Fasting & Exercise

The Benefits of Keto for Extreme Sports Athletes

The Benefits of Keto for Extreme Sports Athletes

Extreme athletes have, for a long time, been labeled as adrenaline junkies with a death wish. After all, the very definition of extreme sport cover activities in which a mismanaged mistake or accident would most likely result in death [1].

But if you ask this special class of enthusiast for all things extreme why they do it, you'd quickly realize this label is pure myth. Two researchers set out to do just that by interviewing 15 sports participants across three continents[1]. The researchers noted three recurring themes: an invigorating experience, inadequacy of words, and experience of transcendence.

In other words, extreme sportsmen and women do it because it makes them feel alive. And besides, when you consider how all extreme sports athletes go to great lengths to minimize risk and ensure safety, it becomes obvious that these folks are far from being reckless.

So, “what does all this have to do with going keto?”, you might ask. Well, going keto can help extreme athletes improve their body composition, strength, and focus – things they need for a safe yet exciting experience.

Nutritional demands of extreme sports

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Whether it's BASE jumping, free climbing, waterfall kayaking, or extreme mountaineering, all extreme sports have one thing in common – they place stress on the body, and, when done in extreme environments, exacerbate it.

Nutrition plays a pivotal role in managing this stress. An inadequate diet and poor fueling strategies will impair performance and increase risk [2]. That's why most extreme athletes are quite fastidious about their diets.

Of course, nutritional and energy requirements vary across different extreme sports. Typically, activities with a long duration like the Ironman Triathlon place greater energy demands. Short-duration activities like BASE jumping not as much.

But regardless of the type of sport, these energy and physiology demands are always met with a higher-carb diet that also provides adequate fat and protein. The rationale behind this being that carbohydrates provide the easiest and most reliable energy during these activities followed by fat. The role of protein is limited to repairing and building muscle.

However, there is a better way to fuel the body for extreme sports, and you will learn more about that in the following lines.

How going keto boosts performance

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In case you didn't know, the ketogenic diet is a low-carb, adequate-protein, and high-fat nutritional strategy with the goal of putting the body in ketosis. During ketosis, the body's metabolism switches from glucose burning to fat (and ketone) burning.

The diet was originally designed to treat epilepsy but later on became popular as a weight-loss strategy. And now, research is also unveiling athletic benefits of going low carb [3].

As evidence shows, the main reason behind deteriorating performance is running low on carbs coupled with an inability to successfully utilize fat [4]. The ketogenic diet addresses this issue by helping the body tap into its unlimited fuel reservoir – fat.

Studies even show that the major ketone body produced during ketosis called beta-hydroxybutyrate is capable of altering gene expression in a way that leads to keto-adaptation [4]. A keto-adapted body is, essentially, a body that is better at running on fat than a carb-adapted body.

Researchers believe this could help extend human physical and mental performance beyond expectation. This is of biggest value for endurance athletes who also partake in extreme sports (think Ironman).

Benefits of keto for endurance sports

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If you need more convincing to make you go low-carb for the sake of better and safer athletic performance, consider the following benefits.

Greater endurance

We already discussed this one. A ketogenic diet boosts endurance because it makes your body more efficient at running on fat. Athletes who relied on the keto diet for this exact benefit include Tim Tebow, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant, to name a few.

Better body composition

Certain sports activities require greater strength and more power. Free solo climbing is a good example. Having a greater lean body mass boosts strength and power, and one way to achieve it is through adequate nutrition. Research shows that keto improves body composition in those following resistance training [5], but the same can said to be true for other types of training.

Increased focus

A calm and collected mind is a must when it comes to extreme sports, but so is having a razor-sharp focus. When your brain is fueled on ketones, you'll experience levels of mental acuity you didn't know were possible [6]. That's because ketones reduce oxidative stress in the brain, but also increase mitochondrial size and number.

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Faster recovery

The ketogenic diet can also help you recover faster following intense workouts. If you train hard for our particular extreme sporting events, then being in ketosis inhibits enzymes that regulate muscle wasting [7]. And because ketosis means your body has switch to a new fuel source, it also helps spare skeletal glycogen which is important for post-workout recovery.

What about safety?

Because keto is drastically different from sports nutrition as well as your standard “healthy diet,” it is to be expected that you would become concerned about its safety. “All that fat, little carbs and modest protein intake can't be good when you're an athlete,” you may start thinking.

But as research points out, the ketogenic diet is safe for athletes even in the long-term [3]. These studies examined its safety in ultra-endurance, high-intensity, and weight-sensitive sports. We're sure the same holds true for extreme sports as well.

However, you have to follow this diet correctly if you want to leverage on its benefits and reduce any risks. Dieting mishaps could lead to fluctuating blood sugar levels, weight gain, and poor muscle recovery. Make sure you're well informed about ketogenic diets for athletes and consider following a cyclical or targeted ketogenic diet, both of which seem to be more suitable for the highly-active athlete.

Bottom Line

All athletes can benefit from utilizing fat as their primary fuel — extreme sports athletes included. Because when glycogen stores start to run low, your body has to rely on fat for energy. The better your body is adapted to using this energy, the better your performance.

But other than that, ketones provide a plethora of unique health and performance benefits that an extreme sports athlete may find useful. Increased mental acuity and greater strength are two highlights that are particularly noteworthy. Just make sure you follow keto correctly, and you will notice a positive change in your next adventure.

References

  1. http://eprints.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/3360/3/Evoking%20the%20Ineffable%20-%20The%20Phenomenology%20of%20Extreme%20Sports.pdf
  2. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-28265-7_2
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5384055/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25275931
  5. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/publishahead/The_Effects_of_Ketogenic_Dieting_on_Body.96026.asp
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4112040/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5407977/

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