BJJ and the Ketogenic Diet

Imagine it, the perfect diet, if it existed it would allow you to gain lean muscle while reducing body fat at the same time. Well, actually there is something out there that can do it, the Ketogenic diet. The short idea of the ketogenic diet is to limit the intake of carbohydrates while increasing the intake of fats and proteins. (1)

There have been many other diets that follow a similar plan, the Atkins diet being one of them, however, the ketogenic diet differs because it focuses on fats being the main source of nutrients, not protein. Many people who are on the ketogenic diet remove almost all carbohydrates from their diet, this includes things such as pasta, bread, pulses, sugars and milk.

In the ketogenic diet, the user cannot exceed more than 50g of carbohydrates a day, and in more extreme cases this can be limited to zero. Instead, the diet follower increases their intake of foods which are rich in fats, while also maintaining an good amount of protein in their diet. The bro-science behind it is that the body will look to use the fats in the food as a source of energy instead of carbohydrates.

The ketogenic diet works so well because the body goes into a state of ketosis, which is a form of starvation, and instead of using carbohydrates and sugars as energy, it will use the fat in the food and the fat stores on the body. 

Ketogenic diets have been known to have benefits against various diseases such as diabetes, cancer, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease (2, 345).

If you practice BJJ and your diet is to lose weight, then the ketogenic diet might just be the thing for you.

How to the Ketogenic Diet Work?

The ketogenic diet works through eliminating carbohydrates from a person’s diet. The dieter will reduce carb intake to around 10% to 15% of their daily consumption. To compensate for this reduction and to make sure they are still getting the calories they need throughout the day, the dieter will replace the carbohydrate-rich food with a high-fat index, foods such as avocados, coconuts, seeds, red meats, etc. As well as reducing carbohydrates, the dieter also neds to slightly up their protein intake to around 30% of their daily intake. So their consumption should look like 15% Carbohydrates, 30% Protein, 55% Fats. It’s important to note that carbohydrate intake should be in the form of leafy green vegetables.

To truly understand how the ketogenic diet works, we need to look at the role that insulin plays. In the body, insulin regulates the metabolism of all carbohydrates, fats and proteins. It promotes glucose absorption and stores it in the liver and muscles as glycogen. The ketogenic diet works because it restricts carbohydrate intake, reducing the level of insulin in the body. This means less glycogen is stored in the body and the body has to resort to using fat as a form of energy.

The results of the ketogenic diet are almost instant. Weight loss and water retention happen almost immediately. This is because the body goes into a state of “Ketosis”, which is a survival mode. It’s recommended that you consult a nutritionist before starting this diet to prevent any ongoing health issues caused by the diet.

Using Fat as Energy

When the body has an excess of glucose in the blood, it will turn that into a long-term energy store known as fat, along with any fats from foods consumed throughout the day. So if we decrease the amount of sugar and carbohydrates, then the body has no other choice but to use fat stores to continue functioning.

Ketosis is when the body starts to metabolise fat into a source of energy, producing ketones as a result. These ketones are excreted through urine, which we are able to test, meaning we have an excellent way of finding out if the body is in ketosis, depending on the level of ketones the body expells. 

Side Effects of the Ketogenic Diet

People who start the ketogenic diet report symptoms of headaches, dizziness, weakness and gastrointestinal complications such as constipation of the opposite. This is known in the dieting community as keto flu and is a common side effect of the diet.

These symptoms normally last around two weeks when starting the diet, this is due to the body adjusting to the new energy source, people have been known to take exogenous ketones to help improve these symptoms and get the body into the ketosis faster.

If the flu symptoms persist, it is recommended to slowing increase your carbohydrate intake until they go away. once you feel better, you should slowly reduce the levels again, this allows your body to get more adapted to the state, decreasing the likelihood of more symptoms arising.

For people over 65 years old, or who have had a diagnosed problem with their kidneys or liver, the ketogenic diet is not advised. If you insist on starting the diet then please consult your doctor beforehand.

The Ketogenic Diet and Grapplers

Generally, the ketogenic diet is not recommended for athletes, this is because of the high-levels of energy that a person needs to sustain the athletic activities. This can include BJJ athletes to a certain extent, while it’s not impossible to do the sport while on a fat-right diet, a larger amount of carbohydrates are recommended.

Athletes who are involved in a high-intensity sport should look at a variation of the ketogenic diet known as the cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD) or the targeted ketogenic diet (TKD).

The Cyclical Ketogenic Diet

The Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD) is designed to help maintain a good diet while promoting good weight loss, and sustained energy for physical exercise.

On the CKD diet, there are periods of low carbohydrate intake and high fat intake but there are also periods of high carbohydrate intake, to help restore muscle energy without adding too much fat to the body. There are many variations on how this diet works but most people have success with a 5/2 or 6/1 regime. 5 or 6 days on the low carb high-fat diet, with 1 or 2 days with a high carb low-fat routine.

However, just because you’re allowed a high-carb day doe not equate to a cheat day, sugars, cake, ice cream, etc are still off the table and carbohydrates should be taken in the form of complex carbs from brown bread, wheat and potatoes. The idea is the replace the lost glycogen levels so you can continue to train hard and lose weight.

The Targeted Ketogenic Diet

The targeted ketogenic diet, aka TKD, is an intermittent diet, where carbohydrates are consumed before or after training. The principles of the diet are similar to the CKD, however, there is a daily intake of good carbohydrates instead of one boost every week. This is perfect for people who go through daily intensive training.

For BJJ athletes the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet looks like the best option. The CKD allows you to keep training hard without compromising on your energy levels, due to the fact you get a regular boost in energy for a high carbohydrate day.