As the ketogenic diet becomes more and more popular for weight loss, people in the fitness community struggle with whether or not it’s possible to build muscle on the diet as well.
Since keto is a low-carb, high-fat, and moderate-protein diet, it’s been linked to many health benefits, but is it conducive to gaining mass?
Insulin is important in gaining muscle in the body. It’s a very anabolic hormone that’s been shown to put nutrients into the cells of our bodies that grow muscle. (1)
So, if insulin, the main anabolic stimulus of consuming carbs, is removed, does that mean building muscle is not possible on the keto diet?
We’ll break down whether or not you can still build muscle on the ketogenic diet in this article. Read on to learn more.
The Best Way To Gain Muscle On Keto
In a study, 25 men in college were divided into two groups. One group was to consume a traditional Western diet, and the other was to consume a ketogenic diet for 10 weeks to see which was better for gaining muscle, strength, and overall performance.
This particular study showed that both diets were very similar in how the students gained muscle mass. (2)
There have been more studies around the keto diet looking at how strength and performance might be affected.
It turns out in a study of 8 elite gymnasts around the age of 20 who ate almost 0 carbohydrates for 30 days showed no differences in strength. (3)
Aside from gymnastics which requires a lot of muscle tissue to be effective, another study took a look at a different sport, Crossfit, to see the differences in participants with slightly different goals.
This three-month study took a look at 12 participants, 9 men and 3 women around 30 years of age, and analyzed body composition and other performance markers before and after a ketogenic diet protocol.
After the study was complete, there were no lean mass changes between the two groups. (4)
It’s important to note that some people will feel a drop in energy and strength when first starting a keto diet due to the body changing fuel sources.
Lose Fat While Gaining Muscle On Keto
Here are a few tips and recommendations to help you reach your goals around gaining muscle while on the keto diet.
In order for you to gain muscle, you cannot be in a caloric deficit. You must be in a caloric surplus. (5)
Keep in mind that how much you weigh, how tall you are, your gender, and how active you are will determine what your maintenance calories will be.
To get an idea, you can use calorie-tracking apps as well in combination with weighing yourself frequently to see what’s happening with your weight on any given week.
Once you have a baseline, consistently hit around 15% above that each day to gain muscle while keeping fat gain to a minimum.
Make sure to keep track of your weight progress from week to week and adjust your calories when necessary. If you’re gaining too much fat, drop your calories down by a little and continue with the process.
Alternatively, if you’re not gaining weight fast enough for your liking, slowing up your calories from where you are as well.
Don’t be erratic with changing your caloric intake, either. Once you make a change, give your body some time to adjust, like 1-2 weeks before making a decision to change again.
How To Not Lose Muscle On Keto
Building muscle is just as important as not losing hard-earned muscle on keto.
Here are a few tips to make sure you’re safe from muscle loss:
Strength Train 3-5 Times Per Week
Nutrition combined with strength training is the one-two punch to increasing muscle mass.
By doing resistance training with weights multiple times a week, strength and muscle loss are mitigated. (7)
Studies have shown that increased frequency in training was more effective in gaining muscle hypertrophy and better muscle gain. (8)
By adding in muscle-building exercises like the squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press into your weekly training, you’ll be able to encourage your body to adapt to a new stimulus of growth.
Be sure to work with a trainer or coach that can assess your form to make sure you’re doing these exercises properly.
It’s easy to not understand the mechanics of these lifts and try to lift too much weight. This will only lead you to hurt your body in some way.
Muscle Building Supplements
The supplements below aren’t required to build muscle, but they can certainly help.
If you’re struggling to hit your protein requirements for the day, consider adding in a protein supplement.
Some people who are on the ketogenic diet focus heavily on making sure their fat intake is where it needs to be but forget about the other two macronutrients.
While carbs should always remain low on the ketogenic diet, protein can account for 25% of your daily calories and still allow you to build muscle.
As a naturally occurring amino acid that’s mostly stored in your muscle, creatine helps create energy for short bursts of activity.
When you lift weights, your muscles are temporarily depleted of oxygen, but creatine helps your muscles make the transition from anaerobic (oxygen-less) energy to aerobic (using oxygen).
As you lift more weight, your muscles continue to grow in size and strength. They now have more room for oxygen, and as a result, you can lift that same weight again and again without tiring out.
Even though you need to carefully track your macronutrient intake, science has proven that the ketogenic diet can be just as effective as a typical Western diet when it comes to building muscle.
By understanding the points laid out above, you can rest assured that by staying on the ketogenic diet, you can still build muscle and even prevent muscle wasting by focusing on traditional bodybuilding principles.