Can You Build Muscle While in Ketosis?
This article has been featured in asiafitnesstoday.com and reviewed by their editorial team.
Asia Fitness Today is a well-being company led by a team of health, wellness and fitness professionals and advisory panel.
Recent scientific studies show that it is indeed possible to build muscle while in ketosis. The research suggests that this will only be possible if you make sure you are consuming a sufficient amount of protein and fat alongside an effective resistance training program. The amount required is considered to be 1 gram of protein for every LB of body weight whilst 78-80% of your daily calories should come from fat.
Do you need carbs to build muscle mass? It has been a long held belief within the fitness industry that in order to build muscle mass, you need to consume both carbohydrates and protein together in order to stimulate the protein synthesis which in theory leads to muscle growth. Now it is true that carbohydrates are in a sense anabolic. Anabolic meaning that they cause muscles to grow in optimum conditions. However, consuming a large amount of carbohydrates also causes fat gain as well which is not what we want.
The majority of the general population have known for some time now that carbs cause weight gain and make you store fat. As a result, fitness enthusiasts the world over have turned to Low-Carb diets to lose those extra pounds. However, as a byproduct, we have become concerned that we will not be able to gain muscle either, and even worse we will lose muscle.
I am going to share with you information in this article that will hopefully put your mind at rest. It is indeed possible to maintain and gain muscle mass while in ketosis.
So Can You Build Muscle While In Ketosis?… This Article Will Show You How!
Before I go into detail regarding how to go about building muscle while in ketosis, I want to put your mind at rest when it comes to the apparent need to consume carbohydrates along with protein in order to build muscle. Most people in the muscle building world believe that you must consume carbs and protein together after a weight training session in order to stimulate protein synthesis and muscle growth. Recent science however suggests otherwise. A study in 2007 found that consuming carbs and protein after a workout did not enhance protein synthesis. 10 healthy men took part in a crossover study. They performed 60 minutes of strength training, and then they were fed either 0, 0.15, or 0.6 g x kg of carbs along with 0.3 g x kg of protein hydrolysate during a 6 hr recover period after the workout.
The result was very interesting. What was found was that there was no difference in the amount of protein synthesis taking place between the various experiments.
So we can be fairly confident with the fact that you do not need to consume a boat load of carbohydrates in order to being muscle repair and growth.
This was not the only study however that supports this hypothesis. Several studies have shown in a much more direct how the the ketogenic diet not only preserves muscle mass, but also increases muscle growth, especially when combined with a keto/carb-cycling protocol.
Another study carried out in 2014 found that participants on ketogenic diet maintained muscle mass just as well as participants who were on a standard western carb rich diet for a duration of 10 weeks. However, in the 11th week the participants on the keto diet started to eat carbohydrates again for that week. After the 11th week the keto group actually gained more muscle mass than the standard western diet group.
So what were the exact results of the study cited above?…
The study consisted of 26 healthy male participants. Half of the group were put on a standard western diet (55% Carbs, 25% Fat, 20% Protein), and the other half were prescribed a standard ketogenic diet (5% CHO, 75% Fat, 20%) for 11 weeks. However, in the 11th week the keto diet group began to consume carbohydrates again.
From weeks 1-10 both groups showed no difference in the rate of muscle gain. This suggests that for someone engaged with a strength training programme, muscle will not be lost if that person is in ketosis for an extended period of time.
In week 11 however, the keto diet group 'carbed up', and ate a higher amount of carbohydrates for that final week of the experiment. The results were surprising yet positive. At the end of the 11th week, the keto diet group gained significantly more muscle mass than the standard diet group. In fact they gained around 2.1kgs more muscle mass than the standard western diet group by the end of the experiment.
This suggests that the ketogenic diet may more be beneficial for muscle gain than a standard high carbohydrate diet.
Before we go on to talk about an action plan that you can put into practice yourself, I would like to reference one final study. Just to really highlight the findings already mentioned above. So many people these days are afraid of the keto diet when it comes to maintaining or building muscle when there really is no need to be. In face, as we have already found out, a low carb high fat diet really can accelerate your results when it comes to building muscle.
This final study was very similar to the last one I just outlined. 25 college men were divided into a standard western diet group and a ketogenic diet group for the 11 week duration of the experiment. The main difference with this particular experiment and the previous one I described earlier was that in this particular study, the keto diet and standard western diet groups were both isocaloric and isonitrogenous. This means that both diet groups consumed the same amount of calories and the same amount of protein as each each on each day of the trial. Again, as in the previous experiment the keto group re-fed on carbs in week 11.
All participants also undertook resistance training on a daily basis throughout the 11 weeks.
The results were very interesting when compared to the previous study. For the first 10 weeks the keto diet group gained only 2.2kg of lean body mass whilst the standard western diet group gained an impressive 4.4gk. That's double what the keto group gained. However, in week 11 when the keto group re-fed on carbs, they gained a further 2.2kg taking their total lean body mass gain for the 11 weeks to 4.8kg. This means that again the keto group gained more muscle mass than the non-keto group by the end of the experiment.
So what can we take from these findings?…
The results from all of the research mentioned above I looks very promising and would lead us to believe that the ketogenic diet has many benefits when is comes to building muscle while in ketosis.
One thin the research shows is that not only do we retain muscle while on a keto diet, but we can actually gain muscle mass while in a state of nutritional ketosis.
Not only this, but if we so wish; we can strategically use carbohydrates in conjunction with a keto diet in order to build more muscle mass than one could on a standard diet.
So how do we go about this? How do we put all the theory into practice in the real world?
