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Is Keto Bad for Strength Training?

Is Keto Bad for Strength Training?

by Jessica Smith -

Health-conscious people from all walks of life appear drawn to the ketogenic diet. Slashing carbs and ditching sugar is a resolution for many in the new year for various reasons, including stabilizing glucose levels, aiding in weight loss, and improving mental focus.

But besides supercharging weight loss and improving metabolic function, those seeking to increase strength and muscle may wonder whether a super low-carb diet is sufficient to support their fitness demands and enhanced need for continual muscle recovery and support.

What Is The Keto Diet?

A ketogenic diet is an eating approach that suggests consuming fewer carbs and more healthy fats to reset the metabolism and appetite to optimal levels.

The goal is to eat high fat, moderate protein, and limited carbohydrates in a ratio of approximately 70% fat, 25% protein, and 5% carbohydrates.

The ketogenic diet first earned its stellar reputation in helping reduce the symptoms of children with epilepsy and later autism due to its ability to regulate bodily systems that support healthy neurological function.

Studies on the long-term effects of following a low-carb, high-fat diet will prove helpful in understanding the sustainability of the dietary approach. Still, current research shows many benefits of following a ketogenic diet for a couple of years, which is more than enough time to torch unwanted weight and reset your hormones.

How Does The Keto Diet Work For Athletes?

Transitioning to a ketogenic diet may prove particularly challenging for athletes. The fatigue, nausea, and weakness some experience, coined 'the keto flu,' runs counter to the attributes needed for intense physical performance.

While long-distance athletes often find great value in drastically restricting carbs and running on fat and ketones for sustained, premium fuel instead of fast-acting glucose. Those engaged in high-intensity, short-duration sports may fare better by increasing carb limits a bit, especially immediately before or during high-intensity interval training (HIIT) activities.

Achieving high performance as a marathoner requires high steady-state energy for long periods. Therefore, following a standard keto diet is more realistic for distance athletes than those seeking to crush personal records doing anaerobic activities like sprinting or heavy weight lifting that requires intense energy bursts attributed to glucose more than fat and ketones.

Consider following a cyclical ketogenic diet, where you schedule carbohydrate consumption around high-impact exercise to provide your body with the jolt of glucose needed to fuel powerful bursts of performance.

Plus, timing intake of fast-absorbing carbs to guarantee burning down your glucose stores right away prevents the body from storing those starchier calories as fat or compromising metabolic ketosis.

What Can You Eat On A Keto Diet If You’re An Athlete?

A modified ketogenic protocol closely resembles a standard ketogenic diet (SKD). However, a cyclical approach to low-carb living allows for a higher carb intake to facilitate vigorous bursts of activity.

Try eating 30% protein, 55% fat, and 15% carbs, allowing for lupini beans, starchy veggies, fruit, nuts, and seeds while limiting overall carb intake.

Athletes who comprise their meal plans primarily of unsaturated fats and plant-based proteins may be able to meet their performance goals in endurance and powerlifting activities. However, it's imperative to consider the glucose supplementation this diet may require to support high-intensity, anaerobic exercise adequately.

Benefits Of Keto For Athletes

Endurance athletes have shattered national records in a fat-adapted state thanks to the long-term, steady energy provided when ketotic. Plus, members of the military and high-performance athletes use metabolic ketosis to enhance physical and cognitive function and prevent obesity—along with reducing oxygen toxicity and symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Plus, it's perfectly possible to build muscle on a low-carb, high-fat diet once you achieve a consistent caloric surplus and focus on eating quality protein and fats, along with closely-monitored carb intake.

A preliminary study of the impact of the keto diet on athletic performance doesn't appear to reveal an inherent boost in strength. However, the increased energy, appetite suppression, reduced soreness, and recovery time noted with the keto protocol are enough to consider the diet if you train intensely or live an extremely active lifestyle.

