At Konscious Keto, we think that bacon and eggs, coffee and grass-fed butter, stevia and keto-friendly sweets, well, some pairs are just perfect on a ketogenic diet.
Losing pounds on a ketogenic diet will naturally occur whether you implement brisk morning walks or challenging instructor-led sessions at your local SoulCycle—the diet offers a potent and well-studied thermogenic effect all by itself, helping the body release excess fat effortlessly, even without exercise.
But is there a benefit to doing cardio on a ketogenic diet? And if aerobic exercise is advised on keto, is all cardio—at varying levels of intensity and duration—equally beneficial?
Can You Do Keto Cardio?
Low-impact, steady-state cardio like walking on a treadmill or engaging in high-intensity activities like powerlifting or playing a sport with minimal periods of rest like rugby or soccer, all pose varying degrees of energy demands on the body.
While high-impact activities that require a significant burst of energy allocation, cause the body to shift into a state reliant upon glucose, low-impact activity allows the body to continue to use fat as a premium form of fuel and still perform optimally.
So, it's advisable to reevaluate your macronutrients and overall set caloric daily target to ensure that your dietary plan is aligned with your current needs—especially if you're an athlete.
Finding the ideal macronutrients per your health goals remains vital whether you decide to pump up the physical activity or choose to do a more sedentary version of keto. So, some thought and planning are required to compose a plan that’s perfect for you.
And regardless of your wellness goals, be it weight loss or weight gain, you'll need to adjust your overall caloric intake accordingly to create either an energy deficit or a surplus.
Why You Should Add Keto Cardio
Those already living the ketogenic lifestyle and deeply fat-adapted, often benefit from a level of metabolic flexibility that's very difficult to achieve when eating a sugar-laden, Standard American Diet (SAD).
Once well seasoned, many on keto find an ideal balance of macronutrients to stay in ketosis while eating higher amounts of carbs than is typical on a standard ketogenic diet, to fuel intense workouts.
Exercise offers many benefits to those on a ketogenic diet, but cardio is especially beneficial to facilitate the loss of excess body fat, while sustaining lean muscle mass.
Also, athletes or those who live very active lives and engage in activities like powerlifting, long-distance walking, or golfing—essentially doing activities that rely on the phosphagen system, as opposed to the glycolytic system—are perfect for those following a ketogenic diet.
The Health Benefits of Keto Cardio
Download an audiobook you've wanted to stream, pack on a few layers, so you're warm and cozy, and lace up your kicks for a long afternoon stroll—nothing too vigorous, just enough to get the blood flowing, while taking in the sights and sounds of your neighborhood.
While more thought is required to compose an ideal keto dietary plan ideal for athletes—primarily based on the type, intensity, and duration of activity—exercising on keto is pretty straightforward if your activity of choice is cardio.
Positive Types of Keto Cardio
As we mentioned, more extended periods of high-intensity activity requires the body to use glucose to achieve maximum physical performance.
However, those who aren't athletes and just looking to shed extra pounds can achieve accelerated fat loss and avoid triggering the glycolytic pathway by doing a low-intensity exercise like walking, pilates, or yoga.
Steady-state, low-to-moderate intensity cardio—in addition to strength training—is the best form of activity for those looking to lose weight on a ketogenic diet, without forcing the body to seek out support from exogenous sugar sources to aid in performance.
Further, you may find a welcomed boost in endurance when engaging in long-distance, low-intensity forms of exercise like walking, thanks to the fully-stocked fat stores available to us for energy and endurance when running on ketones for fuel.
Per the Center for Disease Control (CDC), a person’s target heart rate should be between 50% to 70% of her or his maximum heart rate to release excess weight.
Simply subtract your age from 220 to determine your maximum heart rate. For instance, for a 30-year-old person, the approximate maximum age-related heart rate is calculated as 220 – 30 years = 190 beats per minute (bpm).
The 50% and 70% levels would be:
- 50% level: 170 x 0.50 = 95 bpm, and
- 70% level: 170 x 0.70 = 133 bpm
So, moderate-intensity exercise for a 30-year-old person will require keeping the heart rate between 95 and 133 bpm during periods of physical activity for ideal results.
Those starting a ketogenic diet and working to become deeply fat-adapted should workout at 50% bpm for 10-15 minutes as not to trigger a need for additional glucose.
Exercising at 70% is something to consider once fully fat-adapted and well into ketosis as doing so is less likely to impact our glycolytic pathway.
