Strength Training: Keto vs High Carb Diet

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Carbohydrates have for the longest time been avoided by professional athletes and sports enthusiasts for the simple fact that they ‘make people fat’. While it’s true that people who avoid carbs can control their body fat much easier, this is one ingredient that can have a significantly positive impact when it comes to strength training.

The ketogenic diet, on another hand, is a carb-free diet plan that many people associate with weight loss solutions. Today we’ll talk about the benefits and drawbacks of ketogenic and high-carb diets through the lens of strength training, so without any further ado, let’s dive straight into it.

Food cravings, feeling full, and strength training

Before we venture towards more practical aspects of diet plans, most athletes underperform when they’re feeling parched and hungry.

A high-carb diet, despite its imperfections, is better for the vast majority of athletes who need to feel ‘full’ before performing, whether it’s a free-running exercise, a boxing sparring match, or an hour and a half on the field playing basketball.

The ketogenic diet is at a disadvantage here, as preparing a square meal without any carbs that could sate you completely may end up bombarding you with unhealthy fats. Eating plenty of seafood, vegetables, and cheese before switching to a meat-exclusive menu may sound like a better option.

This however does not apply to keto diet practitioners who are loosely following the guidelines and abandoning the strict diet plan when it starts to feel uncomfortable. Long-term keto diets are more dangerous, as they are likely to lead to our bodies craving the carbs we’ve eliminated from the menu.

Keto, carbs, sugar, and muscle growth

Most nutritionists advise athletes to avoid sugary foods in large circles if they wish to develop healthy muscles, and the same can be said for strength training. Developing ‘healthy’ endurance and stamina is feasible without sugar, or at least, with minimal amounts of sugar.

While high-carb diet plans offer a plethora of foods rich in sugar, the ketogenic diet is more restrictive. Practitioners of the ketogenic diet can get their share of sugar mainly through vegetables and certain types of meat while high-carb diets ‘allow’ for some candy, cereals, and muffins.

Fortunately, keto diet enthusiasts have experimented with different ingredients over the years, resulting in all sorts of delicious snacks and treats, even the keto chocolate chip cookies.

At the end of the day, the insulin spike provided by digested sugar can help athletes grow stronger. High-carb diet plans are better in this field, as carbs can be used to fuel the body more efficiently (and sustainably) while keto practitioners may end up with damaged muscles if they don’t make up for the lack of carbs with plenty of protein.

One of the biggest downsides of the ketogenic diet is that oftentimes muscle loss is unavoidable. As we consume protein, we transform it into glycogen as soon as our supply of protein becomes low.

Although this limits our ability to continue high-intensity training, it also leads to muscle damage and loss, which is typically associated with low-carb diet plans. High-carb diets are, on another hand, perfect for high-intensity training, strength training included.

Digestion promotes better performance and healthier exercise

A healthy digestive system promotes better performance in sports and athletics, strength training included.

Protein, being the building block of muscles, needs some time to break down and enter our muscles after food is consumed. The amount of time required for this process (called protein synthesis) to complete depends on the food we use as our main source of protein.

However, other ingredients are supposed to be digested as well, which impacts our muscle recovery, muscle building, and all other aspects of strength training.

Generally, most carbs break down faster than fat, so it would be safe to say that the ketogenic diet is not the most practical approach to eating when it comes to most types of athleticism. Fats generally need more than 24 hours to break down. Our bodies use the non-synthesized fat as fuel while certain types of carbs (fibrous) pass through undigested.

Training intensity

Strength training exercises fall under the category of high-intensity training. Aside from the fact that athletes need to invest more effort to even begin such a training session, they also need a steady supply of glycogen to endure it and achieve positive results.

One of the strongest arguments as to why the ketogenic diet is inferior to a high-carb diet when it comes to strength training is the fact that carbohydrates boost our supply of stored glycogen while most foods on the menu of ketogenic diet practitioners can’t.

Keto-friendly foods exclude carbs; in other words, having less glycogen at your disposal, you will invariably tire faster. Training regimes that revolve around ‘explosive’ power and a ketogenic diet can go hand in hand. However, pure strength training heavily relies on glycogen and carbohydrates.