The optimal protein intake for keto is still relatively misunderstood. Unfortunately, the health and fitness sector has a tendency to dichotomize nutritional issues, with many “keto diet gurus” contending you should only get 10-15% of your total daily calories from proteins; others advocate eating upwards of 40% of your total daily calories from protein, which is rather excessive.
But what about the gaping hole being left in the middle? Is that where the optimal protein intake for keto lies? Not necessarily.
Make no mistake that eating small amounts of protein is not the best approach to your keto diet, and neither is eating a ton of protein. But the best protein intake for keto requires a further understanding of how this particular class of macronutrients works in the body.
With this in mind, let’s take a deep dive into what is truly the optimal protein intake for keto based on scientific findings and anecdotal evidence. It’s safe to say that the truth about protein intake for keto might come as a surprise…
Quantifying Optimal Protein Intake for Keto
Extant literature and research suggest that anywhere between 0.8 and 1.15 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass is an adequate daily protein intake for keto (for most people). It’s important to note that this is merely a general recommendation for the majority of the population.
However, highly active people, bodybuilders, athletes, and the elderly may all benefit from eating more protein. In fact, if you’re an active person trying to build lean muscle mass, you might experience better results by setting your daily keto protein intake as high as 1.5 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass. (This comes out to about 3.3 grams of protein per kg of lean body mass if you’re using the metric system.)
Now, you should not assume that eating more protein means you will inherently put on more muscle mass than someone who eats less protein. This is especially pertinent to those on the keto diet since your body will have plenty of fat to use for energy (sparing protein in the process).
Yes, your body requires amino acids from protein to build, protect, and repair skeletal muscle, but not all of the protein you eat goes towards muscle protein synthesis.
Furthermore, protein and amino acids you eat that don’t go towards muscle protein syntheses are certainly useful for many other biological processes.
Be careful, though; consuming superfluous amounts of protein on the keto diet means you might experience a large amount of gluconeogenesis, which can theoretically hamper your efforts to stay in ketosis.
Protein Digestive Rate, Sources, and Muscle Building
Do the source and digestive rate of protein you eat really matter? Read on as we divulge some of the relevant findings behind this question.
“Does all the protein I eat go towards building muscle?”
Now that we have a much better understanding of protein digestion, it is necessary to note that not all those isolated amino acids and shorter peptides will go towards creating new muscle tissue/muscle protein synthesis (MPS).
In simpler terms, if you eat 150 grams of protein after working out, you won’t necessarily put on any more muscle than someone who eats 50 grams of protein. It may not seem intuitive, but that’s just not how your body operates for muscle building purposes.
Research shows that there appears to be a “cap” or ceiling that your body intrinsically has for muscle protein synthesis each time it is fed protein. According to research findings, 30 grams of a protein source rich in L-leucine is plenty for “maxing out” muscle protein synthesis at any given meal (and will remain significantly elevated for about four hours).
This isn’t to say that you must restrict protein consumption to 30 grams per meal for optimum muscle growth. Bigger people will clearly need more and vice versa.
Protein Sources and Digestive Rates
For all people on the keto diet, eating quality sources of protein is absolutely essential for optimizing results. Naturally, you might be wondering what makes a certain protein source “high quality”? In short, quality sources of protein provide high amounts of essential amino acids, especially branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) and L-leucine.
Why is L-leucine so important, you ask? Research demonstrates that muscle protein synthesis is MPS is stimulated proportionally to the amount of L-leucine consumed with each feeding of protein. in proportion to the essential amino acid content (and particularly L-leucine) of each meal.
As such, you can mix up your sources of protein so long as you’re eating a sufficient amount of essential amino acids (especially L-leucine) throughout the day.
The best sources of essential amino acids and L-leucine for keto generally include:
- Whey and casein protein powder
- Animal meats (chicken, beef, pork, etc.)
- Dairy products
For that reason, to optimize protein intake for keto you should not rely on one single source of protein. Mixing up your protein sources can add a nice variety to your keto diet without losing the benefits of optimal muscle protein synthesis (just be sure you focus on quality protein sources). We have also compiled the ketogenic diet shopping list to help you out.
Optimizing Your Protein Intake for Keto
As mentioned earlier, these suggestions serve as starting point for active gym-goers who want to build muscle.
Different factors like body mass, sex, age, genetics, and anabolic steroid use will modify your exact protein needs. Don’t hesitate to do use trial and error to determine your optimal keto protein for keto.
As some rules-of-thumb, follow these suggestions for optimal protein intake on keto:
- Around 1.15 to 1.25 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass is adequate protein intake for keto (for most people).
- Try and eat at least 30 grams of leucine-rich protein per meal to maximize muscle protein synthesis.
- For building and maintaining lean muscle tissue, eat a little more protein and between 3-5 meals per day containing complete protein.