Have you heard that you need carbohydrates to maintain and build muscle?
Have you also heard that the ketogenic lifestyle is gaining popularity because of how amazing it is making people feel?
Are these two opposing ideas frustrating you and making you wonder whether you can continue building muscle on keto, or if you have to continue on in the carb-rich way of doing things?
I have done the research and I can let you know that you can be both a successful bodybuilder and live the keto lifestyle!
I am so happy you asked.
Read on for your full guide on keto bodybuilding!
What is “Keto” Anyway?
“Keto” stands for Ketosis.
Ketosis is a metabolic state characterized by raised levels of ketone bodies in the body tissues.
What this means is that when you stop eating carbs your body breaks down the fat you consume and the fat already in your body and uses it for energy.
Classic Keto is a high fat and moderate protein diet. You are cutting carbs to under 50g a day, sometimes under 20g a day, and increasing your intake of fat dramatically.
You will need to learn to count macros and carbs if you do not do so already.
Once you stop taking in enough carbs to fuel your body, your liver will begin breaking down fat and turning it into ketones. These ketones will become your body’s primary energy source.
Once ketones are your body's primary energy source, congratulations!
You have reached ketosis, and now your body will begin using fat as fuel.
Keto, to be clear, is meant to be a lifestyle change and it is not right for everyone. Please talk to your healthcare provider before attempting such a different way of eating.
Keto is known to have many health benefits, but anytime you plan to drastically change anything related to health you should speak to a doctor.
Keto Diet Health Benefits
Keto has been studied extensively (there is also a ton of anecdotal evidence out there). Here are some of the health benefits Keto diet can offer:
1. Faster weight loss. Studies have shown that switching to a very low-carb or keto lifestyle can lead to faster weight loss and a dramatic increase in your body's fat-burning capabilities.
2. Appetite reduction. Many people are concerned that cutting carbs will lead to a constant state of hunger, but the truth is that you will experience the opposite! Eating more fat and protein helps you stay fuller for longer.
3. Better brain function. Keto was first used as a way to treat kids with epilepsy. It is known to work as well, if not better than medication. This is according to the esteemed Mayo Clinic, who introduced keto to their epilepsy patients in the 1920s. Other brain benefits include:
• Increased memory
• Less brain fog
• Faster problem solving
• Diminished migraines
4. Improved energy levels have been reported, most doctors agree this is most likely due to fewer insulin fluctuations.
5. Heart disease prevention. Your good cholesterol goes up while your bad cholesterol goes down. This dramatically reduces your chances of heart disease, which is a leading cause of death in the western world right now.
6. Keto fights some metabolic diseases and their side effects- metabolic diseases such as PCOS, Diabetes, metabolic syndrome and more. This can mean weight loss, an increase in fertility, improved vision, and the list goes on. This is because keto levels out your insulin levels and insulin is the driving factor in most metabolic diseases.
7. May be helpful with other diseases. Preliminary studies in animals have shown that the keto diet may be helpful in the fight against some cancers, Alzheimers, arthritis, psoriasis, IBS, eczema, and others. This is because it treats and prevents inflammation and starves unhealthy cells of glucose and excess insulin.
8. Prevents muscle loss with weight loss. Many diets will allow you to lose fat, but they also usually cause muscle loss as well. With keto, you can keep your hard-earned muscle while cutting out any stubborn fat.
9. Helps gain muscle. Not only can you prevent muscle loss, but you can actually build more muscle! Dr. Stephen Phinney and Dr. Jeff Volek have written several papers that show the keto diet can actually help you perform better, both mentally and physically, than you can with the traditional western diet.
10. Better endurance. Your body will become increasingly efficient at using fat and protein from your diet for energy. You will no longer be held captive to the carbs. No more carb loading in order to have energy. No more needing sugary drinks and foods to perform. You can work harder for longer.
I am sure by now you can see that keto has tons of amazing health benefits for both male and female athletes.
I can also guarantee that you are now thinking:
“Ok, what gives. There has to be a catch.”
As with all great things, the ketogenic diet is not perfect. Let’s cover some of the setbacks you may face.
