Thumbnail avatar

Runner scared of Ketosis... Are you for/against Ketosis?

by 0 · May 25, 2014 at 11:15 AM


I'm wondering about this mythical, magical Ketosis unicorn.

I'm a female collegiate cross country runner. I'm not looking for advice telling me I'm a member of the chronic cardio club and to stop running and exercising so much. Racing is my world.

What I am looking for is advice on this creature of Ketosis. I've never experienced it, always been a little scared. Heard of people really messing themselves up dabbling in these waters. Is that even a possibility? Like, does the age-old adage of good / evil apply to Ketosis? Can I do it wrong?

Basically, since this is my 4th time writing this over again, here’s a terrible nutshell of my background:

Lifelong runner. Kicked my ass back in shape in college to join XC team, got underweight being a vegetarian,also got amenorrhea for 2 years, just recently got the rivers again this January (never been so happy looking in the toilet before) after going paleo for the past 1+ year (while also overeating and not being super strict..) gaining ~30 pounds up to 155lb. for a 5’8/5’9” girl. So I’m now definitely over my racing weight. Besides cutting the crap and being strict paleo, I’ve dabbled with the idea of Ketosis to catalyze weight loss and get back on track. But I’m kind of afraid…

Questions for all you beautiful people:

Anyone out there a real runner (not talking about momma piddlin’ a 4 mile jog) and have experience with Ketosis? Is it… good… or… the Freddy Kruger of paleo? Can you do it wrong? Can I severely mess my body up traveling into the carbonyl cosmos, running on low-carb? Does low-carb + “chronic cardio” type of training = doom?

If I do attempt it, how do I know how many non-carbs to eat? How do I know if I’m eating enough fat? I have IBS and eating lots of fat makes me feel sluggish and heavy when it comes to XC practice time. How do I know if I’ve arrived at carbonyl county? How long does this drag-period I’ve heard so much about last for? So some people never get out of the slump, and if so, how am I supposed to keep training if that happens - I can’t just take a few days off and who knows if I could push through the feeling of damaging my body on low-carb + high exercise.


-Is severe low-carb bad for endurance athletes

-Will this catalyze my weight-loss back to racing weight, or are there better ways?

-Are there potential negatives / permanent damage that can result?

-Will it derail my training? I’m afraid I’ll just be stuck in the “crap phase.”

Thanks everyone for your help. I think that’s all my questions o___o

Total Views

Recent Activity

Last Activity


Get Free Paleo Recipes Instantly

13 Replies

Medium avatar
0 · May 24, 2014 at 05:43 PM

Just through my own personal experience as a paleo runner, I was in ketosis and fasted for 14 hours prior to a 10 mile race and ran it with a greater gain than the past two years. I hurt my knee, which was my fault as I didn't train for the race, but I otherwise faired well. I too was concerned about not having enough glycogen stores to get me through. i found no issues. Again, this is just my own personal experience. I'm sure that if you plan on running longer distances, you may need a bosost of carbs at some point. bring along some honey.

0 · May 10, 2014 at 12:15 AM

-Is severe low-carb bad for endurance athletes: No, as long as you eat enough fat to meet your energy demands.

-Will this catalyze my weight-loss back to racing weight, or are there better ways?: Ketosis is hands down the best method of losing weight besides fasting/starvation.

-Are there potential negatives / permanent damage that can result?: You will never taste sugar quite the same way.

-Will it derail my training? I’m afraid I’ll just be stuck in the “crap phase.”: If you can get over the low carb flu/1 week hump/glycolysis->ketosis shift, you'll feel great.

655 · May 09, 2014 at 05:34 PM

As @MiMintzer points out Peter Attia has tons of info on ketosis & serious athletic pursuits.

Short answer: Dont fear ketosis.

If you REALLY want to learn about athletics & ketosis read Attias work.

To give you background on Attia....

He is an MD (Standford Med, Johns Hopkins residency) BUT he's also an avid / serious athlete.

Due to a back injury he switched to swimming & biking and true to his tendency to 'overdo', he got into open ocean swimming. He's done the SoCal to Catalina Island swim (both way, but different days) and the Maui / Lanai round trip.

Despite be very active in his 30's, he was strong & conditioned but "kinda fat" and his blood work results 'were not great'. He had metabolic syndrome! :( This called into question all he thought he knew about nutrition. He turned his attention to his own diet & started to research and experiment.

