The keto diet is a hot topic right now. Many people who are looking to lose a few pounds of fat and build up some muscle have turned to keto for help.
While there are many different opinions on the efficacy of the ketogenic diet when you’re trying to build muscle, there’s no doubt that optimizing protein content in comparison with the standard American diet, as well as reducing carbs and processed food can help improve your body composition. When you’re doing keto, strength training is your best friend. Regardless of your age or gender, when coupled with a lower calorie diet, it is the best way to melt fat and preserve or build muscle. But how can you build muscle on keto? What’s the best style of resistance training for your keto diet?
We’re here to talk about it. Keep reading for all you need to know about keto, weight training, and how they work together.
First: How Can Keto Help You Build Muscle?
Many people are skeptical of the idea that a ketogenic diet is good for muscle-building, but let’s look at the information that we have.
A ketogenic diet is a low-carb diet. While percentages fluctuate, the average person on a ketogenic diet should aim for 10% or less of their daily calories to be made up of carbohydrates, or preferably, eating less than 30g of NET carbs per day (NET carbs are total carbs minus the fiber from food, as fiber does not affect ketosis). Carb intake on ketosis should be seen as a “limit” to not go over.
The other two micronutrients areprotein and fat. We are, however NOT hung up on ratios or percentages. They are going to vary with your calorie deficit or surplus, your lean mass requirements for protein, etc. Lots of variables exist, as we are not treating any medical conditions such as drug-resistant epilepsy, but focusing on the body recomposition aspects of the ketogenic diet.
Protein sufficiency trumps all with regard to building muscle, and it hits its stride when combined with resistance training, hence why we refer to Protein as “a goal” to hit every day. Dietary fat intake should be modulated around your goals, and thus we call it a “lever” to adjust depending on whether you want to lose fat or maintain your current weight. While a deficit of calories is necessary for fat loss, it is important to note that deficit will make slower muscle building progress than maintenance or calorie surpluse. However, when you are overweight, lean-gaining (gaining muscle at a slower rate to maximize fat loss) will be preferred.
Now, this is how the keto diet works to lean you out. Fat loss occurs primarily as a function of your diet relative to your metabolic requirements. Muscle gain occurs at the intersection of sufficient protein intake and sufficient training stimulus.
So thus we have energy, the combination of the nature of the foods that we eat and the amounts of each – protein, fat, and carbohydrate. But what about building muscle?
People on a ketogenic diet generally end up eating more protein than the average American, as well as more protein than the food pyramid recommends, and this is good.
Protein is the building block of our muscles (among a bunch of other crucial things like immune function, hormone function, etc), so it only makes sense that consuming more protein will allow your body to repair itself and build more strength than it would on a lower-protein diet. To a large extent, this is true – but there does come a point of diminishing marginal returns. More is NOT always better.Overall, while it might be a popular belief that a lack of carbs can equate to a lack of energy, if you break the science down, you can see that we get energy from other sources. We can complete proper workouts on the keto diet as long as we’re eating and exercising correctly, and to add, for fat loss, you also want to use not only the fat you eat, but preferably the one you have stored in your own body – yes, people often forget that your body fat is energy as well.
In other words, keto and strength training don’t need to work against each other.
The primary factor in gaining muscle (or any kind of weight) is resistance training. To a lesser degree, however, eating in a caloric surplus is a surplus of anabolism – the building up of the body. A surplus means that you’re eating more calories than your body needs to sustain its daily functions. Some portion of that gain will be muscle, but also some amount of fat will likely come along for the ride.
For example, if you use up 2000 calories per day, your body wants to consume 2000 calories in order to fill that gap.
Ketogenic diets don’t have to be low-calorie diets (although they can be and often are). With the increase in dietary fats, you may find yourself wanting to eat more to keep hunger at bay. Getting into a caloric surplus shouldn’t be much harder on keto than it is on a normal diet; you’re just doing it in a different way.
You can calculate the appropriate amount of calories and your overall macros to make sure that you’re getting an accurate idea of what to do, but our recommendation is to focus on fat loss WHILE still training if you are over 15% BF as a male, or over 25% BF as a female, before actually eating at a surplus. If you are over the ranges mentioned above, you can (and you will) gain muscle even if you eat at a slight deficit or maintenance, because even if you are on a caloric deficit, the difference in energy will be filled via the use of your own body fat.
Keto and Cardio
You may find that your cardio gets better than ever when you swap to a keto diet. Ketosis has the ability to increase your endurance and stamina, meaning that you can do vigorous activities for a longer period of time. We are NOT advocating for cardio (at least in the low-intensity steady state, or LISS, form). Not because we don’t support people pursuing their passions, but because it is less effective by far for strength improvement than resistance training.