Keto Diet: The Cons
We like to be thorough here, and for that reason, I could not let you ride off into the sunset with dreams of perfection in your head.
There are some issues you may face due to the keto diet. They are as follows:
1. Keto flu. The keto flu can happen because of the quick and drastic cut in carbohydrates. It is primarily due to dehydration and not the cut in carbs. This can be easily prevented in most cases. All you need to do is increase your hydration and intake of electrolytes.
2. Cholesterol. Cholesterol levels can be an issue for you if you are not careful about the types of fats you are consuming. High saturated fats are found in many keto staples, such as eggs, cheese, bacon, butter and more. Focusing more on unsaturated fats should prevent cholesterol problems.
3. Nutrient deficiencies. Many of the nutrients we need daily are found in carb-rich foods in higher quantities than in the higher fat foods and proteins. A high-quality multivitamin supplement should help with any nutrient deficiencies you may experience due to keto.
4. Limited food options. The truth of the matter is that you are already used to eating a certain way. Big juicy burger on a bun. Cake at parties. Fries with your meal. Even if you are a healthy eater, carbs are hidden everywhere. You even need to watch your fruit intake! There are many keto recipes for traditionally carb-full foods, but it will take some adjustment.
As you can see, the basic issues that plague the keto community are usually minor and easily remedied.
They primarily come down to proper food choices and a good sense of what your body needs.
Now that you have a basic understanding of what keto is and why it can be beneficial, let’s get to what you really came here for; gaining muscle on a keto diet.
Traditional Bodybuilding Diets & Why You Could Do Better
A keto way of eating looks absolutely nothing like the traditional bodybuilding diet. If you were to actually write out a week's worth of menus following each diet, you would see how drastically different they really are.
There are many different bodybuilding diets that all center around the belief that in order to build muscle you have to eat a ton of carbs.
These diets all follow the premise that carbs provide the energy needed for your body to build the muscle.
Let’s check out some of the more traditional bodybuilding diets and techniques. That will allow you to really compare the method you are currently using to the keto diet.
Traditional Bodybuilding Diets
There are several types of eating regiments that bodybuilders use, but most of them follow a bulking and cutting routine.
Some of them may not follow the bulking and cutting routine, but they instead follow very specific cyclical eating routines that involve carb loading and whole foods.
Although carbs are a huge part of a bodybuilder's diet, they are not generally eaten freely. Bodybuilders are as careful with their diet as they are with their workout routines, and each carb is very strategically planned.
Starchier carbs are for the pre or post-workout time when you are providing your body the energy it needs to build up muscle and keep going. Fibrous carbs, like veggies, can be eaten anytime.
Speaking of eating anytime, bodybuilders are huge eaters!
They eat six or more times a day on average. Throughout all of this, they are sticking to a strict schedule and macro count.
Now that you get the primary premise of the average eating plan, let’s get more specific about what a bulking and cutting routine and why it is not the best plan.
Basic Bulking and Cutting Eating Plan
The first step to the bodybuilding regime is generally the bulking phase.
This is exactly what it sounds like. You are bulking up.
The goal here is to find your metabolic rate and determine how many calories you need to maintain your current weight and then up that by fifteen to twenty percent.
If your base caloric needs for weight maintenance equals to three-thousand calories, your new caloric goals will be between three thousand four hundred and fifty and thirty-six hundred. Now you won’t eat just anything to get to those calories either.
Now we get to macronutrient calculation, or counting macros. Men and women count calories and macros differently, so keep that in mind. When bulking up, you want more carbs and proteins. Not much for fats. You would be using the carbs as your primary fuel source, and the protein would be used as the muscle-building component.
Counting macros is the practice of keeping your fats, carbohydrates, and proteins in balance. And when I say practice, I mean it will take practice. Many bodybuilders use professional programs and nutritionists so they can keep to their macro goals because honestly, who wants to think that hard about every bite of food you take?
Everyone's macros are different, so I won’t dig too deeply into that, but suffice to say that the bulking phase, once complete, will add a ton of weight to your body. Now you can get to the “cutting” portion of the bulking and cutting plan.
