How To Get Started With Ketogenic Diet For Runners

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David Dack

Are you curious about diving into the ketogenic diet? Well, you’ve found the perfect spot to begin your journey.

In my own experience with the world of diet and nutrition, I’ve witnessed the ketogenic diet rise from a niche topic to a major player, especially among athletes and runners like myself. Over the years, this high-fat, low-carb diet has not just caught my attention but also transformed the way I approach my own running routine.

For many of us road warriors, the ketogenic diet has become more than just a dietary choice; it’s a compelling strategy for optimizing performance, fueling endurance, and tapping into a new level of potential. I remember the initial skepticism I had, but seeing the impact it had on my running peers made me reconsider.

Now, you might be wondering how to get started with this diet. That’s exactly what I aim to cover in today’s post. Stick with me, and I’ll walk you through the myriad benefits of the ketogenic diet and how you can embrace this powerful nutrition plan. It’s all about staying fueled, strong, and motivated, especially for those long runs.

Excited about the idea? Great, let’s dive in together.

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet, affectionately known as “keto,” is quite the culinary adventure, taking you on a complete macronutrient makeover. This diet fundamentally shifts the body’s primary energy source from carbohydrates to fats. Unlike the conventional diets that put carbs in the spotlight, keto turns the tables by making fats the lead actor in your nutritional drama.

Macronutrient Reconfiguration:

In the world of nutrition, macronutrients, which include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, are like the lead characters in a play. The ketogenic diet stands out with its unique script of macronutrient distribution, setting the stage for a distinctive nutritional experience:

  • High Fat: On the keto stage, fat takes the starring role, accounting for about 70 to 75 percent of your total daily caloric intake. I’ve learned to embrace healthy fat sources like avocados, nuts, seeds, and oils, turning them into the central characters of my meals.
  • Moderate Protein: Protein plays a supporting role, contributing around 15 to 20 percent of daily calorie intake. It’s a well-balanced approach that ensures you get enough protein for essential bodily functions without causing an overproduction of insulin.
  • Low Carbohydrates: In a traditional diet narrative, carbohydrates often have the lead role, but in the keto story, they take a minor part, making up just 5 to 10 percent of daily calorie intake. This dramatic reduction in carbs is a cornerstone of the keto diet, paving the way to a metabolic state known as “ketosis.”

The Endurance Athlete’s Dilemma

For endurance athletes, especially runners, switching to the ketogenic diet might initially seem like a paradox. We’ve been taught for so long that carbohydrates are the king of energy sources, quickly transforming into glucose to fuel our long runs.

Yet, the keto diet invites us to challenge this age-old belief, presenting an alternative route to sustained energy, improved endurance, and quicker recovery.

The Runner’s Quest for Keto Benefits:

So, what exactly draws runners towards the keto lifestyle, and how do they benefit from it in endurance sports? As someone who’s explored this diet personally, I’ve found several key advantages:

  • Efficient Fat Utilization: At the heart of the ketogenic approach is “ketosis,” a metabolic state where the body becomes adept at using stored fat for fuel. For us runners, this means we can enjoy prolonged endurance and reduced reliance on carb-loading during long races.
  • Steady Energy Levels: One of the most appealing aspects of ketosis is the stabilization of blood sugar levels. Gone are the days of energy highs and lows that are typical with carb-centric diets. Keto offers a consistent energy supply, ideal for long training sessions and endurance events.
  • Enhanced Fat Loss: Many runners turn to keto for its ability to help shed excess body fat while preserving muscle mass. For those of us focused on maintaining a lean physique for peak performance, this aspect of keto is particularly attractive.
  • Reduced Inflammation: Chronic inflammation can be a runner’s nightmare, hampering recovery and increasing the risk of injuries. The keto diet’s potential to reduce inflammation can be a game-changer, aiding in injury prevention and faster healing.

The Simplicity

Have you ever thought about trying the keto diet but felt a bit overwhelmed? I get it. Switching to a low-carb lifestyle, especially if you’re new to it, can seem daunting. But here’s the thing – it’s totally doable, and I’m here to walk you through it with some friendly advice and real-world experience.

First off, let’s bust a myth: You don’t need to be a keto guru from day one. Start with the basics and learn as you go. Embrace those mistakes – they’re your stepping stones to success!

