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Are There Essential Supplements For Exercisers On A Ketogenic Diet?

A lot of good topics for discussion come from clients and readers of this blog. I appreciate the input as my goal has always been to help cut through the hype and provide people with information they can use to make their own decisions.

Sure, I’ll make recommendations from time to time based on my personal experience and that from working with clients.

But I understand the basic conundrum with fitness, nutrition, and weight loss advice…the fact that people are unique!

There are some universal and fundamental truths, like for example the fact that natural foods will always be better for human health and performance over processed and refined foods. These are things everyone should be able to agree on.

However, when we get into the specifics over which diet is really best, which exercise routine is best, etc, this takes us into a grey area where it really comes down to the individual, their unique needs, preferences, and end objectives.

More after the jump…

Strong proponents of one particular method will often vilify and make arguments against opposing viewpoints as a way to make their way appear “better.”

Supporting evidence from research and experience is fine, but bashing opposing strategies or methods for the purpose of elevating your own position can often have the opposite effect for objective readers.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have my own set of beliefs and don’t hesitate to share these beliefs with my readers. On the same token, I attempt (although not perfect like anyone else) to provide due respect for everyone’s beliefs. To each his own as they say.

I say all of this to let you know I certainly welcome and encourage comments, feedback, and questions on this blog.

I’ll give you my two cents on a particular subject for what it’s worth based on knowledge and experience, but won’t hesitate either to say “I don’t know,” or “here’s what I believe, take it with a grain of salt and be open to experimentation and seeing what works best for you.”

Topic for today’s discussion…

In today’s post I’ll be addressing a question I received from a reader on Choline supplements for those who exercise frequently and follow a ketogenic /low carb diet (albeit these can mean two very different things).

Shane! My friends and clients are a big fan of your articles and always discuss them when we meet (true: I’m the one telling them how essential it is to keep up with the latest research findings and  read your always great and unbiased analysis).

We came up with an idea for a blog that we’d all very much benefit from:

“Essential supplements for active people on a ketogenic/low-carb diet.”

We work out (strength training) 5x week and always ask ourselves: what supplements (other than a good multivitamin and omega 3) should we be taking since we don’t have much glucose or sodium stored in our muscles?

We’ve asked this question to other specialists before but they all have an agenda and push us to go with whatever brand of supplements they have a deal with. YOU are the only specialist we know of who is 100% non-partisan.

Just thought I’d share our idea with you. Thanks!

This is an excellent question and once again it’s an area where individual needs will vary.

For starters, there are varying degrees of ketogenic diets. You’ve got everything from the type used in clinical settings for the treatment of epilepsy, to semi low-carb versions where the individual goes in and out of ketosis as needed to meet energy demands.

Instead of going into the details of pros-cons of each and which is best kind of stuff, we’ll look to focus primarily on the needs of exercisers who are following a ketogenic type diet of some sort.

This will help us to identify potential needs for a very specific group, those who are exercising vigorously several times a week with strength training, but not consuming much in the form of carbohydrates from fruits and starches.

A full scale ketogenic diet (like that used for the treatment of epilepsy) wouldn’t be recommended for those individuals doing strength training and looking to maintain/build lean muscle tissue.

The problem is these diets are very high fat (80% or more dietary fat based) and wouldn’t provide sufficient protein to support lean body mass.

A better approach in this scenario (for those who wish to follow a ketogenic type diet for whatever reason) would be follow a strategy where essential fatty acids are met but protein consumption is sufficient to support muscle tissue.

Resources for information on ketogenic / low carb dieting

In my opinion one of the foremost experts in this area is Lyle McDonald and he’d be a good resource if you’re looking for a particular strategy to follow or for more information. You can check out his books and articles at

You can also check out my good friend Jimmy Moore over at the “Living La Vida Low Carb” blog. Sharp guy who has “walked the walk” and provides a depth thoughtful information, research, and expert guests on his show.

I pass these links on humbly as there’s a lot more to learn and pick up from these guys specific to low-carb or ketogenic type diets than I could honestly ever provide.

But, back to the question at hand. Here’s my suggestions based on my individual perspective.

The use of a high quality multi-vitamin/mineral support supplement would certainly top the list as already mentioned. So to would be the inclusion of fish or krill oil for essential omega-3 fatty acids.

Not to brush past these two staple supplements as they certainly would be VERY important, especially so for those following a ketogenic / low-carb diet.

I’d highly recommend anyone who’s training hard with several strength training workouts a week and following a ketogenic type diet to regularly have blood work done to assess micronutrient levels as well as inflammation markers, etc.

Benefits of blood testing to assess your individual needs…

Seriously, this is going to come with the territory per say if you’re going to regularly follow a ketogenic type diet.

It would simply be to difficult to assume where deficiencies may be and if imbalances exist without testing due to bioindividuality. If you don’t want to go to a doctor there are several on-line services you can use privately and have testing conducted inexpensively at a local LabCorp, etc.

