Pritchard: Breaking down the low-carb ketogenic diet — what carbs should you eat? (column) |

Pritchard: Breaking down the low-carb ketogenic diet — what carbs should you eat? (column)

Jimmy Pritchard
Better Version of You
Jimmy Pritchard A Better Version of You

One of the most highly debated topics in modern day nutrition is carbohydrate intake.

The low-carb ketogenic diet has gained recent popularity as a means to control body composition as well as kick-start weight loss. Juxtaposed to that are vegan eaters and the majority of Americans whose diet is primarily composed of carbohydrates.

Based on all of the literature I’ve seen, there is no single, cure-all diet, and every person has different requirements. Allergies, disease and medical history largely determine what one should be eating.

I do not claim to be a dietitian or nutritionist, but what is alarming to me is the willingness of athletes and active population to partake in an exclusive diet such as the ketogenic diet. I believe that such a diet has its place and can be highly effective when properly implemented. However, for the majority of individuals who choose to partake in high-intensity sport or activity, it is not a useful tactic.

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Low carb holes

Low carbohydrate diets can be an effective tool for those seeking improved body composition and a diet overhaul. If an athlete partaking in high intensity efforts chooses to follow such a diet, however, problems may arise.

I primarily train athletes who focus on short bouts of intense, explosive work anywhere from 10 seconds to 2 minutes. These athletes are required to use anaerobic glycolysis for not only their events (ski racing, basketball, football, track, etc.) but their daily training, as well. The primary fuel source for anaerobic glycolysis is glucose and glycogen, synthesized from carbohydrates.

Reduced muscle glycogen stores, reduced liver glycogen stores and reduced circulating blood glucose are experienced by athletes who partake in a diet low in carbohydrates. This can cause reduced recoverability between bouts of intense effort, reduced power about, decreased muscle anabolism and increased fatigue.

Obviously, from there, performance would decrease as the athlete would not be able to supply the proper amount of energy needed for their competition.

For those seeking muscular hypertrophy, low carbohydrate diets would also negatively impact results as carbohydrates in combination with essential amino acids help increase muscular protein synthesis as well as stimulate mTOR pathways in combination with proper strength training. This does not mean, however, that any type of carbohydrates should be eaten. I advocate plant-based, whole food, minimally processed food options as the best way to consume carbohydrates. A few examples include but are not limited to: sweet potatoes, oats, quinoa, squash, rice, amaranth and fruit. No matter what diet is being followed, real food should be the majority of what is being consumed.


Undoubtedly, each and every person will vary in their individual nutrition needs. Only a true dietitian can recommend what is best for an individual, but I would like you to consider what you truly need to eat for performance and longevity based on your lifestyle. Following trends and or random advice will not only confuse you but could ultimately harm you. Ensure that you do your research and apply the knowledge to your own situation. Do not exclude any particular macronutrient simply for the sake of doing so as you may be not only harming your performance but your health, as well. Thanks for reading, as always, and have a great week.

Jimmy Pritchard has a BS in Exercise Science from Colorado Mesa University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the director of strength and conditioning at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. Pritchard’s passion is to help others meet, and often exceed their goals in all areas of fitness. Contact him at 970-331-3513 or

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