Keto and Inflammation/Oxidative Damage
While acute inflammation induced from exercise results in a desirable hormetic stressor (the beneficial effects of a treatment that at a higher intensity is harmful. In exercise for example, hormesis means sublethal exposure to stressors which induce a response that results in stress resistance), ongoing inflammation leads to many chronic diseases and is considered undesirable for human health and exercise recovery.
Ketones are inherently an anti-inflammatory compound – as we’ll discuss below – and thus theoretically could lead to enhanced recovery from exercise. Hard exercise is great, but if an athlete cannot adequately recover from that exercise, then they will not be able to get stronger, better and faster.
These are some of the impacts ketos can have on recovery, both in terms of oxidative stress and inflammation.
We are all familiar (maybe too much) with inflammation, but oxidative stress is defined as an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body. This means excessive free radicals can react with other molecules in the body and cause harmful oxidation.
Oxidative Stress Study: Suppression of Oxidative Stress by β-Hydroxybutyrate, an Endogenous Histone Deacetylase Inhibitor
This study is highly over-complicated with jargon, but the takeaway, in the scientist’s words, is this: “Treatment of mice with BHB conferred substantial protection against oxidative stress.” The take home is that ketones (BHB) result in substantial protection against oxidative stress.
Again, this study was done on rats, but the activation of protective enzymes against oxidative stress can only help the CrossFit athlete. By reducing oxidative stress, one is doing slightly less damage to the body, which would theoretically enhance recovery and allow the athlete to get after their training day after day.
Oxidative Stress and Inflammation Study: Keto-Adaptation and Endurance Exercise Capacity, Fatigue Recovery, and Exercise-Induced Muscle and Organ Damage Prevention: A Narrative Review.
This review was done on endurance athletes and had some strong findings in favor of ketones. As the authors note:
“Keto-adaptation may provide a consistent and fast energy supply, thus improving exercise performance and capacity. With its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties, a KD may contribute to muscle health, thus preventing exercise-induced fatigue and damage.”
The review acknowledges that ketones are inherently anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative, meaning they will reduce inflammation and oxidation within the body. Some damage is always necessary, because the body will grow back stronger by adapting to the new stimulus. That is why exercising consistently over time improves performance, a process known as hormetic stressor, as discussed above.
While following a ketogenic diet the body still gets stressed from CrossFit® training, and thus still adapts. What this study reveals is that there are mechanisms happening in the body to actively repair and strengthen muscle health, especially during a keto diet, that might help the keto athlete bounce back faster.
Another jargon filled study, but with a simple conclusion. As the authors note:
“Our findings suggest that the anti-inflammatory effects of caloric restriction or ketogenic diets may be linked to BHB-mediated inhibition of the NLRP3 inflammasome.”
The NLRP3 inflammasome is a protein complex that initiates an inflammatory response by resulting in cell death and the release of proinflammatory molecules. The finding that the keto diet reduces this process means it is a highly anti-inflammatory diet.
Less inflammation means more time spent training and less time spent recovering. This is big.
The keto diet has also been found to have beneficial effects on mental health and sleep, find out more.