Cardio-focused activities are things like biking, running, and anything else that requires a modest to moderate amount of energy to keep going. While there’s a more technical definition of what constitutes cardiovascular fitness-related exercises, the details are way beyond the scope of what we intended to provide here. A unique form of Cardio that we do recommend mixing in with training is called high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, and our special favorite is the Kettlebell swing.
Now, remember: fat loss comes from the diet. Cardio can help, but the focus for fat loss should be on what you eat and what you don’t eat, and calories, of course.
Initial Feelings of Weakness
Whenever you make a drastic change to your diet, be it macros or calories, you’re going to feel different. This difference is likely going to be temporary as your body adjusts to the new conditions that you’re putting it under, however if you fail to recognize the cause, it is likely to stick around for a long time. Remember that if your main goal is fat loss, it is normal and expected to lose a bit of performance and even strength as you are eating at a deficit, and also if you are just starting the keto diet, as adaptation to using fat as fuel takes some weeks.
Additionally, for those of us who sweat a lot or exercise consistently, there is one consistent problem that we see – electrolyte mismanagement. When you go low carb, your need for electrolytes (specifically sodium, potassium, and magnesium) increase drastically. When you think you’re getting enough – you likely aren’t.
If you’re a seasoned weightlifter, you might notice an initial feeling of weakness or a lowered ability to do your normal lifts. This could be alarming to you, but don’t fret. In almost all cases, with proper macros and proper electrolyte intake (especially sodium before or around training) you are going to be back to your old performance levels in a short timeframe.
Eat at Proper Times
If you’re doing a keto diet while you’re working on strength training, it can be helpful to plan your carbs ahead of time. There are two main ways that people do this and you may find that one works better for you than the other.
Some types of strength training require more explosive actions, meaning you’ll deplete your glycogen stores more quickly than you would with other types of training. If you are a competitive athlethe, fairly lean (below 14% BF as a male, or below 24% as a female) and insulin sensitive, we recommend the inclusion of about 5-10g of a rapidly absorbed carbohydrate source such as glucose or dextrose along with the Ketogains pre-workout coffee (Coffee, 25g whey protein, 10g MCT Oil). This small carb boost will help you perform better with explosive movement without affecting ketosis, as the carbs will be used rapidly during the training session.
This is a stragegy for advanced trainees called “Targeted Ketogenic Diet” or TKD for short.
Your carbohydrate timing isn’t the only thing that matters. Some people prefer to eat all their daily calories in a single meal or over a short eating window. These are, to put it bluntly, contradictory to maximal muscle building and strength improvement. The data is pretty clear that a minimum of 2 meals up to around 4 meals per day lead to better outcomes.
Doing so can keep your body functioning all day and allows your muscles to repair themselves over time to give yourself optimal recovery, this is why we recommend having the Ketogains pre-workout coffee 30 to 40 minutes prior to your strength training sessions.
Building muscle on keto requires planning, but this is generally true of any dietary approach.
Hypertrophy Is Key
Hypertrophy is when a tissue enlarges the size of its cells. In exercise terms, it’s your muscles becoming stronger through increased stress over time.
Our bodies are great at adapting. When we have to lift things regularly, they feel less heavy. The more often we run, the less sore we are when we’re done.
This applies to strength training and taking advantage of it is how you have an efficient workout routine that doesn’t require hours at the gym long after your energy has been depleted. After all, strength training at least 3 times per week allows your muscles to restore themselves so you can get stronger faster, as long as you are ingesting adequate protein. without
How to Trigger It
When we apply more stress to the muscles than they’re used to, we are promoting hypertophy.
This can mean increasing your number of repetitions, increasing the load that you’re lifting, adding more sets – or all of the three combined. Typically it’s done by increasing the weight of the load.
For example, if you’re a beginner, you’ll start with bodyweight exercises. Someone trying to get used to lunges and build strength in their legs will find that bodyweight lunges are enough to tire them out.
The next week, you’d add light weights. You can start with whatever you can reach 6-10 reps with depending on what you’re aiming for. These repetitions should have good form and you should struggle by the last one.
As each week goes on, more weight will be added. This causes the muscles to adapt to greater strain every session, triggering hypertrophy. Our bodies are capable of more than we think, and training this way lets us get results instead of spinning our wheels at the gym.
Doing the Keto Diet? Strength Training Is for You
For many people on the keto diet, strength training seems scary. How can I restore myself without all of those excess carbs? Will my lifts suffer? Can I get started on strength training on keto?
You’ll do fine. If you work your muscles in an efficient way through hypertrophy and if you time your meals right, the science says that keto should be no problem. You’ll build muscle, shed fat, gain physical and mental health. Are you ready to get started?
Visit our site to check out our 3-week Fasttrakk program. Our certified coaches are there to give you science based and practial advice and help you change your lifestyle. What are you waiting for?