Background: Low-carbohydrate diets have recently grown in popularity among endurance athletes, yet little is known about the long-term (>4wk) performance implications of consuming a low-carbohydrate high fat ketogenic diet (LCKD) in well-trained athletes.
Methods: Twenty male endurance-trained athletes (age 33±11y, body mass 80±11kg; BMI 24.7±3.1kg/m2) who habitually consumed a carbohydrate-based diet, self-selected into a high-carbohydrate (HC) group (n=11, %carbohydrate:protein:fat=65:14:20), or a LCKD group (n=9, 6:17:77). Both groups performed the same training intervention (endurance, strength and high intensity interval training (HIIT)). Prior to and following successful completion of 12-weeks of diet and training, participants had their body composition assessed, and completed a 100km time trial (TT), six second (SS) sprint, and a critical power test (CPT). During post-intervention testing the HC group consumed 30-60g/h carbohydrate, whereas the LCKD group consumed water, and electrolytes.
Results: The LCKD group experienced a significantly greater decrease in body mass (HC -0.8kg, LCKD -5.9kg; P=0.006, effect size (ES): 0.338) and percentage body fat percentage (HC -0.7%, LCKD -5.2%; P=0.008, ES: 0.346). Fasting serum beta-hydroxybutyrate (βHB) significantly increased from 0.1 at baseline to 0.5mmol/L in the LCKD group (P=0.011, ES: 0.403) in week 12. There was no significant change in performance of the 100km TT between groups (HC -1.13min·s, LCKD -4.07min·s, P=0.057, ES: 0.196). SS sprint peak power increased by 0.8 watts per kilogram bodyweight (w/kg) in the LCKD group, versus a -0.1w/kg reduction in the HC group (P=0.025, ES: 0.263). CPT peak power decreased by -0.7w/kg in the HC group, and increased by 1.4w/kg in the LCKD group (P=0.047, ES: 0.212). Fat oxidation in the LCKD group was significantly greater throughout the 100km TT.
Conclusions: Compared to a HC comparison group, a 12-week period of keto-adaptation and exercise training, enhanced body composition, fat oxidation during exercise, and specific measures of performance relevant to competitive endurance athletes.
Keywords: Body composition; Endurance; High-carbohydrate; Ketogenic; Performance.
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