I’ve used these services before and results come back often within 2-3 days. You simply go and have blood drawn and then wait for an email with the test results.

Due to the nature of the diet and the demands from exercise, an additional supplement I’d add to the list would be vitamin D. Make sure however you choose a high quality supplement in the form of D3.

D3 is the active form of vitamin D that is produced during exposure to UVB from sunlight. Getting exposure to sunlight for several minutes a day is optimal but in some areas there are several months when UVB is very limited.

I’d recommend probably taking vitamin D as a supplement even if it’s included in small amounts in your multi-vitamin. Of course testing specific for these levels is a good idea.


A quick note on vitamin D testing. There have been several reports out recently showing the inaccuracy of vitamin D blood tests. Take note of this as the research seems legit.

A review of 163 randomly selected blood samples found that results from 40% of patients screened with Abbott’s Architect test and 48% with Siemens’ Centaur-2 test were either more than 25% too high or more than 25% too low when compared to LCMS (liquid chromatography/mass spectrometery).

Bottom Line Healthletter September 2012

For best results look for vitamin D tests that use LCMS or the radioimmunoassay blood test.

The primary concerns for those following a ketogenic type diet and training vigorously (outside of meeting protein needs and not over-training) would be free radicals and the loss of minerals/electrolytes.

Remember ketosis causes elevated levels of the ketone body “acetoacetate” which generates free radicals. Likewise all that vigorous exercise, while beneficial from the big picture standpoint, produces oxidative stress and free radicals.

Since you’re not getting a lot of antioxidants from fruits in a ketogenic type diet, you’ll have to work on getting them from other sources.

Instead of pounding down a bunch of vitamin C and synthetic vitamins individually (which really doesn’t do much at the cellular level), look for other ways to boost antioxidant levels.

Some examples of antioxidant support include:

- black coffee (yes, that’s black and not anything ending in “o” from Starbucks!)

- green tea (or green tea extract)

- leafy green vegetables (yes, this should be a no-brainer)

- whole food based supplement like Juice Plus or Nutrition Essentials from NCP.

Yeah, these last two are both supplements, but I’m not currently a distributor and this isn’t a sales pitch. I’m a big fan of the products however and use them myself. The Juice Plus is basically powdered fruits and vegetables in capsule form. In essence you’re getting antioxidants from whole foods and not synthetic vitamins.

The Nutrition Essentials is a powder you can add to shakes, smoothies, etc. It contains whole food based antioxidants, vitamins, and pro-oxidant nutrients including tocopherols. NCP makes some really high quality supplements and this is simply a better alternative than trying to get your micro-level nutrition from synthetic vitamins.

The two products are obviously different but the end objective is the same. I’m looking for high quality supplements with minimal processing from whole food sources to provide micro-nutrient, probioitic, enzyme, and antioxidant support.

We’re talking about getting as close as we can to eating the real live food. When that’s not always possible (or feasible due to a dietary strategy), I want to get in the next best thing and not rely solely on a Centrum for example to adequately fill in the gaps.

Here’s a link to learn more about Nutrition Essentials.

Also here’s a link to Juice Plus if you’d like to check that out as well.

These products and those similar from whole food sources help to provide fundamental antioxidant support at the cellular level, the way nature intended.

Seriously, this is what it REALLY comes down to…

As long as your meeting fiber, protein, and essential fatty acid needs, the main concern is oxidative stress and the ever present battle between free-radicals and antioxidants.

For those following a ketogenic type diet and strength training, your needs are amplified. You simply need extra antioxidant support. Keep the balance shifted towards more antioxidants than free radicals and you’re on the right path.

Allow free radicals to outnumber the antioxidants (bad guys versus the good guys) and health will be compromised in some way, period.

Honestly, that’s the best bit of advice I can provide. Anything else would be purely speculative on my part and not take into consideration the unique needs of each individual.

There’s a case to be made supporting the use of supplements like CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) for those on ketogenic type diets who strength train vigorously, but I won’t go so far as to include that in the “essential” list.

The jury is still out since research in inconclusive but it’s worth mentioning.

Once again I think individual blood testing is probably one of the best strategies since it will help determine individual deficiencies and imbalances.

In general though as a recap, here are the essentials…

- a good multi-vitamin/mineral support supplement

- a high quality fish or krill oil supplement

- a high quality vitamin D3 supplement

- antioxidant support (ideally from whole food based products or drinks)

So there it is, my two cents for what it’s worth.

As always feel free to leave me your comments or provide any further questions for discussion.

Take care and God bless.

Shane Doll is a certified personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Fitness Training Studios. If you’re looking for a personal trainer in Charleston, you can receive a no-obligations personal training trial and consultation without risking a dime. Over 1000 Charleston area residents have transformed their bodies following our unique burst training workouts and simplified nutrition programs. Experience the Shaping Concepts difference today.

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