Can runners and endurance athletes perform well while eating a high-fat diet?
While the trend for many training programs is to guide runners towards a high carbohydrate diet to provide fuel for physical activity, more and more athletes are examining the benefits of switching to a high-fat diet, otherwise known as a ketogenic diet.
All physical activity needs energy, running, walking, even typing requires the body to metabolize food into energy, and finally into waste products to be disposed of. However, high-intensity physical activity such as running requires the body to make more energy at a faster rate. For that energy source, runners have typically stuck to foods high in sugars and carbohydrates. Foods such as potatoes, pasta, and wheat products are often the products that are most readily available to people, making the decision to follow a high carbohydrate diet even easier.
This does not mean that a high carbohydrate diet is beneficial. Examining the positives of a high-fat diet compared to a traditional high carb diet reveals some stunning information.
First, overall, it seems that a high-fat diet can provide more energy per unit of mass than that of carbohydrates. One gram of fat can provide the body with roughly twice the energy as the one gram of carbohydrate, effectively giving a runner more mileage out of the fatty foods compared to the high carb ones. Carbohydrates also have the added negative impact of creating lactic acid as a byproduct of burning energy. This lactic acid is stored in the muscles and is the reason we feel extraordinary pain after long periods of exercise. Lactic acid builds up in the muscles, causing a sensation of pain and requiring it to be flushed out.
Now, fat produces lactic acid, too, just in smaller quantities. What fat does produce more of when it is burned during physical activity is ketones. This is why a high fat (very low carb) diet can also be known as a ketogenic diet. Ketones are used as a source of fuel for the body instead of the energy produced from sugar/carbs. The benefits of eating fat for fuel are multiple. Good fats such as avocados, grass fed meat, and wild caught seafood provide omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids are nutrients that reduce inflammation, the kind of chronic inflammation that can occur with an old injury, or the kind of inflammation that springs up after a long, high impact run. They also provide the nutritional content that aids in the body systems that help to cushion the impact of each step.
Ketones, too, play a positive role in a runner’s lifestyle. Ketones as a fuel used by the body instead of carbs/sugar will help keep blood sugar levels stabilized, and be less corrosive to the nerve ending in the brain. This means that your body can burn energy at an even pace, allowing runners to regulate their speed and body temperature by providing a stable, long-term fuel. With a carbohydrate based diet, often a runner will have to periodically take in a carbohydrate supplement consisting of some electrolytes and mostly sugar. This kind of strategy can spike hunger if not managed well and cause ups and downs during a long run. This happens because the sugar can cause blood sugar levels to spike while playing with energy levels, as well.
If you are a runner, consider a ketogenic or low-carb, high-fat diet; It just might boost your overall performance. Check out more of the benefits by speaking to us at the Salerno Center. Along with a host of other possible preventive treatments, there can only be an improvement to your best personal record.