5 Tips to Optimize Your Exercise on Keto
Written by Sara McEvoy
on February 20, 2020
Whatever your reason for doing keto—weight loss, chronic disease management, better blood sugar control, or any of the other known keto health benefits—there's one thing for sure:
Your new way of eating doesn't preclude your need to hit the gym.
This is good news, by the way. Regular physical activity offers a host of beneficial effects on your physical and mental health, such as fat loss, increased lean body mass, improved energy, and enhanced mood and mental clarity—all things that a ketogenic diet will help you with, too.
A lot of people feel wary about working out while following keto, however. People wonder if they'll have energy to perform or if they'll simply tank during a gym session. And while there's no question that it's healthy and recommended to workout while maintaining a super low-carb lifestyle, it is important to realize that you may need to make some changes in your approach.
Keep reading for five tips that will help you make sure you're working out safely and smartly even when you're eating fewer than 50 grams of net carbs per day.
Here are 5 Tips for Great Workouts on Keto
Schedule more strength training sessions
Research shows that building strength and lean muscle mass (while concurrently dropping body fat) is totally possible on keto. And with more muscle on your body, you can help your metabolism function even more efficiently (since muscle tissue burns more calories at rest than fat tissue). Strength training a few times per week also helps boost circulating levels of substrates in your body like human growth hormone, which further promotes fat burning and muscle building. So, aim for at least 2 to 3 sessions of strength training per week.
Hydrate like it's your job
Drinking lots of water is known to help combat the keto flu that may occur when you first make the switch to a ketogenic diet. And since you're eating far fewer carbs while on keto, your body will start to convert body fat into compounds called ketone bodies for energy instead. It turns out that high levels of ketones may promote electrolyte imbalances and dehydration in the more extreme cases—and you want to avoid this, regardless of how much you exercise. One of the best ways to do that is to drink plenty of water with an added pinch of sea salt. In other words, don't just drink at the gym—keep a water bottle with you all day long and check your urine to make sure you're adequately hydrated. (Hint: your urine should be a light straw color and plentiful.)
Prioritize steady state cardio over HIIT sessions
While aerobic and anaerobic exercises are both okay to do while on keto, you'll probably want to spend more of your time doing steady state, aerobic-based, and endurance style workouts. The reason? Aerobic exercise, also known as low-intensity steady state cardio (LISS), mostly operates on an energy system that uses body fat for fuel. Since keto preferentially puts you into a fat-burning state anyway, lower intensity endurance-type cardio is a seamless fit into this diet and may amplify your fat loss results. Meanwhile, anaerobic training exercises like high intensity interval training (HIIT) and sprinting are primarily fueled by muscle glycogen, which is made from sugar in your food. Naturally, the amount of sugar you consume is way less while on keto, which means your HIIT performance may take a bit of a hit (although research shows this isn't always the case). So, spend more of your cardio workouts in the low- to moderate-intensity target heart rate zone (anywhere from 40 to 70% of your max heart rate) and aim for 20 to 30 minutes or more per session. The talk test is another good way to gauge your effort: during moderately intense aerobic exercise, you should be able to hold a conversation without much difficulty, but not sing.
Time your carb intake around higher intensity workouts
If you ARE going to do a HIIT workout a few times per week while on keto (which most experts agree is A-OK), adjust your food intake on these days so that you end up eating around 15 to 30 grams of carbs within the 30- to 60 minute-windows before and after your session. The reason is two-fold. First, shifting the majority of your carb intake into these windows gives your muscles adequate glycogen, which may help boost performance and recovery. Second, it minimizes the risk of kicking yourself out of keto since the carbs will be used up for fuel very readily.
Pay attention to your body's feedback
This is especially important if you have any chronic health conditions. One of the unlikely but possible risks of being in ketosis is having super low blood sugar—and a workout could make this worse. Electrolyte imbalances are also possible (especially if you're new to keto), which can impact muscle function. So, be mindful of your body's response to exertion and if you notice any uncomfortable signs or symptoms—like lightheadedness, intense muscle cramps, or difficulty breathing—stop your workout right away. And if you're noticing a lot more muscle cramps than usual, be sure to revisit tip number 2 and add in more mobility exercises like foam rolling.
A final tip? It's always a good idea to chat with your doctor before making changes to your diet OR physical activity.
The Bottom Line
Can you workout on keto? Definitely. In fact, it's a good way to accelerate body fat loss and enhance the overall effects of your new way of eating. Just realize that the ways you used to train may have to undergo some minor adjustments in order to make sure you get the most out of both your gym sessions and your meal plans.
Looking for some healthy keto-friendly snacks to go with your active lifestyle? Be sure to check out SuperFat's line of portable and delicious nut butters that easily slip into any gym bag.
Author: Sara McEvoy
|Sara McEvoy, PT, DPT is a licensed and board-certified doctor of physical therapy. She earned her degree in 2011 from Boston University. Sara is also a professional freelance writer and copywriter. She researches and writes almost exclusively within the health and wellness field.|