Over the past 10 years, Keto has been a popular diet for weight loss. Its approach makes sense to a lot of people – by minimizing carb intake, your body is forced to burn fat, thus leading to a slimmer physique. Although you eat more fats than usual, the body is forced to burn that fat instead of relying on carbs.
But what about muscle? Can you build muscle on keto?
In many cases, the answer is yes!
By cutting out carbs, you’re also forced to eat more protein to compensate. This additional protein then fuels muscle growth, which in turn increases your fat-burn rate. With the right approach, keto participants can achieve noticeable body recomposition.
In this article, we’ll delve into the basics of a ketogenic diet, discuss the importance of protein for muscle repair, and explore the potential drawbacks of keto for muscle growth. While the keto diet has many benefits, it might not be for everyone. Make sure to discuss your nutritional needs with a qualified practitioner. Or take an online course like Dr. Lisa’s “Keto-ish” program.
Learn how to make the most of a high-protein diet, no matter your metabolism. Access the course here.
Before You Start, Ask Why You’re Trying Keto
Muscle gain isn’t the only reason to start a keto diet. Everyone has different health needs, so take some time to consider your goals. You’ll need to tweak your diet and lifestyle depending on what you want.
One of the primary motivations for adopting a ketogenic diet is weight loss. The keto diet promotes fat loss by shifting the body’s primary energy source from carbohydrates to fats. This encourages the body to burn stored fat for energy, resulting in weight loss. Additionally, keto diets often lead to increased feelings of fullness and reduced cravings, helping individuals consume fewer calories and lose weight more effectively.
Some individuals turn to a ketogenic diet as a form of detoxification. By limiting carbohydrate intake, keto diets can reduce the consumption of processed and refined foods that may contain harmful additives, preservatives, and sugars. This approach is seen as a way to help the body cleanse itself. Furthermore, keto diets may support liver health by reducing the load of processed foods and sugars that the liver has to process.
Keto diets can contribute to improved metabolism in various ways. They enhance insulin sensitivity, which is beneficial for those with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes, leading to better blood sugar control and a more efficient metabolism. Additionally, ketosis provides a steady source of energy without fluctuations in blood sugar levels, helping individuals maintain consistent energy levels throughout the day.
The ketogenic diet’s emphasis on whole, unprocessed foods can reduce inflammation in the body, potentially benefiting gut health. Chronic inflammation is linked to digestive disorders, so reducing inflammation may help improve digestive health. Some research also suggests that the keto diet can alter the composition of the gut microbiota, contributing to a healthier gut microbiome and better overall gut health.
The Basics of Keto
Now that you’ve considered why you want to start keto, it’s time to understand how the diet works.
A ketogenic diet, often referred to as keto, is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate dietary approach designed to shift the body’s metabolic state into a state of ketosis. In ketosis, the body primarily uses fat for energy, as opposed to glucose obtained from carbohydrates. To achieve and maintain ketosis, individuals typically restrict their carbohydrate intake to around 5-10% of total daily calories while increasing their fat intake to 70-80%, with protein comprising the remaining 10-20%.
Ketosis occurs when the liver converts fatty acids into molecules called ketones, which can be used as a fuel source for the body and brain. This shift in energy utilization is believed to have several health benefits, including weight loss, improved blood sugar control, and increased satiety.
Muscle Repair and the Role of Protein
Let’s talk about whether or not you can build muscle on keto. In essence, keto can be used to build muscle because it’s so protein-heavy.
When you engage in strenuous physical activities like weightlifting or high-intensity interval training, your muscle tissues can experience micro-tears. Your body relies on protein to repair and rebuild these torn tissues.
Proteins are composed of amino acids, which serve as the building blocks for muscle tissue. Consuming an adequate amount of protein is crucial for supplying the necessary amino acids to repair and grow muscle fibers. In some keto diets, you eat more protein than normal. However, some keto diets prioritize fats, so check your nutritional intake and pay close attention to protein sources and portion sizes to support muscle repair and growth effectively.
