The Keto diet has become popular for its health benefits, the weight it allows people to lose and the mental clarity it brings. However, one thing it’s not known for is helping you to build muscles. Thankfully, that doesn’t mean that you can’t build muscle while on Keto.
The following article will help you to use the Keto diet in order to build muscle safely and effectively without kicking your body out of ketosis.
What is Keto?
First of all, what exactly is the Keto diet? A lot of people know that it’s an low carb diet but why does Keto ask you to restrict your carbs? Is it just out of a hatred for bread?
The short answer is, the Keto diet is an ultra-low carb diet because it seeks to change the way your body metabolises food for energy. Typical diets that are higher in carbs create the perfect environment for glucose. Glucose is made in your liver from the carbs that you eat and it has the benefit of being a quick and easy way to fuel your body.
Glucose isn’t a stable form of energy since your blood sugar levels spike shortly after eating a high carb meal and then plummet a few hours later taking your energy levels with them. This cycle of highs and lows can really do a number on your body so the Keto diet seeks to change this by having your body rely on ketones instead of glucose for its energy needs.
Ketones are created in your liver from fat. Fat is a stable, widely available and long burning source of energy which means that when you’re running on ketones you have improved mental clarity and increased energy levels.
In order to put your body in the state of ketosis you need to restrict the number of carbs you eat a day so that your body doesn’t have enough carbohydrates to create the glucose it needs. This causes it to switch into its survival mode and you begin producing ketones. Every person is different; however, a general rule of thumb is to keep your net carbs to 20-25g a day (or less than 5% of your total calories). This should help your body stay in ketosis so that you can keep seeing great results.
Can you do Keto while trying to build muscle?
The Keto diet isn’t your typical muscle building diet because it’s not a high-protein diet. Although Keto restricts carbohydrates, it also has rules regarding protein intake. On Keto you should aim for 15-20% of your calories to come from protein sources. This ends up being a lot less protein than most bodybuilders aim for, especially if you’re used to eating 1g of protein for every pound of bodyweight!
Why does Keto limit your protein?
Protein is an important component of Keto. It’s not just the calories that are left over when you’ve eaten your 5% carbs and your 75% healthy fats. Protein is required for building muscle but too much protein can have a negative effect on your Keto results. In fact, too much protein can actually kick your body out of ketosis.
When your body is deprived of glucose it has an interesting survival mechanism that kicks in. Although the main fuel for glucose is carbohydrates, if your body needs to it can begin converting some of the protein you eat into glucose. This can effectively raise your glucose levels to the point where your body slows down its production of ketones and that’s not good for anyone. You’ll end up in a state where you aren’t producing enough glucose to function at the top of your game but you’re also not producing enough ketones to feel energized.
Although this process is going on in the background all the time in small amounts, eating an excess of protein is a sign to your body that you’ve found a replacement for carbs in which to make glucose from. This is why the Keto diet asks that you limit your daily protein intake to 15% of your calories.
Can I still build muscle on Keto?
Don’t let the reasons behind the moderate protein intake on Keto scare you away from combining your muscle growth with the Keto diet. It is possible to do both as long as you keep careful track of your macros. Contrary to popular belief over the years, you don’t have to eat an insane amount of protein in order to build muscle. In fact, the Keto diet might actually have benefits to your muscle growth.
Ketones are muscle-sparing which means that any muscles you’ve already built prior to Keto will remain and they won’t be used by your body as fuel in the absence of carbohydrates. In terms of muscle growth, there’s a ketone known as beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) that’s been shown in a human study to actually help your body gain muscle. This is because BHB lowers leucine oxidation at the same time that it encourages protein synthesis. Protein synthesis is vital to muscle growth because it helps repair the muscles that your intense exercise and weight routines have broken down. This leads to new muscle growth.
What should your macro ration be if you’re a bodybuilder on Keto?
So how much protein are you allowed to eat on Keto without kicking your body out of ketosis? You could probably safely eat 20% of your calories as protein and still stay in ketosis. This means that 5% of your calories or fewer should be coming from carbs and 75% of your calories should be coming from healthy fat sources.
If your overall calories intake is 2500 calories this means that you’ll be able to eat 500 calories of protein with only 125 calories of carbs and 1875 calories coming from healthy fats.
It’s important to realise that everyone’s tolerance for carbs and protein is different so it’s a good idea to test your ketone levels to see what effect your protein intake is having on your ketosis. This can be done fairly reliably and inexpensively by getting urine test strips; however, if you want to know how many ketones your body is producing (as opposed to just knowing if it is still producing them) you’re better off going with the more accurate breath ketone tests or blood ketone tests. This will help you experiment with your personal protein intake to see how much is too much.
Tips to improve muscle growth while on Keto
If you’re looking to increase the growth of your muscles while following the Keto diet there are a few things that you can do in order to guarantee success with both efforts.
Eat the right type of protein
For starters, you should make sure that the protein you eat is high quality protein. If you can only have 15% of your calories coming from protein then you should make sure that it’s the best possible protein you can put in your body. This means increased focus on foods such as eggs (the whole egg), poultry, pork, beef, fish, cheese, full-fat dairy and seafood. These foods contain more of the nine essential ammino acids. Amino acids are necessary for the production of new lean muscle mass and your focus should be on foods that provide you as many of the amino acids as possible.
Space out your protein
When you eat protein is just as important when it comes to building muscle as the type of protein that you eat. This is because there’s only so much protein that you can eat at one time in order to reach the leucine threshold. Once you’ve reached this point there’s no benefit to eating more protein. It won’t help build muscle and it might just kick you out of ketosis. In order to keep things simple, you should aim for eating roughly 4 meals a day with each meal consisting of the same amount of protein. Although it varies from person to person, sticking with 25g of protein per meal is a good goal to aim for.
Eat more calories than you burn
The majority of people who follow the Keto diet do so in order to see weight loss. This means that they’re going to be aiming for a calorie deficit in order to see the pounds drop away. You cannot do this if you’re looking to gain muscle. Instead, you want to aim to eat more calories than you burn. This gives your body the fuel it needs in order to create new muscle.
You should look to add a surplus of roughly 500 calories to your diet if you want to build muscle. This means if you usually eat 2000 calories in order to maintain your weight, you’d eat 2500 in order to see muscle gain. It’s important to note that these added calories should come from healthy fats and shouldn’t be made up of carbohydrates or protein.
The Keto diet can be a great tool for bodybuilders looking to increase their muscle mass. Keep an eye on the types of protein you eat and the times you eat them in order to maximize your results. As long as you stick to eating 20% of your calories from protein then your body should continue to produce ketones while you’re building muscle mass.