Have you ever heard someone say that you can’t build muscle on the keto diet? Simply put, it’s a keto diet myth.

If so, you aren’t alone.

Many people have the belief that if you want to build muscle, you need a boatload of carbs to do it.

This, however, just isn’t accurate!

Think about the primary purpose of carbs in a muscle-building diet. They are to help provide energy to complete the mass building process.

Can’t you get that energy from fats? Yes, you can.

And many people do successfully build muscle on a ketogenic diet plan.

You just need to know how to set up the diet properly to get results. If you do that, you can see comparable, if not better results, then a traditional ‘muscle building’ diet plan.

Let’s look at this concept in more details.

Carbs vs. Fats

In order to build muscle, you need two things:

  1. The building blocks muscle is made from (i.e. Protein)
  2. Sufficient energy to utilize those building blocks as they are needed (i.e. Carbs or Fats)

Protein provides the building blocks, and carbs and fats provide the energy.

If you reduce the carbs in your diet, you just need to add more fats to support the energy requirements.

What’s even better is that fat contains over two times as many calories per gram compared to carbohydrates. It’s far easier to sustain the necessary calorie surplus to build muscle eating fats.

If you’re a classic ‘hard gainer’ for instance and need to eat 4000 calories per day to build muscle, this can be very trying if you use a lower fat, higher carb diet. But use a higher fat, lower carb diet, and it suddenly becomes quite a bit easier.

For instance, to get 2000 calories from rice, you’d need to eat approximately 10 cups. To get 2000 calories from almonds, you’d need to eat around 2.5 cups. Clearly, that’s much easier to stomach. While you may not eat that many almonds in one day, it shows the power of having high-fat foods in your diet.

Now, many people will state that you need carbs present in order to keep insulin levels higher. “Insulin is the most anabolic hormone around!”, they’ll claim.

While it’s true that insulin can help you build muscle, it can also help you gain fat. When insulin is high, it just means your body is in a state of tissue building. It doesn’t mean it’s building muscle. It can be just as easily building fat as well.

Besides, there is one hormone that is even more powerful than insulin that you must not forget about: testosterone.

And guess what hormone is elevated when you eat more dietary fat? That’s right – testosterone. In fact, low fat diets have been proven by research to blunt testosterone levels [1], so why would you want to do such a thing?

Your body needs fat to function optimally and to build lean muscle mass. The keto diet will provide all the fat you need from a variety of sources. It would appear that saturated fat is especially important, so you shouldn’t be cutting this out either [2].

Nothing is more anabolic than testosterone. While you may get that insulin spike on a high carb diet, you get controlled insulin on a keto diet, and you get the power of testosterone working in your favor.

The Power of Protein

We must not forget the power of protein in all of this as well. As noted, protein provides the building blocks upon which muscle tissue is made from. The ketogenic diet ensures that you do get enough protein into your day to support the mass gaining goals.

But yet, it also ensures that you don’t take in an overabundance of protein like some people do when they use classic bodybuilding style diets. There is no reason to be taking in 250-300 grams of protein each day.

At that level, it just becomes very expensive fuel that’s hard on the body to break down and digest.

Overeating protein can be harmful to your mass gaining goals as the energy needed to break that down could have been better spent building up new lean muscle mass tissue.

Furthermore, it’s also not going to provide you with a usable form of energy for the gym either.

Electrolytes

Here’s a power tip!

For those trying to build muscle on the ketogenic diet: don’t forget about electrolytes. These are imperative to keeping your body functioning optimally and something that we too often overlook.

If you aren’t getting enough sodium and potassium in your diet, you’ll notice that you’re feeling fatigued, weak, and not producing the strength you need to build muscle.

You can get these electrolytes in by using a keto-friendly electrolyte replacement beverage. While there’s no problem getting in enough sodium on the keto diet, getting in enough potassium can be harder to do. Most foods rich in potassium are also high in carbohydrates.

That’s why supplementation will be key.

Using the Targeted Keto Diet Plan

If you really want to optimize your training, a smart approach is to use the targeted ketogenic diet plan.

Using this plan will allow you to eat carbohydrates, but only before the workout.

This will then give you the anabolic response you’re after, ensuring that you do have the carbohydrates to fuel your session. During the rest of the day, you can maintain insulin levels to keep your mass gains lean while using fat as the fuel source to complete the muscle-building process.

This gives you the best of both worlds, virtually guaranteeing you see great results.

How many carbs you eat before your training will depend on what your specific training program is.

A rough guideline would be to eat five grams of carbs for every two working sets you complete. This will ensure you provide adequate carbs to fuel the workout but not so many that you struggle to move back into ketosis once it’s finished.

The carb meal should come preferably about 30-60 minutes prior to the workout session to allow for enough time for the carbs to digest and bring blood glucose levels up.

Valuing Proper Training

Finally, it must not be overlooked that proper training will also still be absolutely critical to your success. Too many people overlook how vital progressive overload is in maximizing your success, so don’t go off eating a higher calorie diet without it.

You still need to be providing the stimulus that the body will then respond to with those extra calories to help you build and develop more lean muscle mass.

This means heavy weight lifting at a volume sufficient to provoke growth but not evoke overtraining.

By using the targeted ketogenic diet with your weight lifting plan you can maximize the volume you perform because you will be providing the glucose necessary to restore muscle glycogen.

So keep these points in mind and don’t let yourself fall for the myth that you can’t build muscle while on a ketogenic diet plan!

You most certainly can – you just need the right approach and to ensure the calorie support is there. The ketogenic diet is an excellent means of keeping insulin levels stable. You can avoid unwanted fat gain while relishing in all the lean muscle mass gains you see.

References:

[1] Hämäläinen, E. K., et al. “Decrease of serum total and free testosterone during a low-fat high-fibre diet.” Journal of steroid biochemistry 18.3 (1983): 369-370.

[2] Key, Timothy JA, et al. “Testosterone, sex hormone-binding globulin, calculated free testosterone, and oestradiol in male vegans and omnivores.” British Journal of Nutrition 64.1 (1990): 111-119

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Shannon Clark holds a degree in Exercise Science from the University of Alberta, where she specialized in Sports Performance and Psychology. In addition to her degree, she is an AFLCA certified personal trainer and has been working in the field for over 12 years now, helping others lose weight, build muscle, and improve their athletic performance. She’s worked with people of all ages and helped them find the right fitness path for themselves. She is a regular contributor to Bodybuilding.com and has also contributed well over 400 articles to a variety of different websites dedicated towards muscle building and athletic performance. For more about her, find her at ShannonClarkFitness.com.

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