The cutting portion is the opposite of the bulking. Now you will go back to your baseline in caloric needs, and decrease your calories by fifteen to twenty percent. So if you get back to that three thousand calorie goal, now you will cut that down to twenty-four hundred to two thousand five hundred and fifty calories.
Throughout both phases, you will maintain the same macro count. So if you started at sixty percent carbs, thirty percent protein, and ten percent fat, you will continue using those macro goals. You would just adjust your calories around it to be more restrictive.
The problem with the bulking and cutting method is that your body is on a constant yo-yo. During the bulking phase, you may gain entirely too much weight. Your body does not need that much food, and it cannot all be turned into muscles as fast as you are eating it.
So now you have not only gained the muscle you wanted, but also fat. Your body does not like to burn fat, it prefers protein and carbs. So now you have to lose the fat, and in the process, you will lose a portion of all that muscle you worked so hard to gain.
How does this make sense?
Nevermind the constant need to cycle your caloric goals and weight, but what can this do to your health?
I am so glad you asked! Here’s the deal:
Significant weight fluctuations happening over and over again are terrible for you. The bulking phase is specifically detrimental. Excess fat can create estrogen. Estrogen can create more fat. Nevermind the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal issues that can arise from gaining too much weight, too fast. Insulin levels and hormones can become a mess with so much stress on the body as well.
Ultimately, this method may be popular, but it is not healthy.
Some options are healthier, such as hiring a nutritionist or employing a food service.
Hiring professional nutritionists or ordering food from a food service can help you stay in shape all year round. You will not suffer the same health effects of bulking and cutting, but this way of eating has its own issues.
Nutritionists and dieticians can cost hundreds of dollars per month, and thousands per year. That is just so they can tell you what to eat and when. They work with your trainer to create the perfect eating plan for you that is centered around your workout routine.
You still need to buy and prep all your own food. Unless you hire a food service.
Food delivery companies can make staying in shape and keeping you at your target weight easy, but at what cost? The price varies anywhere from seven dollars to eighteen dollars a meal, and most meal delivery services that cater to athletes and bodybuilders require you buy at least two meals per day from them. That means you can spend anywhere from ninety-eight dollars a week to two hundred and fifty dollars a week at the minimum!
This isn’t even covering all your meals, just two a day.
Some bodybuilders choose the professional meal service method because it ensures they are getting healthy meals that stick within their macro and caloric goals while providing the convenience of fast food. The problem is that they may not necessarily know how your body fluctuates, and it might as well cost you your soul.
So, now that you have a better understanding of traditional bodybuilding nutrition methods, you can see why you need a better way.
Speaking of a better way, let’s get back to keto!
The Keto Diet: Bodybuilding on Keto
As a bodybuilder, there are several options on how to go about living the keto lifestyle.
Here are some of the ways you can start down the road of the ketogenic diet while still keeping all of your muscle and strength!
Classic Keto is the regular keto diet you hear about all the time.
It is the version most people are referring to when they say they are “eating keto” or on the keto diet. A common misconception is that you can’t train properly with this version, but rest assured, you can build muscle on keto.
Classic keto is defined by eating seventy-five percent or more in fat, twenty-five percent max in protein, and five percent carbohydrates. For some, this leaves their carbs at under fifty grams while for others it means under twenty.
This number will be based on your specific caloric intake and macro count.
Classic keto is generally the most restrictive. You need to keep your carbs under that five percent no matter what. Fiber, however, does not count towards your daily carb count. So if you were to eat a food that consists of twenty-five grams of carbs, but twenty of those grams are fiber, then only five of those grams would count towards your carb count for the day.
This version can get a little tricky, and you really need to look out for sneaky carbs, for example, many fruits are to be avoided, and some butter alternatives use sugar.
It is also important to get a carb specific calorie counter instead of using a normal one because most of the average calorie counters will not adjust for your fiber vs. sugar intake.
This diet may be restrictive and hard to get the hang of, but once you do, it will become pretty easy to continue on.
You will develop a good sense of what you can and cannot eat. There are millions of recipes and ideas online if you need new ones, and occasional cheat meals are ok.
