In what is bound to be a controversial decision, the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is pondering establishing a mandatory keto diet for its maritime operators. The rationale behind the move is that such a diet would make diving operations more efficient and effective.
A ketogenic diet is high in fat with a moderate intake of protein and very limited carbohydrates. The goal is to force the body into ketosis, which means instead of using carbs for fuel, the body adjusts and utilizes fats, thereby making it easier to burn through a person’s established stores of fat. Butter, oils, nuts, cheese, meat, fish, eggs, and low-carb vegetables are the staples of a keto diet.
“You can carry even more calories because fats weigh less, which is an advantage,” said Dr. Jeff Volek, a professor at Ohio State University’s Department of Human Sciences, in a statement to Military Times.
Lisa Sanders, SOCOM’s director of science and technology, said in a press interview during the 2019 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, that “one of the effects of truly being in ketosis is that it changes the way your body handles oxygen deprivation, so you can actually stay underwater at depths for longer periods of time and not go into oxygen seizures.”
If indeed SOCOM decides to commit to the decision, it will include the SEAL Teams of Naval Special Warfare Command, the Special Forces dive teams, certain Marine Raider teams, and the majority of the Special Operations airmen (combat controllers, pararescuemen, and special reconnaissance operators are qualified combat divers).
Sanders went on to say to Business Insider that SOCOM is already experimenting, through a small business research program, with the benefits of the ketogenic diet to altitude-induced hypoxia, which can be caused when operating in high-altitude environments, such as the mountains of Afghanistan. Moreover, Sanders said they are looking at how to achieve ketosis through non-dietary means.
“That kind of technology is available today,” Sanders said. “We can tell whether you are or are not in ketosis. We have really good indications of how to put you in ketosis. And we know statistically what that does to your ability to sustain oxygen. In addition, we are tracking two additional studies funded through the Office of Naval Research assessing ketosis results in other extreme environments that are relevant to SOF war-fighters.”
Nutrition is one of the core pillars of fitness, along with training and rest. But foresight is key. What would happen, for instance, if operators on a keto diet find themselves behind enemy lines (which is expected, after all), and don’t have access to the fancy treats of the diet, thereby losing the benefits of ketosis?