Keto Bodybuilding: How to Build Muscle Safely on a Low-Carb Diet

keto friendly proteins

If you’ve been looking at new ways to increase your workout results, chances are you’ve heard about athletes and bodybuilders turning to the popular low-carb keto diet. But what exactly is keto and how could it help you and your bodybuilding goals? Well, we took it upon ourselves to remove some of the hassle and find out for you.

We’re going to cover exactly what a keto diet is, how you can make it work best for your bodybuilding goals, and what best practices and weight lifting equipment you can use to make sure you’re working out safely while on keto.

What is Keto?

Keto, or a ketogenic diet, is a high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carb diet plan. It typically follows a plan of 70% fat, 20% protein, and only 10% carbs. The dramatic reduction in carbs from a keto diet forces the body into a metabolic state called ketosis to burn fat and ketones (made from fat inside the liver) for energy instead of carbs.

Keto has also been found to significantly reduce blood sugar and insulin levels, both of which are linked to the glucose, fructose, and lactose in carbs, which can also bring about health benefits. This pretty much sums up the Standard Keto Diet (SKD), but did you know there are multiple types of keto diets? Here is a very brief overview of how the other types of keto diet compare to the SKD:

  • High protein ketogenic diet (HKD): similar to a standard ketogenic diet, but includes more protein. A typical plan is 60% fat, 35% protein, and 5% carbs.
  • Cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD): involves periods of higher carb refeeds, such as 5 ketogenic days followed by 2 high carb days.
  • Targeted ketogenic diet (TKD): allows you to add carbs around workouts.

The SKD is the most commonly followed and most widely known keto diet, and both SKG and HKD have the most associated studies and available information.

If you’re looking to try the more advanced keto diets Cyclical or Targeted, we strongly recommend seeking the advice of your doctor or nutrition specialist for more information on what is right for you.

woman lifting kettlebell

How does keto work for bodybuilding?

By now you’re probably wondering, “But can I go keto and still work out?” and the answer is yes – as long as you’re careful about it. Carbohydrates, such as glucose, are the easiest and most direct way for your body to generate energy, but not the only way. Fat and ketones are used in place of carbs when you’re following a keto diet, so making sure you have enough of them will be crucial, especially if you’re trying to build muscle.

One of the biggest thought patterns you’ll need to break about a muscle-building diet is that more protein equals more muscle. A common keto mistake is to assume it’s a free-for-all with protein, when it’s actually a moderate protein diet. This is because too much protein can increase the glucose (aka carbs) in your body and take you out of ketosis. Knocking your body out of ketosis will undo all the hard work of teaching your body to burn fat instead of carbs.

Of course, you do still need to have some protein in your diet to help build muscle—after all, proteins contain the building blocks for life! The simplest way to make sure you’re getting enough out of your proteins without eating too many is to opt for high-quality sources of proteins. What do we mean by that? Well, a high-quality protein is one that contains all nine essential amino acids and is an especially good source of leucine (aka one of the main muscle-building amino acids.) Getting your protein intake from the following foods will keep you on the right track to getting everything you need without increasing your glucose:

  • Eggs | 12 grams of protein per serving
  • Whole-fat milk | 8 grams of protein per serving
  • Greek yoghurt | 17 grams of protein per serving
  • Cheese | 7 grams of protein per serving
  • Chicken | 38 grams of protein per serving
  • Turkey | 24 grams of protein per serving
  • Pork | 23 grams of protein per serving
  • Beef | 22 grams of protein per serving
  • Lamb | 21 grams of protein per serving
  • Fish | 39 grams of protein per serving
  • Seafood | 24 - 50 grams of protein per serving

Is timing everything for bodybuilding on keto?

Now that you know what proteins to eat, you need to know when is the best time to eat them. Research shows that it matters how and at what time you consume proteins when you’re trying to make every gram count. The best way to get the most out of your proteins is to spread your protein consumption out across the day. You’ll want to hit your leucine amino acid threshold every few hours, which roughly translates as 25-35 grams of protein per meal depending on the person. This could mean 3-4 meals a day, depending on what proteins you’re eating.

