Is it Okay to Build Muscle on Keto Diet? What’s the Best Way to Build Muscle on Keto?
Carbs have been demonized a lot lately, and I get many keto-related questions for losing weight and gaining muscle. Keto is another fad, oops, the diet* which is being hyped in the market. Many of them, including celebrities, are using it for quick “weight loss” and its results.
Go on a keto diet, shed pounds of weight within a few weeks, and here you go sharing your before & after pics with people. Boooom, magical solution for weight loss, isn’t it? Many even do this, showcase quick results, and become fitness influencers 😛 Pardon me for this bad joke, or maybe I said the truth.
Well, nothing against anyone, everyone has their own approach to doing things which is fine – as long as you aren’t misleading people.
So coming to the main question, Can I Build Muscle on Keto Diet? Short answer – Technically, Yes you can. Do I recommend it if your goal is muscle growth or gaining muscle? – NO.
So before I put my short answer long, let’s first check out the PROS and CONS of the keto diet when it comes to building muscle.
Pros of Building Muscle on Keto Diet
Here are the benefits of the keto diet if you do it while bulking or muscle building.
(1) Sufficient Protein:
If you look at the typical macro-nutrients ratio of Fats: Proteins: and Carbs (65: 35: 5) on a keto diet, 35% of protein is pretty adequate and good enough. It provides ample proteins to support muscle growth, trigger muscle protein synthesis, and even prevent muscle loss.
A keto diet is mainly a high fat and moderate-protein diet. But completing your daily protein intake shouldn’t be a problem as most of the keto-friendly foods like eggs, chicken, steak, cottage cheese, etc. are protein-rich.
Carbs hold water when it gets stored in the form of glycogen. While intra-muscular water retention is a good thing, especially when your goal is to look fuller & build muscles. But many being carb-sensitive get bloated and start holding undesired water weight (welcome ‘moon face’). Mainly a bad diet and many other factors are major reasons for this.
However, while you’re on keto, your body is in flushing mode. You’re not ingesting any carbs (negligible) and your body is getting rid of the bloating and water retention too. This gives your muscles a sharp and a defined look. Lean gains all the way!!
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(3) Easy to Get-In Calories:
For building muscles, you need to eat a caloric surplus diet and sufficient amounts of protein. The Keto diet is mainly fat and proteins, and ‘fat’ is the densest macronutrient with 9 calories/gram (carbs and proteins have 4 calories per gram).
So a high-fat diet like keto which is very dense in calories makes it very easy to be on a surplus, and complete your target calories.
(4) More GH and Testosterone:
Being on a keto diet definitely offers good hormonal support. The hormone ‘Insulin’ goes hand in hand with the growth hormone. When the insulin is high, the GH goes down, and when the insulin is on the lower side, the growth hormone is boosted up.
Also, studies have shown that high-fat diets boost testosterone, and diets with high fat and low carbs also resulted in better insulin sensitivity. (1) The keto diet will keep your blood glucose levels low and stable.
Did you know that low-fat diets reduce testosterone levels in Men? (2) #fitnesshnfacts
Check out: Do test boosters actually work?
However, if your body gets sufficient fatty acids, eating more and more fats won’t result in a similar boost in your test levels. But definitely, it optimizes your testosterone levels.
Cons of Building Muscle on Keto Diet
Here are the downsides of the keto diet and what makes it sub-optimal for building muscle.
The problem with the keto diet is that it is not at all flexible and sustainable. “Adherence” is the most important thing when it comes to starting any diet. Ask yourself, can you sustain a diet that restricts a macro-nutrient and only allows you to eat fats & protein over a well-structured balanced diet?
Ketosis is like a light switch, either ON or OFF. You would find carbs in almost every food and will need to stay carbs-constrained.
Can you eliminate bread, pasta, rice, milk, sugar, etc. while bulking and adhere to it? If yes, then go ahead. There is no point if you would be playing the ‘start and stop game’ and keep moving in the vicious cycle.
But surely it would be difficult to sustain this diet, and stick to it year-around or beyond a very short-term.
(2) Nutrients Deficiency and Constipation:
Keto restricts fruits, grains, legumes, and many other food items and vegetables. It’s not a balanced diet and you’re not getting enough nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fibers. This can lead to many nutritional deficiencies.
Your body is also flushing too much water and essential electrolytes while on it. You may also feel confused, brain foggy, and irritated at times due to this and “keto flu”.
Lack of fibers will lead to constipation/bowel problems and it’s common while on the keto diet.
