Most distance runners are taught that carbs are an essential part of a training plan. They fuel your energy levels and give you long-burning sustainment while you’re running for hours. But new health trend called the ketogenic diet plan has taken the fitness world by storm, and the runner/health nut in me became curious. The ketogenic diet plan prescribes to a low carb, high healthy fat diet where as much as 70% of your daily intake is made up of fats. Although my runner mentality had me thinking that I needed to carb-load before all my long runs, I couldn’t ignore the anecdotal evidence presented by those who have done – and stuck to – the ketogenic diet plan. People were describing less bloat, higher energy levels, better sleep, and clearer minds. So I decided to put all my traditional thoughts on food to the side to try the ketogenic diet plan aside and to see how it fared during my training season.
What is Ketogenic?
The ketogenic diet plan requires you to track your foods, but not for their calories. Rather, you are tracking how much fat, how many carbs, and how much protein you eat during the day, striving for an overall ratio of about 70% fats- 20% protein- 10% carbs. Your actual net grams of each category depends on your current weight, your current level of activity, and your goal (i.e., to lose weight, to maintain weight, to build muscle, etc). Once you have calculated that, which you can do here, you will begin tracking your daily intake of foods. Many people use an app like MyFitnessPal to help them track, but many say that within 6 months of doing the ketogenic diet plan that they no longer need to use the app – they know which foods contain what amount of net grams.
Use this calculator to figure out your net grams for the ketogenic diet.
To find out how to configure your MyFitnessPal for the ketogenic diet, click here
The goal of the ketogenic diet plan is to get your body in a state of ketosis. Ketosis is a metabolic process in which your body begins to use stored fat when it does not have carbohydrates to use for energy. The body then begins to make ketones from that stored fat, which puts your body in a state of ketosis. That is why the ketogenic diet plan is so popular with those who want to lose weight. Having the perfect ketogenic meal plan is key. But it is also becoming more and more popular among long distance runners.
Many ultra marathoners and elite athletes have turned to a low-carb-high-fat diet (LCHF) which is just another name for the ketogenic diet plan. The thought is that since the body is able to store more fats versus carbohydrates, a LCHF or ketogenic diet will allow you to run longer and run faster. More fat in your diet gives more for your body to choose from as it is using those stored fats for energy. Runners have found that they run faster and better when they go on a LCHF diet during the training seasons. But is it good for you in the long run?
Many experts agree that a healthy and balanced diet is the one that you should follow. Fad diets, even ones like the ketogenic diet plan, aren’t ones that people often stick to long term. Even elite athletes will go back to balanced diets during the off-season. Long term risks of diets that are high in fat and low in carbs can cause issues with your body producing glycogen and it can dehydrate you. It lowers your magnesium and potassium levels significantly as well. However, some significant benefits have been found for people with epilepsy and seizure disorders. It’s always best to talk with your doctor about what is the right thing for you as everyone’s bodies and genetic histories are different.
The Ketogenic Diet Plan and Me
I started the ketogenic diet plan about two weeks into my marathon training. My long runs were only 7-10 miles at this point so I figured it was a good place to start before things got too intense. It was easier for me than I thought it would be to give up most fruits and veggies. Breads weren’t a problem either, but sugar was (and still is) my nemesis. But I stuck it to it and hit a state of ketosis within four days.
Depending on your own body, you will hit a state of ketosis in about 3 to 4 days. You will begin to see a significant drop in weight shortly there after. This was the case with me, as I quickly fell into what they call “the keto flu.” The keto flu often happens to people within a week of going onto the ketogenic diet plan, but it was much worse than I expected. For a full day I was weak, exhausted, and I could barely think. I was severely dehydrated, my sodium levels were dangerously low, and even walking to and from the bathroom had me feeling woozy.
After Hitting Ketosis:
After I had my keto flu I noticed significant changes in my body, both while running and not. In terms of my personal health:
- My mind was clearer.
- I was sleeping better. I was able to wake up early feeling rested, and I wasn’t hitting that afternoon slump that usually had me going for a handful of chocolate chips and/or a second coffee.
