Proper Recovery on a Low Carb Diet for Performance and Tactical Athletes
Chris, I want to try a low carb diet but I train very hard, and I am afraid of how it will affect my recovery. How can I recover properly on a ketogenic diet?
Awesome question, and something you should be very concerned about!
When it comes to athletic performance, recovery from hard training is vital, especially to those who are preparing for competitions and events.
The biggest thing to understand about recovery, whether you are on a ketogenic diet or not, is that it begins long before your training session starts. You need to ensure that your body has all of the elements it needs to initiate the recovery process prior to beginning your training session. The easy part actually comes after the training session when you are simply replenishing nutrients that you lost during the workout.
So let’s get into some of the vital pieces of the puzzle and into some of the pitfalls that people find themselves in that could seriously inhibit the recovery process.
Tip #1 Stay Hydrated
It’s funny because so many people are quick to jump to amino acids, protein powders, and carbohydrate drinks, but they neglect one of the most vital elements to their recovery: adequate hydration.
Sub par hydration can lead to massive decreases in performance, digestive problems, adrenal burnout, and poor muscle recovery faster than you can say Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal-Axis. This is especially true on low-carbohydrate diets because the lack of carbs can also cause the kidneys to release water, depleting your body of valuable minerals and life giving fluids.
In fact, the biggest reason why people experience problems on the keto diet usually isn’t due to lack of adherence. It’s due to feeling like crap because of poor hydration!
Here’s some tips on staying hydrated:
- Aim for at least half your bodyweight in fluid ounces plus an additional 10 ounces minimum.
- Keep water around you at all times. You will drink more of it if you have access to it.
- If you don’t like the taste of water, try flavoring it with some lemon and liquid stevia.
- Water should be the first thing you put into your body when you wake up! When you sleep you lose lots of water. Drinking first thing in the morning will help you to release toxins by inducing a bowel movement and activating your kidneys.
Here’s my morning hydration protocol:
- Upon wake up drink 2 glasses of water each with two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, a squeeze of lemon juice, and 1/2 tablespoon of himalayan pink salt.
- The apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid that will help to break down food particles left in your digestive tract. It also helps to move any glucose that is in your blood stream into your muscles to give you more energy for your workout!
- The himalayan salt is loaded with electrolytes which is the other vital piece of the recovery puzzle that I will cover in tip #2!
Tip #2: Keep an adequate intake of electrolytes!
Salt has been demonized over the past few decades as a dealer if high blood pressure. But this is actually not true at all, as this piece of research demonstrates.
In fact, you’re probably not getting enough salt in your diet, especially if you are following a low carb regimen! But you don’t want to just go with iodized table salt. That salt has been stripped of it’s nutrients and loaded with iodine and other harmful compounds that can toxify your body.
Himalayan salt is loaded with 84 minerals and includes valuable electrolytes like potassium, magnesium, and calcium. These minerals help to carry electrical impulses throughout the body, and without electrolyte balance no amount of water will keep you adequately hydrated.
Here is my protocol for keeping adequate electrolytes in the body:
Drink the morning electrolyte drink I mentioned in Tip # 1 several times a day, especially after hard exercise.
Supplement with 500mg magnesium prior to going to bed. Magnesium is responsible for over 300 enzymatic processes in the body and it is vital for reducing inflammation.
Include avocados in your daily diet. They are loaded with potassium, another vital electrolyte (they also work well after a night of drinking ahem).
Tip #3 Make sure that you get your selenium.
One of the big risks of any low carb, ketogenic, or fasting protocol is that you will fall into hypothyroidism. This risk is even greater if you have a high daily output.
One vital nutrient in protecting your thyroid is selenium. It is found in foods like brazil nuts, spinach, and mushrooms.
Here’s my selenium protocol:
- Include 5-6 brazil nuts in your diet each day. If you have digestive issue, you should soak these brazil nuts in filtered water for at least 24 hours prior to consumption, then dry them and store them in a freezer to avoid mold build up. They’re a great addition to salads.
Tip #4: Make sure you get your collagen!
We hear so much about protein consumption for recovery, but little mention (until recently) about collagen. Collagen is the most abundant protein found int he human body and it is responsible for skin health, rebuilding cartilage in joints, and it helps to heal gut inflammation, which is vital to your digestive health.
Collagen protein contains l-glutamine, which is also vital for recovery. You can get collagen from collagen protein supplements, or you can get it by consuming homemade bone broth (a recipe that we include in our free Warrior Soul Keto Camp Cookbook).
My collagen protocol is:
- consume 1 cup of bone broth in the morning and 1 cup in the evening.
Tip #5: Get adequate protein consumption!
With the ketogenic diet, protein is often downplayed in favor of fat. This is the correct way to go about things for most people. But if you are an athlete or someone who makes their living off of physical activity, then protein is a bit more important.
Protein protocol for performance athletes on a keto diet:
You still do not want to go the bodybuilder route and over consume protein, but you should be consuming at least 0.45 – 0.7 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass per day to ensure proper recover. Consuming protein will not only help you with rebuilding muscle on a keto diet. It will also provide you with muscle glycogen for athletic performance through a process called gluconeogenesis. While people using the keto diet for fat loss will want to avoid too much gluconeogenesis, it can be quite helpful to athletes seeking to keep adequate glycogen stores for fast twitch muscle activity.
Tip #6: Get adequate Omega 3 in your diet…but at the proper time!
Omega 3 fatty acid is vital for reducing inflammation throughout our bodies. It is also a neuroprotectant, which makes it even more vital for those in combat sports or those at risk of sustaining a head injury (see our interview with Dr. Michael Lewis author of When Brains Collide).
You should be consuming high doses of high DHA Omega 3 in triglyceride form for maximum absorption. You can also get Omega 3 from fatty fish, sardines, and algae.
But don’t take it directly after a workout! Omega 3 helps to shut down inflammation. Though too much inflammation is not good, some inflammation is vital in helping to kick start the recovery process.
Omega 3 Protocol for Performance Athletes:
Consume 5000mg of high DHA Omega 3 per day at least 3 hours away from your workout.
Tip #7: Get cold, but again, not too close to the end of your workout.
Another that helps to shut down inflammation is the cold, and you can get it for free either through an icy cold shower or via a cold plunge. But again, you’ll want to save it for 3-4 hours after your workout as it could also inhibit recovery by completely shutting down inflammation.
So there you have it. Those are 7 tips for recovery for performance athletes doing a ketogenic or low carb diet.
There are plenty more things that you can do to maximize the benefits of ketosis and enhance your recovery. To learn more about doing Keto the right way, check out Warrior Soul Keto Camp, our complete course on maximizing your mental and physical performance with the power of ketosis and paleo/ancestral eating!