For Muscle Growth, Pair Keto with a Workout and Optimal Caloric Intake
A keto diet on its own will not lead to muscle growth. To build muscle effectively, you need to exercise. You might be able to lose some fat with diet alone, but muscles only grow when they’re broken down and rebuilt.
Wondering where to start when it comes to exercise? Work with one of our functional medicine practitioners for tailored lifestyle advice.
Building muscle requires not only an adequate supply of protein but also sufficient calories to support the energy demands of muscle growth. If you’re consuming too few calories, even if they’re not carbs, your body may prioritize energy conservation over muscle building, hindering your progress.
Additionally, don’t forget about the importance of carbohydrates in the form of vegetables and small portions of low-carb fruits to provide essential micronutrients, fiber, and antioxidants. Keto doesn’t cut out carbs completely, and you need carbs to fuel intense workouts.
Differentiating Between Low-Carb and True Keto Diets
If you’ve tried keto before and didn’t see the results you wanted, then you need to check in with yourself to make sure you followed a true keto diet.
It’s important to distinguish between a low-carb diet and a true ketogenic diet. While both diets involve reducing carbohydrate intake, the primary goal of a low-carb diet is simply to reduce overall carb consumption without necessarily inducing ketosis. In contrast, a true keto diet aims to achieve and maintain a state of ketosis by significantly limiting carbohydrate intake and increasing fat consumption.
Both approaches can be beneficial for your health, but they’re not the same.
To successfully enter ketosis, individuals typically need to consume fewer than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day. Achieving ketosis is essential for reaping the metabolic benefits of the diet, including improved fat oxidation and appetite control. However, it’s important to note that ketosis alone does not guarantee muscle growth.
Drawbacks of Keto for Muscle Growth
Every nutrition plan has its pros and cons. At Spectra Health and Wellness, we often recommend a keto diet, but we do so after evaluating a person’s overall health profile. While a ketogenic diet can be effective for certain health goals, it may not be the optimal choice for everyone looking to build muscle. We also tend to recommend significantly more protein than what is typically considerred ‘keto’ (about .75g/per pound of ideal body weight). Here are some potential drawbacks to consider:
Limited Anaerobic Performance
Ketogenic diets are known to lead to reduced muscle glycogen levels, which can limit performance in anaerobic activities like weightlifting and sprinting. Muscle glycogen serves as a readily available energy source for high-intensity, short-duration activities, and its depletion on keto may hinder your ability to perform at your best. This diet might not be best for competitive athletes.
Reduced Muscle Glycogen Stores
Prolonged adherence to a ketogenic diet can lead to lower muscle glycogen stores, which may affect your capacity for high-intensity workouts. Muscle glycogen is essential for explosive strength and power, making it difficult to maximize performance in activities that rely on these attributes.
Potential Muscle Catabolism
Some studies suggest that prolonged ketosis may lead to muscle protein breakdown, particularly when protein intake is inadequate. This could counteract your efforts to build and maintain muscle mass. Again, make sure to adjust your nutritional intake to your goals.
Satiety and Caloric Surplus
Achieving a caloric surplus (consuming more calories than you burn) can be challenging on a keto diet due to the satiating nature of fat-rich foods. Building muscle often requires a surplus of calories to support growth, and achieving this surplus can be more challenging when carbohydrates are severely restricted.
Want to Learn More About Keto? Join the Course!
To optimize muscle growth on keto, it’s crucial to pair the diet with a well-structured workout routine and ensure you are consuming enough calories to support your goals. You’ll likely want to replace some keto fat intake with protein to make sure your muscles have enough nutrients to rebuild after a workout.
However, be mindful of the potential limitations of keto, especially in activities that rely on high-intensity, anaerobic performance due to the reduced muscle glycogen levels associated with the diet. Ultimately, the effectiveness of keto for muscle growth may vary from person to person, and individual preferences and goals should guide your dietary choices.
To explore the incredible benefits of keto further, check out Dr. Lisa’s online course, “Keto-ish.” With this course, you’ll learn to master the keto diet and tailor it to your unique metabolism.