Keto diet and bodybuilding

Are you wondering if the keto diet and bodybuilding can work their magic with your body at the same time? After all, many people both in and out of the bodybuilding world believe that in order to build muscles you need to be loading up on your carbohydrates, before and after training.

Obviously, a big carb loading session isn’t going to be an option if you want to stay with the keto diet. At the same time you’re wanting to see some serious muscle growth, so is this diet going to be right for you? It’s already well-known that the keto diet is a hero when it comes to stripping body fat, and many love it for that, but is it also going to help you to reach your bulking goals?

As the keto diet is low carb, is there any evidence that you can eat this way and still gain? I’ve done the research on this so that you don’t have to, and the news is good.

You can certainly expect to be able to bulk up very successfully on the keto diet, but there are some adjustments to make, and a few different things to expect, and I’m going to share those with you now.

Keto and fat stripping

As you already know, many bodybuilders go low carb or keto before a competition. Their muscles are already well-defined, and they want to be able to show them off minus any unnecessary fat.

The ability of the keto diet to drop body weight is well studied and known but there is still a lot of misinformation out there about whether you can build muscles with this diet too.

There has been a lot of interest in this within the scientific community, which in my opinion is a good thing. It shows that the entire idea of keto and muscle building is starting to gain the extra ground it deserves.

The more it’s talked about, the more chance there is of an increasing number of serious gym dwellers hearing about it, and giving the keto diet the consideration it deserves.

Keto and muscle building


Even though bodybuilders often eat a high carb/ low fat diet – the exact opposite of keto – It seems that you’re on the right path as you consider starting the keto diet.

The keto diet isn’t just good for your training goals but it comes with a host of other health benefits that are too good to walk away from. Increased stamina, a more steady supply of energy and a reduction in dangerous disease causing inflammation to mention just a few.

Combining the keto diet with exercise will take the health benefits you’ll be getting to a whole new level.

There is growing interest in the fitness world in using the keto diet to increase both strength and body composition, and as already mentioned, there is now plenty of science to back this too.

The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research published a paper here which concluded that the keto diet caused “favorable changes in body composition, performance and hormonal profiles in resistance-trained males.”

You will need to take into account that when you first start the keto diet, you will not be well adapted to burning fat for fuel.

This process normally takes a week or two and you will not be able to work out at your normal intensity during that time

It’s during this stage that many bodybuilders give up, believing that the keto diet is not going to be right for them. However, you should persevere, drop a little weight if you need to and once you’re fully adapted, your strength will return.

Once you are fully adapted and have become a fat burning machine, you will be up to and surpassing your normal performance level. The loss of performance is only temporary.

There are ever growing numbers of bodybuilders that have now changed to the keto low carb/ high fat to build their muscles and have dropped the marathon carb up sessions altogether. They are not only training at or above their old level, they are reaping all the extra health benefits that the keto diet brings too.

Does muscle bulking need carbohydrates?

If you are like everyone else, you would have heard more times than you can count that you need carbs to get the anabolic response, by raising insulin levels, before you can build muscles.

The other common belief is that you need to load up on more carbs post workout to replenish muscle glycogen levels. This simply is not supported by science and its been proved that once you’re fat burning adapted, your muscle glycogen levels will be the same as others who are not eating low carb.

If you’re a big fan of science you can read all about it here .

It’s good to know that extra carbs are not the only way to achieve muscle growth. I have already mentioned this study and there are more. It’s very reassuring to know that some real science is taking over from the bro science that we’ve all been listening to in the gym.

You do need to commit to the keto diet long term to gain all the benefits for gaining muscle while staying low carb. This will ensure that you get past the adaptation stage and become super efficient at using the ketones from fat to fuel your training and muscle growth.

This study concluded that Keto-adaptation provides an alternative to the supremacy of the high-carbohydrate paradigm for endurance athletes.

So, all round good news: Your body doesn’t need carbs to get going with the protein synthesis. Your body has evolved over thousands of years and if its deprived of carbs its more than capable of flicking a metabolic switch and start running on fat instead. It’s going to build muscle and improve performance.

All without a banana in sight.

How much protein is going to be needed to bulk?

You need to make sure that you keep your protein intake to no more than 20% of your total daily intake. Go above that and the protein will be converted into glucose. About 0.8g per kilo or 0.36g per pound is recommended. A little more if you’re training more than usual, but stay within your keto macros.

However, if you are training at an intensive level you can increase your protein by quite a bit and stay in ketosis. This study showed that a group of elite endurance athletes were still in ketosis while consuming protein at 2.1g per kilo or 1g per pound. Even if we lesser mortals can’t claim to be elite athletes, this study does show that there is some wriggle room when it comes to protein intake. Read the full study here .

Your protein needs are an individual thing, so start at the recommended amount, and if you need to (many won’t) increase your intake slowly. You’ll need to check that you’re still in ketosis by using urine strips or one of the machines available. However, the chances are that staying within the 20% protein limit is going to work well for you.

You will need some protein post-training to increase muscle protein synthesis, and it has been shown that even the low levels of insulin that you will have due to the keto diet are more than sufficient to achieve the maximum level of muscle protein synthesis and also to reduce muscle breakdown.

You really don’t need to be grabbing even a mouthful of carbs the moment you leave the gym, hoping a few carbs will help. The evidence is that combining your protein with carbs post training will not enhance your protein synthesis. You can read it here .

The take home message

There is plenty of evidence that says you can build muscles and keep to or improve your current performance level while on the keto diet.

You need to give yourself time to get fully fat adapted which is normally 1 to 3 weeks. During this time, you may see your performance drop a notch or two. Persevere, this is always only temporary.

If you’re already using the keto diet to drop some weight, there is good news for you too: There is no need to wait until your weight goals have been reached before you can visit the gym and start work on your abs.

You can get started on building your muscles at the same time as you are getting lean.

And just as you thought the news could get no better, here’s a little fun fact about low carb (LC) athletes, and who doesn’t want the strength of an arctic sled dog!   (credit: Med Sci Sports Exerc, 37 (8)(2005), pp. 1307-1312).

Med Sci Sports Exerc, 37 (8) (2005), pp. 1307-1312

So, take into account all the science and the anecdotal evidence of thousands of bodybuilders who have already used the keto diet. You have nothing to worry about, and you can safely forget all the stories you’ve heard about carb loading being the only way to gain bulk.

There is no reason at all why you can’t enjoy the amazing health benefits of the keto diet while at the same time building your muscles.

2 Comments

  1. I think there is overwhelming evidence that you can still bodybuild and/or put on muscle while doing the Keto diet.

    Sure if you load up on carbs and eat a more heavy duty diet, you’ll have more fuel and probably perform better, especially where it takes time to adapt to the more low carb diets, like Keto. I myself am slowly depleting my carb intake over the course of the month as part of the program I’m doing, and I know from tracking my fat and muscle loss over the past couple weeks that you can still maintain or even build.

    Thank you for all the insight into the Keto diets, I think I’ll be looking into it some more.

    – Tyson

    • Hi Tyson,

      Thank you for your comment.

      It’s always good to hear from someone who has actually gone low carb and has seen positive muscle growth.

      I completely agree that you can both maintain and build on the keto diet.

      Best wishes,

      Judy

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