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Physical & Mental Performance on Keto

Information about what effect the ketogenic lifestyle has on the human body’s physical performance is not hard to find, but often very hard to validate.

This takes a hard look at what being in ketosis means for fitness, strength, muscle-building, and endurance while debunking some common work-out myths about keto.

For this all to make sense, we first need to draw a quick distinction between aerobic and anaerobic exercise and how the body responds to them in ketosis.

Anaerobic vs Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic Exercise

Commonly referred to as “cardio”, aerobic activity is any movement that gets the heart muscle to engage for some time. The word “aerobic” can be broken down to the concept “with/using oxygen.” Your heart-rate and intensity of aspiration go up during these aerobic activities.

When you are already using fats for fuel in ketosis, doing cardio can assist in training your body to burn fat and encourage the utilization of stored fat in the body.

A study by Daniel G Carey at the University of St Thomas suggests that one’s maximum fat-oxidation point sits in between 60.2% and 80.0% of the maximal heart rate, or 150 BMP on average.

Anaerobic Exercise

When you exercise anaerobically (meaning “without oxygen”), your body relies on glycogen stored in the muscles and liver. Anaerobic exercise is an activity that required short, immediate bursts of energy, like heavy weight-lifting or competitive sprints.

When doing these sorts of exercises, your metabolism doesn’t have enough time to oxidize fat to create energy, but it needs spur-of-the-moment energy to get the most initial power and acceleration.

If you work out anaerobically at a high intensity, your body wants to oxidize glycogen in your muscles and liver for fuel. Although this implies a dip in performance prima facie, the reality is a little more complicated.

Building Muscle on Ketosis

A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition investigated the impact that a ketogenic diet can have on skeletal muscle.

What they found highlighted the exciting potential of ketosis as a muscle-mass building tool. In this study, the ketogenic diet resulted in a 2.1 kg greater lean body mass increase in a sample of 26 resistance-trained males when compared to the standard high-carb food-pyramid diet.

The Verdict: If you love jogging, cycling, higher-rep lighter weight training, hiking, long-distance running, walking, dancing, swimming laps or rowing, ketones are a great source of fuel for your workout.

Mental Performance on Keto

There are a number of factors that determine how energized you feel throughout the day. One big one is your blood-glucose levels, that is, if you are still eating carbs.

While eating keto practically eliminates the dramatic spikes and dips in blood-sugar and thereby doing away with this source of fatigue, ketosis has far more to offer than that alone.

After investigations into fasting’s reduction of epileptic seizures reached its critical point, attention was diverted to the miraculous molecule that made it all possible – the ketone.

Prescribing the Keto Diet for Epilepsy

Medical science has been investigating the therapeutic powers of ketone bodies since the early 20th century. Harvard scientist, Dr. William Lennox, published several ground-breaking studies about the effect of carbohydrate restriction in patients with epilepsy.

After a professional lifetime of learning, testing and corroborating, he resolved that it had to be a change in metabolism that is helping his epilepsy patients get relief.

Mental Sharpness, Cognition and Keto

GABA and Glutamate

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) and glutamate are neurotransmitters in the brain that are responsible for concentration and relaxation, respectively. For the brain to work properly, it necessitates a good balance between the two neurotransmitters.

Having too much glutamate is usually the culprit for an imbalance in these neurotransmitters. The imbalance has been associated with pathologies like ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), several types of epilepsy as well as mood disorders in humans.

People with too much glutamate and not enough GABA levels often exhibit issues like “brain-fog”, anxiety and sleep disturbances.

Chronically high levels of glutamate cause inflammation as the glutamate continually overstimulates the brain cells. The over-spill of glutamate should be transformed into GABA to help balance neural processes if your body is healthy.

However, studies have shown that living a ketogenic lifestyle could help facilitate this change (Maalouf, Rho & Mattson, 2009). The resulting effects are lessened anxiety and an improved ability to focus.

Reduced Oxidative Stress

Too much oxidative stress causes inflammation and limits the amount of energy your mitochondria provides cells. Your brain is highly dependent on abundant, healthy mitochondria, it is the first to feel the negative effects of elevated oxidative stress levels.

Oxidative stress can be described as a natural byproduct of mitochondria’s energy-making process. Using ketones for fuel has been revealed to lower levels of oxidative stress when compared to glucose metabolism.

This effectively lowers inflammation and supports healthy mitochondrial activity (Greco, et al. 2015). Ultimately, this results in improved energy production.

A degenerative process called demyelination can occur on nerve cells, where the fatty protective coating over neurons is damaged or diminished.

Neurodegenerative illnesses like MS (multiple sclerosis), are considered very sensitive to chronic inflammation, which makes switching to keto therapeutic to a further degree.

Mitochondrial Biogenesis

In order to move, repair, grow and flourish, cells in the body need consistent energy. ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is the fuel that cell organelles called mitochondria produce to power everything you do.

Cells in certain parts of the body have a higher number of mitochondria in their tissues than others in comparison, demonstrating, in turn, the amount of energy they need to function properly.

The brain is one of the most important areas of the body that needs lots of energy to function. If we increase the number and energy output of the mitochondria in your brain, which studies have shown is possible through ketone oxidation, it receives more energy (Wallace, et al. 2010).


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