(3) Lower IGF-1 Levels:
IGF-1 is produced in the liver and the hormone Insulin facilitates its production. IGF-1 is said to be the most “anabolic hormone or peptide” that increases muscle protein synthesis. It also has an ability of hyperplasia that results in the formation of new cells in the muscles or tissues.
For optimal production of IGF-1, you need both – GH and Insulin. But while on keto, your insulin levels are very low. This low insulin release/levels can lead to lower IGF-1 levels.
(4) Food Disorders & Carbo-phobia:
I would call the keto diet “the social life killer” which is not at all flexible.
Any diet being too restricted or which is not sustainable would develop food disorders in the long term. Keto diet being too carbs constrained usually develops a phobia for carbs amongst people. They start bashing carbs and believe that carb is the demon in their diet which is untrue.
Keto-dieters have to every time keep a watch on their food items / and carbs. They can’t be flexible, social, and stress over finding keto-friendly foods. This absolutely kills the joy of eating and 95% chances are that you might start having a bad relationship with the food. Especially the so-called bad wolf – \CARBS/ leading to carbo-phobia.
(5) Muscles Would Look Flat:
As I stated in point. no 2, carbs get converted into glycogen which is stored inside the muscles. Glycogen being stored form of energy also stores water along. This intra-muscular water retention is a good thing especially when it comes to your muscles looking fuller and tighter.
The absence of carbo-hydrates makes them appear flat and deflated comparatively.
Did you know that bodybuilders load on carbs before stepping and presenting themselves on the stage? #fitnesshnfacts
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(6) Less Insulin
Insulin is often seen as evil and a fat-gaining hormone. Trust me, insulin is not a bad guy. In fact, Insulin can decrease protein breakdown and increase protein synthesis.
Insulin can be your great buddy by increasing your nutrients uptake by the muscles when it comes to maximizing muscle growth. It increases the delivery of nutrients (including protein) to it.
But while on keto, the release and the levels of Insulin are very low which would be a NO while muscle building.
(7) High-Stress Levels & More Cortisol
Carbs are the primary source of energy for the body. Eating carbs releases tryptophan and serotonin, and also lowers down the stress hormone “cortisol”. But on a keto diet, your body is on the survival mechanism and using your secondary source of energy i.e fats as a primary source.
One of the main functions of cortisol is also to bring up the blood sugar levels when they’re too low. So the stress hormone “cortisol” is definitely up during a keto diet as compared to a diet with carbs.
As you’re not ingesting any carbs on a keto diet, the body relies on the stored glycogen or amino acids for blood sugar optimization. This definitely puts stress on your body and leads to higher cortisol levels.
Higher cortisol levels = Lower Testosterone.
The body is also breaking down muscle tissue for the amino acids to maintain stable blood glucose levels which is not a great thing for muscle growth and preserving muscle mass.
(8) Less mTOR Activation:
mTor is responsible for cellular and muscle growth. Higher the mTOR activation, the better the protein synthesis and the muscle growth. Resistance training also triggers that but nutrition also plays a crucial part in the mTOR activation.
The hormone Insulin and amino acids like leucine and glycine. “Leucine” triggers the mTOR activation to the maximum. That’s why in BCAAs and EAAs you would find the highest ratio of leucine.
While on keto you’re still triggering the mTOR with resistance training and diet, but your body isn’t releasing enough insulin. You’re not at all getting any insulin spike!! And so does the maximum mTOR activation.
You’ll be surely missing out on it with very little presence of insulin which isn’t a PLUS for muscle growth!!
(9) Lowers Performance:
A typical strength training of heavier weights and lower reps won’t be much affected as it relies mainly on the phosphagen stores over glucose.
However, the traditional training we do for hypertrophy/muscle growth and endurance training with high reps, high volume, and longer time under tension would absolutely work better when using glucose as fuel.
Ketones as a fuel are less efficient than glucose when it comes down to performance and such type of training. If you’re a person who’s more into higher reps and long hours of training, the keto diet will surely hinder your performance. (3)
Your lifting performance might increase initially due to the high adrenaline levels while on ketosis, but it won’t last, and over time affect your performance.
(1) Muscle building is a long-term goal and isn’t achieved in a short period of time. Nothing against keto, but considering the downsides and cons of keto over the pros for building muscle, I wouldn’t recommend bulking or building muscle on the keto diet.
(2) When you can build muscle flexibly with carbs via a straight route, then why do it the other way around (using survival mechanism) staying constrained and restricted?
(3) Stick to a balanced diet rather which is flexible and sustainable.
(4) Irrespective of your goal and diet, your approach should be the one you can adhere to.
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