A pilot case study on the impact of a self-prescribed ketogenic diet on biochemical parameters and running performance in healthy and physically active individuals

Rainer Johannes Klement, Thomas Frobel, Torsten Albers, Sven Fikenzer, Jan Prinzhausen, Ulrike Kämmerer



Ketogenic diets (KDs) have gained some popularity not only as effective weight-loss diets and treatment options for several diseases, but also among healthy and physically active individuals for various reasons. However, data on the effects of ketosis in the latter group of individuals are scarce. We therefore collected pilot data on the physiological response to a self-prescribed ketogenic diet lasting 5-7 weeks in a small cohort of healthy and physically active individuals.


Twelve subjects (7 males, 5 females, age 24-60 years) who followed moderate to intensive exercise routines underwent blood testing, bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) and spiroergometry during an incremental treadmill test. On the next day, they went on a self-prescribed KD for a median of 38 days (range 35-50 days), after which the same tests were performed again. Ketosis was self-monitored by urinary ketone strips. Subjective feeling during the diet was assessed by a questionnaire after the intervention. Due to the small and heterogenous sample, the results are interpreted in the context of the already existing literature.


The KDs were tolerated well by the majority of individuals. Impaired recovery from exercise remained the most frequently reported side effect until the end of the study. Most blood parameters remained stable during the intervention. However, there were significant elevations of total and LDL cholesterol concentrations (p<0.01) and a trend towards increased HDL-cholesterol (p=0.05). The drastic reduction of carbohydrates had no statistically significant influence on running performance judged by the time to exhaustion, VO2max and respiratory compensation points. BIA measurements showed significant increases in phase angle (p=0.01) indicating improvements of body composition with an estimated decrease of 3.4 kg of fat mass (p=0.002) and gain of 1.3 kg of fat free mass. We discuss the validity of these estimates taking into account a possibly altered hydration status due to the KD.


Active healthy individuals will probably experience no major problems during a short term KD lasting several weeks. The drastically reduced carbohydrate content of the diet seems to be no limiting factor for running performance. In addition, improvements in body composition can be expected. While most biochemical parameters are not influenced by the diet, there seems to be an impact on the blood lipid profile that could be considered problematic with respect to cardiovascular disease risk. However, the predictive role of cholesterol levels alone in individuals undergoing regular physical activity remains to be elucidated.


High fat diet, exercise, bioimpedance analysis, blood lipids; fat loss; running performance

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Nutrition and Medicine ISSN: 2195-0083

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