Plus, recent studies analyzing variations in performance between those following a lower-carb restricted diet and those adhering to a highly-restricted keto diet don't fare that differently.

Considerations on Keto For Athletes

Athletes engaged in anaerobic power-packed, shorter workouts have the most considerations when following a ketogenic diet to build strength and muscle.

It's essential to eat with a caloric surplus in mind, opt for whole food forms of animal or plant-based protein, and utilize keto-friendly fats like MCT oil and ghee to aid in satiety and provide bioavailable energy easily assimilated by the body to fuel high-impact activities.

Whether you opt for a standard keto diet and engage in predominantly low-impact cardio or go with a cyclical keto diet to better support anaerobic activity, you can increase strength and develop lean muscle on a low-carb high-fat diet.

Fat-adaptation Spectrum

Our bodies begin to operate more efficiently once we reduce simple carbs in our diet. As a result, our blood sugar levels stabilize, our energy tends to soar, and it is effortless to torch fat and calories to aid in weight loss.

We tend to enter a fat-adapted state, running primarily on fat and ketones for fuel, between four to 12 weeks after beginning a keto diet. Although ketosis may not directly affect strength, improved endurance and the ability to execute more extended physical activity periods lend to progressive strength building over time.

Plus, those following a keto diet tend to report losing more body fat and feeling satiated and exerting ample energy with fewer calories once in metabolic ketosis.

Keep an Eye on Carb Counts

Everyone has a unique carb count or a threshold of carbs their body can tolerate without exiting ketosis. Hence, increasing carbohydrate intake on a cyclical keto diet is a protocol to approach with mindfulness and careful consideration.

Eat between 15 and 30 grams of carbs before your workout; the range is a sweet spot for many, providing needed energy without causing drastic spikes in blood sugar.

If your unique carb count number is higher, you may naturally be able to eat more carbs before strength training. However, if you find you need more carbs than the suggested 15-30 grams noted, to power your intense workouts and periods of recovery, try to space portions out to avoid consuming loads of sugar and starch for your body to synthesize at once.

Stay Vigilant About Protein Intake

Protein is our body's preliminary building block directly responsible for muscle development, recovery, and growth. Therefore, it's essential to eat your protein macros consistently and not skimp on the intake to ensure your body has the broad spectrum of amino acids needed to support optimal strength and muscle health.

Consume Adequate Calories

We advise increasing your calorie intake by 15% above your maintenance calories when building strength and muscle mass. So if your maintenance calories (BMR) are 2,000 per day, you have a daily suggested caloric intake of 2,300 calories per day to build muscle.

It's vital to hit your set macros to provide your body with all the needed building blocks to boost strength, increase muscle, and enhance physical performance to execute aerobic and anaerobic activities. So pile your plate with nutrient-dense, protein-rich options brimming with healthy fats to round out your meal plan and aid in improving strength.

The Takeaway

A ketogenic diet offers a variety of benefits to optimize health. From accelerated weight loss to managing metabolic flexibility and supporting healthy thyroid function, curbing carbs is a powerful tool to maximize health and wellness.

Focus on eating as much whole, organic food as possible and fill your meal plan with loads of premium protein and high-quality fat sources in adequate quantities to support strength training.

You'll soon find yourself setting new personal records and achieving non-scale victories, including leaning out and lifting heavier without needing to add additional calories to your macros.


  • McSwiney, F. T., Doyle, L., Plews, D. J., & Zinn, C. (2019). Impact of ketogenic diet on athletes: Current insights. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, Volume 10, 171–183.
  • Pan, J. W. (2004). Insights from neuroimaging studies into ketosis and the ketogenic diet. Epilepsy and the Ketogenic Diet, 143–151.
  • The brain–gut axis: How ketogenic diets might impact the gut microbiome. (2020). Ketogenic Diet Therapies For Epilepsy and Other Conditions.
  • Diet and food: Considered in relation to strength and power of endurance, training and athletes. (1899). JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, XXXII(7), 382.

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