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There’s a ton of literature to back up the low-carb approach for endurance athletes, from pioneers such as Phinney and Volk onwards.

With a few exceptions, though (below), most low carb strength performance measurements were largely anecdotal, and athletic performances such as Shawn Baker’s, outspoken proponent of the carnivore diet, have been largely written off by naysayers.

Somewhat Skimpy Research

  • One study showed maintenance in strength and power after short-term (7 days) carbohydrate restriction in resistance training men and women.
  • In resistance training men, increases in strength and power were comparable between an 8-week low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet (LCKD) group and a group consuming a high-carbohydrate, western diet.
  • Strength in elite gymnasts was preserved after a 4-week ketogenic diet.

Collectively, these studies suggest that a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet or LCKD might be useful for reducing body weight without compromising strength and power. Two of the three studies, however, used recreational athletes.

And Then…

Then very specific research was conducted in 2018. While they admittedly used a small sample, I feel that the study was very well designed. (For the record, the low carb ketogenic diet, or LCKD, was defined as less than 50 g of carbohydrate per day, with the usual diet being 250 g or more.)

Intermediate to elite competitive lifting athletes were used, to rule out the “newbie gains” effect. Each athlete consumed each diet during training, in random order, each for 3 months in a crossover design with a 2-week “washout” period. They trained normally, and any athletes’ competitions did not coincide with the baseline, 3-month, or 6-month research testing.

The Conclusion?

The title of their concluding paper says it all: “A Low-Carbohydrate Ketogenic Diet Reduces Body Mass Without Compromising Performance in Powerlifting and Olympic Weightlifting Athletes.”

And the concluding sentence of the abstract is an even bigger zinger: “Coaches and athletes should consider using an LCKD to achieve targeted weight reduction goals for weight class sports.”

My Own Caveat

As always, I should mention that I am not a trained nutritionist. After years of learning about and experimenting with this style of eating, though, I can say: depending on where you’re starting from, the adaptation period (to eating very low carb) can be anything from mildly annoying to what is really nasty, and has been termed by some “the trough of despair.”

Given how many of us are carb addicts (yep, myself included!), adherence is often spotty. It depends heavily on a person’s “why,” and many people have come to this style of eating for reasons other than weight control, ranging from seeking emotional stability to regulating autoimmune disorders.

Food for Thought (Literally)

What are your own experiences with adapting to eating low carb? Did the “trough of despair” feel worth it? Or is this not even on your radar?

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