Extended Ketogenic Diet and Physical Training Intervention in Military Personnel

Mil Med. 2019 Oct 1;184(9-10):e538-e547. doi: 10.1093/milmed/usz046.


Introduction: Ketogenic diets (KDs) that elevate ketones into a range referred to as nutritional ketosis represent a possible nutrition approach to address the emerging physical readiness and obesity challenge in the military. An emerging body of evidence demonstrates broad-spectrum health benefits attributed to being in nutritional ketosis, but no studies have specifically explored the use of a KD in a military population using daily ketone monitoring to personalize the diet prescription.

Materials and methods: To evaluate the feasibility, metabolic, and performance responses of an extended duration KD, healthy adults (n = 29) from various military branches participated in a supervised 12-wk exercise training program. Fifteen participants self-selected to an ad libitum KD guided by daily measures of capillary blood ketones and 14 continued their normal mixed diet (MD). A battery of tests were performed before and after the intervention to assess changes in body mass, body composition, visceral fat, liver fat, insulin sensitivity, resting energy metabolism, and physical performance.

Results: All KD subjects were in nutritional ketosis during the intervention as assessed by daily capillary beta-hydroxybutyrate (βHB) (mean βHB 1.2 mM reported 97% of all days) and showed higher rates of fat oxidation indicative of keto-adaptation. Despite no instruction regarding caloric intake, the KD group lost 7.7 kg body mass (range -3.5 to -13.6 kg), 5.1% whole-body percent fat (range -0.5 to -9.6%), 43.7% visceral fat (range 3.0 to -66.3%) (all p < 0.001), and had a 48% improvement in insulin sensitivity; there were no changes in the MD group. Adaptations in aerobic capacity, maximal strength, power, and military-specific obstacle course were similar between groups (p > 0.05).

Conclusions: US military personnel demonstrated high adherence to a KD and showed remarkable weight loss and improvements in body composition, including loss of visceral fat, without compromising physical performance adaptations to exercise training. Implementation of a KD represents a credible strategy to enhance overall health and readiness of military service members who could benefit from weight loss and improved body composition.

Keywords: Armed Forces; Body Composition; Keto-adaptation; Low-Carbohydrate; Performance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 3-Hydroxybutyric Acid / analysis
  • 3-Hydroxybutyric Acid / blood
  • Adipose Tissue / physiology
  • Adult
  • Body Composition / physiology
  • Diet, Ketogenic / methods
  • Diet, Ketogenic / standards*
  • Diet, Ketogenic / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Military Personnel / statistics & numerical data*
  • Nutritional Status
  • Ohio
  • Physical Conditioning, Human / methods
  • Physical Conditioning, Human / physiology*
  • Physical Conditioning, Human / statistics & numerical data
  • Physical Fitness / physiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Weight Loss / physiology


  • 3-Hydroxybutyric Acid