A Gentle Ketosis Nutrition Plan for Improving Athletic Performance
Updated: Oct 14, 2020
A lot has been written about ketogenic diets and the arguments are raging among the exercise physiologist experts about the merits of these diets. The ketogenic diet, put simply, is starving the body of carbohydrates and sugars, thus forcing it to shift to using predominantly fat as its source of energy. Full-on and it is pretty drastic, in my opinion. It is argued by those in favour of this diet, that performance principally, endurance, is improved. Plenty of other experts argue that it is either inconclusive or negative.
I've been studying everything I can on this topic, speaking with experts and I've been experimenting on myself since the beginning of the year, figuring out what is the healthiest and most workable variation on the idea. I've been doing my best to assess if there are any gains in performance and in what form these might be.
It has taken a long time to figure out what works for me while avoiding any potential health risks and failures that are associated with extreme diets, such as constipation. I am now ready to report and to describe what I have settled upon as a gentle and workable diet approach that produces results.
Gains I've made over the last six months
My weight has declined from 66 Kg at the beginning of the year to now be below 63 Kg. My goal is 61 Kg which is my healthy race weight when I was in my 20's.
My power-to-weight ratio is perceptively much greater than last year, so this must mean that I have retained my strength while losing excess weight. What this means is my ability to climb at pace is much better.
My heart rate for a mid-effort is about 10 beats per minute less. This is a huge gain.
My endurance and reliance on food during an extended training session has increased spectacularly. I used to "bonk" at about 2.5-3 hours of moderate continuous effort. This has now extended out to about 6 hours, perhaps longer.
What I have settled upon
Breakfast is typically
Two eggs fried in coconut oil.
The occasional piece of bacon.
Perhaps some black pudding if there is any in the fridge.
A cup of coffee with a generous dash of cream and a heaped teaspoon of medium chain triglycerides (MCT) powder mixed in.
Two bioactive lipids capsules.
One capsule of cod liver oil.
My supplements as determined by regular Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA).
If I am feeling too hungry leading to lunchtime I may have a scoop of whey protein, MCT and glass of full cream milk (silver top) mixed together, plus another 1-2 bioactive lipids capsules.
Lunch is typically
Two soft-boiled eggs with salt.
Hard cheese, blue cheese or similar.
MCT perhaps with cream in a cup of tea or on its own with silver top milk.
One or two bioactive Lipids capsules.
One cod liver oil capsule.
Any supplements as per HTMA.
It is afternoon or later before dinner that I'll do the bulk of any athletic training (this works best for me in terms of work demands and lifestyle).
If it is a short training session, about an hour and not too warm, I will have a large glass of Metabolic Energiser plus a dash of Fulvic Acid before heading out the door.
If it is a long training session 2-4 hours, I'll take a bottle of Energiser with Fulvic with me.
After the workout, I'll have another drink of Energiser, etc with a scoop of whey protein.
I'll ensure rehydration is complete but there will be nothing else consumed until dinner is served.
The evening meal and beyond
I'll have a full home-cooked meal with meat, and at least three veggies or any kind of variation on it. I'll have carbs such as potato, kumara, pumpkin. I'll down a beer, crunch salted nuts or chomp on chocolate.
I'll have 2-4 kiwifruit, an orange apple, berries over the evening. Whatever grabs me. It might sound like a lot but I can't eat such big servings because my stomach appears to have shrunk!
Supplements as per the HTMA guidelines.
I'll do this routine about 4-5 days a week then have my former usual breakfast, lunch and dinner - whatever I feel like.
You will note that I have pretty much cut out bread, pasta, rice and breakfast cereals.
Please note that this is deliberately an "Energy-Deficit" diet for me. Once I hit my target weight, which is not far off, what is eaten overall during the day will have to increase a little.
What I do for a race
Unfortunately, with the chaos and cancellations caused to the sporting world this year, due to COVID19, there has not been much racing at all, so I have not had many opportunities to experiment. But here is the plan for what I typically do and have more or less done so for years:
Two days before the race, I modestly reintroduce carbs such as wholemeal bread and breakfast cereals - mostly our home-made muesli.
I'll rest up from training (for how many days depends on the seriousness of the race).
I'll have a modest mostly carb-based breakfast on race day but not eat much and it is 3-4 hours before the gun goes to ensure it has been digested.
Before, during and after the race, I'll mostly use the Energiser, perhaps with some fruit juice added for extra sugar. I have no need for things like energy gels.
I don't do anything special post-race, other than to gradually rehydrate.
Take a well-earned break now and then!
Treat your eating like a well-structured athletic training programme. It must ebb and flow with the seasons, with your work, holidays and even when there are unexpected illness and injury. Have a short break between seasons. Do the same with your eating.
For example, I've been pretty strict with my eating - no carbs most days other than with the evening meals. Last week, we spent a week in the upper South Island, Golden Bay, and we rode the Heaphy Track to Karamea in atrocious weather. During that time I ate whatever came my way and I drank plenty of Golden Bay craft beer. I'm back at home now and the gentle ketosis plan is back in place for the next few weeks, if not longer. You see, I'm playing a long game here! You need to be doing the same.
Comments and Observations
For whatever reasons, I am well ahead of where I was this time last year. I only wish I could have gone to France to defend my Masters Mountain-bike world title for the third time in a row. I reckon I would have been very hard to beat! Next year, maybe.
I think the main driver of the gains has been with the diet changes. The weight-loss alone, without losing strength, is a big performance gain. But only lose weight if you have weight to lose. Getting skinnier if you are already skinny is a recipe for disaster.
I seem to no longer suffer "hypoglycaemia attacks" where concentration flags, performance drops right off and I get grumpy and even dizzy. Not do I seem to suffer intense hunger. I do not get those episodes where I know I must get some sugar into me or else!
Carbohydrate depletion and intense exercise do not usually make for good bedmates. If carbs are low in the muscles the athlete will feel sluggish and the muscles will ache and scream as the workload is turned up to maximum. I am pleasantly surprised to not feel any of that any more, despite being on a low-carb diet for several days at a time. I can go very hard and the hurt is less intense, it is more tolerable and, when the pressure is taken off, the recovery is remarkably fast. Mind you, it has taken me about six months of off-and-on playing around with this diet to get to where I am today. Bear that in mind: it may take many months for your metabolic processes to become fully fat-adapted.
Links to the supplements referred to in this article
For more information, please read this followup article
All of my articles on the topic of ketosis https://www.garymoller.com/blog-1/search/ketosis
Intermittent Fasting by mistake https://www.garymoller.com/post/intermittent-fasting-by-mistake
And this guide to Intermittent Fasting is comprehensive: https://www.homegym101.com/intermittent-fasting/