If you’re on a ketogenic diet to get into better shape and lose weight, exercising can be a great element to add to your plan, but there are a few things you need to know first. Doing exercise on keto is both possible and beneficial, but it’s a little bit different than a sugar-fueled workout. We’re going to break down the myths surrounding your keto workouts, and show you some best practices, as well as what you can expect.
Calories in, calories out?
The old paradigm of eat less and exercise more is the first myth that we need to bust. To lose weight, yes, you have to consume less than you burn. When you start exercising though, you may need to slightly increase your caloric intake so you have the energy for your workouts.
Chronically over-exercising and under-eating can lead to metabolic dysregulation, uncontrollable hunger and cravings, fatigue, and even eating disorders. Your metabolism can drop, which translates to weight loss plateaus and a lot of frustration. Log your exercise in a tracker so you have a ballpark of how many extra calories you burn, and estimate a more moderate deficit. Too great a deficit can stall your weight loss.
A 20% deficit between your caloric intake and your estimated daily expenditure is a good goal, and for most people is the sweet spot between being able to lose weight and being able to maintain energy through the day.
Muscles are hungry for carbohydrates?
The next myth to bust is that you need carbohydrates to build muscle. Carbs are an easy and fast source of energy, and they can trigger the insulin release that pushes glycogen into muscles. They give you a nice pump, but protein is the key in this equation.
If you’re working on primarily losing weight, you want to get 0.8-1.0 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass per day. If your primary goal is building muscle, aim a little higher, at 1.0-1.2 grams per pound of lean body mass each day.
The additional glycogen and water storage in muscles that you get from carbohydrate consumption isn’t necessary for muscle building, since the small amount of glucose you need in your blood can be converted from dietary protein in a process called gluconeogenesis. This process produces just enough blood glucose for your body to use only when you need it.
Will keto hurt my performance?
The first few weeks of a ketogenic diet may produce some temporary losses in strength and endurance. This is because your tissues aren’t yet optimally efficient at producing and using ketones to fuel your workout. In this, there are two options.
First, you can simply be patient. Given a few weeks of adaptation, your workouts will regain their normal intensity and you’ll return to seeing the improvements from your training that you would expect.
Second, you can supplement with exogenous ketones. These are just like the ketones that your body produces, so they’re a quick and easy fuel source to let you work out harder and longer.
Choosing the best workouts
The type of exercise you do matters. Chronic cardio, such as hours of spinning, running, or dancing, can have the opposite effect of what you’re looking for, even making it harder to lose weight. This comes down to the way it shifts your hormone balance.
Long cardio sessions increase the hormone cortisol. While we need some of this hormone in circulation for various purposes, too much of it causes an accumulation of visceral fat, generally around the stomach. This can begin a cycle of leptin resistance. Leptin is another hormone, and it regulates hunger, appetite, and satiety. When you become resistant to this hormone, you have greater hunger, and it takes more food to feel satisfied, leading to greater weight gain.
Resistance training, on the other hand, can have far greater benefits. Exercising with weights to get stronger can improve muscle tone and bone density. This type of training can help you to improve your overall body composition. Men have a natural hormone balance that favors the bulking up of larger muscles, while women have a hormone profile that leads to a sleek, curved look. Stronger muscles tend to burn calories at a slightly higher rate too.
A great way to exercise when doing keto is using HIIT workouts, which stands for High Intensity Interval Training. These types of workouts feature a burst of intense activity, followed by a period of complete rest. This pattern is repeated for the duration of the workout. HIIT workouts are an ideal choice because they tend to burn more fat and don’t increase hunger the way that long cardio sessions do.
If HIIT workouts and resistance training aren’t something you’re ready to jump into just yet, fear not: plain old walking is a great start. Increasing your activity by any amount can help you to improve your overall health and fitness, body composition, and hormone balance.
Many keto dieters wonder if exercising will kick them out of ketosis. Quite the opposite! If anything, working out the right way can help you to burn through any stored glycogen so your body can burn your fat stores faster. Some people see a slight blood sugar rise after a workout, and this is totally normal due to protein turnover and gluconeogenesis. This clears through your bloodstream quickly, and can make you more efficient at burning through your fat stores.
Exercise on a ketogenic diet can help you lose weight, get stronger, and improve your health and fitness. It’s not quite as straightforward as drinking shakes and going running, but with some smart planning you can enjoy great training sessions that fit your lifestyle.