No, You Don’t Have to Exercise on Keto… But Here’s Why You Should

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Exercise on keto

Most people who are trying to lose weight start out with the classic strategy – move more, eat less. They assume that by restricting their calories and exercising more, they can find a balance that causes them to lose weight, and to lose it fast.

Gym rats.

Cardio bunnies.

Whatever you call them, they persist… yet they never seem to lose that stubborn weight.

They might lose some, but it’s never as much as they’d like.

Or they do lose the weight, but they feel miserable because they’re not eating enough, and they’re overexerting themselves. Besides…

Cardio

Do I have to exercise though?

Well… that’s a question that is very difficult to answer. As with most keto related issues, it really depends on YOU.

Keep in mind, going forward, that what I say here is based on my own opinions, my own research (plus research compiled by others), and my own experiences. Your mileage may vary!

Why do people think you don’t need to exercise on keto?

A lot of people come to keto having heard that this is the best freaking diet in the world, because you don’t have to exercise. Someone who doesn’t know how keto works might not understand the basis of this idea.

Let’s unpack that statement first.

With a traditional American diet, our bodies process our food in a specific way. When we eat carbs, our bodies take the glucose and use it for energy. Some glucose is stored for later energy uses, and whatever is leftover gets stored on the body as fat. (This is a very simplified look at a very detailed process, but it’s pretty much all you need to know for now!)

With that traditional diet, it makes sense that we would have to exercise a lot to make up for any excess calories and to prevent that fat storage on our bodies.

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Fat as fuel

However, on a ketogenic diet, our bodies switch fuel sources. When we deprive our bodies of carbs, they realize that glucose is no longer a sufficient fuel source. This sends our bodies into a sort of panic mode, during which they look for other, more abundant sources of fuel.

And what do they find?

Fat. And lots of it.

When we start eating significantly fewer carbs and more fat, our bodies see that fat as a potential fuel source, and start burning through it instead.

This is why people say that you don’t need to exercise on keto. Your body is constantly burning fat already, and chances are, you’re going to see significant fat loss without any exercise at all.

(It is worth noting that a large part of the reason low carb high fat diets are so effective is because low carb diets help suppress your appetite. On a diet like keto, we naturally eat less, which decreases the need for significant calorie burning exercise.)

So, no more carbo loading?

Well, no, not really. See, that’s another thing that confuses keto beginners. We’re trained to load up on carbs before any real high intensity exercise. There’s even science behind it! Michael Scott approves!

Carbo loading

When it comes down to it, though, it’s just not necessary. Your body can actually create the very little bit of glucose it needs through a process called gluconeogenesis. This is a process by which our bodies convert protein into glucose.

In addition, studies show that there is simply no negative effect on your aerobic ability when you take carbs out of your diet. It’s just not something you need to worry about.

So why should I exercise, then?

There are lots of reasons that everyone should exercise, regardless of the diet they follow. KetoDiet Blog has a great article on the effects of exercise on a ketogenic diet. I’ll sum up Martina’s research for you (and provide her resources) here:

Improved bone mineral density: As we age, our bones get weaker. Studies show that bone mineral density in obese postmenopausal women is improved using resistance training.

Improved immunity: Exercise keeps us healthy and helps us fight off germs. We’ve always known that! Exercise helps strengthen your immune system.

Improving diabetes by increasing insulin sensitivity: This study shows that “high-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIT) increases insulin sensitivity by up to 58%, especially in patients with type 2 diabetes. The same source shows that moderate aerobic exercise lowers blood sugar levels while HIIT temporarily increases blood sugar.” (Credit: KetoDiet Blog)

Brain health: Exercise is one of the best ways to fend off neurological diseases.

Cardiovascular health: Turns out, fat isn’t the reason your elderly relatives have heart disease. (Spoiler alert: Fat is good for you.) At any rate, regardless of the type, exercise helps keeps your heart healthy.

Anti-aging benefits: There are certain health issues that almost certainly lower your life expectancy: high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease, and cancer. Exercise may help fight off those issues, helping to increase your life expectancy.

(Thanks again to Martina for doing this research and sharing it! KetoDiet Blog is a great resource and we highly recommend checking out the site, and downloading the app.)

Low carb exercise

Exercise can help you avoid loose skin

This is a subject that not a lot of people want to talk about, but almost all of us with a lot of weight to lose worry about. It might also be almost impossible to avoid.

However, the reality of the situation is that if you’ve got a lot of weight to lose, you’re probably going to have some loose skin once that weight is gone. For the majority of folks, it’s not very noticeable unless you see them without clothes, or if you really know what to look for.

But there are ways to fight it, and one of those ways is exercise. Here are a few strategies to help avoid the loose skin issue.

Lose weight slowly

This is hard to manage on a ketogenic diet, because sometimes it seems like the weight is just falling right off. On a low carb diet, you probably have more control over how quickly you’re losing, so keep that in mind. Losing a lot of weight in a short amount of time (some keto dieters report having lost 100+ pounds in a year!) is going to shock the heck out of your body, and you’re going to have loose skin.

