Even elite gymnasts do fine without carbs


The myth that everybody needs to eat large amounts of carbs to exercise is on the way out. Here’s another nail in the coffin:

A strict ketogenic low carb diet seem to work fine even for elite gymnasts. In a new study they kept their strenght and lost fat mass (even though they were very fit to begin with!) while gaining a non-significant amount of muscle weight.

Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 26 July 2012: Ketogenic diet does not affect strength performance in elite artistic gymnasts


  1. BA
    The remarkable aspect to this study is that even elite athletes get significantly leaner on a ketogenic program. If you calculate average bodyfat percentages from the results quoted in the abstract, on average they went from about 7.6% to 5.0%! That's a pretty enormous swing once you're in the single digits, and would be extremely noticeable on an athlete. Elite athletes would obviously be the most carbohydrate tolerant cohort imaginable, yet even they seem to gain remarkable improvements in leanness with this intervention.
  2. I've read articles stating that carbs in general are simply not necessary. Be that as it may, I think eating the right kinds of carbs is the real answer. If you can pick it from a tree or pull it from the ground, it will only serve your body. Especially since most of our food these days comes in a bag or box.
  3. BA
    @ Dr. Mark,

    The right answer for whom?

    White potatoes come from the ground, yet they carry an obscenely high glycemic load. For a person suffering from type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes, or someone who is exhibiting symptoms of the metabolic syndrome in general, a white potato is not something safe to eat.

    If we look at the other extreme, elite athletes, no one will contest that this cohort can typically tolerate more of a glycemic load than the average person with metabolic problems. But this is not a question of whether the food will "serve you body", it's just that the elite athlete can effectively clear more "poison" from the bloodstream vis-a-vis a higher insulin sensitivity of lean tissue.

    While food quality is certainly a valid concern, I don't think that our understanding of glucose metabolism is served by falling back on thin generalizations that really only apply to the robust metabolism of an athlete.

  4. Brian
    A couple things I noticed about this study. One, for elite athletes, ~2000 calories seems VERY low. Did I miss where it said how many calories they were eating prior to this study? Two, I also didn't see the authors mention testing these athletes to make sure they were actually in Ketosis. Chances are they were, however 2.8g/kg protein seems a bit high. I know Dr. Attia at The Eating Academy seems to think ~1.5g/kg is better for ketosis (though I imagine there is a load of difference between individuals). Is it possible they were eating too much protein and maybe not reporting numbers correctly, and not quite in ketosis?

    I'm not trying to challenge the study, just trying to further understand because I myself am in Ketosis and am still just testing the waters when it comes to my time in the gym...which is strictly weightlifting, very different from endurance athletes, though probably closer to gymnasts training.

  5. bill
    “Dr. Mark” said:

    “I think eating the right kinds of carbs is the real answer.”

    “…this diet is the way to go. It's not the most convenient way to live, but then good health never was convenient.”

    “…dairy is unnecessary and not healthy for the human body.”

    Please, post here when you can back up any of your specious claims.


    Well, somebody else can say it.

  6. @Brian - when on the "Western Diet" they consumed 2,273 ± 257 calories, so ~300 more than on LC, here's the ratio breakdown in grams F/P/C:

    KD: 120/200/22
    WD: 97/83/266

  7. The fact that even an elite athlete, with higher energy requirements, was able to drop the number of calories they were eating to such a degree is further evidence that a ketogenic diet produces less hunger - even when exercising.

    However I would have thought that most people would need to reverse the fat and protein elements. 200 grams of protein for anyone who is not an athlete could be too much. More fat would be better which would further limit the calories.

  8. FrankG
    @Bill: "Dr Mark said..."

    Personally I'd be more inclined to take his comments seriously if he was not linked to a site where he sells stuff to make us all healthier :-)

    If a trite comment looks, smells and tastes like a phish...

  9. Yoly
    Comparison with ancestral diets suggests dense acellular carbohydrates promote an inflammatory microbiota, and may be the primary dietary cause of leptin resistance and obesity



    Due to being made up of cells, virtually all "ancestral foods" have markedly lower carbohydrate densities than flour- and sugar-containing foods, a property quite independent of glycemic index. Thus the "forgotten organ" of the gastrointestinal microbiota is a prime candidate to be influenced by evolutionarily unprecedented postprandial luminal carbohydrate concentrations. The present hypothesis suggests that in parallel with the bacterial effects of sugars on dental and periodontal health, acellular flours, sugars, and processed foods produce an inflammatory microbiota via the upper gastrointestinal tract, with fat able to effect a "double hit" by increasing systemic absorption of lipopolysaccharide.

  10. Tom
    Gymnast perform for a couple of minutes at a time. How would an Ironman triathlete fare heading into competition? 14 hours of racing is not a 2 minute gymnastics routine.
  11. Zepp
    It was an test if gymnast could lose weight, without losing strengt and muscles!

