Keto, Triathlons, and Some Science

Keto, short for ketogenic diet, is a type of eating that limits carbs and lets fats run with abandon. Carbs are generally kept below 50g total, but true keto-ers keep it around 20g net carbs per day. Protein is kept at a moderate level, depending on your fitness goals. In order to maintain as much muscle as possible, about 1g of protein per pound of body weight should be consumed. And fat, well, you can basically go to town on fat. Avocados, cheese, heavy cream, fatty cuts of meat, fat is what will keep you full, functioning, and sane when you cut those carbs.

Now, I am absolutely not a nutritionist, nor a scientist by any means, but I am a researcher by trade and will obsessively research something until I learn everything possible about said subject. And I have done a lot of keto research. I recently stumbled upon this article about the ketogenic diet and endurance athletes. You should read the article when you have some time; it’s really insightful. But, in summation, the article details the results of a study performed by the Ohio State University, which found that endurance athletes who ate low amounts of carbohydrates burned twice as much fat as athletes who ate a high-carb diet. This finding moreorless turns common convention on its head. Growing up, all athletes are told to carbo-load in preparation for big events. The spaghetti dinner is basically an inalienable right for an athlete before a race. You’ll never take my spaghetti!

Jokes aside, when you carbo-load, you are pushing glucose into your system. Glucose is one of the easiest sources of fuel that your cells can use, and they use it with abandon when it’s available. However, when you’re looking at endurance races, such as triathlons, marathons, or ultras, the glucose only lasts as a fuel source in your body for 2-3 hours. After that, what do you run off of? It’s as if your body is a fire, and the glucose is the super dry kindling that you use to get it started – it gives off a lot of heat really quickly. It flames immediately, and is gone almost as fast. A lot of flames for a short period of time. You’ll be warm for a little while, but that fire will go out abruptly when the kindling is gone.

Keto essentially starves your body of that glucose it’s become addicted to, and instead trains your body to turn to processing fat easier. This switch from using carbs as fuel to fat instead, helps make the dreaded bonk a thing of the past. Fat is a slow burner, and can keep your body going long past the 2-3 hours the glucose might last. Fat is like, damp firewood, in that, it takes forever to burn, but you will get heat from it nonetheless. The flames might be diminished, but you’ll be able maintain that burning fire with a lot less tending for a much longer time.

My apologies for the firewood metaphors – I’m getting anxious for fall! 


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