By Taylor Carr, MS, ISSN-SNS, PN1


Keto: the diet that can curb your appetite, enhance your performance, and speed your fat loss. You’re probably thinking this is too good to be true. And you would most likely be correct! We all want to believe that bacon, butter, and shredded cheese is “for our health” and will help us reach our climbing goals. Will it? Most advocates for the Keto diet suggest that eating nearly zero carbohydrates and high amounts of fat will improve performance, enhance brain power, increase quality of life, and give you abs that could grate all that cheese you’re eating. But will this work for you?

Before we decide if this diet is right for you and your climbing performance, let’s talk more about what the Keto diet is. The Ketogenic (Keto) diet requires high amounts of fat, very low amounts of carbohydrates, and low-to-moderate amounts of protein. This is not your average “low-carb” diet. The Keto diet pulls 70-90 percent of calories from fat and 10-30 percent from a combination of carbohydrates and protein. If you are thinking, “Wow, that doesn’t leave room for much protein to support my recovery” you would be right. But we will get there!

By seriously restricting the amount of carbohydrates we are consuming, our body enters a state called ketosis. This is when the body begins using ketones as the primary fuel source instead of carbohydrates. Ketosis is also the state your body enters during starvation or fasting. Here is a nerdy breakdown of what goes on during ketosis:

  • Your body releases fatty acids that come from stored body fat
  • The fatty acids enter the cells to combine with co-enzyme A to form acetyl-CoA chains
  • The chains move into our mitochondria
  • Beta-oxidation happens and acetyl-CoA chains are broken down into units forming ketones
  • Ketones are released by the liver into the blood where cells that need energy grab them up (mostly the brain!)


Keto advocates argue that ketones are simply another energy source for the body like carbohydrates, protein, and fat. While that may not be completely inaccurate, ethanol (aka booze) can also be used for energy. Also, not recommended for obvious reasons. Regardless, your body is no longer using glycogen as its main source of energy. Ketones are being created now from your own fat stores and the fatty foods you are consuming.

Now that you know how the Keto diet manifests in your body, what does the macronutrient breakdown look like for this diet? The most common macronutrient split for a Keto diet is: 75 percent fat, 20 percent protein, and 5 percent carbohydrate. What stands out from this split?

Lots of fat! As mentioned before the Keto diet can contain an energy intake percentage that reaches 90 percent. Bring on the butter and eggs. You will also notice that there isn’t much room for protein. On average, a person on this diet will eat 15-20 percent of their calories from protein. And, of course, the very low amount of carbohydrates stands out. The goal is to make carbohydrates as close to zero percent as possible. Most Keto diet sources suggest 10-15 grams of carbohydrates per day. That’s about 10 grapes per day!

So what can you eat on a Keto diet? Here is a list to give you a visual:


  • Leafy greens (spinach, kale)
  • Cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts)
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Mushrooms

ProteinKeto Diet Food List for Beginners: What You Can and Cannot Eat

  • Fish
  • Meat
  • Seafood
  • Poultry
  • Eggs


  • Butter
  • Bacon
  • Egg yolk
  • Cheese
  • Avocado
  • Olive oil
  • Animal fat
  • Nut butter

And, if you are curious, here is what you cannot eat on Keto:

  • Starchy vegetables (example: sweet potatoes)
  • Beans or legumes
  • Grains
  • Fruit (except berries)
  • Most dairy products (except high-fat cheese or butter)

Not sure where to begin?

We have training plans available for any level athlete!

So is this diet a fit for you? There are a number of individuals in the climbing world, such as Dave MacLeod, that are promoters of the Keto diet. He has said that he is generally not even hungry while going out for a big day until he gets back. More than likely because fatty foods are quite satiating. While this has worked for him, it may not work for you. Most athletes find that the Keto diet has not worked for them in the past because either it took too long to find a measurable effect, it was too difficult to sustain, or ketosis showed little to no effect.

Let’s explore how the Keto diet may work for you to increase your athletic performance. Like I said before, this diet is not using glycogen for primary fuel, but ketones. So if you are not using glycogen, you are avoiding the depletion of glycogen stores. This means you are not needing to replenish those stores during activity. This could benefit high-performing endurance athletes. However, there is one issue. If we are not using glycogen, we are unable to move as quickly or efficiently. Recent studies suggest mixed results with very little results suggesting improvement in athletic performance.

An overlooked critique of the Keto diet is that individuals are generally not eating enough. As I mentioned before, fatty food is satiating. Fat also plays a strange role on your hormones, making you feel full when in fact your body is begging for more energy. That’s one reason Dave MacLeod loves this diet. His body has adapted to going on big days in the mountains not having to carry food in his pack. For most athletes, however, this can lead to dizziness, headaches, fatigue, and rapid heart rate.

With a lack of positive research data, it can be safe to say that the Keto diet will more than likely not take you to the next level in your climbing. As an athlete, it is important to understand what your body needs in order to perform. Unless you are a climber who also enjoys ultra-running, becoming adapted to using ketones for fuel will not help you send your project. And even if that is you, like all nutrition, results will vary.

The Keto diet is also restrictive. Rather than spend your time deciding foods that you should eliminate, focus on foods you may need to add. Maybe you are struggling to get an appropriate amount of vegetables or enough protein after a workout. You could be working through finding ways to switch most meals to minimally processed or whole foods. When we find ourselves on a diet that requires restricting calories or fasting, it can be stressful. Your climbing and training is already creating enough stress on your body. These stresses add up!

As I mentioned before, it is important to understand what your body needs as a climber. Am I getting enough calories to stay fueled on a big wall? Is the food I’m eating giving me enough energy to power through this boulder? Am I getting enough protein to recover from my strength session and perform well at the crag the following day? You put a lot of work into your training. These are questions that can help you determine your nutritional needs before jumping into a popular diet. Carefully monitor your dietary modifications to see how it is working in your body. It is always important to know that your diet is safe and actually having an effect on your performance.



Taylor has a dual Masters in Sports Nutrition and Strength and Conditioning. She also holds a certification through Precision Nutrition and is a certified Sports Nutritionist through the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN). Taylor got her climbing start on the beautiful granite of North Carolina. She has since moved to Lander, WY with her husband to be a nutrition and strength coach at Elemental Performance + Fitness.

Taylor works with athletes of all backgrounds to educate and instruct proper food fueling and nutrient timing. Taylor believes that with a functional nutrition plan, every athlete is able to better reach their unique climbing, fitness, and lifestyle goals. She is also passionate about helping individuals heal their relationship with food. Taylor offers one time consultations, monthly custom plans, and long-term coaching.



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