Athletes – both professional and amateur – need energy and endurance to achieve their goals in the gym and on the field. Some elite athletes find that their athletic performance isn’t the greatest on keto, and some even suffer from exercise fatigue and low blood sugar. The targeted ketogenic diet is a solution to these problems.
The targeted ketogenic diet (TKD) is a version of keto that still allows athletes to receive the benefits of the standard keto diet (SKD) – but with high-octane athletic performance.
If you’re looking to boost your performance, here’s your guide to a targeted ketogenic diet.
What Is a Targeted Ketogenic Diet?
Both TKD and SKD are high-fat and low-carb diets – even the daily macronutrient breakdown is similar:
- 10% of calories from carbohydrates
- 60% of calories from fat
- 30% of calories from protein
The biggest difference is when those carbs are consumed. On the SKD, your carbs are likely spread throughout the day, evenly across your meals. On a TKD, your carbs are consumed almost entirely at one time. For example, if you’re planning on an intense workout (think: HIIT), you might consume your daily carbs about 30 minutes prior to that workout session.
What does the timing of your carb consumption have to do with your workout? Timing your carbs helps your body in a few ways. A TKD can replenish your glycogen stores, which then prevents exercise fatigue and low blood sugar. 
At the end of the day, you’ve consumed the same amount of carbs, but you simply ate them prior to a big workout.
Who Benefits from TKD?
The TKD benefits athletes, but how well it works for you depends on what types of activities you participate in. Specifically, TDK works best for athletes who perform high-intensity exercises.
A TKD might benefit you if you are a:
- Professional athletes with the need for high-octane performance
- Long-distance runner who logs 30-50 miles per week
- CrossFit athlete
Carb re-feeding – consuming carbs prior to a workout – supplies the muscles with glucose, but due to the intensity of the activity, it is quickly consumed again. As a result, athletes can reduce their risk of low blood sugar and exercise fatigue. Assuming the workout is intense enough and the glycogen is depleted again, a TKD should not affect an athlete’s ability to get back into ketosis or maintain their weight.
A TKD might not be right for you if:
- You are focusing on weightlifting. Studies show that loading up on carbs before a weightlifting session may not be beneficial.  That’s because strength training doesn’t deplete your glycogen stores like an intense cardio workout does.
- You are focusing solely on weight loss. If you’re in this category, you might do better with the SKD.
- You are on keto for disease management. If you’re trying to manage a condition – like diabetes or PCOS – it’s best to stick with SKD.
- You focus only on light exercise activities like walking or yoga.
Comparing Standard Keto to Targeted Keto
Both the SKD and the TKD provide many of the same benefits to dieters. This includes weight loss, improved focus and clarity, and reduced cravings. If you already get these benefits with SKD, why should you even consider TKD?
If you’re a serious athlete, TKD can take your performance to the next level with:
The main difference between the two – and a major reason for trying TKD – is that TKD can help enhance athletic performance. When you time your carb consumption with your workouts, your glycogen stores are replenished, which serve as energy boosts for your muscles.  This is critical for events that test your endurance.
Improved lean muscle mass
Like the SKD, the TKD can help you build lean muscle mass.  This has the added benefit of increasing your power and performance, but also keeping your metabolism fast.
How to Start a Targeted Ketogenic Diet
If you’re already on SKD but not seeing the athletic performance and results you want, here are a few steps to get started with TKD.
- Become fat adapted. A TKD works best when you’re already fat adapted because your body has an easier time shifting in and out of ketosis. From the time you start SKD, it could take anywhere from four to six weeks for you to become fat adapted. It’s especially important to avoid TDK while you’re still dealing with keto flu.
- Calculate your macros.
- Consume about 15 grams of carbs 20-30 minutes before your workout. Fast-acting carbs include crackers, white bread, and sports drinks. If you don’t like working out on a full stomach, you can purchase a glucose gel.
- Stay hydrated and always keep your electrolytes balanced.
- Get back into ketosis. A quick influx of carbs can affect your blood sugar, but if you’re fat-adapted, you can get back into ketosis quickly. Try MCT oil after your workout. MCT oil can increase your ketones and give you another energy boost. You can also add a light workout after your intense workout. This helps your body stay in fat-burning mode.
Is TKD Right for You?
The best thing you can do for your specific goals is to stick with the version of keto that’s right for you. Not everyone benefits from TKD – and that’s okay. If you’re a keto athlete and struggling on the SKD, consider the TKD.
Have you tried TKD for athletic performance? Share your experience with us!
- Adeva-Andany, María M, et al. “Glycogen Metabolism in Humans.” BBA Clinical, Elsevier, 27 Feb. 2016.
- Wilson, Jacob M, et al. “The Effects of Ketogenic Dieting on Body Composition, Strength, Power, and Hormonal Profiles in Resistance Training Males.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 7 Apr. 2017.
- School of Sport and Exercise Sciences. “Carbohydrate and Exercise Performance: the Role of Multiple …: Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care.” LWW.
- Rauch, Jacob T, et al. “The Effects of Ketogenic Dieting on Skeletal Muscle and Fat Mass.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, BioMed Central, 1 Dec. 2014.
Interested in learning more about the Targeted Ketogenic Diet and working out on keto? Check out our OK32 Challenge which features a 30-day workout guide and e-book that discusses the benefits of TKD.
Kathryn Trudeau is a content writer and educational professional whose work centers on health and wellness and organic living. She has a passion for nutrition and fitness. She loves matcha, running, and crocheting.