So, what’s the deal with keto for runners like us? It’s pretty straightforward: high fats, moderate proteins, and low carbs. Simple, right? But don’t let its simplicity fool you. Each component plays a crucial role in fueling your runs and recovery.

Let’s break it down:

  1. Fats are your new best friend: Think avocados, nuts, and olive oil. They’re not just tasty; they’re energy powerhouses.
  2. Protein in moderation: It’s crucial for muscle repair, especially after those long runs. Chicken, fish, and tofu are great options.
  3. Carbs take a back seat: This might be tough at first, especially for carb-loving runners. But reducing carbs can lead to your body efficiently burning fat for fuel, a process known as ketosis.

I remember reading a study (I’ll dig it up for you) that showed how athletes on a low-carb diet could maintain their performance while improving fat burn. That’s a win-win!

And hey, it’s not just about the diet. It’s about experimenting and finding what works for your body and training routine. I’ve heard from many in our running community who’ve seen improvements in their energy levels and overall health after going keto.

Of course, it’s not a one-size-fits-all. What works for one runner might not work for another. That’s why it’s important to listen to your body and maybe even consult with a nutritionist who understands the unique needs of runners.

How to Reach Ketosis?

let’s talk about reaching ketosis – a key milestone for those embarking on the ketogenic journey. It’s not just about cutting out the chips and cookies; it’s a strategic shift in how you fuel your body.

Reaching ketosis isn’t an overnight thing. It’s a process that typically takes a few days, maybe up to a week. You’re aiming to consume no more than 20 to 30 grams of carbs per day. But remember, everyone’s different. Your journey into ketosis depends on your fitness level, training intensity, body type, and diet. For me, it was around five days, but your timeline might vary.

Now, let’s geek out a bit on the science of ketosis, especially for us runners. When you’re on a standard high-carb diet, your body breaks down carbs into glucose, which powers up most of your activities. But when you slash those carbs, your body starts an incredible transformation.

Enter ketones. With glucose in short supply, your liver begins converting fats (yes, even those love handles) into ketone bodies. These ketones are super fuels, powering not just your muscles but also your brain. Imagine that – burning fat while you’re brainstorming your next race strategy!

This metabolic switch is a game-changer. It means your body becomes efficient at burning fat for energy. For runners, this can translate into steadier energy levels, less dependence on carb-loading, and maybe even tapping into those stubborn fat reserves we sometimes struggle to lose.

But here’s a pro tip: don’t just dive into ketosis without a plan. Listen to your body, adjust your training as needed, and consider consulting with a nutritionist who understands the unique demands of running.

What to Eat?

Actually, plenty.

This eating approach is by no means a restrictive plan.

But that does not mean you can eat whatever you want—even when it comes to standard healthy foods, such as vegetables and fruits.

Note on Vegetables & Fruits

We all know veggies are a cornerstone of healthy eating, but in the keto world, they can be a bit of a puzzle. Yes, they’re packed with nutrients, but they also have carbs. And on a keto diet, carbs are something we need to watch closely.

But don’t worry, you won’t be veggie-deprived. The keto diet loves leafy greens like spinach and kale – they’re low in carbs but high in essential nutrients. And let’s not forget about above-ground veggies like broccoli and cauliflower. They’re your keto-friendly buddies, offering both flavor and nutrition without too many carbs.

Fruits: Now, this is where it gets a bit trickier. Most fruits are high in sugar, which means they’re high on the glycemic index. This can be a problem if you’re trying to stay in ketosis. But don’t fret, you don’t have to give up fruit entirely.

Keto-friendly fruits are definitely a thing. Avocados, for instance, are a great choice. They’re low in carbs but high in healthy fats – perfect for keto. Berries are another good option. They’re lower in carbs than most fruits and packed with antioxidants.

The List

I hope this comprehensive ketogenic friendly food list will help you make the right choices.