His undergrad is in mechanical engineering so he know how to design & execute an experiment. He does tons of self experiments and he shares the results on his person blog.

His his point of view & results mirror the crappy / disorganized self experiments I have done via an eBay blood sugar meter and haphazard data recording.

He diddle his diet over time... even keeping himself in ketosis for quite a while for 'intellectual couriosity'... he has his own equipment so he can easily do is own lab work plus he has the contacts to do VOmax work

He was interested, at first, in fat loss & reducing his CVD risk

A lot of his writing borders on 'geeky', well actually, most of it. If you don't health science, science or engineering background it can be very hard to digest. I have an engineering background but most of the biochem stuff is very hard for me. He also has simple how to obtain 80%+ benefits of a good diet via a few simple changes.

0 · May 09, 2014 at 08:16 AM

So, first, yes you have been in ketosis many times. You just didn't know it. Here is how to get into ketosis fast. Wake up and take two tablespoons of MCT Oil. Don't eat anything but fats and moderate protein. 15% protein. The goal is to keep sugar after the meal low. You have to keep protein strictly controlled because excess protein converts to glucose. Go for a short training session. Come back and have another two tablespoons of MCT. Measure with a ketone meter and not ketone urine strips before and after the training session, and then an hour after the MCT that you have after the training session. Ketones before you train are probably around 0.2. After you get back from the run, ketones will probably be around 0.6 to 0.9. Your body will already be converting over to fat burning. An hour after the MCT oil after the run, Ketones will be climbing north of 1.5. You will be deep in ketosis.

Ketosis feels great. Nothing bad about ketosis, perse.

Ketosis will reward the long distance runner by optimizing you to burn fat and freeing you from a need to constantly replenish glucose. But it would be a poor state for distances up to a mile or so. Sprinters definitely live on glycogen, never fat.

The problem isn't ketosis. The problem is ketogenic diets as a permanent and long-term state. Having been turned into a virtual invalid by ultra-low-carb, I am coming to realize that these are technically very difficult diets to implement. They require professional supervision and coaching, and the truth is there are almost no resources available. One doctor in 500 might have enough experience with Ketosis to be helpful.

Some of the main problems with long-term ketosis:

1) It can mess up your electrolytes, and managing the electrolytes can be non trivial. Standard advice in the blogosphere is to supplement five grams of sodium per day. For me that was just bad advice and had side effects. I think it is very much an individual thing, can change day to day, and requires you to have someone who is very good at reading your electrolyte panels to advise you. Too much sodium is as dangerous as too little. There are four key electrolytes that must stay in balance, and doing that while taking in large amounts of sodium isn't something that a lay person should be doing on their own (in my opinion).

2) Even when my electrolytes and hydration test as normal, I feel enormous thirst, have unbearable fatigue, and sometimes moderate exercise will cause me to have abnormal breathing patterns. All of this happens while my electrolytes are in balance. The other day after moderate exercise, I lost four pounds of weight overnight without ever making a trip to the bathroom. Effectively I lost two liters of water through my breathing in nine hours!!! And before and after that whole process I test on blood chemistry panels as not dehydrated.

So - for some of us - we have very serious and very very nasty side effects. This doesn't happen to everyone. But read around and it is clear it is happening to a lot of people who try these diets. I have been trying to pull out of this downward spiral for *MONTHS* and I am at the point where I am going to just start adding carbs north of 100 grams per day until I get back to some kind of normality.

There is a class of person for whom low carb or ketogenic diets are fantastic. If you are 400 pounds and have huge amounts of excess retained body fluid, the diuretic effects of the ketogenic diet are a miracle. No doubt it will suppress your appetite, lower your blood sugar, make you lose weight, and make you feel better as well. For the rest of us, it is trickier.

So here is my advice to you: rather than converting over to a ketogenic diet permanently, instead try to become an expert in putting yourself into ketosis, learning to MEASURE this state with a keton meter, and experiment for four to six hour periods with staying in that state and training in that state. Then for the rest of the day go back to a moderate carb diet, 120 to 150 grams of carbs should be pretty safe. That will drop you out of ketosis rapidly, but I think the goal for you should be to learn how to quickly get into ketosis and to train in ketosis. If you like the results, then you can start to compete in ketosis as well. I don't think you have to endure the hardship of a ketogenic diet in order to learn about ketosis.

5179 · May 08, 2014 at 09:21 PM

Not a runner but Peter Attia over at The Eating Academy has loads of info on nutritional ketosis.