- I was happier. My kids were happier. I felt excited to play with them throughout the day instead of feeling like they were invading my space.
- I felt fuller and didn’t feel the constant need to snack throughout the day. I lost weight (about 7lbs in a little over a week) and my belly was no longer distended.
In terms of my marathon training:
- I hadn’t run more than 7 miles since March 2017. After my first, post-keto flu 10-miler all my long runs were easier and more fluid.
- I was able to run 10 miles with a double stroller filled with two kids and all their stuff. I have never gone more than 7, and they were significantly smaller then.
- Runs up to 12 miles I don’t need fuel.
- My run times went from 9:50 mm to 9:06 mm within 3 weeks.
- I fell off the wagon around my daughter’s birthday. Cupcakes and treats and donuts. I immediately felt tired, worn down, and short tempered. My long run that week was 18 miles and I almost didn’t finish.
- Two weeks later, after being back on the ketogenic diet plan again, I did a 20 mile run. Although exhausting, the run was easier, I was happier, and recovery was faster than it was after my 18-miler.
I can’t say for certain that all of my changes – both physical and mental – are 100% attributed to doing the ketogenic diet plan during my marathon training, but I can tell you that I notice a significant difference in my body and my running when I am on a LCHF diet versus a typical balanced diet.
The Best Keto Recipes
When people start exploring the ketogenic diet plan they often feel overwhelmed with what to eat for meals. Once you break the mindset of all fruits and veggies being “good” it’s much easier to stick to the ketogenic diet plan. There are many things you can eat that are big no-nos in other diet plans, so many times people new to keto feel like their breaking the rules when they have something like bacon and avocado for a snack. Here is a list of things you can and cannot eat (or have to limit) while on the ketogenic diet plan:
Add: Bone Broth
One of my staples throughout my marathon training and ketogenic diet plan was Bone Broth Protein by Sports Research. This protein supplement can easily be added to several recipes giving me several options to up my protein, give me a boost of potassium, be quick to serve, and it’s keto-friendly. Bone broth is highly touted as the perfect all-around nutrient for runners because of collagen found within it. Collagen, which comes from the bones, can help decrease inflammation and also has the nutrients a runner needs to recover like calcium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorous.
Bone broth is a wonderful post-run recovery drink, but it can be time consuming to make. Bone broth protein like the one from Sports Research is perfect for someone who wants the benefits of bone broth but needs the convenience of being able to use quickly and in several different ways. Bone Broth Protein by Sports Research comes in three natural flavors, too – chocolate, vanilla, and original – giving you the option to include bone broth in several different recipes instead of just drinking it straight or in a soup.
There are several options for your first meal of the day, and you don’t have to shy away from your favorites like pancakes, waffles, or cinnamon rolls. A simple swap of all-purpose for almond or coconut flour can make a huge difference in your carb in-take, making your classic breakfast meals keto-friendly like this one below:
Coconut Flour Pancakes
- 4 eggs
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- 3 tablespoons coconut oil (liquified)
- 1/4 cup coconut flour
- 1 scoop of vanilla Bone Broth Protein Powder by Sports Research
- 1 tablespoon of coconut sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder
Heat pan or griddle with coconut oil. Mix all dry ingredients in one bowl and all wet ingredients in another. When mixed throughly, combine all dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Mix throughly. Place 1/3 cup of the batter onto the hot griddle or pan and cook throughly on each side, about 2-3 minutes each. Serve with heavy whipped cream and berries.
Here are some other keto-friendly breakfast ideas:
- Morning smoothie with Chocolate Bone Broth Protein Powder
- Egg whites with cheese and 1/2 (or let’s be real- a whole) avocado
- Ham, egg, and cheese on a keto bagel
Or you can add Sports Research MCT Oils to your morning coffee to give you a boost before you start your day.
