrate lifestyle.

Potential Anti-Inflammatory Effects

The keto diet has been associated with anti-inflammatory effects,15 and regular exercise further contributes to this benefit. Chronic inflammation16 is implicated in various health conditions, and the joint impact of a ketogenic diet and exercise may help mitigate inflammation.

Reduced inflammation can positively influence recovery post-exercise, potentially minimizing muscle soreness and contributing to overall well-being.

Drawbacks of Working Out on a Keto Diet

Initial Adaptation Challenges and Keto Flu

During the adaptation period, individuals may experience fatigue, headaches, irritability, and dizziness as the body adjusts to utilizing ketones for energy.

These challenges can impede workout consistency and performance, requiring a gradual adaptation, especially for non-athletic participants.

Decreased High-Intensity Exercise Performance

The keto diet’s emphasis on fat metabolism may pose challenges for high-intensity, anaerobic activities. However, results vary as there is evidence that the keto diet does not affect HIIT exercises.17

Attention to Micronutrient Intake

Restricting certain food groups may result in deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals, impacting overall health and exercise performance.

Maintaining a well-rounded diet and, if necessary, incorporating supplements becomes essential to address potential nutrient gaps and ensure optimal bodily functions.

Potential for Inadequate Protein Intake

Protein is crucial for muscle maintenance and repair, especially for individuals engaging in regular strength training.

While the keto diet encourages moderate protein intake, some individuals may struggle to meet their protein requirements, potentially leading to muscle catabolism.

Best Exercises for Keto Beginners

push ups are a great exercise for working out on keto

Low-Intensity Cardio as an Entry Point

For keto beginners, incorporating low-intensity cardio serves as an excellent starting point.

The following activities provide a gentle introduction to exercise:

  • Brisk walking or hiking
  • Cycling or Stationary biking
  • Swimming

Low-intensity cardio encourages fat oxidation, promoting the body’s adaptation to utilizing stored fat for energy.

This supports weight loss goals and helps mitigate the initial fatigue or discomfort associated with the keto flu. As beginners build stamina and endurance, they can gradually progress to more intense workouts.

Introduction to Strength Training for Muscle Preservation

Strength training is foundational for keto beginners to preserve and build lean muscle mass. Here are some easy exercises you could try:

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Planks
  • Pushups
  • Deadlifting
  • Bench Press

Focusing on compound exercises engages multiple muscle groups, promoting overall strength and stability. For beginners, starting with bodyweight exercises or resistance bands can provide a gradual entry into strength training.

You can also add weights to the simple exercise to facilitate muscle growth.

Flexibility Exercises

Flexibility exercises are valuable additions to a keto beginner’s workout routine. These exercises improve joint mobility, enhance range of motion, and contribute to overall flexibility. Here are some you could try:

  • Regular Stretching
  • Yoga
  • Pilates

As the keto diet may initially lead to stiffness or tightness, flexibility exercises can alleviate these sensations and enhance overall comfort during physical activity.

7-Day Keto Diet Exercise Plan

Day 1: Low-Intensity Cardio

Type of Exercise: Brisk Walking or Cycling

Duration: 30 minutes

Sets: 1

Resting Time: No specific rest between sets; maintain a steady pace.

Day 2: Strength Training

Type of Exercise: Full-Body Compound Exercises: Squats, Pushups, Lunges

Duration: 45 minutes

Sets: 3

Repetitions: 10-12 per set

Resting Time: 60-90 seconds between sets for muscle recovery.

Day 3: Rest or Light Activity

Engage in light activities such as yoga or gentle stretching.

Duration: 20-30 minutes

Sets: N/A

Resting Time: No specific rest between stretches.

Day 4: Strength Training

Type of Exercise: Squats, Pushups, Lunges, and Deadlifts

Duration: 45 minutes

Sets: 3

Repetitions: 10-12 per set

Resting Time: 60-90 seconds between sets for muscle recovery.

Day 5: Endurance Workout

Type of Exercise: Jogging or Swimming

Duration: 45-60 minutes

Sets: 1

Resting Time: Maintain a steady pace; take short breaks if needed.

Day 6: Strength Training

Type of Exercise: Target Different Muscle Groups (e.g., Lunges, Pull-Ups, Shoulder Press)

Duration: 45 minutes

Sets: 3

Repetitions: 10-12 per set

Resting Time: 60-90 seconds between sets for muscle recovery.

Day 7: Active Recovery

Type of Exercise: Light Activities: Brisk walking or cycling

Duration: 30-45 minutes

Sets: 1

Resting Time: No specific rest between sets; maintain a comfortable pace.

Workout tips

  • Adjust the intensity of exercises based on individual fitness levels.
  • Prioritize proper form and technique over lifting heavier weights.
  • Listen to your body and modify the plan as needed.
  • Stay hydrated throughout the workout sessions.
  • Consult a fitness professional or healthcare provider before starting a new exercise routine, primarily if pre-existing health conditions exist.

Conclusion

Working out while doing the keto diet helps the body burn more fat and maintain muscle mass through strength training. While there may be an adjustment period, supplements and starting light will help you get in shape while on keto.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can you work out on a keto diet?

Yes, working out while doing the keto diet is perfectly safe and doable with the right approach, including proper nutrition and starting with appropriate exercises.

Can you build muscle during keto?

