Suppose you're like me and like a little fuel in the system or have an intense run planned; having adequate nutrition to perform your best is essential. However, what should you eat before a run on keto can be confusing, and here's what I found.
Before a run on a keto diet, it's best to eat enough fat and protein to feel energized for short or slower runs, but not so much as to feel weighed down. For longer and more intense above 70% V02 max, it may be worth trying pre or intra-workout carbohydrates to fuel performance.
In this article, I'll go over what you may want to eat before a run while on keto in different situations, supplementation, and the benefits of endurance running while on a ketogenic diet.
Many of the popular pre-workout meals and snacks that people typically eat before heading out on a run aren't exactly suitable for a ketogenic diet. Off the top of my head, some popular choices are a banana with some almond butter, some oatmeal and berries, a piece of toast with avocado. You get the point.
Choosing what to eat before heading out on a run can be tricky, especially on keto. The truth is that everyone responds differently to different foods, and the best way is to experiment and find what works best for you.
However, here are a few foods you may want to consider depending on your goals.
What To Eat Before A Running Workout Or Race While On Keto
When considering what to eat before you head out on a run, you must consider a few things. Most importantly, you have to consider how long and how intense your run will be.
Also, another factor to consider is whether or not it's practical for you to eat before you run. Maybe you're the type of person who likes to eat on an empty stomach.
For now, I'll assume you do want to consume a snack or a meal, and that's why you're here. If you're looking to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to fueling your run for optimal performance, then keep reading.
Low to moderate intensity run recommendations
If you're going out for a light jog or even a moderate length run at a low to moderate intensity, there's no need to incorporate anything special to fuel your run. Most running done at medium to low intensities will derive most of the energy from fat, which can come from either your diet or from your body fat stores.
In fact, according to the FASTER study, athletes fat oxidation didn't peak until around 70% of V02 max, whereas high carb athletes peaked around 50% V02 max. The research shows that athletes on a ketogenic diet who are fat-adapted can burn fat for fuel even at high intensities without relying on carbohydrates to fuel performance up to higher percentages of your V02 max.
Here are a few options for those heading out on low to medium intensity runs:
- A handful of nuts or seeds
- Keto coffee or Bulletproof coffee
- A couple of eggs and 1/2 of an avocado
- Nothing. Sip some water and head out the door.
Find a snack or meal that sits well and doesn't have you feeling weighed down before your low to moderate intensity runs. Having a lighter snack about thirty minutes to an hour before your run or a more substantial meal one to three hours should do the trick.
Moderate to high intensity run recommendations
When pushing up the intensity of your runs or workouts, as with the case with sprints, intervals, or even high-intensity workouts that has your heart racing out your chest, this is where fueling protocols can get a bit tricky.
While keto-adapted athletes can run at higher intensities without much reliance on carbohydrates for energy, you are still limited in the ability to tape into aerobic threshold intensity levels. If you're an individual or athlete following a ketogenic diet, but want to maximize your athletic performance, the strategic addition of carbohydrates into your diet and/or training may be worth considering.
For example, Zach Bitter, who is an ultra-endurance runner and 100-mile American record holder follows a high-fat low-carb diet. However, Zach also uses carbohydrates as a tool to “hit the gas” when he needs to. He views carbs almost like a performance supplement such as caffeine, almost as if it's a little energy boost.
You can hear more about his nutritional approach to his racing and training in this interview here.
If you do plan to incorporate carbohydrates into your peri-workout nutrition, it's possible to do so in a way that won't interrupt ketosis for very long, but gives you the necessary fuel to hit an intense workout. Generally, the duration and intensity of your run or workout would determine if pre-workout carbohydrate supplementation would be enough or if the need for something intra (during) your exercise is necessary.
Coffee or even a good pre-workout supplement can also give you an added boost.
This protocol is similar to what bodybuilders who use a ketogenic diet would refer to as a targeted ketogenic diet. It's a targeted ketogenic diet or TKD because carbohydrates are strategically targeted in and around the workout window. Targeting carbohydrates only around workouts allows for increased or maintenance of exercise performance without interrupting ketosis for too long, it at all.
For workouts that are moderate to high intensity, but shorter than an hour, generally, a pre-workout meal with a few carbohydrates is sufficient. For workouts lasting longer than an hour, you may want to consider a pre-workout carbohydrate snack in addition to intra-workout carbohydrates as well.
I find that between ten to twenty-five grams of carbohydrates thirty minutes to an hour before your workout is an excellent place to start. For workouts lasting longer than an hour, ingesting an additional five grams of carbohydrates for every ten to twenty minutes longer than an hour may help.
Intra-workout carbohydrates should be ingested about thirty minutes into your workout, so the carbohydrates have adequate time to be digested and used during the workout.
How To Determine Endurance Vs. High Intensity Running On Keto
In case you aren't familiar, V02 max and maximum heart rate are not the same things. Now, you might be wondering how to classify your runs given V02 max then.
