Football champions on a low-carb diet


The Norwegian low-carbohydrate team Strømsgodset have won the league cup for the first time since 1970. Kenn Hallstensen, responsible for the team’s diet, makes sure they eat a restricted amount of carbohydrate (Google translated from Norwegian).

The advantages of a low-carb diet in sports are a lower fat mass (desirable in most sports) and a higher fat-burning capacity coupled with higher endurance (especially useful when matches last longer than 1 hour). Reports state that Strømsgodset steamrolled their opponents during the final 45 minutes.

A very strict low-carbohydrate diet may however reduce explosive strength, which is why a more liberal low-carb diet may often be preferable for optimal performance.

Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet: Strømsgodset Played Their Way to Championship Gold After a Dream Game Against FKH (again, Google translated from Norwegian).

Earlier posts

Even Elite Gymnasts Do Fine Without Carbs
Four Simple Steps to a Healthier and Leaner Life
Even Tour de France Cyclists Avoid Carbs to Stay Lean
All Posts on Low-Carb and Exercise


  1. FrankG
    You know this will confuse your readers from the USA where "football" is a game played mostly by carrying the ball in the hands... and don't even get me started on the definition of a "touch down"...

    Just joking of course :-) Altho' now I think on it, we might also need to discuss the "World" series in baseball... :-P

    Seriously though, it is encouraging to see the increasing recognition of LCHF in the mainstream. Professional football teams are not interested in fads but in success.. they make it their business to figure out what works best. Interesting to note their sustained stamina late into the game.

  2. Zepp
    Football is by the foot.. taking it by the hands we are caling Rugby! ;)
    Reply: #9
  3. EJ
    "A very strict low-carbohydrate diet may however reduce explosive strength"
    SuperStarch would help with this, most likely...
  4. Damocles
    I suppose the trick is to load up the glyogen stores before the match.

    So eathing LCHF during training and offtime, and loading up with carbs before the match,
    to get enough power for anaeorobic bursts.

    Reply: #5
  5. FrankG
    I don't see their methodology detailed in the translated newspaper article above -- and I suspect that they may not be open to divulging all their "secrets" anyhow.

    Also I am by no means an "athlete" and have not read much by those LCHF specialists who advise athletes.

    On the other hand I do go for very long hikes and am impressed by how much stamina I now have, even without meals, as compared to when I was on the carb "roller-coaster".

    That said I'm confused about "carb loading" as I thought this was the traditional approach of marathon runners (for example) that ultimately seems to lead to "bonking" or "hitting the wall" when the glycogen stores are depleted and the body has not adapted to fat burning? Wouldn't carb loading these football players tip them out of fat burning (ketosis) and not give them the long-term stamina, of which they speak in the article?

  6. eddie watts
    my incomplete understanding is that when you carb load the body stores and uses it only for bursts and relies still on fatty acids for the rest of the time as it has been primed to act in this way.
    this way you use the eternal energy source of fat for the bulk of the match and only dig into glycogen when the sprints,dashes and similar are performed and it is really necessary.

    a carb athlete otherwise would use carb based energy all the time and could bonk early due to this. in theory anyway

    Reply: #7
  7. Paul the rat
    eddie watts and Damocles go back to the books. Do some more studying.
  8. tw
    Peter Attia has been experimenting with this for performance. His articles are interesting and often technical. He demonstrates performance differences pre and post ketogenesis.
    Reply: #21
  9. Mr diet
    There is also a sport called Handboll where you use the hands. Swedes are logical, americans not so much.
  10. Nikcha
    Dr Maffetone is the man on endurance and even strength training. A long time ago and certainly before any one else (in the nineties) he advocated a similar type of LCHF and aerobic training for optimal performance. Mark Allen under his guidance won six times world championship in ironman triathlon (the later one at the age of 37...)
  11. Ondrej
    "A very strict low-carbohydrate diet may however reduce explosive strength, which is why a more liberal low-carb diet may often be preferable for optimal performance."

