Low-carbohydrate diets and performance

Curr Sports Med Rep. 2007 Jul;6(4):225-9.


Athletes are continually searching for means to optimize their performance. Within the past 20 years, athletes and scientists have reported or observed that consuming a carbohydrate-restricted diet may improve performance. The original theories explaining the purported benefits centered on the fact that fat oxidation increases, thereby "sparing" muscle glycogen. More recent concepts that explain the plausibility of the ergogenicity of low-carbohydrate, or high-fat, diets on exercise performance pertain to an effect similar to altitude training. We and others have observed that although fat oxidation may be increased, the ability to maintain high-intensity exercise (above the lactate threshold) seems to be compromised or at least indifferent when compared with consumption of more carbohydrate. That said, clinical studies clearly demonstrate that ad libitum low-carbohydrate diets elicit greater decreases in body weight and fat than energy-equivalent low-fat diets, especially over a short duration. Thus, although low-carbohydrate and high-fat diets appear detrimental or indifferent relative to performance, they may be a faster means to achieve a more competitive body composition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diet, Carbohydrate-Restricted / adverse effects*
  • Dietary Fats / adverse effects
  • Exercise Tolerance / physiology
  • Humans
  • Physical Fitness / physiology*
  • Sports / physiology*
  • Weight Loss / physiology


  • Dietary Fats