How Can You Build Muscle While in Ketosis?…
Putting It All Together…
So let's take a look at how we can take what we have learned from the above studies and use the information in a productive way in order to put together a keto based action plan for building muscle in an accelerated way.
So we now know that you could at the very least maintain your muscle mass (and probably gain a little) on a standard ketogenic diet.
As a reminder the marconutrient ratios of your daily caloric intake are;
The ratios mentioned above are what you would aim for if you were following the standard ketogenic diet for health and fat loss benefits. However, in order to build muscle effectively while on the keto diet we need to tweak the numbers slightly. I have already allured to these numbers at the very beginning of this article, but I will go through them again and in more detail here.
We need to increase the amount of protein consumption to 1 gram per pound (LB) of body weight. Because we are increasing the protein intake, it is possible that glucose and insulin levels will still spike slightly due to a process called gluconeogenisis where the liver turns excess protein into glucose. This in turn could cause a little bit of fat gain.
To combat this, we also need to increase the amount of fat consumption from 75% of total daily caloric intake up to around 78-80%. This will help the body produce more ketones and keep the body in fat burning more.
As usual, your daily carbohydrate intake should be less than 50g.
With the keto macro ratios outlined above, you should have not problem building and maintaining muscle mass while in ketosis. However, due to the excess calories being consumed, some people may worry that they will gain excess fat during the process. This is totally understandable as it is very easy to gain fat during a bulking program.
So how do we do we definitely make sure we don’t gain excess fat while building muscle on keto?…
The solution? Intermittent fasting!
What I recommend is that you take two days of the week and fast for 18-20 hours. There are many benefits of intermittent fasting and you can learn more about those benefits by reading our extensive and in depth article on the subject here (opens another page on our website in a new window).
Needles to say fasting will keep your fat level down whilst preserving muscle mass. There are so many other health benefits to fasting which I don't have time to mention here. As already mentioned, out in depth article about intermittent fasting goes into much more depth about that particular subject area.
Do This to Turbocharge Your Muscle Gain on Keto!…
In order to get the maximum muscle building efforts, we are going take what we learned from the studies and mimic the protocol.
So, I suggest you go for 2 1/2 months on the muscle building keto diet I mentioned above with the tweaked numbers. Also remember to do the intermittent fasting for two days of the week as already discussed.
However, for the last two weeks of the 3 month cycle (weeks 11-12), take a break from the keto diet and re-introduce carbohydrates again. At the end of week 11, go back to the keto diet and intermittent fasting for another 3 month cycle.
Rinse and Repeat!...
Now, it's important to remember that when you re-introduce carbohydrates for weeks 11 and 12, that you continue to eat clean and healthy. Eat healthy carb based foods rather than processed and refined carbs such as white bread, candy and pizza. Weeks 11 ans 12 are not weeks off. They are weeks of carb back loading. Try incorporating foods such as;
** IMPORTANT NOTE **
When increasing your carbohydrate intake it is VERY important to lower your fat intake to normal levels again! DO NOT keep your fat intake at 78%-80% as per keto diet when eating 'normal' amounts of carbs again in weeks 11-12 of the diet cycle.
Consuming carbohydrates spikes your insulin and pushed glucose into the liver and fat cells. If you consume a high amount of fat at the same time as you eat carbohydrates then you will also be pushing fat into your liver and fat cells. Continue reading below to learn the recommended macro ratios for weeks 11-12.
I recommend that in weeks 11 and 12 when you re-introduce carbs again, you follow the macro ratios similar to the standard western diet groups in the experiments as discussed.
So week 1-10 you will be doing your keto diet along with 2 days of intermittent fasting. Weeks 11-12 I recommend you consume your macros in the following ratios (remembering to lower out fat intake again).
Standard Western Diet Macro Ratios for Weeks 11-12
Now I know what you are thinking! By now you are probably asking yourself what your daily caloric intake should be in order to build muscle and lose fat. I realise I have given most of the macro ratio numbers in percentages in this post. Those percentages do of course relate to our daily caloric intake.
I will be totally honest with you here, and then direct you to another one of my articles where you can learn more about your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) and how to work out what your daily caloric intake should be.
Personally, I don't worry that much about my daily caloric intake. Controversial I know!
I go by instinct and 'eyeball' my macro ratios. Now in the beginning it would certainly be helpful for you to track your ratios using any popular tracking app on your phone.
However, I eat when I am hungry and stop when I am full. I make sure my ratios and as close as possible and I train hard in the gym. I find that this works well for me. Over tracking your numbers can become very taxing mentally and you want to try to avoid become OCD about the numbers.
The body is very cleaver! Follow the rough guide in this article, then follow your instinct.
If you really want to work out how many calories a day you 'need' to consume for a certain rate of muscle growth, then you can find out more by reading our article that goes into more depth HERE (opens in a new window).
Workout Efficiently to Build Muscle… the Right Way!…
Of course, muscle growth is also very much dependent on you partaking in an effective exercise regime which focuses on breaking down the muscle fibres in your body. This type of strength training causes the muscle tissue to grow in size as the fibres repair themselves.
Again, rather than going on a tangent in this article and trying to cover a topic that requires its own blog post, I am going to link again to my other article that I shared earlier. The article will take your through the basics of how to weight train effectively for muscle growth, whether in ketosis or not.
You can read the article right HERE on our website (opens in a new window).
Utilised in the correct way and along with effective and efficient resistance training, the keto diet can absolutely accelerate your muscle growth while providing you with many other health benefits as well.
At the end of the day it all depends on your own goals and aspirations. What's more, we are all only humans and we have to live life. Take the information in this article and use it as a guide. Strive to do your best everyday. No one can ask any more of you.
Good luck with your health and fitness goals!...