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The Ketogenic Diet and Recovery for CrossFit (Part 3)

Keto and Mental Health

The Ketogenic diet can have effects on an athlete’s mental health. While this topic is not directly related to CrossFit or athleticism, it is a key component of a healthy individual and a healthy athlete. An individual with a brain firing 110% on all cylinders is going to be much more successful in all their endeavours, both in athletics and life. 

Neural Health & Mental Health Study: Ketone bodies are protective against oxidative stress in neocortical neurons.

This study has similar findings as the prior studies, in that ketones are found to reduce oxidative damage and reduce free radical production, but this time specifically in the brain.

As the authors note: “Taken together, our data suggest that KB may prevent mPT and oxidative injury in neocortical neurons, most likely by decreasing mitochondrial ROS production.” 

Again, a healthier brain makes a healthier overall human. By reducing free radicals in the brain, and providing an alternative fuel source to glucose, ketones have also been found to help alleviate symptoms of many neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s.

As an aside, there are many anecdotes, including my own, of people switching to a keto diet and having their depression and anxiety become drastically reduced to almost non-existent.

Keto and Sleep

Good sleep is critical for good recovery, as all CrossFit athletes should know. Sleep is the time to repair and restore the mind and body.

Sleep Study #1: Ketogenic diet improves sleep quality in children with therapy-resistant epilepsy.

This study was done on epileptic children, but it is one of the few that exist for the impact that keto has on sleep, so we will take a look at it. What the authors found was that a ketogenic diet:

“[…] improves sleep quality in children with therapy-resistant epilepsy. The improvement in sleep quality, with increased REM sleep, seems to contribute to the improvement in QOL.” QOL stands for quality of life.

While this study is not directly relevant to most people, because it was done on children with severe epilepsy, the improvement in sleep quality and the increase in REM sleep is very interesting. REM sleep is the phase of sleep during which the brain is restored, and ideas and skills acquired during the day are formed into concrete memories.

Improved REM sleep potentially means the athlete would pick up new skills and techniques quickly with the brain converting more from the daily experience into long-term memory.

Sleep Study #2: The Neuropharmacology of the Ketogenic Diet 

This study is interesting because it does not directly cover sleep, but it does cover GABA, which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning it decreases activity in the nervous system.

GABA helps the body relax and is a common ingredient in supplements for sleep.

To quote the study, “…ketone bodies have been found to increase brain synaptosomal GABA content.” The study goes over many potential mechanisms of how ketones may influence GABA production or uptake, but no definitive mechanisms have been found.

However, as I alluded to earlier, many people report reduced anxiety and less mental agitation on the keto diet, suggesting that it plays some role in calming neurotransmitters.

The Ketogenic Diet and Recovery for CrossFit

While this article doesn’t directly cover CrossFit or exercise performance, we did cover many ancillary topics that directly impact health, recovery, wellness and sleep.

The keto diet and ketones themselves can have many healing properties, including making one more metabolically efficient, increased physical and mental performance, reduced inflammation, reduced oxidative damage and reduced production of free radicals, together with an improvement in mental health, and a potential improvement in sleep.

All of these topics contribute to an overall healthy human, and are especially critical for an athlete who puts their body under intense stress and needs to recover quickly and effectively to continue to work out day after day. Stay tuned for our final post!


All content within this article is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional.

Nic and Lindsay are certified Ketogenic Living Health Coaches, accredited by both NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) and AFAA (Athletics and Fitness Association of America).

Collectively known as the Millennial Keto Couple, Nic and Lindsay run Millennial Methods to help others fix underlying health issues or optimise their body composition and athletic performance through keto. You can find more of their work under: https://www.millennialmethods.com/8-week-keto-fit-challenge.

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