Mile 23: Why I’m Never Going Keto
If you need some context for the race and some fodder for making fun of me (beyond what I routinely provide you with), have a look.
Now that we have put that behind us, let’s talk.
So – let me start by saying that discussing eating habits is taken about as personally as grandiose statements about politics or religion, but I am walking into this hornet’s nest defiantly. Why? Because there is so much hating on carbohydrates in mainstream media lately and I am advocating for them to remain at the table for endurance athletes.
Backing up: A ketogenic diet (keto) is a very low-carb diet, which turns the body into a fat-burning machine. The “keto” in a ketogenic diet comes from the fact that it makes the body produce small fuel molecules called “ketones”.This is an alternative fuel for the body, used when blood sugar (glucose) is in short supply which would present as a huge benefit for endurance athletes.
So what exactly do you eat? The answer is very few carbs (less than 50 grams) and a LOT of fat (50-70% of calories coming from this). A big part of keto is intermittent fasting.
So what is my hang up with this?
Well, being that I am not a biochemist so I am not getting into the weeds on the science behind rebuting it. I could regurgitate a lot of information I found on the internet and science journals, conversations I have had with my sports nutritionist or conversations I have had with my friend who represents Canada as an athlete AND is a biochemist, but I am not going to do that. Everything I can throw out there can be rebutted by another study somewhere, as is the case for all nutrition research.
The main reason why I will never eat a keto diet or anything remotely resembling keto is because of mental health. It is an extreme and obsessive diet. I am starting to see a lot of fasting, carb restriction and overall just calorie restriction among fellow athletes and it is a bit alarming for me.
Our body favours burning glycogen for fuel (which is achieved most quickly from eating carbohydrates) so there is a long process required where you are training your body to burn fat for fuel involving tracking macros, monitoring blood glucose, and testing ketone levels. If you mess up, (to my understanding and research), you jump back to square one. So it is a very long and laborious cycle. An example of an athlete that has tried this can be seen here. Consider the level of analysis, detail and time involved because it can be done very, very wrong.
This means a life where you cannot have birthday cake on your birthday. Travelling the world without being able to actually fully immerse yourself in the cuisine. And most likely dreading social events involving eating because you have a diet that is almost entirely different from the rest of the world.
To eat keto means obsessively tracking your macronutrients and in a world that is already pretty obsessive about foods, I just don’t want to fill my mental space with something as natural and simple as what I eat every day. Not only that, I think that sometimes tracking something obsessively can actually lead to disordered eating which is an entirely different rabbit hole.
What I am NOT saying is that you can just go out and eat cake, pizza and bread for every meal. Most of my carbohydrates do come from things like starchy vegetables, whole grains and seeds like quinoa or fruit but I absolutely run a Pancake Mile every year or so and eat fresh bread and pizza and whatever else my loved ones are participating in. Because I think there is undeniable evidence out there that a lower calorie diet and intermittent fasting contributes to longevity, but so does a life with lower stress and general happiness. See my point? If you want to eat keto, that is TOTALLY your prerogative, but I will be over here having a party with my quinoa and sometimes cake and we can agree to disagree.