Since the ketogenic diet became a trend, endurance athletes have experimented with going keto while training and sometimes competing. There are some interesting studies that we will talk about more in a bit, but there is no doubt that “tapping into your body fat for energy” sounds interesting for combat sports athletes like ourselves.
The Basics Behind Keto
The basic intention of the ketogenic diet is simple. Right now, our bodies are accustomed to using glycogen and glucose (aka sugar from carbs) for energy. On the ketogenic diet, the body is deprived of all carbohydrates, while being replaced with a high fat diet. This induces a state in which the body turns to using fats for energy.
Fat for energy?! No brainer, let’s go Keto!
Now this definitely sounds enticing because the body can only hold so much glycogen at once. Using fat instead of carbs as the primary source of fuel translates into a runner having 10 times the amount of energy than they usually would. Now you can see how that can also be advantageous in combat sports. On the 3rd round, when your opponent’s gas tank is almost out, you can still tap into your body fat for more energy, giving you a bigger gas tank.
Well, not so fast.
A study published in the US National Library of Medicine took a group of cyclists and separated them into 2 groups: 1 group did not change their diet, and the other group was put on the ketogenic diet. At the conclusion of the study, the group on the ketogenic diet showed a higher VO2 max on average, but a lower maximum workload.
Now this means that while those cyclists’ “gas tanks” were in fact bigger, their maximum strength had gone down.
This is most likely due to the fact that ATP creation was shunted on a ketogenic diet, meaning that the muscles would not contract as hard. This is a serious issue for combat sports athletes. A runner or cyclist does not need to be strong, but a wrestler or MMA Fighter certainly NEEDS to be explosive, and a strength disadvantage can most certainly mean losing.
So No Go On The Keto?
On a carbohydrate (regular) diet, you would naturally have more strength, but would need to build better cardiovascular endurance. On a keto diet, you may naturally have the endurance, but would need to overcompensate for strength. What would happen if you go keto for most of the camp and then introduce carbohydrates right before an event or fight? No one really knows.
At this time, the data and studies on utilizing the ketogenic diet for combat sports is unavailable, but that does not mean you should not try it out perhaps while you are in a pro-longed off camp. Experiment with adopting a ketogenic diet when there is very little risk involved. Evaluate your performance using specific trackers and come up with your own body-specific conclusions on how the diet works for you.
The one thing we can all be sure of is that every single one of us is different, and all of our bodies will react differently to the same diets. Knowing this, do not be afraid to experiment with your body and try different diets and approaches to nutrition. It is the only way to find out what works best for you
Mina Elias – CEO of MMA Nutrition
Bachelors in Chemical Engineering and Chemistry
Masters in Industrial Engineering.
7 years MMA training and competing.
Incredibly passionate about nutrition and have experimented with keto for a combined 2 years.