    Hmmm. Even Phiney admitted, in his famous bicyclists study, that a very strict low-carbohydrate diet REDUCED explosive strength, needed by football players to outrun the defenders and unleash an explosive kick or header past the goalie.

    The article did not define how low carb the athletes' diet was. Low compared to what? to the East African long distance runners that dominate distance events and consume 1,000 grams of carbs daily?

    Were the football players on the LCHF diet advocated here? If not, then the article is meaningless.

    And I'm sure Chelsea, Real Madrid and other world top flight football teams, that consume high carbohydrate diets, are not afraid of these guys.

    Reply: #12
  12. FrankG

    ...I'm sure Chelsea, Real Madrid and other world top flight football teams, that consume high carbohydrate diets, are not afraid of these guys.

    Article (Google translated) says... " The dietician is the man behind the controversial fat diet or low carbohydrate diet, which in short is about consuming more fat and less carbohydrates in each meal. The recipe is a lot of vegetables and fruits. And fat. Less pasta, cereal, juice and [bread]. Along with training and awareness gives such good results that the big club Chelsea have started thinking along the same lines."

    The things you can learn by actually reading eh?!?

    Keep sticking your head in the sand Ondrej.. or maybe somewhere else where the sun don't shine :-P

    Seems to me your would rather be part of the problem than part of the solution.

    Reply: #17
  13. murray
    I have read reports that Kobe Bryant and the LA Lakers have gone low-carb, high fat. One article reported a couple of the players shared in purchasing an entire beef. Wow! Head-to-tail low-carb, high-fat diet professional basketball players.
    Reply: #14
  14. FrankG
    Kobe beef for Kobe Bryant? :-)
  15. Galina L.
    I have just a guess - the explosive strengh may increase with further adaptation to a LC diet. Another guess, carboloading right before a sport event could make sportsmen who is keto-adapted, to feel sluggish.
    Reply: #16
  16. FrankG
    Here's a thought experiment... my ice-age ancestors in what is today Southern Europe, emerge from their cave at the end of an extra long, cold, lean Winter... "sorry family, I cant possibly go hunting today, not with all that explosive sprinting and spear throwing... I need my Wheaties first!" :-)
  17. Ondej
    @ FG "the big club Chelsea have started thinking along the same lines."

    Just because they are thinking does not mean they are doing it. Otherwise they would have done it. Furthermore, I'm sure their low carb diet is not the one promoted by the low carb charlatans. It's much higher in carbs.

    You need to control your alcohol addiction and come out of the closet.

    Reply: #18
  18. Zepp
    And exactly what is that and one (1) diet those promotes?

    Let me gues.. could it posibly be lower then FDAs,WHOs and SLVs, 60-50% carbs?

    You know.. its this high carb diets that are totaly wrong.. one dont need to bulk on fast acting carbs to make sport activities!

    "Athletic ability

    The sixth point is that many wish to know how this change might affect their athletic abilities since they have been led to believe, not least by my writings in Lore of Running, that without a high carbohydrate intake they will be unable to exercise properly. What I now understand is that carbohydrates are relatively ineffective fuels for those with CR so that there is no risk that the exercise performance of those with CR will be impaired if they cut their carbohydrate intake as have I. Instead I am certain that the less carbohydrate that those with CR ingest (both in training and in racing), the better they will perform.

    My experiment has shown me that I can do any amount of exercise I wish without increasing my carbohydrate intake. (I walk for 6 hours on the mountain and race up to 21km without needing any more the 50-75 grams of carbohydrates a day that is already in my diet). We are currently researching a group of serious and some elite athletes who have adopted the Banting diet and who have found that their performances have improved substantially with weight loss and reduction of their carbohydrate intakes both before and during racing. We need to understand why this is possible.

    Not for everyone

    However those who can metabolise carbohydrates efficiently and who have always been lean despite eating a high carbohydrate diet may not benefit in any way from this eating plan. I would not advise any athlete who is lean and quite happy with his or her weight and performances to change to this eating plan since it might not make a difference and might even be detrimental.

