Do you get big muscle gains on a low-carb diet? This might seem like a big mystery. Fun Fact: The first low-carb diet known as the Stillman Diet was low-carbohydrate and high-protein. One modified Keto allows you to boost a certain kind of carb for pre-workout meals. When building muscle on Keto the main options for boosting macros are protein and fat. So these are the ones to focus on when figuring out what “macro split” to use. A standard Keto program puts fat at about 70% of total calories and protein at 20%. So the big question is if you boost protein would you decrease carbs or fat?
When building muscle you’re going to increase protein. Amino acids are building blocks of protein, which on average make up 40% of a person’s total body weight. One of the big mistakes weightlifters/bodybuilders make is overestimating how much protein you’ll have to add to build muscle. There’s no question you’ll need to boost your protein intake. However, even if you increase the macro to 30%, for example, that’s a whole lot of meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and soybeans. On a non-Keto diet, you’d normally boost carbs but it’s not an option in this case.
Can You Build Muscle Without Carbs?
The Keto diet usually puts carbs at about 5% to 10%. A regular Keto diet allows 50g of carbs per day, which a relatively low amount. If you’re super-low-carb modified Keto the big question is: How low can you go?
For example, a low modified Keto would allow about 20g of carbs per day. That’s equal to two servings of berries or a veggie salad with greens, tomatoes, and bell peppers. That’s it!
There’s no question you’ll have to boost calories if you want muscle gains. The goal is to add muscle instead of fat. This is why you’ll have to boost protein to build muscle mass.
Besides muscles needing protein, there’s another X-factor. Studies show that increased protein boosts fat loss. That’s a good thing when you’re trying to build muscle. It can sometimes be tough to do both at the same time.
Another reason to boost protein is you’ll need to feed your muscles. If you want to achieve gains your muscle building must be greater than your muscle wasting/breakdown. Protein is the key nutrient to feed muscles so you’ll simply need more building blocks to build more muscles.
How much should you boost protein to gain muscle? There are different theories. However, general recombination is adding 1g of protein/pound of bodyweight. That works out to 2.2g of protein/kg of bodyweight.
Here’s where it gets tricky. What do you do about fat? You’ll still want to minimize saturated fat and ditch trans-fat. However, in most cases, you should keep healthy fat at about 15% of total calories for muscle gains. How does that work out when you’re consuming 70% fat on Keto?
Then here’s the issue of carbs. The maximum figure is about 10% on Keto so you can’t decrease it much more without causing some health risks you’ll want to avoid.
Building Muscle on Keto
A myth that many athletes/weightlifters have is that you have to boost carbs to build muscle. However, it turns out what the Keto diet has a macro split that can help to achieve muscle gains. There’s no need to boost carbs.
What’s the deal with carb boosts to build muscle? The theory is that they’re required for blood sugar spikes. The theory is that this boosts insulin, which triggers a tissue-building response for building muscle.
However, studies show that it’s possible to build muscle mass on a low-carb diet without experiencing weight gain. The key is to maintain the right macro split and weight-resistance training. These are the two ingredients needed to build muscle while on the ketogenic diet and other low-carb programs.
The key here is the process will take some time. That’s because your body will go into ketosis and start breaking down stored fat for fuel. The process takes up to one month for this process so make sure to give it time.
The fancy term for this phase is “Keto-adaption.” During this period you might experience some strength drops. This is normal and isn’t something to worry about. The process takes time since carbs are the body’s first choice for energy.
When you’re on a low-carb diet your body starts getting fuel from stored fat, which is the state of “ketosis.” This process can work if you’re just trying to lose weight. However, it can also work when you’re building muscle mass. That’s because the process is still the same. The difference is you’re also doing strength training and probably boosting protein intake to achieve gains.
Another plus is some studies show a low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet can help reduce muscle wasting. While burning fat your body will also have protection to prevent muscle breakdown, which can help to increase grains.
Best Exercises/Tips for Weight Loss on Keto
If your goal is weight loss then keep the weights and reps/sets low. This produces the best results for weight loss. If your main goal is muscle gains then you’ll want to generally lift heavy. That includes 1-rep max (1RM).
These are generally workouts you should avoid since they generally require carbs for big bursts of energy. You won’t have that energy available if you’re on a low-carb diet like Keto or Atkins. It’s better to go with low-intensity cardio.
We often hear about high-intensity interval training (HIIT) for more efficient workouts. However, don’t forget about the benefits of low-intensity cardio. This includes options like jogging, cycling, swimming, and rowing.
These are great options even if your fitness goals include weight-loss. Even if you’re trying to bulk up you should consider doing slow/steady cardio some days since they provide some benefits over high-intensity cardio.
Here are some tips for exercising while on keto:
1. Monitor your body
If you experience dizziness, exhaustion, etc., then it’s a sign that your body probably isn’t responding well to exercise while on Keto. This is going to be more likely if you’re just starting on the low-carb diet. In that case, it’s critical to stop immediately if something doesn’t feel right and talk to a health expert.
2. Skip high-intensity workouts
When you’re on an extreme diet like Keto you won’t have the fuel for short bursts of energy. So you should try to do low-intensity cardio like swimming, jogging, cycling, etc.
3. Get enough calories
There are a few issues. Keto doesn’t require calorie counting but you’ll have to boost them if you want gains. If you’re doing weight-loss you’ll want to cut them. In both cases, you should make sure to follow the basic macro split for the ketogenic diet to get the best results like building muscle on keto.