If you are a student who is a part of the fitness community or someone who looks at health tips and recipes online, chances are the words “keto” or “ketogenic” have popped up on your screen. For a lot of people, the keto diet introduces several new concepts and terms that can be confusing at first. Luckily for you, I have done my research and am here to help. The ketogenic diet has taken the health world by storm and people all around the globe are trying it. This diet is described as a low carbohydrate, moderate protein, and high healthy fat diet. The name comes from the bodily process of ketogenesis, in which ketones are released into the body to metabolize fats.
A macronutrient is a food substance, such as a carbohydrate or protein, that is consumed in large quantities in the food we eat. Tracking and counting macronutrients allows one to see how much of each food group they are consuming. The goal of the keto diet is to eat more healthy fats than protein and carbohydrates combined, resulting in a macronutrient ratio of around 75:20:5.
According to Prevention.com, “Ketones are the result of the body burning fat for energy or fuel.” Ketones are compounds produced in the human body when glucose is not used for energy. Typically, our bodies run off of sugar and carbohydrates, which is how we fuel ourselves for the day. But, when the consumption of those substances is so low that we burn through them, the body uses protein and then fat. Breaking down fat as energy causes the body to produce ketones.
Supporters of the diet claim to experience weight loss, longer sustained energy, and better brain performance. Breaking down fat macronutrients for fuel also means body fat would be burned as well, causing one to lose fat and eventually lose weight. Fat also takes longer to burn through, meaning more energy, and better mental performance.
Before jumping on the bandwagon and going carbohydrate-free, high school students should be aware of the side effects of the ketogenic diet. When first entering Ketogenesis, it is common to have headaches or dizziness from low blood sugar. Sleep can also be affected due to low insulin, leaving teenagers with less sleep than they already have. Worst of all is the inevitable “ketosis flu”. This sensation replicates symptoms of the flu like headaches, body aches, and fogginess. It typically lasts 2-3 days, starting when the body is transitioning to ketogenic, but discourages some from continuing the eating pattern. These symptoms would severely affect academic performance and overall well-being in students, and high school students have already been hit hard from the flu this season.
What does all this mean for student athletes? For decades we have all been told that people performing high levels of sports or training should eat a high-carb diet in order to maintain energy and reduce fatigue. In fact, many marathon runners load up on carbs 1-2 days before the big race, eating foods like pasta and bread. Author Gretchen Reynolds asked Dr. Louise Burke about high-fat athletic performance. Burke states,
It turns out that for high-intensity sports, a ketogenic diet may not be beneficial at all, as athletes need quicker access to energy rather than having to break down. However, that does not concern students not involved in athletics. Someone who does not need the immediate energy and endurance that some high-intensity sports offer could benefit from this way of eating. With a chance to have better brain performance and losing weight, it sounds like a good deal. The decision is up to you whether you want to make the switch, but consider the pros and cons before you decide to try the ketogenic diet. The best option is to consult a doctor or medical professional to discuss if this eating plan would be best for you.