Yeah, You’ve Heard of Keto, but How Do You Work Out on Keto?

Woman climbs stairs

Back in the day, weight loss involved eating low-fat, low-calorie foods, combined with intense cardio workouts. That view is largely considered outdated today. We know now that the first, most important step toward losing weight and keeping it off is to change how you eat. You should consume real foods that feed your body, providing it with much-needed energy and nutrients.

The ketogenic diet is an excellent regimen for both overall health and fat loss. What some people may be surprised to know, however, is that keeping a keto diet and exercising don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. If you want to just lose weight, then working out isn’t actually a requirement with keto. So then how should you maintain your physical fitness while doing keto? To get the best results out of your keto diet, there are particular keto workouts and tips that you can follow to be at your physical best.

Keto Workouts: What Are They & Do You Need Them?

Even though we said keto diets and exercise don’t necessarily need to go together, don’t kick your kettlebells and yoga mats to the curb just yet! Consider all the many other reasons to exercise that don’t focus on weight loss. Cardiovascular workouts can make you feel happier, increase your energy levels, reduce the risk of chronic disease, stave off memory loss, promote brain health, and are great for your bones and muscles. Consider working out on keto as an investment in your future—it will help you stay supple and active in your later years.

Ok, so you’re still sold on putting in some time at the gym. But just how do keto and exercise go together? To gain a better understanding, first, let’s review how the body gets its energy while on keto.

A berry smoothie sits next to a bowl of berries.

Keto Workouts and the Body’s Glucose

Our bodies were designed to be fat burners. Before there were questions of keto workouts or gluten-free everything, our prehistoric ancestors lived off meat and vegetables, but they weren’t eating enough carbs that their bodies needed to learn how to use them for fuel. They were using meat and fat for fuel.

Today, carbs are consumed en masse. This abundance of carbs forces the body to start learning how to process them and use them for energy. When you eat carbohydrates, your body converts those into glucose and uses the glucose as fuel, a very fast process. That’s why when you are feeling a little sluggish, you can have some candy and feel better almost right away. It’s also why you tend to start feeling drowsy in the afternoon—your body has used up its glucose reserves, and you need to replenish them. But the question is: why doesn’t your body just keep using fat instead? Why do keto and exercise even need to happen?

The answer is insulin. Insulin is a hormone that’s used to help the glucose travel through your bloodstream and allow your body to use it as energy. Insulin prevents the fat stores in your body from being released. That’s why your body can’t simply flip the “fat burning switch”. It is only when you reduce your carbs to a very low level, and your glucose levels drop, that your body stops producing insulin and begins to burn fat. So now that you know how your body uses fuel, we’ll tell you how it relates to your keto workout.

Women do yoga as a keto workout.

The Relationship Between Exercise and Energy

Glucose can be burned during aerobic (with oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen) activities. However, ketones, a type of acid produced by the liver, can only be burned during aerobic activities. This means that purely anaerobic activities such as a 100-yard sprint, or Olympic weightlifting, don’t work as effective keto workouts because they don’t burn off ketones, just glucose.

Conversely, low-intensity exercises like walking, jogging, or cycling (if done at a low enough intensity), don’t specifically require glucose and make for great workouts when on keto. When you restrict carbs, you are depriving your muscles of the glucose it needs to fuel high-intensity activities. This means that a ketogenic diet can actually have a detrimental effect on your performance if you take part in high-intensity activities such as:

  • Crossfit
  • Weightlifting
  • Sprinting or swimming
  • High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
  • Sports that have minimal resting periods, such as soccer, rugby
  • and other high-intensity sports and activities

Bottom line: if your exercise on keto falls under low-intensity cardio, flexibility, or stability, then you can continue with your keto diet as usual. If you are about to initiate a ketogenic diet for the first time, however, be aware that your athletic performance may be impacted for the first month or so. Take it easy and focus on getting your eating right, then you can resume your activities as normal. If you’re finding that even on a keto diet, you’re struggling with weight loss, you might consider adding a natural fat burning supplement to your keto diet and workout plan.

Man runs down a mountain hill

Keto and Exercise for Athletes

Getting the correct breakdown of macros (macronutrients like fats, proteins, and carbohydrates) is important when following a keto diet. But if you’re an athlete who needs to engage in anaerobic or high-intensity cardio, working out on keto can be hard and it becomes even more imperative to get the ratio correct.

So how do you start a keto diet and exercise if you’re an athlete? Start with the right amount of protein. Protein is responsible for muscle building and promotes calorie burning more than the other macronutrients. Eating enough protein while working out on keto will also ensure you don’t lose muscle mass. Once you have calculated your protein needs, then you can work out the other macronutrients based on the Targeted Ketogenic Diet.

A Targeted Ketogenic Diet is based on the Standard Ketogenic Diet with one important addition. You eat 20-50 grams (or less) of net carbs taken 30 minutes to an hour prior to exercise. This 20-50 grams is in addition to your 5-10% caloric carb intake per day as part of the standard macronutrient breakdown in a keto diet. If you are still trying to lose pounds, count the extra carbs as part of your daily calories (and then cut down on the fat).

This extra nutritional boost for your keto workout should ideally be in the form of glucose. Fructose will go straight to the liver, to replenish liver glycogen, rather than going to the muscles. Dextrose tablets or glucose gel packets are ideal for this purpose.

Another option for athletes is to follow the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet while exercising—you follow the Standard Ketogenic Diet for five to six days, then have one to two days of high-carb consumption to refill the muscle and liver glycogen stores. If you are following the ketogenic diet for health reasons (for example, hyperinsulinemia or hypertension), then you should avoid the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet.

While it might seem like working out on a keto diet can be a pain in the gluteus maximus for athletes, it is actually shown in studies to be quite helpful. Also, it’s important to remember that your individual needs will be unique, as every athlete burns fuel at a different pace. You should use these guidelines as a baseline to your keto and exercise plan, and monitor and adjust constantly to find the ideal eating plan for you and your training.

For more information on fitness plans, recipes, and inspirational stories, visit Bare Performance Nutrition today to learn more!


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