  • Meats—red meats, steak, lamb, sausage, ham, bacon, chicken, turkey, etc.
  • Fatty fish. Salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, etc.
  • Eggs. Mainly omega-3 or pastured whole eggs.
  • Above grounds veggies. Such as cauliflower, broccoli, etc.
  • Low carb vegetables. Most green vegetables, spinach, kale, onions, tomatoes, peppers, etc.
  • High-fat dairy. Hard cheese, butter, high fat cream.
  • Nuts and seeds. Walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, macadamias, sunflower seeds, etc.
  • Low glycemic fruits. Such as avocados, raspberries, blackberries, etc.
  • Cheese. Mainly unprocessed cheese such as goat, cheddar, blue, cream, or mozzarella cheese.
  • Healthy Oils. Such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, high-fat salad dressings, etc. Opt for “cold pressed” options when using vegetable oils, such as olive, soybean, safflower, or flax oils.
  • Condiments. Salt, pepper, spices, and some herbs.
  • Sweeteners. Such as erythritol, stevia, monk fruit, and other low carb sweeteners.

What Not to Eat?

To enter the coveted ketosis zone, where your body turns into a fat-burning powerhouse, it’s essential to drastically reduce your carb intake. We’re talking about keeping it under 20 to 30 grams of carbs per day. Even when it’s tempting to sneak in just a little bit more, it’s wiser to adhere strictly to this limit.

This restriction means bidding a temporary farewell to some of the foods we often love. Staples like bread, pasta, rice, and sugary treats are off-limits as they’re loaded with carbs and can easily disrupt ketosis.

It’s also important to be mindful of certain fruits and vegetables that are surprisingly high in carbs. It was a bit of a shock to me to realize that even some foods considered healthy could be too carb-rich for a keto regimen.

The List

Here is a comprehensive list of foods to be eliminated or severely reduced on a keto eating plan.

  • All grains. Including whole meal (wheat, oats, rye, millet, corn, bulgur, rice, buckwheat, barley, sorghum, amaranths, etc.)
  • Grains products. That include bread, pasta, pizza, crackers, cookies, etc.
  • Sugar and sweets. Mainly table sugar, agave serum, cakes, honey, maple syrup, ice creams, sweet puddings, etc.
  • Sugar-free and low-fat diet products. These tend to be highly processed and may contain many artificial additives that can affect ketone levels.
  • Starches or grains. Mostly wheat-based foods, such as pasta, rice, cereal, etc.
  • Factory farmed fish and pork. These tend to be low in nutrients and high in inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids.
  • Alcohol. Sweet wine, beer, cocktails, etc.
  • Fruits. Except for small portions of avocados and some berries.
  • Tropical fruits. Including mango, pineapple, papaya, banana, etc.
  • Legumes and beans. Such as kidney beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, etc.
  • Root veggies. Such as carrots, yams, potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, etc.
  • Unhealthy fats. Such as processed vegetable oils, mayonnaise, etc.
  • Refined oils. Including safflower, sunflower, soybean, cottonseed, corn oil, etc.

Here’s the full list of ketogenic foods.

Am I in Ketosis?

Curious about whether you’ve hit ketosis? The good news is, it’s pretty easy to find out. Let’s talk about how you can check your ketone levels, so you know if you’re on the right track.

Urine Testing

Blood Testing

Measuring blood ketones, specifically beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), is an excellent way to check if you’re in ketosis and if your keto diet is on track. It’s a bit like investing in high-tech running gear – more precise, yet more invasive and pricier.

The cost of a blood ketone monitor is around $40, and each test strip can cost about $5. So, if you’re planning to monitor your ketones frequently, you might find the expenses piling up quite fast.

However, ketosis isn’t just about test readings. Your body sends several clear signals indicating you’re in ketosis. From my experience, here are a few telltale signs to watch out for:

  1. Mood and Alertness: You might experience a change in alertness, similar to that invigorating clear-headedness after a good run.
  2. Frequent Bathroom Breaks: It’s common to visit the bathroom more often. This is your body adapting to the new diet.
  3. Thirsty Much?: Dry mouth and increased thirst are other indicators. It’s a good idea to keep your water bottle close, just like you would on long runs.
  4. The Breath Factor: Unfortunately, this one is less pleasant – you might notice your breath becoming sharp and a bit smelly, a direct result of ketones.
  5. Snoozing Better: Many people find that their sleep quality improves once they’ve entered ketosis.
  6. Less Hungry: A reduction in appetite and hunger is also common. It’s akin to the feeling of satiety after a hearty, healthy meal.
  7. Energized: Expect increased energy and mental focus, reminiscent of the surge you get from an excellent training session.

Observing these signs can be as revealing as the physical tests, giving you a holistic view of how your body is adapting to the keto lifestyle.

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