Most of us would be happy to lose a few pounds, especially if we could do so while eating steak, eggs, and bacon. And although there is more to the keto diet than just slathering on the fat, most of us can agree that, for a diet plan, it’s pretty darn enjoyable. Add to that the fact that the pounds practically melt away and it’s easy to see why this way of eating has become a hot topic across the country.
Keto friendly folks say it is a healthy way to lose weight. Opponents argue the levels of fat consumption are too high for a long term eating plan. Rather than focus on the nutritional pros and cons, I want to address how the keto diet affects cycling performance.
Having lost some weight on the keto and spent countless hours reading keto related books and message boards, I have some guidance to offer cyclists who are considering the keto eating plan.
The keto diet has made news because it allows rapid weight loss while the dieter consumes fat as a fuel source. Another key is that the dieter must avoid eating carbs. Reducing your carb intake and eating a high fat diet may sound like a dream come true, but the transition can be tricky for cyclists and other athletes.
In fact, the keto diet has been used to improve athletic performance, even in individuals who do not need to lose weight. A low carb high fat diet can lower blood sugars and can improve physical performance in the long term.
Transitioning to the Keto Diet
Making the transition from the standard American diet to the ketogenic way of eating can be challenging. Even though the food options are delicious, our bodies have become accustomed to being fed carbs! As your body transitions to burning fat for fuel, you will probably experience the keto flu. Although not technically a “flu,” the initial days of transitioning to a keto diet can leave you feeling exhausted, achy, irritable, and generally ill.
When I experienced the keto flu, I tried to push through it. I continued my regular cycling regime – or, at least, I tried to. But I quickly found that I just couldn’t do it. I felt like I was over-exerting myself. My muscles ached, and I simply did not have the stamina to complete my ride. After a couple days of this, I was ready to throw in the keto towel and eat a sandwich. Fortunately, stubbornness prevailed.
Adapting to the ketogenic diet causes your body to release a lot of fluids, which can deplete your electrolyte levels. I found that drinking bone broth (which isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds), pickle juice (which is very much as bad as it sounds), and Powerade Zero helped me past the initial days of the keto flu. And after a few days, although I still felt overexerted when on the bike, it was more manageable.
Once I was a few months in, my body became fat adapted. This means that my body was primarily using fat as fuel, rather than the glycogen stored in the body. This alternative energy source has allowed me to perform at a high intensity, both on my bike and off. I feel clearer mentally, too. My attitude is positive and I feel levels of energy I have not felt in years.
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After a couple of weeks, despite steady weight loss, I was feeling frustrated with the muscle fatigue. I wanted to increase, not decrease, my performance. And then, I noticed I started feeling better. The aches and burning sensation I was feeling after rides faded away, and I was able to match my performance prior to keto. And although I don’t think it ever boosted my performance on the bike, there were other benefits.
Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet for Cyclists and Non-Cyclists
Here’s my completely non-technical thoughts on the benefits I experienced on the keto diet. From day one, even throughout the days of the keto flu, I noticed a mental clarity that is difficult to describe. I was able to sort through my thoughts, arrange mental to-do lists, and make positive headway in all aspects of my life.
Despite having some physical fatigue, my mental fatigue was gone, and I found that I had to almost force myself to go to bed at night. After adapting to fat burning (a few weeks in), I noticed an increase in stamina and overall energy. And, of course, the weight loss was incredible.
No two individuals are identical, and everyone adapts to diet changes differently. If you have questions about the keto way of eating, consider a visit with your doctor. I was pleasantly surprised to find my doctor supports the keto eating plan.
As a cyclist, cycling advocate, and attorney for injured cyclists, I believe in doing all I can to support others in the sport. I share my experiences with the hope that others can learn and grow from them. In the same way, I share my legal knowledge to help injured cyclists who may wonder how they will pay their medical bills or recover financially after their crash. If you have questions about your bike crash, contact me today.