Impact of a 6-week non-energy-restricted ketogenic diet on physical fitness, body composition and biochemical parameters in healthy adults

Nutr Metab (Lond). 2017 Feb 20;14:17. doi: 10.1186/s12986-017-0175-5. eCollection 2017.


Background: The ketogenic diet (KD) is a very low-carbohydrate, high-fat and adequate-protein diet that without limiting calories induces different metabolic adaptations, eg, increased levels of circulating ketone bodies and a shift to lipid metabolism. Our objective was to assess the impact of a 6-week non-energy-restricted KD in healthy adults beyond cohorts of athletes on physical performance, body composition, and blood parameters.

Methods: Our single arm, before-and-after comparison study consisted of a 6-week KD with a previous preparation period including detailed instructions during classes and individual counselling by a dietitian. Compliance with the dietary regimen was monitored by measuring urinary ketones daily, and 7-day food records. All tests were performed after an overnight fast: cardiopulmonary exercise testing via cycle sprioergometry, blood samples, body composition, indirect calorimetry, handgrip strength, and questionnaires addressing complaints and physical sensations.

Results: Forty-two subjects aged 37 ± 12 years with a BMI of 23.9 ± 3.1 kg/m2 completed the study. Urinary ketosis was detectable on 97% of the days, revealing very good compliance with the KD. Mean energy intake during the study did not change from the habitual diet and 71.6, 20.9, and 7.7% of total energy intake were from fat, protein, and carbohydrates, respectively. Weight loss was -2.0 ± 1.9 kg (P < 0.001) with equal losses of fat-free and fat mass. VO2peak and peak power decreased from 2.55 ± 0.68 l/min to 2.49 ± 0.69 l/min by 2.4% (P = 0.023) and from 241 ± 57 W to 231 ± 57 W by 4.1% (P < 0.001), respectively, whereas, handgrip strength rose slightly from 40.1 ± 8.8 to 41.0 ± 9.1 kg by 2.5% (P = 0.047). The blood lipids TG and HDL-C remained unchanged, whereas total cholesterol and LDL-C increased significantly by 4.7 and 10.7%, respectively. Glucose, insulin, and IGF-1 dropped significantly by 3.0, 22.2 and 20.2%, respectively.

Conclusions: We detected a mildly negative impact from this 6-week non-energy-restricted KD on physical performance (endurance capacity, peak power and faster exhaustion). Our findings lead us to assume that a KD does not impact physical fitness in a clinically relevant manner that would impair activities of daily living and aerobic training. However, a KD may be a matter of concern in competitive athletes.

Trial registration: DRKS00009605, registered 08 January 2016.

Keywords: Blood lipids; Body composition; Cardiopulmonary exercise testing; Endurance capacity; Ketogenic diet; Low carbohydrate; Non-energy-restricted diet; Physical performance; Strength.