If you’re looking to get big and jacked, you’ll know that weight training is the way to go.
In today’s article, we’re going to be focussing on keto as we look at gaining muscle on keto.
You see, people seem to think that the hard part about building muscle and getting jacked is the training in the gym.
The toughest part is the diet and nutritional side of things.
In fact, by comparison, training in the gym is easy.
So, what is it about the diet and nutritional side of things that makes it so difficult?
Well, there’s heaps to get your head around as it all depends on what you want from your training.
Are you looking to bulk up and build muscle mass, or do you want to cut fat and tone your existing muscle?
Maybe you’re just looking to maintain your physique in its current form.
All of these variables come into play when it comes to diet and nutrition for bodybuilding.
But what about building muscle on keto?
Well, worry not, because that’s what we’ll be talking about in today’s article.
Take a look and you’ll see what we mean.
Table Of Contents
There are plenty of diet crazes and fads doing the rounds at the moment, but the thing to know about ketogenic diets is that they are not fads or crazes.
Keto diets have been around for decades, and they have been found to be highly beneficial when it comes to fat loss as well as muscle growth and repair.
Keto is a term used to refer to the ketogenic diet favored by athletes, celebrities, personal trainers like Thomas DeLauer, and bodybuilders all over the globe.
The keto diet is a low carb, moderate protein, a high-fat diet that works wonders for fat loss.
If followed correctly, it is also very possible to build muscle on keto.
The basic premise behind keto is that you restrict your body’s preferred source of energy, carbohydrates, and instead focus primarily on fats (mainly good fats) and protein as your two primary macros.
You see, the body naturally prefers carbs as its main source of energy because it finds it easier to convert carbohydrates into glucose, which is then used as the body’s natural source of energy.
The body is no different to many of us in that it’s looking to keep things as simple and easy as possible, including the process of converting carbs to glucose energy.
When you restrict carbs your body no longer has a readily available form of energy and it doesn’t know what to do.
For the next few days, the body enters a state of starvation as it looks elsewhere for energy.
Eventually, it recruits your liver to produce ketones.
Ketones are enzymes which the brain and body can use for fuel when there is no glucose and no carbohydrates.
When your liver produces ketones, this forces your body into a state of ketosis.
Ketosis is very beneficial for fat loss because, in order for the liver to produce ketones, it needs fats.
To produce ketones, your body taps into your body’s stored fat supplies, so technically speaking you are actually burning your own body fat to produce energy.
When people thought of low carb diets a decade or so ago, the word ‘Atkins’ would instantly jump into their heads.
We’re looking at keto diet, so it’s important to clear up the fact that Atkins is NOT just another word for keto, and keto is certainly not a glorified form of Atkins.
The two diets do indeed restrict carb intakes, and as a result, the two diets do indeed force you into a state of ketosis.
However, that’s where the similarities end.
Atkins is a low carb, moderate fat, high protein diet.
Keto’s primary macronutrient is fat, so technically keto is a high-fat diet.
Some people still struggle to wrap their heads around this concept, as surely a high-fat diet would be detrimental to weight loss, yet here we are.
We’ve already looked at how keto diets work so there’s no need to go over the old ground here, but take it from us, keto and Atkins are like chalk and cheese in terms of their differences.
Watch any bodybuilding nutrition video, or read any diet based upon building muscle and you’ll see that carbs apparently play an essential role in bodybuilding.
Except they don’t need to.
Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair, so if you aren’t getting enough protein you can kiss goodbye to your gains.
Carbs, however, are not essential for muscle growth.
Sure, bodybuilders will often start their days with an enormous bowl of oats, accompanies by an egg white omelet and maybe a piece of fruit.
They’ll also combine their protein sources with carb sources such as rice, potatoes, and pasta.
Carbs do indeed provide energy, we’ve already mentioned that.
They are, however, not the only source of energy we need.
Now, when browsing the bodybuilding forums or listening to the gym bros down at the local gym chatting about training, it’s common to hear bodybuilders talking about the need for carbs for energy, and to spike insulin levels immediately after a workout.
Now, an insulin spike directly after a workout does indeed facilitate an anabolic response, but it is certainly not the only way to stimulate muscle hypertrophy through your diet and nutrition.
Numerous studies have found that, when followed correctly, a ketogenic diet can indeed stimulate an increased amount of lean muscle mass, whilst keeping body fat gain to an absolute minimum.
In some instances, lean muscle growth has increased, along with fat loss, so followers of keto have actually been able to burn fat whilst marginally increasing their lean muscle mass.
