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Ketones are produced when the body runs out of glucose and burns off the body's fat reserves for energy. The body prefers glucose as an energy source because it is widely used by all cells in the body, particularly the brain. The body burns fat for energy and produces ketones when carbohydrate intake is low. Burning ketones can be a normal reaction after running, but it should be avoided since it can limit a runner's performance and can also pose a health hazard.
Definition of Ketones
Ketones are acids that build up in the blood when fat is converted into energy for use by the body's cells, a process known as ketosis. Ketone byproducts are also known as ketone bodies. Ketosis occurs when insufficient glucose levels cannot provide for the body's energy needs, so the body turns to its fat reserves for energy. High-intensity or endurance running can significantly raise ketone bodies depending on a runner's health and diet. After a run, you will burn ketones until your blood glucose levels rise back to a normal level.
Effects of Ketosis
The effects of ketosis will vary depending on a runner's health status. For a runner who is not diabetic, ketosis can lead to feeling faint and dizzy; this is easily resolved by simply eating carbohydrates to raise glucose levels in the blood. Runners with Type 1 diabetes who are burning ketones for energy should check their insulin levels. Excess ketones and low insulin levels can result in ketoacidosis, which is considered a medical emergency. Some of the symptoms produced by ketoacidosis include vomiting, excessive thirst, frequent urination and high glucose levels in the blood. Ketoacidosis is poisonous to the body and can cause you to pass out for a long time, a condition known as a diabetic coma.
Ketone Levels After Running
Blood glucose can continue to drop hours after running and can result in the presence of ketone bodies in the urine. Abnormal ketone levels can be small, less than 20 mg/dL; moderate, 30 to 40 mg/dL; or large, greater than 80 mg/dL. Type 1 diabetic runners should test their ketone levels using ketone strips available in most pharmacies. If you suspect you may be at risk for ketoacidosis, consult a medical professional immediately.
Prevention of Ketones
Before a run, a nondiabetic runner should eat enough carbohydrates to provide sufficient glucose to meet the body's energy demands. A carbohydrate-loading diet, also called carb-loading, increases the amount of energy your body has available for use and prevents the need for fat conversion into energy. This diet should begin several days before a running event and is most beneficial for events that last 90 minutes or more. Carbohydrates should make up 50 to 75 percent of total daily calories. Diabetic runners should consult their doctors on what their glucose and insulin levels should be prior to beginning a run.