Drink plenty of water

Drinking lots of water keeps your skin hydrated and helps maintain skin elasticity. In addition, it keeps you feeling fuller for longer, which means you eat less. According to Livestrong, “an adult should start with 1 quart for every 50 pounds, or 5 quarts for a 250 pound person, and adjust as needed.”

Eat right

There are some of us who are able to lose weight consistently on a low carb or ketogenic diet as long as we stay below 20 grams of net carbs. No counting macros, no worrying about whole foods or fat intake or artificial ingredients. And for those people, it’s really tempting to allow yourself plenty of low carb snacks – Atkins bars, Quest bars, protein drinks, and so on. Keep in mind, though, that the best source of protein is to eat real protein! The best source of fat is to eat healthy fats! Even though you technically can lose weight while filling up on these artificial foods, it doesn’t mean that’s the best way to eat. It’s important to remember to eat nutrient-rich foods such as spinach, broccoli, and other foods rich in Vitamin C. Linoleic acid also helps support skin elasticity and how well it holds up. You can find linoleic acid in chicken, nuts, and seeds.

Exercise

Exercise helps us tighten and tone our bodies, and of course, our skin. It’s important to maintain our muscle tone as we lose weight. There’s nothing wrong with doing cardio (running, biking, Zumba, etc.). However, strength training, which is exercise that uses resistance, is the best way to build muscle. Building more muscle means that your skin is doing something, not just hanging there.

Low carb vegetables
(Image from The Well Armed Woman)

Strength training examples

Strength training is definitely what I’d recommend if you’re trying to avoid loose skin. It’s okay if you have no idea what you’re doing, though – there are lots of different types of strength training exercises, and I guarantee it’ll be easy to find something suitable for your lifestyle! The following ideas all come from Peak Fitness – check out the site for tons of information on weight loss, exercise, and fitness!

Bodyweight exercises (which literally just use the weight you’re already carrying around) are incredibly convenient for anyone just starting out on their fitness journey, or for someone with a busy lifestyle. The great thing about bodyweight exercises is that you don’t need any equipment to perform them. This means you can do them anytime, anywhere. Also, they’re free – no gym membership required! Some of the best bodyweight exercises are squats, push ups, and lunges. (If you want more inspiration, Livestrong has you covered with The 20 Best Body-Weight Exercises.)

Kettlebells are an incredibly versatile piece of equipment. Using just one kettlebell can give you a complete full-body workout. They’re reasonably priced and can be purchased in a variety of weights, like hand weights. Some of the more simple bodyweight exercises can also be performed with a kettlebell, increasing the level of difficulty and efficacy. Quick, easy, and efficient!

Another tool that’s great for the elderly and those with injuries? Resistance bands. If you didn’t think a simple piece of elastic fabric could give you a thorough workout, think again. Resistance bands can be used to enhance the bodyweight exercises you’re already doing. For example, try doing pushups with the resistance band across your back. Holding your hands in place means that with every single push up, you’re adding even more resistance than you’d normally get with a simple bodyweight movement. (Another bonus is that they’re really easy to travel with – toss them in your suitcase, and they take up about as much space as a pair of socks!)

Exercise on keto

Another type of strength training that is super easy to work into your daily life? Using hand weights. Hand weights are small, inexpensive, and can be used just about anywhere. They also come in a variety of weights, so you can buy the appropriate weight for your strength level. If you have a hard time motivating yourself to get off the couch, keep a set of hand weights nearby. Every time a commercial comes on, challenge yourself to do a set of shoulder presses or bicep curls. (This is also a great way for the elderly to work in some small but significant exercise on a daily basis!)

Want to actually have fun while you’re exercising? Try a medicine ball. They’re usually about the size of a soccer ball or a basketball, and like kettlebells, they can be added to just about any type of body weight exercises. This small addition to your workout can pack a heavy punch; medicine balls are great for giving you a thorough, full-body workout, without the need for large, bulky pieces of gym equipment. If you’re curious about how you can work medicine balls into your routine, check out Greatist for a list of 25 Must-Try Medicine Ball Exercises.

If you do want to take the plunge and sign up for a gym membership, that’s where you’ll find the greatest range of strength training opportunities. You’ll have access to lots of different machines, all which work specific parts of the body. A great benefit to a gym membership is that you’ll have access to trainers who can coach you on exactly how to use the equipment and get the most out of your experience. Most gyms also offer strength training classes – this is where classes like Pilates come into play. If you’re new to strength training, it can be intimidating to try it in public. However, you’ll definitely see great benefits from the variety of machines at the gym. You’ll also have access to knowledgeable athletes.

Full body health

Yes, you can lose weight on keto without exercising at all, especially if you have a lot to lose. However, the full body benefits of exercise (not to mention the mental benefits as well!) are incredibly important and worth considering. It’s okay to start small. It’s okay to take your time. Remember, this is the only body you’re ever going to have! Love it and take care of it!

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