Weight loss is a hallmark of the low-carb, high-fat diet, but you may wonder if cutting carbs and increasing fat is wise when trying to build muscle.
In short, yes, and we'll share best practices for gaining muscle while limiting carbs for you to make the most of your keto journey.
Newer perspectives suggest that a low-carb diet and muscle building go hand-in-hand. In contrast, the bodybuilding community has long emphasized that substantial amounts of carbohydrates are necessary for building muscle mass.
As a result, those in the lifting community may have overlooked the keto diet before realizing it's more than a one-size-fits-all plan. The eating style offers variations, such as the cyclical, targeted, or high-protein versions, which are excellent for figure competitors, bodybuilders, and the everyday conscious dieter who wants to increase muscle mass to enhance esthetics or prevent fractures as they age.
New approaches to limiting carbs have opened up an entirely new world of possibilities for those seeking to achieve personal records while regulating glucose, insulin, and food cravings that can frustrate even the most dedicated athletes.
The keys to building muscle while on a keto diet are strategic carbohydrate consumption timed around intense workouts, maintaining adequate protein intake, eating enough calories to create a surplus, and establishing good sleep hygiene to support proper muscle repair and growth.
We'll discuss some tips and best practices below to maximize muscle gain on a low-carb, high-fat diet. But before we move ahead, let's take a moment to understand the keto diet along with the suggested ways of gaining muscle while cutting carbs.
What is a Keto Diet?
Regardless of the version followed, a diet is defined as ketogenic if it restricts carbs and sugars enough to shift the body from a sugar-burning state to a fat-burning state.
Whether you follow the diet to improve neurological conditions such as epilepsy or to treat metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance, the primary factor is limiting carbohydrate consumption––even more, than eating a lot of healthy fats.
With a ketogenic diet, drastically reducing carb intake triggers a state of nutritional ketosis. As a result, your body switches to utilizing fats and ketone bodies within the body, and exogenous sources from our weekly meal plan, for energy.
Ketosis is usually achieved by eating fewer than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day and getting the rest of your calories from high-fat, moderate protein foods.
Entering ketosis usually takes two to four days if you consume 50 grams or less of carbohydrates each day. Still, some people may find it takes a week or longer.
Once you customize your macronutrients to support muscle growth, you'll experience consistent gains on keto. Yet, the benefits of the diet extend far beyond rapid weight loss; the diet can also help lessen the symptoms of Alzheimer's, dementia, autism, Parkinson's, and certain cancers.
The keto diet may cause you to experience a decrease in strength, performance, and energy in the beginning. However, once your body adapts to running on fat, you'll find energy and vigor return. In time, you get past the transition period, during which you may experience conditions like keto flu, characterized by fatigue, aches, and foul breath. And what’s waiting for many on the other side of fat-adaptation is a noticed sharpened mental focus, as well as increased physical stamina that contribute significantly to achieving various health goals as well as enhancing feelings of overall well-being.
The good news is that transitioning into ketosis takes place pretty quickly. In addition, with an augmented keto plan, you can build muscle and gain strength on the keto diet, just as you would on a typical high-carb diet.
Tips to Build Muscle on a Keto Diet
The combination of carbohydrate consumption around workouts and a diet filled with high-quality fats and premium proteins is a terrific way to increase muscle mass on keto. Here are some recommendations for structuring a keto diet to build muscle:
Assess your calorie intake: Your daily calorie budget is unique, based on your goals and nutritional needs. However, it's essential to ensure adequate calorie intake and a composition primarily consisting of fat and protein to build lean muscle.
It would be best to have a surplus of calories to build muscle mass and choose foods that produce a leaner physique. Rather than snacking on fries and chips, add avocado and grass-fed beef to your diet.
Consume plenty of protein: Building muscle requires an adequate amount of protein. Because protein is the building block of muscle, you need to consume more protein than your body releases through natural processes to build muscle.
Some keto dieters are concerned about consuming too much protein because it could encourage gluconeogenesis, a process by which amino acids are converted into sugar, halting the body's ability to produce ketones. However, this is very unlikely for those who burn down their glycogen stores regularly through daily doses of vigorous exercise.
Keep an eye on your carb intake: High carb diets may help those building muscles, but increasing healthy fats and keeping carb macros high, as well, is a recipe for dietary disaster––you'll likely gain fat and bloat rather than strength.
Timing your carb intake around your workouts may prove beneficial, especially if you believe your performance is compromised while eating a drastically-limited carb intake. This strategy is known as a targeted or cyclical keto diet, in which you consume your daily carb allowance around your workouts for improved exercise output.
A targeted keto approach could help you succeed at your workouts if you're seeking an energy and strength boost to help you complete intense routines. If not, you can eat carbs whenever it's convenient for you.
Eat more fat: The number one rule of following a ketogenic diet is limiting carbs, but increasing quality fats are vital for feeling your best while limiting carbs and sugars.
A diet containing a drastically limited amount of carbohydrates makes the consumption of adequate fat even more crucial.The increased fat intake on keto becomes crucial because, due to limiting carb intake and being in a state of ketosis, the body relies primarily on fat for fuel.
Calculate your macros based on your weight and lifestyle, then follow the standard keto recommendations for fat intake and adjust intake as needed, getting between 70 and 75% of your calories from fat.
