For many, one of the biggest perks in following the ketogenic diet is that exercise is not a requirement for weight loss. Many people have successfully gotten to their goal weight without so much as adding an evening stroll around the block to the daily routine.
However, there are also those who are interested in exercise, or already established in an exercise routine, and have concerns about macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrates).
It’s important to first establish a goal for exercising. Getting healthier? Adding activity to a sedentary lifestyle? Increase endurance and stamina? Weight loss? Muscle gain? Muscle tone?
There is an endless supply of reasons for exercising, from heart health to intense bodybuilding. The goal, however, determines a great deal when adjusting macronutrients is necessary for maximum effects.
Adding an exercise routine to virtually any diet where there is a calorie deficit will enhance weight loss results and improve overall health. Likewise, adding exercise to a diet with a calorie surplus will enhance muscle gain and improve performance.
However, when exercise is added to the ketogenic diet, stored fat is used for energy at an increased rate and oftentimes the results are noticeable in just a short period of time.
Types of Exercise
This is where there seems to be a bit of confusion regarding exercising while already enjoying the many benefits of the ketogenic diet. The biggest question is predominantly regarding carbohydrates and should one carb-up pre and post workout. The answer is Yes and No. It depends on the type of physical activity.
- Aerobic Exercise / “Cardio” – Exercises which are longer in duration and low intensity usually do not require adjustments to macronutrients. These are fat-burning activities, and if the goal is weight loss, incredibly beneficial. Walking is probably the most popular type of cardio.
Workout routines where the body is in movement for three minutes or longer without breaks is considered cardio as well, like kickboxing, Zumba, etc. Even dancing is cardio!
- Flexibility & Stability Exercise – This group includes core and balance routines, yoga, Pilates, stretching and range of motion exercises aimed at muscle tone while still being low impact. Wall squats while doing any number of tricep/bicep curls with 5 lb weights is a good example.
This works the core, legs and arms simultaneously. These are also fat-burning activities, and again, upping carbs isn’t usually necessary but also isn’t out of the question.
- Strength & High Intensity Exercise – In this category are the folks who do CrossFit, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), weightlifters, bodybuilders and other athletes. These types of exercises are carb-burners and yes, increasing carbohydrate intake is the way to go here.
Undereating and overeating are undeniably common while exercising and living a ketogenic lifestyle. People sometimes don’t eat enough or are eating too much of the wrong foods for the type of exercise regimen, thus weight loss stalls or weight gain ensues.
Here is the key:
- Aerobic Exercise / “Cardio” – Don’t change a thing. If after exercise sluggishness or lethargy is noticed, eat a healthy snack featuring good fats and a little protein. Something like cream cheese spread on a piece of ham and rolled on a dill pickle (ham and pickle rollups) should do the trick nicely.
- Flexibility & Stability Exercise – It’s okay to increase protein here, and even carbs if necessary, but not by much and make certain they are good choices. And only on exercise days. Adequate protein is essential to retain muscle mass and still lose fat. Perhaps increasing by 10-15 grams on exercise days for protein.
As far as carbs, only take in enough to provide a small energy burst without kicking the body out of ketosis. A few almonds or berries are good for carb-ups. Quality jerky, avocado or boiled eggs are easy ways to add in some extra protein and good fats.
- Strength & High Intensity Exercise – Definitely get in additional carbs. This is not an excuse to jump into the drive-thru and get a super-sized order of French fries. Fast-acting, clean carbs are always the best option, like fruit. A general rule is 15-30 additional carbs pre and post workout are a good starting point. Further adjustments might be necessary.
Ultimately paying attention to one’s body is going to be the biggest key to success. Everyone is different; what works best for one might not work that way for another. Listen to the body. Feed it what’s necessary.
Sometimes there’s a period of adjustments until the right combination of macros is discovered. Make good choices and enjoy the results!