One thing that you’ll need to know in advance is the fact that, for the first two-four weeks, your workouts are going to suffer.
Your energy levels will marginally decrease and your strength will suck.
You need to resign yourself to the fact that your strength will suffer, but just keep reminding yourself that ultimately, it’s for the greater good.
Because your body is so used to using glucose for energy, when you make the transition over to keto and start fuelling your body with fat, you need to go through a phase known as ‘keto adaption’.
As we’ve stressed above, it is very possible to gain muscle on keto, but it certainly does not happen overnight.
In order to build muscle on keto, the following need to be taken into consideration:
First and foremost, when it comes down to building muscle under the keto, you need to ensure that you’re following the keto diet absolutely down to a T.
If not, you can kiss goodbye to your lean muscle gains and you can say hello to fat gain instead.
To ensure you remain in ketosis you need to limit your carbs to no more than a maximum of 50g each day.
In fact, some people consider this to be too high and they instead aim for just 20g – 30g.
Remember to always read the ingredients and nutritional values of foods on keto and be sure to keep carbs to a minimum.
Even one day where your carbs creep up could potentially knock you out of ketosis if you aren’t careful.
In terms of ratios, your daily macros for the day of carbs should ideally be no higher than 5% carbs.
Protein is essential for the growth and repair of muscle tissue, and so without adequate amounts of protein, you simply won’t be able to build muscle, no matter how hard you train.
When the following keto, you can get away with naturally fattier cuts of meat such as lamb, pork belly, ribeye steak, and oily fish like salmon.
Avoid processed meat such as bologna or salami as, although rich in protein and fats, they’re also processed and so they contain nasty ingredients and are sometimes bulked out with cereals and grains.
Most keto dieters will stick to a ratio of around 25% protein.
Finally, we get to the start of the show – fat.
Keto diets are synonymous with weight loss, yet people are still mind-blown when they discover that keto diets require around 70% of your daily macro intakes to come from healthy fats.
On keto, your liver produces the ketones which your body now uses in place of carbs for energy.
In order for the liver to produce these enzymes, it needs fat.
As well as tapping in stored body fat, your body will also utilize the fat you consume.
When eating fat, try to keep fat sources primarily healthy.
Don’t go chowing down on a deep-fried pork chop smothered in melted cheese and cream several times a day for example. 95% of the time, your fat sources should be healthy.
So, things such as Avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, natural nut butter, oily fish, grass-fed butter, dairy and cream (except milk), grass-fed red meat, nuts, and seeds.
Now we need to talk to you about micronutrients.
In order for your body to function at its best, it needs plenty of vitamins and minerals.
It gets these from micronutrients found in fresh vegetables.
On keto, veggies are incredibly important so be sure to choose the right ones.
Avoid sweet-tasting veggies such as peas and carrots, and try to limit root veg such as onions to a minimum.
Potatoes are obviously out of the question, but green leafy veggies are fine.
Broccoli, kale, spinach, cauliflower, and courgette are all great on keto as they’re low in carbs and high in nutrients.
As we’re looking at gaining muscle, it’s about time we looked at the actual training side of things.
If you aren’t lifting weights and training, it doesn’t matter how ‘on point’ your diet is, you won’t make any muscle gains at all.
When you lift weights strenuously, you create tiny micro-tears in your muscle fibers.
Your body repairs these tears via protein synthesis.
When you overload and overstimulate the muscle tissue to create these rips and tears, you activate the mTOR pathway.
When talking about mTOR we are referring to the ‘Mammalian Target of Rapamycin’ which is basically a kinase that is responsible for cell growth and recovery.
It is basically the protein that is responsible for activating pathways in the body which are responsible for muscle growth via protein synthesis.
The harder you train, the more muscle tissue you can build, providing your diet is on point, and providing you aren’t overtraining.
Studies have found that ketones help to activate mTOR which is very important when it comes to dieting on keto.
So, now It’s time to wrap things up and call it a day.
Now that you know more about gaining muscle on keto, and it's an anabolic diet, hopefully, you’ll be willing to give it a try if your progress has stalled.
But what have we learned today?
Well, we’ve established the fact that it is indeed very possible to build muscle and burn fat whilst following the keto diet.
If you can accept the fact that your strength and energy levels will suffer at first as you make the transition over to keto, you’ll soon find that your lifts once again improve, as will your physique.
Reda is an ACE Certified Nutritionist, Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt and bodybuilder with 11 years of experience. He's been published on many influential websites such as lifehack.org, Wealthy Gorilla, Good Men Project and more.