Have you ever felt like you have no energy to workout? Maybe you start strong but can’t make it through to the end (that’s why you sign up for group classes, right?). Or maybe you just skip your workout entirely, too exhausted to even get out the door.
If you think that food has something to do with it, you’re right.
But, what you’ve read in magazines may have led you astray. See, they probably told you that you need more “quick” energy in the form of carbohydrates, like whole grains or fruit. Or maybe they suggested you carb-load the night before.
Turns out this information is pretty outdated and there’s a whole ‘nother approach to this topic.
If you are exercising to try to lose weight, embracing this alternative way of eating will help you drop the pounds fast. (I mean, really how many of us are exercising to gain weight…)
Today I’m sharing an article written by Emily Jenkins, who has both a BS and MS in nutrition and will soon be starting her training to become a registered dietitian. Like me, she’s a bit of a nutrition science junkie.
She reached out to me to help on some projects and when I heard about her research into sports nutrition and the effects of a ketogenic diet on athletic performance at Auburn University, I asked her to write about it!
It takes far too long for research to get into practice, which may be why you haven’t heard of this way of eating yet.
If you like BUTTER or BACON, you’ll be pretty happy after reading this.
Emily breaks it all down for you below.
Why You Have No Energy To Workout
PICTURE THIS, it’s early in the morning and you’re getting ready for your routine workout. You’ve got your exercise gear on, positivity is coursing through your veins, you’re eager for the challenge that awaits.
But wait, what happens?! Not even halfway through your workout, all of a sudden your momentum begins to drop and your energy fuel tank plummets. You’re thinking to yourself, how does this happen? I did my carb loading the night before and had oatmeal for breakfast, this shouldn’t be happening to me!
Well I’m here to tell you that, if you believe carbohydrates are the only fuel source for the body, especially during times of exercise, you have been misinformed.
Yes, it is a known and accepted doctrine within the science of sports nutrition that carbohydrates are vital for athletic performance. Furthermore, it is accepted that carbohydrates are the preferred fuel source for athletes. However, from a functional standpoint, this is peculiar because carbohydrates cannot be stored in significant amounts throughout the body.
There is, however, another fuel source, that has a higher storage capacity in our bodies. Care to take a guess?
In fact, fat is a much more efficient storage form of energy. Unlike carbohydrates, which yield 4 kcal (kilocalorie) of energy, fat yields approximately 9 kcal per gram of food energy and is stored with minimal water, making them an efficient storage form of energy. So, even in a very lean athlete, the total amount of energy stored as fat will typically be more than 20 times the maximum level of carbohydrate stored in the body .
Introducing the Low-Carbohydrate Ketogenic Diet (LCKD)
The ketogenic diet is a diet regimen that is comprised of a food supply of high fat with a 4:1 ratio of lipid to carbohydrate with medium protein. The ketogenic diet is so-termed, as maintenance on this diet induces and sustains a ketotic state in the body . Ketones are released and used for energy in place of glucose when the diet is low in carbohydrates.
A typical LCKD follows seven key principles:
1. Keep the diet low in carbohydrates: have enough to induce nutritional ketosis and accelerate fat burning—less than 50g/d (5-15% of total energy) By the way, 50 grams of carbohydrates is the amount in roughly 3 servings of carbohydrates, or 1 slice of bread + 1 apple + 1/2 cup beans.
2. Moderate intake of protein: 0.6 to 1.0g/lb. of lean body mass (20% of total energy)
3. Enough fat to sustain energy: (65-80% of total energy), yes I said 65+% of your calories are coming from fat!
4. Getting the right proportion of fat is critical: eating monounsaturated and saturated fats while limiting high polyunsaturated sources.
- Monounsaturated fats (MUFA): certain vegetable oils (e.g. olive oil, macadamia nut oil, avocado oil); also found in animal fats, like lard
- Saturated fats (SFA): coconut oil, palm oil, butter, ghee, and animal fats
- Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA): omega-6 fatty acids (e.g. soybean, corn oil, cottonseed oil) these are more associated with inflammation than omega-3 fats.*
* Great sources for omega-3 fatty acids are cold-water fish (salmon, tuna, herring, and sardines), which, ideally should be consumed 2-3 times per week. Grassfed meats and eggs from pasture-raised chickens are also rich in omega-3s. Chia and flaxseeds are good sources of plant-based omega-3.
5. Proper mineral management: Supplement sodium 2g/d (use salt when cooking) and replace magnesium to prevent muscle cramps.
6. When in doubt, eat less carbohydrates
7. When in doubt, eat more fat .
What do you eat on a Low Carb Ketogenic Diet (LCKD)?
In short, non starchy vegetables including lettuce, kale, celery, cucumber, fennel, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage; meat, fish, poultry, eggs; oils and fats; whole-fat low-carb dairy products like butter, ghee, greek yogurt, sour cream, and cream cheese; some nuts and seeds; some berries.
