10 mistakes athletes make when going low-carb / keto
If you’re an athlete or a weekend warrior, personalising your diet becomes even more important – to meet your energy requirements, ensure your recovery, performance and overall health and wellbeing. If you train and are thinking of going keto or low carb, here are the top 10 most common mistakes athletes make when they begin to reduce carbs. Avoid these to remain on track for success!
Not having clarity about why you’re doing this. With so much controversial diet and health information, it’s easy to fall into the trap of wondering whether you “should” be following the latest diet or fad and jumping on the band wagon with the masses. Forget that and focus on what your own objectives are.
It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing because you are unique. The ketogenic diet is reported to be effective for approximately under one third of people who try it – so it may well not work for you. Take into account your personal responses to foods, lifestyle and goals to help you determine whether it’s appropriate.
If you’re clear about why you’re going low carb/keto, it will help you to adhere to the diet if you do choose to do it and also help you to do it because you’ve truly chosen to do it – not been influenced!
Since you are unique, you need to be eating meals and quantities that suit you and your goals. So forget following a standard meal plan – keto meal plan! You will also likely need to adapt what you eat, as you both adapt to the diet, move towards your goals and/or your training and life changes.
Making any dietary or lifestyle change usually requires some form of action plan to facilitate adherence and effectiveness. Without planning time to adapt to the diet, you’re likely to feel rubbish and your training will suffer.
Don’t make the mistake of not taking the time to educate yourself about the types of food that you’ll be eating and how to nourish yourself sufficiently. Without planning some meals it will be harder to adhere to the ketogenic diet and/or be more likely that you’ll turn to eating mostly processed foods.
The other end of the spectrum is a loss of perspective and overly focusing on the ketogenic diet. This may be from what you’re eating, to planning what you’re eating, to measuring blood glucose and ketone levels. As well as it being unnecessary, it could potentially become unhelpful to your overall balance of life and health – especially if you start worrying about it or it becomes some kind of barrier in your life. If you start to experience this when you’re starting out going keto / low carb, then it’s possibly time to pause and assess whether it’s really worth it.
If you can keep it chilled, then great, but for some of us who already have a tendency to get into the minutia, this is something to be conscious of – definitely with going full on keto.
The satiating effects of the ketogenic diet (1) are one of the key benefits associated with weight loss. However, this can be a double-edged sword, especially if you are already training regularly and/or have higher energy requirements. Studies show that athletes on the ketogenic lose weight, despite being encouraged to eat unlimited fat (2).
The change in macronutrient ratios and a lack of meal planning can also result in being under prepared and not having the go to snacks available to support energy needs. Females are more sensitive to the effects of under eating and the double whammy of both under eating and over training can reduce levels of male and female sex hormones and subsequently lead to some pretty negative health effects – check out What are the downsides of going keto to find out more about the detrimental impacts of low energy availability.
Switching macronutrient ratios to an energy intake of 75-80% from fat can be a big change – especially if your previous diet predominantly consisted of carbs. However, if you don’t get comfortable with these macro ratios you’re going to either risk not getting into nutritional ketosis and/or underdoing your energy intake.
Protein is feared by many who go keto due to the process gluconeogenesis, when the body synthesises sugar (glucose) from sources other than carbs.
This fear has stemmed from the use of the ketogenic diet for epilepsy where levels of nutritional ketosis have to be very tightly controlled. The use of the ketogenic diet in this therapeutic setting is obviously very different to using it in this respect – for example athletic performance, or body composition.
As long as you’re not going crazy on the protein, it’s very much likely not to be an issue. Studies indicate that gluconeogenesis does not drive glucose production to a higher rate (3) and that dietary protein makes a very modest contribution to the maintenance of blood glucose levels (4).
Also, gluconeogenesis is an essential process! Certain parts of the body can only utilise glucose to function – parts of the brain, red blood cells, some of the kidneys and the testicles. It’s also especially beneficial for the resynthesis of muscle glycogen, when you’re focusing your times being in a state of nutritional ketosis. This is really important if you want to fully recover from your workout.
You also need to note that gluconeogenesis can utilise the backbone of fats as well as protein…..
Adequate protein intake is super important, for repair, recovery and muscle protein synthesis – especially for someone who is training. So make sure that you get enough!
Going keto works for approximately one third of people who try it. You need to eat food that is best for you and suits you, so don’t sweat it if going keto isn’t for you. For example, if your keto flu goes on for longer than you expected or you think that you’re not feeling good, then do not ignore it!
What are the downsides of going keto covers a few of the common issues associated with going keto. When you train regularly, you need to be aware of your nutritional requirements and the level of demands you place on yourself, in addition to normal daily (stress).
It can be easy to get into the mindset of pushing yourself constantly when you train regularly, so really do your best to listen into what your body tells you. You will be better off in the long run.
Is unlikely to make you feel good or facilitate you performing at your best. Processed foods don’t have the nutrients and fibre that whole foods do. They’re also not going to fill you up in the same way. The ‘if it fits your macros’ concept falls down because food is more than macros and calories. The idea of the food matrix describes the way that the different substances within that food are joined together. These factors influence how quickly the food is broken down, digested and absorbed.
Processed foods can also have lots of different additives in them, some of which might not work so well for your gut. Also, be mindful, of food marketing – ‘keto’ does not mean ‘healthy’. There can also be lots sweeteners added to these keto snacks which you possibly don’t want as a predominant food source.
We don’t know what the long term effects of sweeteners are, and they may interact with your own hunger and fullness signals, distorting them, resulting in your brain thinking that it wants more sweet food. Doesn’t matter if it is sugar or sweetener – the effect is still the same on the brain. So best to keep these things more occasional than regular!
There are certain times when choosing to start the ketogenic diet may not be most beneficial. For instance, when you’re preparing for a race. Once you’ve adapted to the ketogenic diet, then your body can ideally cope with that race. However, the initial adaptation period needs to be considered, since it’s unlikely that you will be performing at optimal levels.
Take into account when you are either adapting to the ketogenic diet for the first time and/or if your circumstances may make you more vulnerable to stress, since going keto may also be perceived as a stress by your body.
So there are a few mistakes for you to avoid – definitely check out 10 tips to starting a ketogenic diet the right way for a smooth sailing start to going keto.
Thanks for reading! Let me know what your thoughts are on mistakes when going keto – have you made any of these ones? Interested to hear!