Nutrition Tips For the Low-Carb Athlete

Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
by Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
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Nutrition Tips For the Low-Carb Athlete

Trying to cut carbs from your diet and still workout has its challenges. Read these tips to make sure your low-carb intake is still fueling your performance.

Carbohydrates have long been the go-to fuel source for athletic performance due their ability to quickly supply the body with energy to use during activity. However, many athletes are currently experimenting with eating fewer carbohydrates through popular diets like keto, Paleo and Whole30.

For beginners engaged in fitness routines who are doing workouts of short duration and lower intensity, cutting carbohydrates might assist with achieving sustained weight loss and body composition goals without sacrificing health and performance.

It’s important to note low-carb diets come in many different forms and mean different things to different people. Low-carbohydrate eating can range from less than 50% of daily calories coming from carbohydrates to very low-carb consumption (<10% of daily calories), the typical threshold to induce ketosis in the body. The lower your carbohydrate consumption, the more you need to watch for potential nutrition, health and fitness shortcomings.

These tips can help ensure you’re taking care of your health and nutrition needs while training on a lower-carb intake.


Plenty of carbohydrate-rich foods are over sugared, over processed and simply unhealthy. When reducing carbs, your goal should be to reduce the poor-quality ones first such as white bread, pasta, fried foods, candy, sweet drinks and baked goods.


When your carbohydrates are limited, make sure to include the most nutrient-rich options, giving you the best bang for your buck. Vegetables, dairy, legumes, potatoes/squash and fruit should all make their way into your diet, even in small amounts, to provide a range of nutrients and fiber.


Check in with your performance goals and track how you’re progressing. Measuring power output, speed, reps or weight lifted throughout your low-carb journey helps ensure you’re still able to keep up fitness goals while eating this way. If you notice the numbers starting to drop or be stagnant, it might be time to reconsider your intake.

Feeling lethargic is a big side effect of going low carb, especially if training for hours day after day as glycogen stores continue to become depleted. This can be compounded by headaches and restlessness, especially in the beginning of a low-carb plan. If your energy levels don’t return to normal after several weeks of eating low carb, the diet may not mesh with your individual needs.


Carbohydrates promote water intake as it takes more water to utilize the macronutrient. Even with fewer carbs, you still need to be on top of hydration. Be mindful to drink water throughout the day and during workouts.


There are many healthy, nutrient- and fiber-rich foods that are carbohydrate-rich such as fruits, vegetables and legumes. Eating a very low-carb diet means reducing, if not excluding, these items and therefore reducing the amount of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients your body gets. Taking a multivitamin daily can assist with filling the nutrient gaps.

Low-carb diets have been shown to be beneficial in long-term weight loss and maintenance, but the results on muscle gain and performance outputs are mixed as carbohydrates are a big part of the recovery and energy production process; meaning this style may or may not work for your fitness needs.

Making a choice to eat low carbohydrate should be in your best interest and not due to popular and social influence. When limiting any major nutrient source, it is important to pay close attention to your body and health markers. Checking in with a dietitian to make sure your intake is nutrient rich and a physician to check health markers periodically while on this diet can only help you reach your goals.

Build healthy habits with the Low Carb Meal Plan. Sign up to receive daily tips and registered dietitian-approved recipes tailored to your personal calorie and carb goals. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app to try our 28-day Low Carb Meal Plan.

About the Author

Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD

Lori, MS RD CSSD is an accomplished sports dietitian; she holds a Master’s Degree in Human Nutrition and Certification as a Specialist in Sports Nutrition. As a current professional road cyclist and previous elite marathoner and ultra-runner, Lori knows firsthand that food can enhance or diminish performance gains. She understands the importance of balancing a quality whole food based diet with science-backed performance nutrition and strives to share this message with others. Learn more about her @HungryForResults.


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