Also, lifestyle choices and routines play a significant role in muscle building, so consider following these practices below to maximize muscle gain:
Get regular resistance training: Nutrition plays a significant role in building muscle, but increasing weight training is essential to gaining strength.
You can increase muscle growth through workouts such as weighted squats, powerlifting with low reps and fewer sets, bench presses, pullups, and pushups––as a jumping-off point.
Consider pairing up with a friend for workouts to help keep yourself accountable, and it might help to look into a coach or trainer to aid in developing correct form and finding the most effective exercises to achieve your goals.
Consider supplementation if necessary. Eating a well-rounded keto diet is a fantastic approach to consume the macronutrients and micronutrients needed to look and feel your best.
You should, however, pay attention to the ingredients and macros of your dietary supplements, as some contain hidden carbs and sugars.
When possible, opt for organic or grass-fed supplements––preferably those containing creatine monohydrate, which has been found to help increase muscle growth through enhanced gym performance.
In addition, it is imperative to consume foods that are high in antioxidants and sodium, potassium, and magnesium. Increased intake will avoid drops in your levels as your body releases increased amounts of body fluid and electrolytes in ketosis. Eating 'the rainbow' of low-glycemic fruits and veggies, along with premium fats and proteins, should do the trick.
However, you may wish to take a supplement to ensure that everything is in order.
Additional Tips to Build Muscle on Keto
Be patient. A new keto eater may experience a short-term decline in performance and strength. However, keep in mind that this drop is temporary, occurring as your body adjusts, so don't give up too soon.
Plus, here are some more tips to help you build muscle on a keto diet:
- Prepare for potential side effects during the early phase of keto. Some people may experience the keto flu when they start this diet––a clustering of symptoms, like nausea, fatigue, and irritability, that occur as your body adjusts to its change in regimen.
- Avoid hidden carbs. People are often unaware that beverages and condiments contain carbohydrates, so it is imperative not to overlook them. Take note of how many carbs you consume. By eating less than 50 grams of carbs per day, you can stay in ketosis.
- Monitor your ketone levels regularly. Using keto strips or a keto breath test can let you know whether you're in ketosis or if you need to adjust your diet.
- Make sure you get enough sleep. Sleep is an essential component of muscle gains and exercise performance.
Protein-packed recipes can help build lean muscle, and here are a few of our favorites:
- Keto corned beef with a side of buttery cabbage is a great meal to prepare ahead and enjoy together throughout the week, or in sandwiches or salads for various presentations.
- A crisp and tender microgreens side salad complements the Keto Cajun Parmesan Salmon perfectly for a muscle-building feast that is also high in antioxidant-rich omega-3 fats.
- A salad is another excellent way to incorporate dark leafy greens and plant and animal proteins into your diet to build muscle. We recommend our Keto cobb salad bowl for a hassle-free and delicious meal any day of the week.
- Carne Asada & KETO Chimichurri Sauce: Conjur feelings of summer in the colder months with a savory and succulent seared steak drizzled in chimichurri sauce for a satisfying mono-meal perfect for promoting muscle gain.
- Ham & Gruyere KETO Casserole: A casserole is a perfect low-carb selection suited for breakfast, lunch or dinner––and our ham & gruyere recipe is a definite crowd pleaser worth trying.
Plus, following our fat-burning meal plan or taking our quick 30-second quiz to access a personalized plan are excellent options to add support to your process of leaning out and losing excess body fat.
Final Tips for Building Muscle on Keto
The keto diet (or any diet) requires a calorie surplus to maximize muscle gain. However, there's a sad truth to consider: you'll gain some body fat on top of the muscle you gain.
However, keeping carbs low and embracing the muscle-building power of a modified keto diet can help you minimize this body fat. Here are your three diet tips to remember for keto bodybuilding success:
- Protein is essential for muscle building. So make sure you consume plenty of it to facilitate optimal muscle growth.
- Eat fewer carbs to keep your body in nutritional ketosis and lose fat. However, approaching carb intake with a strategy is more critical on a cyclical or targeted keto diet and can trump the importance of always staying in ketosis. Instead of constantly being in metabolic ketosis, the goal is to provide sufficient calories and carbs to fuel incredibly intense power-based workouts such as CrossFit.
- Always remember the importance of rest. Sleep increases muscle protein synthesis, which helps muscles grow more substantial and massive over time. In addition, sleeping promotes muscle repair by releasing growth hormones during rapid eye movement (REM) slumber.
Even though crafting a keto plan to promote weight loss may require customization and consideration, it remains a viable option for those interested in bodybuilding, powerlifting, or other vigorous activities, because a targeted or cyclical keto diet helps gain muscle.
Implementing the above guidelines will help you plan an effective keto strategy for building muscle. In contrast, it remains unclear whether the keto diet offers more muscle-building benefits than a high-carb diet.
Get plenty of sleep and follow a solid nutrition plan if you want to maximize muscle growth while on the keto diet. In addition, make sure you keep track of your carb consumption and ketone levels to ensure you remain in ketosis when intended.
Those who become keto-adapted experience tremendous health benefits like feeling mentally sharper and more focused, your cravings will disappear, and you'll find your appetite curbed and controllable.
Furthermore, by cutting carbs and increasing your protein, you can enjoy bodybuilding success as well as the unparalleled benefits of a keto diet.
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