Different versions of keto mean different ideas behind which version works best. So far, studies have proven that the higher fat required by keto allows for the muscle mass to be retained while fat stores are used up for energy.
This is directly against previous studies.
The previous studies had shown that low carb diets would lead to muscle loss and a loss of stamina. The problem with comparing these studies to the keto studies is that the older studies used low-carb, low-fat, and high protein. This is in complete contradiction to keto, which is characterized by being low-carb, high-fat, and low-moderate protein.
Some bodybuilders will start a keto diet, but give up after just a couple of weeks. That is the biggest pitfall you could land in. Bodybuilding is a sport. As athletes, bodybuilders expect their bodies to work a certain way. They need to give it time.
The first few weeks will be tough.
Your entire body will be switching from using carbohydrates as the primary fuel source for most functions to using fat instead. You have been alive for all these years, and you have eaten and used carbs for energy for all of those years.
Your body will need time to create new pathways that allow it to use fat as efficiently as previously used carbs. The liver needs to learn how to break fats down into ketones more efficiently. Your muscles, brain, and body need to start looking for those ketones right away. At first, your body will search for any bit of carbs it can before using the fat. Once you are fat-adapted, it will go straight for the ketones.
This is a good plan for several reasons:
1. You will be able to count on a specific way of eating- every single day.
2. You will not need to figure out a cycling schedule or a fasting schedule.
3. Your body will become fat-adapted, and stay fat-adapted.
4. You will remain in ketosis without having to readjust.
5. You will not lose muscle mass.
6. You can easily find supplements and prepackaged foods to help you stick to the classic keto diet because it is the most widely used version of keto.
If you are worried about the types of foods you will be stuck eating, don’t be.
Most people who are a part of this lifestyle will tell you that there is nothing better than butter in their coffee.
Doesn't that sound pretty gross though?
Although it is best to eat primarily unsaturated fats, bacon and eggs can be eaten often. Nuts and seeds are a good source of both fats and proteins. Real butter is better than the low-fat alternatives that are recommended in other diets.
Steak and eggs are a staple. Steak and cheese will taste just as amazing from a bowl as it does mixed-up and on a sandwich, and may I remind you about all the keto dessert recipes out there? Cream cheese, sour cream, pepperoni and cheese, these are all just examples of some of the snacks you can have.
The primary loss will be bread and pasta, and even those have replacements these days.
There are books, websites, and apps that are all meant specifically to help you on your keto journey. Once you get the hang of it, you can create your own recipes. You will start to get a good idea of what you like and dislike.
Starting keto can lead you down the road of intense fat burning, muscle building, and physique maintaining healthy living.
It may seem restrictive, but in most cases that is only because the people in our culture have become so used to pre-packaged and sugar-heavy foods that living without excessive carbs seems unhealthy.
The reality is that carbohydrates and excess sugar can often be the culprit of many of today’s health problems. Obesity, diabetes, and heart disease all stem from sugar and carb-heavy diets. As a bodybuilder, you want to be healthy. You want to be lean. You want to build your muscles in the healthiest and most sustainable way possible. Keto can be that way for you.
Classic keto is not the only way to follow the ketogenic lifestyle.
Some bodybuilders cycle their carbs. Others fast and only eat one meal a day, and that meal only has a very small amount of carbs. These versions of keto are called “keto cycling” and “Intermittent fasting with keto”.
Keto Cycling: Is It Really Keto?
Keto-cycling is a term used for when you are on and off the keto diet on a regular basis.
There is no true definition because it is not a specifically defined diet. People stay true to the keto diet for a period of time, followed by a period of coming off of it, and back again.
There are two popular methods, although they are by no means the only methods. There is any number of ways someone could cycle carbs. You can go from one to one, switching off every day, or week to week. The point is to establish a cycle.
The first is two on and one or two off. This is exactly what it sounds like. People who eat in this way will follow the much stricter classic keto for two days, followed by a day or two of eating a normal amount of carbs. The second is eating keto for five to six days followed by eating normal amounts of carbs for a day or two.
You may be asking yourself how this is different. Maybe you wonder if it matters.