Increase the duration and intensity of physical activity slowly, adding five additional minutes and a bit more of a push in effort week-to-week until you are comfortable exercising at moderate intensity for 30-45 minutes, keeping your average heart rate at 50%.
Here are some examples of excellent ways to elevate your heart rate, boost ketone production, and torch some calories on keto:
- aerobic training classes
- circuit training
- recreational sports
- interval training classes
Adjusting macronutrients for high-performance athletes will likely require an elevated carb ceiling to ensure adequate energy support for those whose activities need increased levels of strength and power for periods exceeding 10 seconds.
But wait, does eating a ketogenic diet amount to forfeiting your goals to increase lean muscle mass and strength? Certainly not!
A carefully-crafted strength training and exercise program, and lifting heavier weights will build power, and yield positive results with consistency and time.
The key is to restrict intense physical activity to less than 10-second intervals, and you'll surely achieve success building strength, muscle and power, on a sugar-restricted diet before long.
Can Keto Cardio Aid in Weight Loss?
Although a ketogenic diet may require modification to support the energy, strength, and power requirements of athletes and those who participate in forms of high-intensity exercise, it's a fantastic option for anyone seeking to lose body fat.
Taking a peppy walk every morning in a fasted state is a great way to burn calories while nudging the body to access its own fat stores for energy, resulting in accelerated weight loss.
If you are engaging in exercises such as jogging or cycling, a ketogenic diet can also aid in increased fat oxidation, preserve glycogen, produce less lactate, and allow your body to use less oxygen.
Why You Should Add Keto Cardio
Adding cardio to a ketogenic diet, especially when in a fasted state, helps burn excess fat and the following are excellent options to consider on keto to incinerate body fat without triggering the glycolytic pathway:
Zumba, kickboxing, and pilates are all fantastic aerobic options for those on keto. There are a few hard rules around which form of steady-state, low-intensity cardio to practice regularly.
Just keep your heart rate within the 50% to 70% threshold we mentioned above to avoid triggering the body's demand for additional glucose to support optimal performance, and keep workouts to around 30 minutes, at least three times a week.
Lifting weights and HIIT (high-intensity interval training) are excellent forms of exercise on a ketogenic diet. Since lifting weights and HIIT only requires bursts of intense exertion, it's excellent for those on keto since this activity won't trigger our glycolytic pathways when kept to short cycles.
Yoga, pilates, and warm-up stretching are all wonderful ways to improve range of motion, help with joint health, and relax muscles.
Also, flexibility-focused exercise is beneficial as it helps to prevent injuries caused by rigid muscles that can shorten over time if living a sedentary lifestyle.
Activity focused on improving core strength and stability is helpful in many ways. Stability exercises help to improve alignment, increase muscle strength, and enhance physical agility.
Yoga is one of the best forms of exercise on a ketogenic diet as it helps with flexibility and fat loss, and is known to offer a spiritual component that all add up to a powerful tool in our wellness arsenal.
Keto Cardio You Should Avoid
Intense bolting in a 400-meter race, crisscrossing along grassy turf in a heated game of lacrosse, or leaving it all on the field in a bout of soccer are all activities that require extreme levels of exertion, strength, and performance.
For more than a 10-second stint, your body will activate the glycolytic pathway, causing our bodies to demand additional glucose (sugar) to support peak performance.
Activities that we mentioned above like yoga, pilates, and strolling through your neighborhood regularly are better suited for those who aren't athletes but want to shed excess weight and add a boost to their heart health and agility on a ketogenic diet.
Avoid lengthy exercises and activities that require elevated levels of power and strength expenditure, instead optioning for low-impact, steady-state exercise so you can have the best of all worlds: the benefits of ketosis, increased flexibility, and accelerated body fat loss.
The benefits of a ketogenic diet have become the subject of much excitement recently, and cardio is a well-established veteran in the health community, with good reason—both are proven to aid in accelerated weight loss and offer many other health benefits.
Consider breaking out your sneakers for a 30-minute walk a few times a week or look into that pilates class you've been eyeing for a bit but haven't tried.
Turn a window-shopping stroll into an organic cardio circuit, or glide and stretch on a Reformer for a little pilates-style blend of cardio and zen—your winning results on the scale and a significant increase in feelings of overall well-being will be your reward.
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Westman, E. C., Yancy, W. S., Mavropoulos, J. C., Marquart, M., & Mcduffie, J. R. (2008). The effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-glycemic index diet on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Nutrition & Metabolism,5(1). doi:10.1186/1743-7075-5-36