The vegan ketogenic diet by itself has great benefits for weight loss. It not only promotes fat burning in the abdominal area, but also reduces hunger levels through the satiating effects of ketones and its effects on appetite signalling hormones such as ghrelin 1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4313585/.
However, if you want to see the best weight loss results then exercise can be beneficial. This naturally leads to questions about how to exercise to enhance weight loss results, and whether exercising on a ketogenic diet is different from a standard high-carbohydrate diet.
To fully understand this it is crucial to understand the 4 fundamental concepts of sport nutrition
1. Your body preferentially uses different fuel sources to support different intensities of exercise 2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2278845/
- Fat stores are mainly used during low-intensity exercise such as walking and jogging.
- Carbohydrates are mainly used during moderate-high intensity exercise such as running, jumping, interval training, and high-repetition resistance training.
- Creatine stores are mainly used during maximal effort training, such as strength-based resistance exercises.
2. Your body changes fuel sources as the length of exercise increases 3https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8214047
- As exercise duration increases, there is an increased reliance on fat to fuel exercise – especially when carbohydrate stores become diminished.
3. Your availability of different fuel sources entering exercise partly dictates the fuel used during exercise 4https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15286047
- Starting exercise with high carbohydrate stores will increase the amount of carbohydrates used during exercise, and reduce the use of fat.
- Starting exercise with low carbohydrate stores, or in a fasted state (such as “fasted cardio”), will increase the reliance of fat as a fuel source.
4. Your ability to use fat during exercise depends on your fitness levels 5https://bmjopensem.bmj.com/content/1/1/e000047
- Fit and well-trained people will have a greater ability to access and use fat as a fuel source during exercise compared to untrained people.
- Improving your endurance capabilities will increase your ability to use fat.
But why does the body prefer carbohydrates when they are available and during higher intensity exercise?
Well, the key reason carbohydrates are preferred is because they are located directly within muscle cells and are very efficient to use when energy demands are high 6https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/sms.12599. Compare this to fat, that has to first be released from body fat, travel through the blood to your muscle, and then transported across and into the muscle cell for use 7https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9781322.
This is a much slower process which is the reason fat is only preferentially used when exercise demands are low (low-intensity exercise) or when carbohydrates are not available for use.
The three guiding principles for burning fat with exercise on a vegan ketogenic diet
Well, your goal shouldn’t just be to burn calories during exercise, but it should be to burn as much fat as possible!
In order to target your fat stores as much as possible during exercise you should be following these principles
- Utilizing low-intensity exercise such walking, slow jogging or cycling
- Entering exercise with low carbohydrate stores
- Improving your fitness to increase your ability to use fat as a fuel
Now on a typical high-carbohydrate diet it can obviously be difficult to train with low carbohydrate stores, and in this scenario it is often required to utilize fasted training to try and target fat – otherwise they would just burn through the carbohydrates they previously ate. However, as the ketogenic diet incorporates low-carbohydrate protocols at every meal, this essentially becomes a non-issue. You can train when you wake up, or after a large meal, and you will still be primarily targeting fat for energy (win win!).
Keep in mind that even if you are in ketosis there are still low amounts of carbohydrate stores within your muscle cells (as small amounts of protein will be converted). Due to this, if you are exercising at high enough intensities you will initially be burning these stores before moving on to utilising fat. Whenever you are incorporating more demanding exercises, it is important to exercise for long enough (over ~15 minutes) to begin targeting these fat stores. This being said, the majority of exercise for fat loss should be based around low-intensity exercises.
In addition, the fitter you get the more programmed your body will be to burn fat. Keep exercising frequently and consistently and you will notice huge differences. In fact, training with low carbohydrate availability has been shown to increase the cardiovascular adaptations from an exercise session .
Finally, here is a basic example exercise schedule to target fat loss and improve your fitness on a vegan ketogenic diet:
- Day 1 – Jog for 30 minutes
- Day 2 – Rest
- Day 3 – High-intensity interval training (Sprint for 15 seconds, walk for 60 seconds, repeat 15 times)
- Day 4 – Rest
- Day 5 – Jog for 45 minutes
- Day 6 – Brisk walk for 1-2 hours
- Day 7 – Rest
Low intensity exercise such as walking, jogging or cycling is effective at burning fat on a vegan ketogenic diet, although higher intensity exercise can also be incorporated to increase overall fitness. As your carbohydrate stores are already low, you also have the benefit of being able to begin burning fat quicker when utilizing high intensity exercise when compared to somebody on a high carbohydrate diet.
The ketogenic diet already shifts your body into fat ‘burning mode’ and exercise is not a requirement for weight loss on this diet, but exercise can help to improve fat loss as well as overall health and fitness.
Shaun is a professional nutritionist, with specific expertise in sport nutrition. He gained his Bachelors degree in Nutrition from Bournemouth University, before completing his Masters in Sport Nutrition at Liverpool John Moores University. Since then, Shaun has privately worked with top athletes, in addition to being a performance nutritionist at companies such as MatchFit Conditioning and Science in Sport.