    And its well known by body builders, in there deff periods.. but now its tested in gymnast too!

    If one is an triatleth, one use "train low, race high", or TKD!


  12. Brian
    @Tom. I suggest you check out Dr. Peter Attia's work at http://www.theeatingacademy.com. He's a marathon swimmer. He's done a ton of self-experimenting and would be a good resource to start with. He eats 400g of fat a day, 50g carbs (he doesn't track net carbs, just total, so it's probably more like 30g) and 120-150g protein (4500-5000 cal). He writes excellent blogs too.
  13. Laura
    Well I believe the diets of the athletes are closely guarded secrets but one wonders if some are already on a paleo/LCHF type diet or if adopted the paleo/LCHF healthy regime would allow most athletes to push the boundaries even further! How about Bolts for example..? the fastest man who even lived ...so far at least.... what does he eat both when training and in life in general....
    I for one have been amazed but what happened to me as a life long sedentary blob who went through several rounds of bad weight loss and gain and at the tender age of 41 and within a few weeks of going paleo I saw my muscle bulge and now it almost demands its daily exercise it is almsot as if I am no longer making the decision to exercise...my body does!! I envy the athletes admire their dedication and feel inspired by their achievements!!
    Wow the atmosphere in London is amazing..it is a privilege to be here at this time!!
  14. Margaretrc
    @Tom, here's another resource re endurance athletes and low carb. Dr. Phinney and Dr. Volek also cover this in their book "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living." http://www.meandmydiabetes.com/2011/04/14/steve-phinney-low-carb-pres... I really think it's a myth that athletes need more carbs than the rest of us. They need more fat and protein, but carbs? No. Oh, and then there's J. Stanton's blog at http://www.gnolls.org. In one entry he blogged about and experiment he did in which he climbed a mountain on an empty stomach with just water to take along. He did fine.
  15. FrankG
    Imagine a palaeolithic hunter emerging from his cave after a long cold ice-age winter in Europe, having had nothing but dried meat and fat to eat for the last three months. He turns to his buddies and says "sorry I just don't have the energy to go out after mammoth today... maybe later in the year when we can find some berries" ...yeah right! :-)
  16. Scotty
    “…remember that prolonged dieting (this one [meaning the Atkins diet], low-fat, low-calorie, or a combination) tends to shut down thyroid function. This is usually not a problem with the thyroid gland (therefore blood tests are likely to be normal) but with the liver, which fails to convert T4 into the more active thyroid principle, T3. The diagnosis is made on clinical ground with the presence of fatigue, sluggishness, dry skin, coarse or falling hair, an elevation in cholesterol, or a low body temperature. I ask my patients to take four temperature readings daily before the three meals and near bedtime. If the average of all these temperatures, taken for at least three days, is below 97.8 degrees F (36.5 C), that is usually low enough to point to this form of thyroid problem; lower readings than that are even more convincing.” - Dr. Atkins

    Straight from the horse's mouth

  17. Zepp
    Yes.. prolonged dieting by all means to achieve weigt goals is often an contra productive way to go!

    Often leading to "Cronic Dieting Syndrome"!

    "The chronic dieter is defined as an individual who consistently restricts energy intake to maintain an average or below-average body weight (1, 2). Chronic dieting syndrome describes individuals who 1) have a persistent overconcern with body shape and weight, 2) restrict their food choices for ≥2 y, and 3) continually diet to achieve weight loss without success or with success but with weight regain (2). The physiologic consequences of chronic dieting are varied and may influence metabolism in the long-term (3). "


    Its becuse of that we do promote eating an healty diet, with real food, to eat till one feel fine and listening to ones bodys signaling about hunger/satiety!

    And let the hormones regulate ones weight!

    And one should make a big differens betwen normal and abnormal levels of T3 and its regulation!

    "The findings suggest that T3 regulates insulin level in the circulation after glucose ingestion and the increase in serum T3 levels after glucose ingestion is necessary for the glucose removal from the circulation in humans."


    So if one like to have elevated T3 levels becuse of high blood sugar.. one should eat a lot of sugar!

    But Thyroid hormonial levels is of course a little bit more complicated!

    "Low T3 Syndrome I: it’s not about the thyroid!"


  18. Paleo-PT
    Dr. Mark: Re: "the right kinds of carbs is the real answer". Thanks for your comment and I have to disagree with BA's response. BA discussed the white potato. If we are discussing cultivated foods we are not comparing apples to oranges. Wild food is the only ancestral dietary activity given to us in order to have the knowledge to comply with a "paleo"-like diet. Please look into Arthur Haine's work. http://www.arthurhaines.com/
  19. Simon Shorrock
    If you read 'The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance' by Jeff Volek and Steve Phinney you'll get an in-depth, study-based, excellent understanding of how athletes can thrive on a VLCKD diet.

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