So, you’ve got your protein intake sorted out, You just need to unlearn another common diet mindset: fat is bad. In fact, for keto to work effectively, fat needs to make up about 70% of your total calorie intake. After all, fat is replacing carbs as your energy source, so you’ll need to eat a lot of it to make up for the dramatic loss of carbs from your diet.

There’s one last piece of the keto bodybuilding diet puzzle. Most people who follow a keto diet for weight loss will be shocked at what we’re about to say: you need to eat a surplus of calories! Normally you would want to eat less calories to lose body fat, but with keto, you can’t gain muscle if you’re in a deficit. You will need to make sure you have enough calories to burn all day and to build muscle in your workouts.

If you are unsure what your specific leucine, calorie, and dietary needs are, we recommend you speak with a doctor or nutrition specialist to create the right plan for your goals.

Will I lose muscle on keto?

A common concern for people thinking about lifting weights on keto is whether they’ll lose existing muscle, let alone gain any new muscle mass. If you follow the rules of moderate but high-quality protein, plenty of fat, and a surplus of protein, you shouldn’t lose muscle on keto. Great news, right? You can also increase the ketones in your system with a ketone supplement to boost your brainpower and energy levels.

The bad news: muscle gain won’t happen by itself. You’ll need to train hard, and consistently, to stimulate muscle growth. In order to train as frequently as you want to, you’ll need to stay as safe and injury-free as you can. Adding weightlifting straps for stability, power belts to protect your back, and a professional barbell pad to protect your neck and shoulders will help you keep control in your workout and well-being.

Does keto build muscle faster?

If you’ve already made significant muscle-building gains, chances are you won’t see a big difference as soon as you switch to a keto and weight training lifestyle. However, if you’re just starting out on your journey of combining lifting weights with a keto diet, you may have some luck! As long as you’ve increased your calorie intake enough, as well as following the rest of the diet and working out hard, you should see some changes to your body fat percentage, as well as an increase of muscle mass.

If you’re just starting a keto diet for the first time, you will need to have some patience while your body becomes fat-adapted. This process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months to retrain your metabolism.

Is keto a cutting diet?

Depending on how you look at a cutting diet, this could be answered both yes and no. If you think of a cutting diet as one designed to cut calories in order to lose body fat, the answer is no. On the other hand, if a cutting diet is just a diet that helps you drop body fat, then the answer is yes. By entering ketosis and burning fats instead of carbs, you are essentially cutting the body fat, but the calorie intake is still high so keto is not a traditional cutting diet.

Our top tips for bodybuilding on keto

  • Patience, patience, patience! Keto diets and bodybuilding don’t have immediate results even when you do them separately. Combining the two might require even more patience than you were expecting. Take your time and don’t look for shortcuts!
  • Speak to your doctor or a nutrition specialist before starting any new diet or workout regime. You want to make sure it is suitable for your health and well-being before you start. Increase your grip and forearm strength with weightlifting straps. Not sure how to use weightlifting straps? Watch our demo and instructional video!
  • Keep your electrolyte intake up. Suppressing the insulin causes the kidneys to flush out sodium, so make sure you’re replacing it—especially when you work out!
  • Wear a PowerBelt when you lift weights to protect your spine and core muscles.

While a keto diet for bodybuilding is certainly not common, it can come with benefits. There are multiple types of keto diets, but the most commonly followed is the Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD) of high-fat, moderate-protein, and very low-carbs. The easiest way to follow this particular diet and still get gains with lifting weights on keto is to maintain a high calorie intake, eat high-quality protein and plenty of fat. The only way to get quality muscle mass gains on keto or any other diet is to consistently push yourself when you workout.

We covered many aspects and answered some of the questions you might have had about maintaining a keto diet for bodybuilding. There is so much research available on keto diets, bodybuilding, and the best way to get gains, but ultimately you will know what feels best for your body.

Contributing Writer: Primrose Tricker-ODell

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