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Worldwide, approximately 2 billion people are overweight, and a third of them are considered obese[*]. According to researchers, high body mass index accounts for 4 million global deaths per year, the majority of which are due to cardiovascular disease[*].

Wealthy countries like the United States are the most affected, with about 71% of adults being overweight or obese[*].

The United States military is no exception — more than 60% of military personnel are overweight or obese[*]. As a result, the CDC recently declared that “obesity is impacting national security”[*].

Perhaps that’s why the peer-reviewed journal Military Medicine commissioned and published a study entitled “Extended Ketogenic Diet and Physical Training Intervention in Military Personnel”[*].

Read on to learn the remarkable effects of the ketogenic diet on military personnel, how the study was conducted, and what it means for civilians and others considering going keto.

The Study: Soldiers Switch to a Keto Diet

This study, performed by researchers at Ohio State University led by Dr. Jeff Volek, Ph.D., is the first of its kind to explore the outcomes of a 12-week ketogenic diet for overweight U.S. military personnel.

Traditionally, the military adheres to standard U.S. dietary recommendations, meaning soldiers typically eat low-fat, high-carb diets.

Still, approximately two-thirds of U.S. military personnel are currently overweight or obese. This is a huge problem for a group of people who are expected to maintain optimal health and combat readiness.

The soldiers who participated in the keto diet trial kept their net carbohydrate consumption under 50 grams a day, had daily blood draws to check their ketone levels, and stayed in nutritional ketosis for the entire study.

Other participants ate a normal “mixed diet” containing at least 40% carbohydrates, including sugar. Neither group counted calories — they were allowed to eat as much as they wanted.

However, the keto diet participants automatically ate less and lost significant amounts of body fat.

As the researchers stated, “the most noteworthy response was a spontaneous reduction in energy intake, resulting in a uniformly greater weight loss for all ketogenic diet participants.”

Key Factors From the Study

Here are some other key facts from the study:

  • The keto diet group lost an average of 17 pounds during the twelve-week study period, decreasing their average body fat percentage by 5.1%
  • Their visceral fat, which is associated with increased inflammation and risk of heart disease, fell by an average of 43.7%
  • Their insulin sensitivity improved 48% on average

In contrast to the participants who went keto, the high-carb group did not show significant changes in any of these measures.

The scientists encouraged the keto group to consume 4-5 grams of sodium per day to support their physical activity and reduce the risk of fainting during exercise, which is also a valuable tip for people who exercise strenuously on the keto diet.

Both groups performed resistance training twice per week, and their exercise results were similar. Therefore, the study also demonstrates that carbs aren’t necessary to improve athletic performance.

More About the Military Keto Study

The study was well-designed and carried out in a thorough, careful fashion. However, it did have some limitations.

It Wasn’t Randomized

For one thing, the participants were not randomized — researchers allowed the subjects to choose whether they wanted to adopt the keto diet. While some people may claim that this results in something called “selection bias,” the study authors argue that it encouraged greater adherence to the diet.

In real-world circumstances in the military and elsewhere, people are free to choose which diet they want to follow. As the authors stated in the study, the ketogenic diet “requires considerable personal commitment.”

Small Sample Size

The study also had a small sample size, with only two female participants. So, it doesn’t have the weight of a large, randomized controlled trial.

However, the results were undeniably significant, so it may well lead to similar studies that address these shortcomings.

It’s likely that a more extended trial would yield insightful results that were not demonstrated in this study. While 12 weeks is sufficient time to fat-adapt and achieve ketosis, following the keto diet long-term is likely to cause further changes compared to a high-carb, low-fat diet, especially in terms of physical performance.

Nonetheless, the keto group experienced dramatic benefits in terms of fat oxidation, insulin sensitivity, and reductions in body fat and visceral fat. All of these changes are associated with an increase in overall health and performance and decreased risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.

One of the most noteworthy study outcomes was that the soldiers’ fitness improved during the fat loss period. In contrast to conventional diets that force a calorie deficit and temporarily reduce physical performance, the keto participants lost weight and experienced improvements in strength, speed, endurance, and other measures of combat readiness[*].

Because Dr. Volek’s study found that the keto diet was effective and didn’t reduce military preparedness, the United States Military and other large organizations may become more interested in exploring the effects of the keto diet in larger sample sizes for longer durations.

That means it’s a win for public health and helps to bust the myth that you need to count calories to shed fat, or that “fat makes you fat.”

The Takeaway: Keto for Weight Loss and Performance

The rising numbers of overweight and obese people have concerning implications fiscally, nationally, and even when it comes to national security.

But evidence is mounting that the keto diet is a safe, effective way to help address these trends.

While Dr. Volek’s 2019 Military Medicine research doesn’t definitively prove that the keto diet works for everyone, it’s one of a growing number of credible studies highlighting dramatic results. Unlike most diets, you can shed fat without counting calories on keto, provided you commit to the diet.

Instead of waiting for the perfect study to convince you, the best way to figure out if the keto diet works is to try it. Cut your carb intake, increase your consumption of protein and healthy fats (including saturated fat), and experience the health benefits for yourself.

If you’re motivated, armed with the knowledge of what to eat, and willing to commit, the ketogenic diet can transform your body and your health.

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