Yes, maintaining and building muscle mass is possible with keto, as the body mainly burns fat for energy. However, to achieve this, proper diet and exercise are needed.

What happens if you work out without carbs?

Your body will use fats instead of glucose as the energy source. While there may be challenges when doing high-intensity training, you can start doing light exercises and work your way up.

References

1Dhillon KK, Gupta S. Biochemistry, Ketogenesis. [Updated 2023 Feb 6]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493179/

2Jéquier E. (1994). Carbohydrates as a source of energy. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 59(3 Suppl), 682S–685S. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/59.3.682S

3Laffel L. (1999). Ketone bodies: a review of physiology, pathophysiology and application of monitoring to diabetes. Diabetes/metabolism research and reviews, 15(6), 412–426. https://doi.org/10.1002/(sici)1520-7560(199911/12)15:6<412::aid-dmrr72>3.0.co;2-8

4Batch JT, Lamsal SP, Adkins M, Sultan S, Ramirez MN. Advantages and Disadvantages of the Ketogenic Diet: A Review Article. Cureus. 2020 Aug 10;12(8):e9639. doi: 10.7759/cureus.9639. PMID: 32923239; PMCID: PMC7480775.

5Prins, P. J., Noakes, T. D., Welton, G. L., Haley, S. J., Esbenshade, N. J., Atwell, A. D., Scott, K. E., Abraham, J., Raabe, A. S., Buxton, J. D., & Ault, D. L. (2019). High Rates of Fat Oxidation Induced by a Low-Carbohydrate, High-Fat Diet, Do Not Impair 5-km Running Performance in Competitive Recreational Athletes. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 18(4), 738-750. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6873122/

6Cox, P. J., Kirk, T., Ashmore, T., Willerton, K., Evans, R., Smith, A., Murray, A. J., Stubbs, B., West, J., McLure, S. W., King, M. T., Dodd, M. S., Holloway, C., Neubauer, S., Drawer, S., Veech, R. L., Griffin, J. L., & Clarke, K. (2016). Nutritional Ketosis Alters Fuel Preference and Thereby Endurance Performance in Athletes. Cell metabolism, 24(2), 256–268. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2016.07.010

7Choi, Y. J., Jeon, S. M., & Shin, S. (2020). Impact of a Ketogenic Diet on Metabolic Parameters in Patients with Obesity or Overweight and with or without Type 2 Diabetes: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients, 12(7), 2005. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12072005

8Evans, M., Cogan, K. E., & Egan, B. (2017). Metabolism of ketone bodies during exercise and training: Physiological basis for exogenous supplementation. The Journal of Physiology, 595(9), 2857-2871. https://doi.org/10.1113/JP273185

9Prince, A., Zhang, Y., Croniger, C., & Puchowicz, M. (2013). Oxidative metabolism: glucose versus ketones. Advances in experimental medicine and biology, 789, 323–328. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-7411-1_43

10McSwiney, F. T., Wardrop, B., Hyde, P. N., Lafountain, R. A., Volek, J. S., & Doyle, L. (2018). Keto-adaptation enhances exercise performance and body composition responses to training in endurance athletes. Metabolism: clinical and experimental, 81, 25–34. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.metabol.2017.10.010

11Ma, S., & Suzuki, K. (2019). Keto-Adaptation and Endurance Exercise Capacity, Fatigue Recovery, and Exercise-Induced Muscle and Organ Damage Prevention: A Narrative Review. Sports, 7(2). https://doi.org/10.3390/sports7020040

12Murray B, Rosenbloom C. Fundamentals of glycogen metabolism for coaches and athletes. Nutr Rev. 2018 Apr 1;76(4):243-259. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuy001. PMID: 29444266; PMCID: PMC6019055.

13Paoli, A. A., Mancin, L., Caprio, M., Monti, E., Narici, M. V., Cenci, L., Piccini, F., Pincella, M., Grigoletto, D., & Marcolin, G. (2021). Effects of 30 days of ketogenic diet on body composition, muscle strength, muscle area, metabolism, and performance in semi-professional soccer players. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 18. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-021-00459-9

14Vargas-Molina, S., Gómez-Urquiza, J. L., García-Romero, J., & Benítez-Porres, J. (2022). Effects of the Ketogenic Diet on Muscle Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men and Women: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. International journal of environmental research and public health, 19(19), 12629. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph191912629

15Pinto, A., Bonucci, A., Maggi, E., Corsi, M., & Businaro, R. (2018). Anti-Oxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Ketogenic Diet: New Perspectives for Neuroprotection in Alzheimer’s Disease. Antioxidants, 7(5). https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox7050063

16Pahwa R, Goyal A, Jialal I. Chronic Inflammation. [Updated 2023 Aug 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/

17Cipryan, L., Dostal, T., Litschmannova, M., Hofmann, P., Maffetone, P. B., & Laursen, P. B. (2021). Effects of a Very Low-Carbohydrate High-Fat Diet and High-Intensity Interval Training on Visceral Fat Deposition and Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Overfat Individuals: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Frontiers in Nutrition, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2021.785694

Mag. Stephan Lederer, MSc. is an author and blogger from Austria who writes in-depth content about health and nutrition. His book series on Interval Fasting landed #1 on the bestseller list in the German Amazon marketplace in 15 categories.

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