5179 · May 08, 2014 at 09:21 PM

Not a runner but Peter Attia over at The Eating Academy has loads of info on nutritional ketosis.

0 · May 08, 2014 at 07:42 PM

Follow up on your specific questions:

-Is severe low-carb bad for endurance athletes - no, but you need to transition to that status, you cannot cold-turkey to a low-carb endurance athlete

-Will this catalyze my weight-loss back to racing weight, or are there better ways? -yes, you will drop serious weight from ketosis and metabolize a lot of fat, but you must slowly come back out of it and stay off the simple carbs or you will gain it back

-Are there potential negatives / permanent damage that can result? Don't stay in it too long and don't do it too often, and no. If that were the case, any human who was lost without food for 10 days would die, and they don't (watch Survivor Man, he's in ketosis by the end of 7 days with protein only)

-Will it derail my training? I’m afraid I’ll just be stuck in the “crap phase.” Yes, you will not train well during ketosis, but after you reset your body, you will feel great - assuming you keep to clean, complex carbs at a low amount, based off your training (add more for big


0 · May 08, 2014 at 07:31 PM

I've been in ketosis a handful of times - on my own choice (non-diabetic). I do know about ketosis as I have my Biology degree, live with a type-1 diabetic, and have my EMT license.

I love a carb-restricted diet, and I have gone down to ketosis and maintained it for 5 to 8 days. I am an avid runner, crossfit, and coach my local paddling club (racing canoes).

You will not make performance gains while in ketosis. In fact, you will like run 1/3 your distance before wanting to pass out - you need to keep emergency carbs on you (I would use coconut water if track running or at the gym, but take Gatorade out in my boat in case I'm miles away from safety). That is a backup in case you are too lightheaded to walk back and you need to drive after practice. You do not want to stay in ketosis, you want to slowly come out by adding clean carbs (complex, non-gluten based) to your diet. How much you add depends on your exercise routine.

I use ketosis as a way to reset my body and my carb digestion - and to really burn my fat off and lean out. Leaning out increases my athletic performance, not training while in ketosis (as you can't train nearly as hard). I also have family (genetic) digestion problems and cutting carbs to less than 20g a day really helps my stomach issues.

If you hit ketosis and stay for a time, but go back to your old carb-heavy diet, you will gain even more weight than when you started as your body thinks you are starving.

You will not die from ketosis (you'll pass out go to the ER first), but you do not want to say in ketosis or go to it often - think if it as a body reset. If you are in it and worried, eat an apple and your out.

That all said, I landed my PR on a 6 mile course 1 day out if a ketosis reset - keep in mind my carbs were good clean, complex carbs (fiber like sweet potatoes and carrots). I did keep Gatorade on hand in case I felt dizzy but did not need it. I have not been to ketosis since 2011, and have not matched that time since, and we so the same course.

Read up on Atkins induction to understand more on ketosis, but do not use their route (heavy cheeses, dairy, and chemical bars).

Above all, listen to your body.

26083 · May 08, 2014 at 03:19 PM

Quick answer, you can go lowish carb (75-90g/day) during the off season, this can help make muscle adapatations to burning fat *more* quickly. But during the season you need to carb up before and after runs. Fat cannot be utilized quickly enough to fuel your energy needs.

BTW, Former D1 runner, Former High School XC and Distance Coach

Medium avatar
10067 · May 08, 2014 at 10:55 AM

I've never tested for ketones but I used to test blood glucose all the time. When I was heavily restricting carbs, I remember being out cc skiing hard and going hypoglycemic - a dizzy, faint, weak feeling. I stopped, rested and slowly trudged back home. It could have been due to underfeeding rather than ketosis but it wasn't exactly optimal for athletic performance.

Subaerobic exercise is effective for fat metabolism, so a heavy fat diet would not affect performance for light activity burning 200-300 cals per hour. Aerobic exercise is preferentially fueled by glucose/glycogen over fat. Long distance runners (10-20K) I knew in college would carbo load the night before a race to increase their glycogen stores and improve their performance. Spaghetti, ice cream, chocolate milk. You could do this with paleo carbs but it wouldn't keep you in ketosis.

519 · May 08, 2014 at 07:59 AM

"I have IBS and eating lots of fat makes me feel sluggish and heavy when it comes to XC practice time."'

Maybe that's your answer right there.

Answer Question

Login to Your PaleoHacks Account