Dr. Jeff Volek on Ketogenic Diets and Athletic Performance

I’m Jeff Volek I’m currently a professor in the Department of Human Sciences at the Ohio State University I’m also one of the founders of Verta at Ohio State I run a research lab that focuses primarily on studying the response to ketosis in humans we have major thrusts now going on to better understand how cancer patients respond to ketogenic diets and we’re also studying how the military soldiers and war fighters respond to ketosis and the various applications that may enhance their performance and resiliency but we’ve made some important discoveries to around athletes and how how people interested in performing optimally can also benefit from a ketogenic diet so we had an opportunity to study elite keto adapted athletes and learn a bit more about what makes them tick Here I am 20 years later now still as you know passionate about understanding this topic it’s much more complicated and complex than I thought but it’s also much more exciting than it was back then because now we have a lot of very good evidence that there are real clinical benefits to being in ketosis especially for type-2 diabetic patients so a ketogenic diet has the potential to enhance certain types of athletic performance and increasingly we’re seeing athletes adopt very low carbohydrate moderate protein high fat diets to augment their performance and recovery and we’re starting to now publish some studies that help us understand how this is working to enhance their their health and their performance I think number one is the metabolic adaptations and this occurs whether you’re type 2 diabetic or whether an elite athlete you become a very good fat burner your rates of fat oxidation in he’s too full now if you’re an athlete the absolute values are much higher than if you’re a sedentary obese person but they still double and being able to burn fat more efficiently is very important for an endurance athlete because it’s you have so much fat available as fuel in your adipose tissue even if you’re a lean athlete you have well over 20,000 kilocalories worth of fat in your adipose tissue and now you can access it and use it more efficiently and that just enables athletes to use less in race calories when they’re running long events or performing anything more than a couple hours you’ll run out of carbohydrate stores and if you’re able to burn fat more efficiently you’re in a much better state than your high carb non keto adapted counterpart so metabolically just that is probably the key benefit of being able to use fat more efficiently but also there’s I’ll say indirect benefits of being in ketosis for athletes that relate back to being able to recover recover faster we think that’s related to the anti-inflammatory effects of ketones the less oxidative stress that’s generated when your keto adapted all this makes it easier for these athletes to recover from stressful exercise and overtime this really allows them to adapt to their training and more favorably and allows them to train harder if they can recover faster and more fully I think there’s also benefit in terms of weight loss specifically fat loss that occurs more effortlessly when you’re in ketosis and this benefits athletes especially endurance athletes who become more efficient if you lose fat but retain your muscle that makes your power-to-weight ratio prove and you’re just more efficient whether you’re a cyclist or a runner you’re carrying less weight but you have the same muscle tissue that translates into improved performance so I think is multifactorial but increasingly a lot of athletes are experiencing enough perceived benefit where they they really want to make this switch permanent and and and that’s occurring across not just the endurance athletes but high-intensity athletes and and team sports as well especially soccer and rugby across a lot of different countries now you’re seeing many examples of teams adopting this type of lifestyle one aspect of ketosis is the enhanced recovery from exercise and this hasn’t been well studied in the scientific literature but it’s certainly one of the most common perceived benefits that endurance athletes talk about for example many of the athletes that we’ve worked with are competitive in very long endurance races like hundred mile races and this is pretty demanding and stressful on the body where these athletes will take weeks sometimes a month to fully recover from these events where they can get back to their normal training because of the oxidative stress the inflammatory stress just the mechanical stress and literal tearing of membranes that occurs with so much exercise and that takes time to recover from when athletes switched to a ketogenic diet their recovery becomes much faster where we know many athletes who are back training at pretty much normal pace a couple days after competing in these very strenuous events so our best guess at the mechanism of what’s happening is less oxidative stress less inflammation probably there’s you know immune effects possibly – that are impacted by a ketogenic diet that just set this day for being able to recover quicker from these very stressful events so in terms of higher intensity explosive type exercise we have a pretty limited number of studies that have evaluated how Kido adaptation affects that specific type of performance but clearly there’s athletes out there performing at a higher intensity level who are key to adapted where it doesn’t seem to compromise their ability to do that type of exercise it may take longer for that specific aspect of performance to to come back and to actually augment that type of performance so instead of three to four weeks which generally is the time period it takes to adapt to for endurance exercise this may take a couple months or longer so it also depends on the type of training if you’re really wanting to enhance your high intensity exercise performance then training specifically for that is really important and that’s often ignored by endurance athletes who overemphasize the aerobic endurance aspects and as a result that aspect higher intensity aspect is compromised so specifically doing some explosive type training along with the ketogenic diet and doing that over a long enough period seems to be adequate to at least maintain if not augment that type of performance

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