Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Ketogenic Diet In A Top Endurance Athlete

N=1. This is from Mike Morton's website. Read the whole thing, but I've excerpted the interesting (to me) bit below. (If you read this, Sgt. Morton, please add an RSS feed!):
"...Something that I have been getting questions on is the ketogenic diet. The questions are from one end of the spectrum to the other. Some general health to performance issues while in ketosis. I’m convinced that the diet is perfect for my athletic aspirations. Recovery is improved and I feel a level energy curve. I don’t ever “bonk” during races or training and my mental clarity is better. During Western States I consumed maybe 1200 calories through Coke, a couple gels, hard candy and food at aid stations. During races I don’t worry about consuming carbs; it is part of the “strategic carb use” of the diet. Peter Defty who helped me out with switching is the master mind behind what I’m doing. He has a lot of good info on his VESPA website. I use VESPA and I feel it is a big help, I take a concentrate every two hours during a race. Peter is very sincere about the diet from a health stand point but he sees great potential in endurance sports for a ketogenic diet.

"Another common question revolves around cholesterol and the effects of eating “all that fat”. I’m not a scientific guy so I trusted Peter and his accomplices when they told me if I was strict with eating low carb my cholesterol would go down. After years of eating a high carb, whole grain “healthy” diet I was scared to eat meat and cheese again! After nine months of eating bacon and eggs for breakfast, hard salami and cheese for lunch and a rib eye or porter house for dinner the blood tests are in!

"When I went in to finish my physical and go over my labs the first thing out of the doc’s mouth was “I’ve don’t see results like this often.” Part of her reaction was because of the heart rate being at 40 BPM but the cholesterol was not typical for a 41 year old soldier.

  • My good cholesterol (HDL) went from 43 to 89 MG/DL. The “normal” range is 35-55.
  • My bad cholesterol (triglyceride) went from 77 to 51 MG/DL. The “normal” range is 0-150.

"My cholesterol count was down from 184 to 174 MG/DL. Less than 200 is desirable.

"Another interesting experience I had was using getting a body scan to determine body fat and lean muscle mass of the body.

"I had a dexa scan a couple of weeks after winning the World 24 Hour Championship in Poland last year. This was after a nine month training block averaging about 140 miles per week on a high carb low fat diet. The results were:

  • 14.2% of my tissue was fat
  • Total mass was 126.9 pounds
  • 103.49 pounds of lean mass
  • 17.14 pounds of fat
  • 6.26 pounds of bone mass

"(Keep in mind this is measuring ALL the fat in the body to include organs and the Brain) [Moved this from above to make the list more readable -Tuck] At the end of March after three months of eating a ketogenic diet I repeated the scan. This scan took place after five weeks of ZERO running due to a torn tendon. I didn’t do any cross training either. I took advantage of the time and built a dog kennel/future chicken coup/ future horse stall. The results of the scan were:

  • 11.3% of my tissue was fat
  • Total mass was 124.4 pounds
  • 104.98 pounds of lean mass
  • 13.61 pounds of fat
  • 6.26 pounds of bone mass

"After five weeks of ZERO exercise I lost almost 3% of total fat mass and GAINED lean muscle mass. The human performance staff was amazed at this. 3% body fat loss in someone less than 130 pounds is a really big number.

"The Bottom line is the diet works for me in training, life and racing and so far the “side effects” are all positive…other than not being able to eat a jar of nutella. Again I feel compelled to state I know that no one diet works for everyone. I just want to share my experience with a ketogenic diet."
A few thoughts:
  1. We can put the notion that a ketogenic diet causes the body to cannibalize muscle to bed. There's no evidence for it, but, like a zombie, it keeps coming back.
  2. HDL going up and Triglycerides going down is what happens when you switch from a high-carb/low-fat diet to a low-carb/high-fat diet. This also happens to mean that one of the primary cardiovascular disease risk factors improves. That's a nice bonus, and one which I covered in this post. (As an aside, Morton says "My bad cholesterol (triglyceride)..." LDL, not triglycerides, are what is known as "bad cholesterol". He doesn't mention his LDL levels, but they must be low.)
  3. "Less than 200 is desirable." This is only correct from the perspective of the companies selling statin drugs. In epidemiologic terms, total cholesterol lower then 200 is where the risk profile starts rising again. If I had Morton's cholesterol numbers (especially the low LDL), and had spent as much time as he has in primitive conditions, I'd be worried about parasites being the cause of my low cholesterol numbers.
As a reminder, Morton's the current Masters' record-holder at the Western States 100-mile foot race.

I think we can safely say the ketogenic diet is, at worst, a reasonable option for an endurance athlete looking for top performance.

(Morton's post via Prof. Noakes on Twitter.)