Keto and Exercise: Weight Training and Cardio on a Keto Diet

Article by Jemma Walsh, Blog Editor for Study Active. 

Disclaimer – this article will explore the concept of dieting and exercising by collating views of those that advocate this. The content of the article is not intended as, and should not be interpreted as, nutritional advice, always speak to a nutritionist before starting a new diet or exercise program. 

A Keto diet is one of the most popular diet trends and something that is a regular topic of conversation amongst those participating in weight loss and personal training. (Tell us you haven’t at least googled it?) When I first started researching the ketogenic or keto diet and exercise, I was intrigued by its potential for weight loss and improved health, but as someone who loves working out, I wondered about how keto and working out actually works and if I am really going to be able to continue working out on keto as I normally have. So today, I am taking a deeper dive into how the keto diet works with exercise, specifically focusing on the aspect of cardio and weight training so that all your answers are in one place. Sound good? Keep reading! 

Understanding Keto and Exercise 

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that puts your body into a state of ketosis, where it burns fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates. (Sounds great so far?) This shift in metabolism can however affect how you exercise, particularly if you're used to relying on carbs for energy, so can be a complete change in how your body works when you exercise. So how long does this take? Well, my research suggests that adapting to working out on keto, can take around a few weeks, during which your performance may temporarily dip as your body adjusts to using fat as its primary energy source. (But don’t let that put you off!) This doesn’t mean that it won't go back to how it was prior to the diet, it can just take a little time to adjust (as anything new does that we are starting out with).  

Cardio on Keto: Keto and Working Out 

Cardio exercises like running, cycling, and swimming rely heavily on aerobic metabolism, which can be well-supported by a keto diet. Once fully adapted, many people report steady energy levels and improved endurance, so although the first few weeks may be a struggle, we know from research that after a little bit of time (and persistence from our end) this can be achieved. A study I found published in the "Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness" found that endurance athletes on a keto diet and working out, could maintain performance levels while experiencing a significant reduction in body fat, (so win-win in our books!)  

Although this outcome can be greatly achieved, we also know that during the initial adaptation phase, you might find your cardio performance suffers. This is because your body is still learning to efficiently burn fat all over again! It's important to be patient during this time (as hard and infuriating as it can be!) and gradually build up your intensity back to where you were pre working out on keto. So, what about keto and weight training you may ask? 

Weight Training on Keto 

When it comes to weight training on keto, there are some different things to consider. Weight training, or resistance training typically relies on glycogen (stored carbs) for quick bursts of energy. With lower glycogen stores on a keto diet, the main concern would be that you’d have reduced strength and performance. However, studies indicate that while there might be a short-term drop in performance (like cardio), many people regain and even surpass their previous strength levels once fully adapted to keto. (which is great news all round!) A study in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" also proved that after a few weeks of the keto diet and weight training, weightlifters could maintain their performance and muscle mass (which is great news!). The key is to ensure adequate protein intake to support muscle repair and growth whilst on keto and weight training. Alongside this we also have a great blog on foods for muscle recovery you have to check out.  

Keto Workout Plan 

After doing my research, I thought it would be more beneficial to look at how a keto exercise plan would work, especially one that balances cardio and weight training on keto, from week 1 through to week 5. This is purely a keto exercise plan example and should be adapted to your needs and preferences. 

Week 1-2: Adaptation Phase 


  • Low-intensity steady-state (LISS) cardio like walking or light jogging for 30-45 minutes, 3-4 times per week. This helps your body adjust to burning fat for fuel without overly taxing your glycogen stores. 

Weight Training: 

  • Focus on full-body workouts with light weights. Aim for 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps for each exercise, emphasising proper form over heavy lifting. Exercises could include squats, lunges, bench presses, and rows. 

Week 3-4: Building Intensity 


  • Incorporate moderate-intensity steady-state (MISS) cardio, like brisk walking or cycling, for 30-45 minutes, 3-4 times per week. 

Weight Training: 

  • Gradually increase the weight and lower the reps. Aim for 3 sets of 8-10 reps per exercise. Introduce compound movements like deadlifts and overhead presses to maximize muscle engagement. 

Week 5 and Beyond: Performance Phase 


  • Mix in high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions 1-2 times per week, along with MISS cardio. HIIT involves short bursts of intense activity followed by rest and can be great for improving cardiovascular fitness and burning fat. 

Weight Training: 

  • Continue with compound movements, focusing on progressive overload (gradually increasing the weight or resistance). Aim for 4-5 sets of 6-8 reps for major lifts, and 3 sets of 8-10 reps for accessory exercises. 

Best Exercise on Keto 

I have found that the best keto workout plan you can have, is simply a combination of both cardio and weight training. This mix allows you to benefit from steady energy levels for endurance activities and maintain or build muscle mass through resistance training. If you are trying to lose weight, this should also help you as having a balance of both is the most effective method of losing weight too, which is music to our ears! 

From my research, there were some specific exercise examples repeatedly mentioned as effective methods of training on a keto diet due to their low impact or short bursts of energy needed. Here are some of the suggested best exercises on keto:  

Cardio Exercises 

  • Walking or Hiking: Low impact and can be sustained for long periods. 
  • Cycling: Great for building endurance without putting too much strain on your joints. 
  • Swimming: Full-body workout that’s easy on the joints. 
  • HIIT Workouts: Short, intense bursts of exercise followed by rest periods. 

Weight Training Exercises 

  • Squats: Excellent for building lower body strength. 
  • Deadlifts: Full-body exercise that targets multiple muscle groups. 
  • Bench Press: Key for building upper body strength. 
  • Rows: Effective for strengthening the back and improving posture. 
  • Overhead Press: Targets shoulders and upper chest. 

5 Keto and Gym Tips 

When it comes to keto and gym, there are some things you can do to help improve your session and overall performance. A keto diet and working out work differently to a normal workout, so it's important to consider other factors such as hydration, electrolytes and proper nutrition to make sure you are training in the most effective way possible for your body. 

  1. Stay Hydrated: Ketosis can increase water loss, so drink plenty of water throughout the day. 
  1. Electrolytes: Ensure you're getting enough sodium, potassium, and magnesium to prevent cramps and fatigue. We have a great guide on how electrolytes are important to your gym workout here 
  1. Pre-Workout Nutrition: Consider a small snack of fat and protein before your workout, like nuts or a keto-friendly protein shake. 
  1. Post-Workout Nutrition: Replenish your muscles with a post-workout meal rich in protein and healthy fats. Again, we have a great blog on the best pre and post workout snacks you can discover here. 
  1. Listen to Your Body: Adjust your workout intensity based on how you feel. It’s okay to have lighter days as your body adapts. 

Summary of keto and exercise  

From my research, we know that working out on keto, requires some adjustments, but it's entirely feasible and can be highly rewarding (you just have to persist!). By balancing cardio and weight training, you can maintain and even improve your fitness levels, whilst enjoying the benefits of ketosis (which is exactly what we wanted to hear!). Remember, the key to a successful keto diet and exercise plan is patience and gradual progression. 

Whether you’re focusing on keto and weight training, or mixing it up with various cardio routines, the most important thing is to stay consistent and listen to your body. As you adapt to this new way of eating and exercising, on your keto workout plan, you'll likely find that your performance improves, and you feel better overall.  

Make sure to remember this blog is not nutritional advice, so always speak to a nutritionist about starting a new diet and how your exercise plan would link into this effectively for your body and needs.

DietFitness trainingNutritionWeight-training

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