In order to build muscle, you need two things – protein and fat (two things that you can consume in abundance when following a ketogenic diet).
This being said, most ‘diet plans’ that accompany weight training regimes are stuffed full of carbohydrate; endless sweet potatoes and cups of brown rice, because these foods amplify your effort levels – allowing you to lift heavier, and endure longer.
But carbs are not integral to protein synthesis. In fact, studies have indicated that carbohydrates are not a requirement for protein synthesis specifically. Leucine – the amino acid found in egg yolks – is the primary driver of protein synthesis, meaning, in layman’s terms, that you can gain muscle in the absence of carbohydrate.
When your body is depleted of carbohydrate, normal biochemical rules go out of the window – as your body has to change, adapting in the presence of much less insulin and carbohydrate than would normally be expected.
In short – it is absolutely possible to build muscle on a ketogenic diet.
What follows is a general guide to building muscle on a ketogenic diet – and should be taken as such. Different people respond in different ways to certain workout routines and nutritional plans, therefore it should be left up to you, the individual, to adapt this to your own specific goals.
How to Gain Muscle on a Ketogenic Diet
If bulking is your aim, the best way to hit the required amount of calories needed for this is to consume the right sorts of (keto-friendly) foods. Very basically, the bulk of this could be large quantities of eggs, chicken, steak, fish, sausage, bacon and protein shakes – as well as consuming various supplements conducive to a low-carb, ketogenic diet.
Take a look at the following example of a typical daily meal plan for gaining on a ketogenic diet:
Sample Ketogenic Bulking Diet
Splitting your meals apart and eating at set times is recommended, and you should aim to go no longer than 3 hours without a meal. So, for example – if you consume your first meal of the day at 6am for breakfast, then your 6th meal should be eaten at 9pm.
- Meal 1: 5 egg omelette with cheese and 4 rashers of streaky bacon, using butter to fry
- Meal 2: 1 can of tuna with mayonnaise and olive oil
- Meal 3: Ham roll-ups stuffed with cheddar cheese and chopped red pepper, two boiled eggs.
- Meal 4: Baked salmon with spicy guacamole and low-carb Mexican rice
- Meal 5: Steak topped with cheddar cheese
- Meal 6: Low-carb protein shake with 1 tablespoon of natural (no added sugar) peanut butter
Working Out on a Ketogenic Diet
It’s no secret that performing regular weight training sessions is crucial for anyone wanting to gain muscle mass. But where many ketogenic dieters struggle is when faced with the question of cardio. How much cardio should you perform? CAN you even perform cardio on a ketogenic diet?
The simple answer is yes, you can. But one general rule of thumb if you’re looking to gain muscle on a ketogenic diet is to keep long, steady state cardio to a minimum (or avoid all together). Instead, opt for high intensity interval training using weights, or a plyometric workout.
Sample High Intensity Interval Training Workout:
This rest-based circuit combines weights with cardiovascular exercise.
First – Choose a dumbbell weight which allows you to do 3 perfect bicep curls; not 2, not 4 – but 3! Next, cut that weight in half and add on 1kg. For example, if you can do 3 perfect bicep curls with a 6kg dumbbell then you should choose a 4kg weight for this circuit.
Second – Set a timer for 20 minutes
Third – Aim to complete the circuit at least 4 times in 20 minutes with a goal of 5 rounds. If you are able to complete 5 or 6 rounds then the weights you’re using aren’t heavy enough and you should increase the weight by 1kg in each dumbbell
Fourth – Do 10 reps of each exercise in a continuous circuit. Rest when needed – then start again where you left off
- Static squat with row and fly
- Crunches with fly and press
- Low squat with bicep curl and extension
- Squat and shoulder press
If you’re deterred from following a ketogenic diet because you think you won’t be able to gain muscle – think again. Contrary to popular belief, the keto diet does not make you weak – and it is perfectly possible to make gains of lean muscle while limiting your carbohydrate intake.
The key thing to remember is to listen to your body in order to avoid over-training, find a workout regime that suits your individual body type (and fitness level), and adapt it until it is conducive to your specific weight loss/muscle gaining goals.
What are your thoughts on building muscle while still sticking to a ketogenic diet plan?
We’d love to hear of your opinions and experiences, so please feel free to share them in the comments section below.