    On the other hand I have noticed that there are a large number of slower finishers in the Argus Cycle Tour and in the Comrades Marathon who are, to put it scientifically, either overweight - body mass index (BMI) greater than 25kg/m2 or frankly obese (BMI greater than 30kg/m2). The point is that the BMI is an excellent proxy for whether or not one is eating the right amount of energy each day. If the BMI is greater than 25kg/m2 in males (somewhat less for females), one is eating more than one should.

    For there is also evidence that, within reason, the less one eats, the more likely it is that one will stay healthy for longer. Which raises the question: Why do those with BMIs greater than 25kg/m2 continue to eat too much even if they are exercising enough to compete in the Argus and the Comrades? The answer in my case was clear. It was not that I was gluttonous or lazy – the more usual explanation. It was because my brain was receiving false signals – based on my CR and the addictive effect of carbohydrates - about how much I really needed to eat. Once I corrected the signalling to my brain by adopting a high fat, low carbohydrate diet, I lost the urge to overeat.

  19. Murray
    I listened to interesting interviews with Dr. Dominic D'Agostino and Dr. Josh Axe. It seems to me the science of keto-performance is still in early stages and the potential has barely been realized. I get the sense that a lot of elite athletes are at least going grain free but a lot are also seeking to reduce carbohydrates to a minimum. The most obvious reasons are lower levels of oxidative stress damage from exercise, longer endurance and faster recovery. Dr. Axe, who provides nutritional coaching to many US Olympic athletes, reports, for example, that Michael Phelps had to seriously reduce his carbs training for the 2012 Olympics because he found as he was getting older he could not recover as fast eating all the carbs he did. So expect to see lots of diet engineering being developed in performance sports, to fine tune keto performance to the particular sport and body metabolism (carbohydrate tolerance seeming to decrease with age). Hockey, for example, is a very burst oriented sport. That is why hockey equipment smells so bad--the players burn glutamine anaerobically and generate ammonia byproduct. I've coached a relative in junior hockey to rely more on fat burning and to avoid high glycemic foods near game time (which would shift him into carb burning mode), but also to supplement with glutamine. This cured his previous tendency to fade in the third period. He does eat carbs, but carbs are booster fuel, not primary fuel.
  20. Jo tB
    In Europe it is called football, in Englsih speaking countries it is called soccer. So the Americans don't play much soccer. They play American football, which greatly resembles the English rugby. They pick it up and run with it. It involves a lot of tackling.

    The Aussies (Australians) are different again - they play Aussie Rules (a form of rugby) with no holes barred.

  21. Adam

    Peter Attia has been experimenting with this for performance. His articles are interesting and often technical. He demonstrates performance differences pre and post ketogenesis.

    +1 I especially like his discussion of calculating glycogen deficit for specific activities. Attia espouses a nutritional ketosis (NK) regimen, but does not view the state as optimal for the high-output activities he engages in. He also simply enjoys eating carbs now & then. Yet blindly loading up on them kicks him out of NK, and it takes a long time to recover from that lapse.

    So instead, using respiratory quotient (RQ) as a marker for glycogen depletion, he's come up with a way of calculating his carb requirement for a specific workout and tailoring the composition of adjacent meals so that he can enjoy glycogen-fueled training without interrupting his NK. Fascinating stuff.

    Reply: #22
  22. murray
    Adam, that is a helpful reference. I have relied on Attia's experimenting quite a bit. I believe he measures blood glucose and BHB level to ascertain the level of glycogen.The RQ tells him the rate of glycogen usage during the activity, which is much less than the percentage of fat-fueled energy during his training. Nonetheless, over hours, this will consume enough glycogen to create a safety margin in the glycogen buffer, so he can absorb blood sugar from excess carbs without triggering insulin and throwing him out of ketosis. My rule of thumb is that I have room in my glycogen buffer and can have some carbs above baseline (core low-carb vegetables and some berries) if morning blood sugar is 4.4 mmol/L or less and BHB is over 1.5 mmol/L. I don't have the equipment to measure my RQ, so I have to go by food craving and measuring blood glucose and BHB.

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