Low Carb, Ketogenic Diets and Athletes

There is much involved in aspects of nutrition and foods in terms of the needs of athletes.

One of the hot topics of the recent decades has been “carb-loading” and having good glycogen stores.

Recently, there has been an accelerating interest in the use of low carb, high fat diets by athletes. A number of athletes even go to “very low carb” diets, and so are eating a ketogenic diet. (See other pages on this site for more information about therapeutic ketosis and ketogenic diets. LINK )

When it comes to dietary manipulations done specifically to meet the various needs of athletes, you can’t get away from the fact that this is a complex topic. If you have an interest in this, a little bit of info will be of little use and may be mis-interpreted. I would not suggest anyone consider moving in this dietary direction if they have not put considerable effort into learning about the topic in depth.

(1) Fortunately, there are some excellent presentations available online, to give the background, the science, the research and examples.

A presentation to an audience of the general public:

“Prof. Jeff Volek – ‘Nutrition for Optimising Athletic Performance’ “

From the description: “Professor Jeff Volek is a Professor at The Ohio State University, USA where he teaches and leads a research team that explores the physiological impact of various dietary and exercise regimens and nutritional supplements.

Dr Volek has published over 250 scientific manuscripts and is the co-author of ‘The New Atkins for a New You’, ‘The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living’ and ‘The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance’.

Prof. Volek’s most significant line of work has been a series of studies performed over the last 15 years. These have been aimed at better understanding what constitutes a well formulated low carbohydrate diet and its’ impact on obesity, body composition, adaptations to training and overall metabolic health.”

From summer, 2015.


A presentation to an audience of nutrition professionals:

This is a professional-level presentation, given at the American College of Nutrition’s 55th annual conference “Translational Nutrition: Turning Research into Practice”

The presenter is Jeff Volek, PhD, RD, who has been centrally involved in much of the research on ketogenic diets and athletic performance for many years. Given on October 16, 2014, it runs for 44 minutes.

Ketogenic Diet and Endurance in Athletes

(2) One of the most noted researchers in the field of fuel for athletes is Professor Tim Noakes. In fact, he is particularly well known for having vigorously promoted the concept of “carb loading”. Despite his life-long athleticism, particularly as a long-distance runner, he began putting on weight around the tummy and eventually was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes (the form of diabetes rooted in insulin resistance). As a doctor, he was very familiar with the standard nutritional advice. He knew he had developed type 2 diabetes despite having followed all the usual health advice (the same health advice that he would have given others). He had been fit, active and had, according to his then understanding of nutrition, been following the best of dietary recommendations.

This led him to review the literature and re-examine his concepts about the way we eat and it’s many roles in health. Today, Professor Noakes follows a dietary pattern that would fall in the category “low carb”. Scientifically, it is more descriptive to say it is a low-insulin-demand diet, which is a term I have seen him use, also. For ease of communication, he picked the term “Banting”. It is not convenient to use long scientific descriptions when you are referring to a particular set of eating practices, so that is why we have short-hand terms used to represent a bundle of dietary practices used together. The term “Banting” is used in honour of William Banting, of London in the 1800s, the first person in modern times to widely promote an eating pattern that we would now recognize as being a “low insulin demand eating pattern while maintaining adequate nutrition”.

(Aside: The medical benefits of having a low insulin demand were recognized long ago, even in classical times and likely before. However, for them, this was only achievable by starvation or by a food intake level that would not sustain life long-term. Low insulin demand by eating at a starvation level does not take any scientific artistry, but does not work out so good in the long-term.)

Professor Noakes provides commentary about exercise and the needs of athletes in the context of “Banting” or “Low Carbohydrate Diet” or “LCHF” eating pattern.

An example is this post:  LINK

“Fat adapted: Do you need carbohydrates if running on the LCHF diet?”

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