Sample Menu on Low Carb Ketogenic Diet
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with sides of spinach and sausage
- 2-3 large eggs, scrambled + 1 Tbsp. butter
- 1 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese
- 2 pork sausage links
- ¾ cup cooked spinach + 1.5 Tbsp. butter
- Lunch: Broiled salmon and a side salad
- 4 oz. broiled Atlantic salmon + 1 Tbsp. butter
- Side Salad: mixed baby greens, diced tomatoes, chopped onion, feta cheese, black and green olives, blue cheese dressing
- Dinner: Sirloin with sautéed mushrooms and cauliflower mashed potatoes
- 3 oz. beef sirloin tips
- ¼ cup sautéed mushrooms + 1½ Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 cup cauliflower boiled and mashed… with shredded cheddar cheese and butter
- Drinks: Water with lemon or cucumber, black tea, coffee with heavy whipping cream (no sugar)
- Dessert: 1 oz 85% chocolate or 1/4 cup strawberries with whipped cream (no sugar) and macadamia nuts
Metabolic Benefits of Low Carb Ketogenic Diet
The LCKD has been shown to have two major metabolic benefits that are relevant to most athletes:
- Improved body composition (power-to-weight ratio)
- Improved prolonged endurance performance, which resulted from better-sustained fuel delivery. 
In order for your body to reap the benefits of the LCKD, your body must become “keto-adapted”. This is a term that was coined by Dr. Steve Phinney to describe the process in which human metabolism switches over to use almost exclusively fat for fuel. Many metabolic benefits have been studied once keto-adaptation is accomplished:
- Sustained source of fuel for the brain—protecting the athlete from “hitting the wall”
- Improved insulin sensitivity (good if you have trouble losing weight or have diabetes, prediabetes, or PCOS
- Protein sparing
- Decreased accumulation of lactate—reduction in muscle cramps
- Better control of pH and respiratory function
- Improvement in athletic endurance and performance
Now, I can go into the biochemical explications on why these benefits happen and how they take place…but let’s be honest most of us would be asleep within the first five minutes. So instead, I recommend the following readings:
- The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by Jeff S. Volek, PhD, RD and Stephen D. Phinney, MD, PhD
- The new Atkins for a new you by Dr. Eric C. Westman, Dr. Stephen D. Phinney, and Dr. Jeff S. Volek.
- Dr. Peter Attia has an excellent blog on the ketogenic diet and lifestyle with up-to-date research and discussion topics
For those who want to read up on the research done in this particular area, I suggest:
- Lambert EV, Speechly DP, Dennis SC, et al. Enhanced endurance in trained cyclists during moderate intensity exercise following 2 weeks adaptation to a high fat diet.
- Phinney SD. Ketogenic diets and physical performance.
- Helge JW, Watt PW, Richter EA, et al. Fat utilization during exercise: adaptation to a fat-rich diet increases utilization of plasma fatty acids and very low density lipoprotein-triacylglycerol in humans.
How can I incorporate Low Carb Ketogenic Diet principles into my routine?
Someone who is on the LCKD would have these items either in their refrigerator/pantry or on their shopping list. If you’re considering this diet this is great place to start:
- Broth (chicken, beef, vegetable)
- Butter or ghee
- Cheese (hard)
- Cream (heavy or whipping)
- Coconut milk (whole fat)
- Fish (salmon, tuna, herring, etc)
- Fruits (berries, olives, tomatoes, lemons, limes)
- Mayonnaise (made with oil ,not soybean oil)
- Meats (beef, chicken, pork)
- Nuts and seeds
- Oils (coconut, olive, macadamia, avocado)
- Sour cream or crème fraiche
- Vegetables (all except starchy veggies like potatoes, corn, peas, & sweet potatoes)
- Yogurt (Greek, whole milk) 
I know this diet can seem a little overwhelming at first, I mean let’s be honest, cutting out carbohydrates can be really difficult, especially for those who have a fond relationship with them, like me!
However, if you want to try something new, try cutting out a serving of carbs at each meal. If you seriously want to cut down on carbohydrates and improve your athletic endurance, then this diet may be just for you.
Remember, with this diet, fat is your friend! How many diets can say that?!
- Volek, JS, Phinney SD. The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance. Beyond Obesity LLC; 2012.
- Hallöök T, Ji S, Maudsley S, Martin B. The effects of the ketogenic diet on behavior and cognition. Epilepsy Research. 2012; 100: 304-309.
Can I get a round of applause for Emily Jenkins, MS for writing this article?
If you usually have no energy to workout, I hope you consider this approach. I’m eager for her to join the ranks of open-minded dietitians who know that low-fat diets aren’t for everyone and embrace what research has been telling us for years, that fat is good for us and excess carbohydrates are not.
Now before you go, I’d like to hear from you. In the comments below, tell me:
What’s your secret to keeping your energy up while working out?
Are you ready to eat more butter?
If you liked this article and want to read more like it, be sure to sign up for email updates below. By doing so, you’ll join the Pilates Nutritionist Community and get my popular guide: Why you’re not losing belly fat doing Pilates + 5 steps to make it happen”. And did I mention it’s FREE!?
Until next week,
P.S. Breakfast is a great time to try out this way of eating. Stops those 10am sugar cravings before they start.