When you're on a diet like the ketogenic diet, building muscle can get hard. But it's not impossible, and a lot of what you have to do to build muscle on the keto diet comes from normal strength-building best practices. Here's how.
The keto diet is simple: replace your carbs with fats. The idea is that when you eat an extremely low-carb, relatively high-fat diet, your body goes into a metabolic state called ketosis. Ketosis happens when the body doesn’t have immediate access to glucose, or the sugars found in carbs (and its primary source of energy). Because of this, the body resorts to burning the next-best source of energy— existing fat stores already in your body. When followed for a short period of time, the ketogenic diet can provide a host of benefits (it can help you lose weight, improve cholesterol levels, reduce body fat without feeling like you’re starving, plus more). But since only about five percent of your calories come from carbs (an essential ingredient for muscle growth), it can be hard to build muscle while following the diet.
Good news: you can make it work. And that's because of one key ratio: 20 percent of your calories on the keto diet come from protein.
Foundations of Muscle Growth
There are basic, effective methods of building muscle, and those are still relevant on the keto diet. Stick to these foundations of strength building while you're eating.
You can eat whatever you want, but if you’re not training hard, you’re not going to gain any muscle. Weight training will give you the biggest yield in muscle growth, and compound exercises that engage multiple muscle groups (like deadlifting, squats, and pullups) will help you grow muscle faster.
No sleep, no growth. Most of your recovery happens when you’re dead to the world, and messing with your sleep schedule will mess with your gains. That’s because recovery hormones, like testosterone, are released in your sleep, which helps your muscles grow. (Getting enough sleep is important to your overall health, too—who couldn’t use an excuse to sleep in an extra 30 minutes?)
Eat A Lot
You need to increase your intake of food when you’re looking to gain muscle. This is true for the keto diet, too. Some studies of participants looking to gain muscle on the keto diet assigned each participant 130 grams of protein a day. With a three-times-a-week lifting program, these participants gained muscle under a controlled environment. Talk to a personal trainer or nutritionist about how much protein you’ll have to meet your goals.
Building More Muscle on Keto
So you’ve decided keto is right for you. Great! Now, the hard part: muscles typically require a high-carb diet to grow. That's because the glycogen in carbs helps your muscles build the mass you're looking for, whereas protein helps them repair. Since you’re eating only five percent carbs for the time being, it’s time to figure out a new approach to adding gains.
Give Your Body a Time to Adapt
A body in ketosis can gain muscle, but a body getting there is still adjusting to its new state. During this time, you might see a decrease in workout performance. Don't worry: your body's just learning to switch from synthesizing glycogen to using the fat it's turning into ketones into energy. Your body will gain muscle at a slower pace than a body on a high-carb, high-protein diet, but it can—and will—gain muscle as long as you're eating your recommended protein intake.
Time Your Protein (and Carb) Intake
Eat protein at every meal—don’t save it all for dinner. This is because eating 100 grams of protein in one sitting will rapidly descrease your ketone levels, throwing your state of ketosis out of whack. Consistency is key. As for your carbs, many experts recommend eating your entire day's alotment right before your training session (check with a personal trainer, however, if this is right for you: it depends on your goals with the diet).
Invest in Supplements
Since you’re limiting your intake of certain foods, it’s easy to become deficient in vitamins that can help you build muscle.
Here are some resources for supplements:
Looking for more ways to make keto work for your muscle-building goals? Talk to a personal trainer today to see what specific exercises you can do to gain muscle while following keto.