It can be surprisingly easy to grab a quick lunch while maintaining your macros. Here are a few simple lunches that can be whipped up easily, taken to work, or prepped for a week at home, including this recipe for Bone Broth Protein soup:
Bone Broth Protein soup
- 1 scoop of Original Bone Broth Protein Powder by Sports Research
- 1 can of chicken broth or vegetable broth (preferable organic)
- 1/2 to 1 cup of water (optional)
- 1 cup of chopped cooked chicken
- 1 cup of chopped keto-friendly veggies like celery, squash, zucchini, and onions
Combine all ingredients in a pot. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
Here are a few other keto-friendly lunch ideas for your week:
- Bun-less burger with lettuce, tomato, and cheese with a side salad (spinach preferably) and olive oil dressing
- Chicken salad lettuce wraps with berry fruit salad
- Caprese salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing
Dinner is a great way to experiment with your ketogenic diet plan. Here are a list of keto-friendly dinners that the whole family will enjoy, including this recipe for a ketogenic hamburger bake:
Ketogenic Hamburger Bake
- 1 lb of ground beef (93% lean or higher; preferably grass-fed)
- 2 eggs
- 12 oz of bacon, diced
- 2 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 onion, diced
- Garlic powder, salt, and pepper to taste
Mix together the ground beef and the eggs until combined. Add the onions and seasonings, and continue to mix until combined. Place in a glass or dark coated dish coated with coconut oil. Add bacon on top. Bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes. Sprinkle cheese on top. Bake for another 5-10 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving. Serve with sautéed squash and zucchini and sweet potatoes.
Here are a few other keto-friendly dinners for everyone in the family:
- Zoodles with meat sauce
- Whole chicken served with roasted brussel sprouts and sweet potatoes
- Chicken fried “rice” made with riced cauliflower
One of the most important aspects of training for a marathon, outside of the actual running, is your food intake. The fuel you intake the day before your run and the few hours after your run are crucial to recovery times. Bone Broth Protein Powder by Sports Research is a perfect supplement to your recovery drinks. Ditch the sugar-filled sports drinks and grab one of these recovery drinks instead to help increase collagen levels, potassium levels, and magnesium levels thereby rebuilding your muscles and shortening your recovery time.
Chocolate Butter Protein Shake
Mix together one scoop of Chocolate Bone Broth Protein Powder with 1 tablespoon of almond butter and a cup of mixed berries (strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries) in a blender. Add almond or coconut milk and 1 cup of ice to the blender. Blend until smooth.
Berry Protein Shake
Mix together one scoop of Vanilla Bone Broth Protein Powder with 1 cup of frozen blueberries and 1/2 cup of your choice of berries like blackberries or raspberries. Add spinach, flax, or chia seeds (optional). Add almond or coconut milk to the blender. Blend until smooth.
Vanilla Bone Broth Protein Tea
Boil 12oz to 16oz cup of water or coconut water. Seep a bag of green tea. Add one scoop of Vanilla Bone Broth Protein Powder. Mix well.
Bone Broth Protein Flavored Water
Boil 12oz to 16oz cup of water or coconut water. Add the juice of 1 lemon. Add one scoop of Original Bone Broth Protein Powder. Optional: Leave chilled or serve over ice instead with either plain or naturally flavored sparkling water.
Bullet Proof Coffee
Brew coffee as usual. Add one tablespoon of coconut oil, one tablespoon of grass-fed butter, and one scoop of Vanilla or Chocolate Bone Broth Protein Powder. Blend well in blender. Drink immediately.
EXPLORE AND CONNECT
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I never really found myself missing carbs throughout my marathon training while on the ketogenic diet plan. Of course there were times were a bagel seemed easier to grab before heading out for a run versus making egg whites. But all in all I noticed a significant change in my body and my running. Being able to recover with the Bone Broth Protein Powder from Sports Research gave me enough variety in my diet that I didn’t feel like I was missing out, and I knew I was getting all the necessary nutrients I needed to recover better and faster. However, the ketogenic diet plan isn’t for everyone. It can be hard to stick to for the long term, and there is little research on the long-term effects on one’s body. But for a few months of marathon training it seemed to be worth it.
Photo Credit: Lauren Lomsdale Photography