Impact of a 6-week non-energy-restricted
ketogenic diet on physical fitness, body composition and biochemical parameters
in healthy adults
Assessment on the impact of a 6-week non-energy-restricted KD in healthy adults beyond cohorts of athletes on physical performance, body composition, and blood parameters.
Written by Paul Urbain, Lena Strom, Lena Morawski, Anja Wehrle, Peter Deibert, Hartmut Bertz
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The ketogenic diet (KD) is a very low-carbohydrate, high-fat and adequate-protein diet that without limiting calories induces different metabolic adaptations, eg, increased levels of circulating ketone bodies and a shift to lipid metabolism. Our objective was to assess the impact of a 6-week non-energy-restricted KD in healthy adults beyond cohorts of athletes on physical performance, body composition, and blood parameters. Our single arm, before-and-after comparison study consisted of a 6-week KD with a previous preparation period including detailed instructions during classes and individual counselling by a dietitian. Compliance with the dietary regimen was monitored by measuring urinary ketones daily, and 7-day food records. All tests were performed after an overnight fast: cardiopulmonary exercise testing via cycle sprioergometry, blood samples, body composition, indirect calorimetry, handgrip strength, and questionnaires addressing complaints and physical sensations. Forty-two subjects aged 37 ± 12 years with a BMI of 23.9 ± 3.1 kg/m2 completed the study. Urinary ketosis was detectable on 97% of the days, revealing very good compliance with the KD. Mean energy intake during the study did not change from the habitual diet and 71.6, 20.9, and 7.7% of total energy intake were from fat, protein, and carbohydrates, respectively. Weight loss was −2.0 ± 1.9 kg (P < 0.001) with equal losses of fat-free and fat mass. VO2 peak and peak power decreased from 2.55 ± 0.68 l/min to 2.49 ± 0.69 l/min by 2.4% (P = 0.023) and from 241 ± 57 W to 231 ± 57 W by 4.1% (P < 0.001), respectively, whereas, handgrip strength rose slightly from 40.1 ± 8.8 to 41.0 ± 9.1 kg by 2.5% (P = 0.047). The blood lipids TG and HDL-C remained unchanged, whereas total cholesterol and LDL-C increased significantly by 4.7 and 10.7%, respectively. Glucose, insulin, and IGF-1 dropped significantly by 3.0, 22.2 and 20.2%, respectively. We detected a mildly negative impact from this 6-week non-energy-restricted KD on physical performance (endurance capacity, peak power and faster exhaustion). Our findings lead us to assume that a KD does not impact physical fitness in a clinically relevant manner that would impair activities of daily living and aerobic training. However, a KD may be a matter of concern in competitive athletes.
In summary, our results reveal that a 6-week non-energy restricted KD had a slightly negative impact on physical performance including endurance capacity, maximum work load, and faster exhaustion. Furthermore, we noted numerous metabolic adaptations, including alterations in many biochemical parameters. The significant weight loss, evenly distributed between fat mass (FM) and fat free mass (FFM), comprised neither muscle mass nor function. Our findings lead us to assume that a KD does not impact physical fitness in a clinically relevant manner that would impair activities of daily life and aerobic training. However, a KD may be a matter of concern in competitive athletes. Clearly, there is a need for longer-term trials focusing on lipoprotein subclass distributions and particle sizes. Studies are also required to evaluate the influence of the KD’s fatty acids composition on blood lipids.