What exactly is the difference between a low-intensity run versus a high-intensity run? After all, you do want to choose what to eat before your run appropriately.
The FASTER study based the data on V02 max, the problem is most people don't know their V02 max. A V02 max test is quite expensive. However, there is a way to best estimate your V02 max relative to your maximum heart rate.
Here is a site with two calculators. One calculator lets you convert heart rate into percent of V02 max based on age, and similarly, the second calculator takes percent V02 max and gives you an average heart rate also based on age.
Based on the FASTER study of peak fat oxidation in fat-adapted athletes at 70% of V02 max, this corresponds to 82% of maximum heart rate. Meaning, those running while keto-adapted will derive most of their energy from fat up to around 80% of their maximum heart rate.
If you are running above 80% of maximum heart rate, as is this case with fast training runs, sprints, or going for a race personal record (PR), this is the time where adding in strategic carbohydrates may benefit you.
Are you noticing your heart rate is higher on keto? Click the link to learn why you may have a higher than normal heart rate, and this is despite running the same pace as you did before keto.
What Kind Of Carbohydrates To Eat For Medium To High Intensity Runs
What kind of carbohydrates you eat before a medium to high-intensity run won't matter as much as finding something that digests and sits well with you. One recommendation is that you consume a carbohydrate that is primarily glucose versus sucrose or fructose.
The last thing you want is any kind of stomach upset while out on your run. Below are some ideas of easily digestible carbohydrates you can consume before a run, followed by my recommendation.
Additionally, I've found that I needed a little extra sodium before my runs to help with performance. If you've noticed your heart rate higher while on keto, this may do the trick.
Some ideas for pre-workout carbohydrates:
- Dextrose powder (glucose powder drink)
- Maltodextrin (glucose powder drink)
- Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin (glucose powder drink)
- Very ripe banana (riper bananas contain more glucose and less fructose)
- Glucose based candies (smarties, sweet tarts, ingredients should list dextrose or maltodextrin as the main ingredient, etc.)
- Slice of toast or half a bagel
Ucan Super Starch And Ketosis
One product I highly recommend is Generation Ucan's SuperStarch. This particular carbohydrate won't spike blood sugar, all while delivering a slow and steady release of glucose to help fuel performance. SuperStarch doesn't cause a spike in insulin, and having a carbohydrate source that doesn't spike insulin is enormous as it will allow fat to be still used for fuel and sparing carbohydrates only for when they're necessary.
I've tried everything from homemade keto pre-workout concoctions to keto running gels, and I've found SuperStarch to be one of the best products on the market. By the end of my running workouts where I include SuperStarch, I'll still be registering over 0.5 mmol/L on my blood ketone meter
Each serving has about 25 grams of the slow and steady burning carbohydrate that is SuperStarch. Twenty-five grams is about the number of carbs I would recommend if you are looking to implement carbohydrates around your workout strategically. You can also dilute another serving and start sipping this thirty to forty-five minutes into your workout for workouts lasting longer than an hour.
Exogenous Ketones Before A Workout
Another idea worth considering is the use of exogenous ketones or ketone esters before a run. The benefit of consuming exogenous ketones is to provide a quick boost of energy with the hope of allowing you to last longer and go harder.
Anecdotally, people had reported that the use of exogenous ketones or ketone esters before their run led to less fatigue during longer workouts. Imagine having an extra small tank of gas that you can burn through before having to tap into your main gas tank, much like having a reserve.
The only downside is that exogenous ketone supplements and especially ketone esters can get a little pricy, but if you have the means and want to experiment, it may be worth a shot.
For exogenous ketones, I would recommend Go Keto Exogenous Ketones Powder Supplement for quality and the best bang for your buck. What's great is that exogenous ketone supplements are also generally loaded with electrolytes, which will only help keep you hydrated for your run as well.
On the pricier side, but more compelling are ketone esters. If you can stomach the taste and the price of a ketone ester, give the ketone ester by HVMN a shot.
Keto Post Workout Meal
So you know what to eat before a run on keto, but what about after the run? Your keto post-workout meal isn't as vital compared to your pre or intra-workout meal in fueling your run. That is unless you're running fasted, then getting adequate nutrition as soon as possible is vital in helping you recover.
For your post-workout meal, continue your keto diet as you normally would with an adequate amount of protein, some good fat, and don't forget your leafy greens.
The most crucial aspect when it comes to recovering from a run on keto is:
- Make sure you're not under-eating
- Replenishing any lost electrolytes
- Drinking enough fluids
- Getting adequate rest before your next run
The Take Home Message
Keto-adapted runners can get away with running fasted or eating their typical keto snacks and meals before a run if the intensity is low enough < 80% maximum heart rate. If running at higher intensities and/or for long durations, carbohydrates can strategically be used in the diet and fueling performance.
In the real world, every person and athlete is different in terms of what works best for them. You are your own N=1 and need to experiment with different foods and amounts to see what has you performing YOUR best.