Ketogenic diets, physical activity and body composition: a review

Damoon Ashtary-Larky, Reza Bagheri*, Hoda Bavi, Julien S. Baker, Tatiana Moro, Laura Mancin, Antonio Paoli

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Obesity remains a serious relevant public health concern throughout the world despite related countermeasures being well understood (i.e. mainly physical activity and an adjusted diet). Among different nutritional approaches, there is a growing interest in ketogenic diets (KD) to manipulate body mass (BM) and to enhance fat mass loss. KD reduce the daily amount of carbohydrate intake drastically. This results in increased fatty acid utilisation, leading to an increase in blood ketone bodies (acetoacetate, 3-β-hydroxybutyrate and acetone) and therefore metabolic ketosis. For many years, nutritional intervention studies have focused on reducing dietary fat with little or conflicting positive results over the long term. Moreover, current nutritional guidelines for athletes propose carbohydrate-based diets to augment muscular adaptations. This review discusses the physiological basis of KD and their effects on BM reduction and body composition improvements in sedentary individuals combined with different types of exercise (resistance training or endurance training) in individuals with obesity and athletes. Ultimately, we discuss the strengths and the weaknesses of these nutritional interventions together with precautionary measures that should be observed in both individuals with obesity and athletic populations. A literature search from 1921 to April 2021 using Medline, Google Scholar, PubMed, Web of Science, Scopus and Sportdiscus Databases was used to identify relevant studies. In summary, based on the current evidence, KD are an efficient method to reduce BM and body fat in both individuals with obesity and athletes. However, these positive impacts are mainly because of the appetite suppressive effects of KD, which can decrease daily energy intake. Therefore, KD do not have any superior benefits to non-KD in BM and body fat loss in individuals with obesity and athletic populations in an isoenergetic situation. In sedentary individuals with obesity, it seems that fat-free mass (FFM) changes appear to be as great, if not greater, than decreases following a low-fat diet. In terms of lean mass, it seems that following a KD can cause FFM loss in resistance-trained individuals. In contrast, the FFM-preserving effects of KD are more efficient in endurance-trained compared with resistance-trained individuals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1898-1920
Number of pages23
JournalBritish Journal of Nutrition
Issue number12
Early online date12 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2022

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

User-Defined Keywords

  • Body composition
  • Endurance training
  • Fat mass
  • Fat-free mass
  • Ketogenic diet
  • Obesity
  • Resistance training


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