Muscle Building on Keto Diet

There is a very common misconception that you need carbohydrates to build muscle. It is still very common to hear traditional bodybuilders talks about needing carbs to spike insulin and create an anabolic response, which helps you build muscle. Also, they believe that keto diet sets a stage for muscle loss by utilizing amino acids from muscle protein to maintain blood glucose levels via gluconeogenesis. It means muscle building is not possible on ketogenic diet. After all, the ketogenic diet requires you to restrict carbs to a minimum. Is there any truth in this body building belief? NO…NOT REALLY. The truth is, bodybuilding on a low-carb or ketogenic diet is completely possible when done correctly.

To find out the truth and to dispel some myths, we will go over everything you need to know about. For Muscle building, following are the key stimulator:

  • Resistance Training such as weightlifting activates the mTOR pathway to increase muscle protein synthesis and slow muscle breakdown. Thus, a key trigger for boosting muscle size.
  • Adequate protein and essential Amino acids (like BCAA) are essential building blocks for muscle protein synthesis as it is directly stimulating mTOR and muscle protein synthesis to a much greater extent than insulin. Also suppressing muscle breakdown-especially BCAA leucine.
  • Hormones stimulant - mTOR can be activated by triggers including insulin and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1). These hormones are important for muscle growth but are not essential.
  • Rest and Recovery from muscle breakdown is an important part in this muscle-building. After all, the better you recover from workouts, the more frequently you can train.

Wait, where does carbs mentioned? don't carbs stimulate muscle growth? Well the truth is "NO THEY DON'T". We require carbs only to get insulin response. BUT HOLD ON…. we can get this insulin response from protein as well, through a process called Gluconeogenesis. It is a process where glucose is produced from non-carbohydrate sources. Here glucose can also come from glycerol, a byproduct of fat metabolism which can come from both dietary fat and Body fat.

On top of that, Low carb/Keto diet substantially decrease insulin resistance resulting from fat accumulation in the tissues and increase the insulin sensitivity resulting require smaller amounts of insulin to optimize get the same work done.

Bodybuilding on the Keto Diet Will Help You Build Muscle While Minimizing Fat Gain.

Professional Body builders specially who have to compete, follows a cyclic phase of bulking up (weight gain) and then cut phase (losing excess fat). During the bulking period, bodybuilders literally consume 'anything' –the goal being caloric surplus. All kinds of carbs, refined sugar foods are taken, resulting most of the gains are in the form of fat which become very difficult to lose in the cut phase. Major drawback of this cycling is that - In the quest of shedding off extra fat, massive amounts of hard-earned muscle mass is also lost.

This over-indulging on carbs especially refined sugar are causing insulin resistance and hindering body from burning stored body fat for energy which leads to unwarranted fat gain, chronic high blood sugar and systemic inflammation.

On the other hand, keto diet provides you enough energy coming from most efficient and sustainable energy source 'ketones' without worrying about gaining excess body fat. Also, you just enough proteins for Muscle synthesis and kickstart the insulin response whereas, ketone bodies ensure dietary protein to be utilize for muscle building without worrying about putting excess body fat. Thus, avoids the potential to gain body fat from excess carbs.

Research have also shown that following a strength training regimen along with a ketogenic diet can increase lean muscle mass without excess weight gain. A study published in The American Society of Clinical Investigation Jul, 1988 have shown that beta-hydroxybutyrate- a type of ketone bodies which is produced in fully keto-adapted individuals, decreases leucine (a ketogenic amino acid) oxidation and promotes protein synthesis.

Another recent study has shown its overall positive effect which was published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research Apr, 2017 concluded that Ketogenic diet can be used in combination with resistance training to cause favorable changes in body composition (Lean body mass increased, total body fat decreased), performance (strength and power increased) and hormonal profiles (testosterone increased) in resistance-trained males.

Simultaneous to fat-burning, ketosis has a muscle sparing effect by releasing hormone adrenaline that prevents muscle proteins from being broken down. So, tons of protein is not necessary.

You Need to Eat More Protein on Keto Diet! Don't Afraid of Gluconeogenesis.

Although hormone adrenaline and ketosis can help in preserving muscles mass, this does not mean you eat less protein. It's very essential to eat adequate protein to meet your bodybuilding goals.

However, A classic ketogenic diet (90% Fat, 6% Protein and 4% Carbs) might not be able to give you substantial muscle gains as the amount of proteins that is allowed is inadequate for muscle hypertrophy. The ratios of macronutrients have to be modified, so that Nutritional ketosis is maintained, while the person utilizes enough protein for Muscle gains. This type of ketogenic diet is known as "The Modified Ketogenic diet" (70% Fat, 25% Protein and 5% Carbs).

One concerns with Muscle synthesis on the keto diet is that high protein consumption will kick you out of ketosis by the process called gluconeogenesis where your body turns excess protein into glucose. Despite this claim, studies have shown protein intakes up to 2 g/kg bodyweight will not throw you out of ketosis. The reason being, protein requirement shoots up with resistance training also it is used for recovering the broken muscles (super compensating) post resistance training.

However, building muscle might be slower on keto diet, as you will have to switch from using glucose to ketones as fuel. This process is called "keto-adaptation" and it takes time about four to six weeks. For that period, workouts can suffer from a decrease in performance but eventually you will primarily be putting lean mass on without fat gain which is plus point of following keto diet. And if you are still relying on carbs as your pre and post workout fuel, YOU ARE NOT KETO-ADAPTED YET!

Tips for Muscle Building on Keto:

Put all your learning together to get leaner, stronger, and healthier, here are few tips for you:

  • Eat Enough Calories - Calories matter. You need to take enough calories to gain more muscle. Eat a calorie surplus of 500-1000 calories a day to increase your bodyweight by 1 to 2 kg a week. On keto diet, the pair of hunger hormones leptin and Ghrelin works wonderfully and will signal your body to eat more when you do resistance training and that’s how you will gain muscle. But remember, to maintain the keto macros. Hence this excess calorie should come from fat and protein, not from carbs.
  • Eat Enough Protein - Maintain protein intake at around 2 gm/per kg bodyweight. Eat adequate but superior quality proteins like whey Hydrolyzed. Pay attention to Amino acid "Leucine"- An essential branched chain amino acid requires for muscle synthesis. Without enough leucine you cannot synthesize muscle like a pro.
  • Strength Training/Resistance Training – a proven mood-booster like Heavy, compound lifts like pull-ups, squats, bench press, deadlifts…the list will go on so pick one or two and get stronger.
  • Reduce your Carbs to minimum - Recall that carbs are not required for building muscle. In fact, they seem to delay true muscle gain. Just swap out carbs with healthy fats like MCTs, coconut oil, avocado etc.

We Say: Combining keto diet with muscle building workouts is the ultimate way to achieve body composition goals. Both science and subjective experiences speak to the ability to gain and preserve muscle mass while on keto, as long as you maintain the keto macros, eat the right amount of protein and calories and train correctly.


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