The thing is that it does. You see, classic keto puts you into ketosis and keeps you there. Cycling is meant to kick you out of ketosis and then put you back in.
If you choose to cycle, you essentially want your body to learn to switch between carbs and fats as its primary energy source vs. just having one.
The proponents for cycling say that this is the more sustainable route. Maintaining the keto lifestyle can be tough. You are a bodybuilder! You want to build muscle quickly, you want to eat, and you want to build muscle. Following the classic keto diet can be hard to do for the rest of your life.
Cycling allows you to reap many of the previously mentioned benefits of keto, while simultaneously being allowed carb-heavy foods on a regular basis.
It is easier to stick to a restrictive eating regiment when you know that tomorrow, or in three days, or next week you can have that thing you are craving.
Do you want a juicy cheeseburger on that big sesame seed bun? You can have it on your carb day. Do you want a grilled cheese on wheat? Sure. Wait for carb day.
This way of doing keto may help you stay on track much easier. However, it is not necessarily the best of both worlds.
Some doctors and dieticians find greater concern with keto cycling. They are concerned that it can lead to disordered eating. Some people may binge, or find themselves living their lives around the date on the calendar just waiting for carb day.
Bodybuilders often have disordered eating conditions already. It is not rare to find a bodybuilder, male or female, who will admit they have been anorexic, bulimic, or a habitual binge eater. Bodybuilders look at themselves in the mirror and find flaws all the time. They spend hours every day attempting to make their current selves into an ideal self.
In conclusion, keto cycling can work out well for someone who has an already-established healthy relationship with food.
If you are ok with eating primarily clean, whole foods and sticking to a diet as restrictive as keto is not too hard for you, then keto cycling may be a good option for you.
Intermittent Fasting with Keto
Intermittent fasting is the practice of establishing an eating pattern that involves prolonged periods of no eating followed by periods of eating more. There are several eating patterns that have been established by professionals.
For clarity, fasting means no calories. Any coffee or tea needs to be black. Water is permitted. IF is said to increase your Human Growth Hormone levels, which contribute to fat loss and muscle gain. It can also increase insulin sensitivity, cellular repair, and help your metabolism function more efficiently.
Studies show that IF may be an ideal way of eating for men, but sometimes these results do not translate to women.
It would be best to speak to a doctor, but so far, the medical evidence shows very promising results for men but for women it is not known whether the benefits outweigh some of the reported risks and negative effects. There are clear benefits, but problems may arise with hormone fluctuations.
Still, IF is a massive trend these days. Are you intrigued? Good.
Let’s take a look at some of the eating patterns already established, but understand, you can come up with your own with the advice and guidance of a healthcare professional.
Leangains Protocol- 16/8
The leangains protocol, or 16/8, is the eating pattern in which you fast for sixteen hours straight and then eat your daily allotment of calories in the eight hours left in the day. One example of this is to fast from nine at night until one the following afternoon. Then you eat from one to nine pm.
There are other daily splits, but this is the most common.
One Meal A Day- OMAD
The one meal a day method is exactly what it sounds like. You fast for 23 hours a day and then have one very large meal. Usually, this would be dinner. As an example, you would eat dinner at seven every night. So your hour is from seven to eight. From eight that night to seven the next night, you would fast.
Start and Stop
Start and stop is the IF method that has you skip meals for twenty-four-hour increments. Day one you eat regularly. Day two you fast all day. Day three you eat. Day four you fast. Continue that pattern on and on. Some people only fast for two or three days of the week instead of on a rotating schedule.
5:2 method (And Varied)
The 5:2 method, or the 5:3, or the 5:5, is considered an IF based diet because eating few calories can be considered fasting. For this method, you would eat regularly for a number of days followed by a day of eating five hundred calories or less.
For example, on Monday you eat your normal way, and then on Tuesday, you eat five hundred calories, and then on Wednesday, you eat normally again. You can do this for any number of days. Some people follow an every other day schedule, some follow the specific 5:2 schedule.
Intermittent Fasting and Keto
Adding keto to IF can seem pretty intuitive. You restrict when you eat, and then when you do eat, you will make your meals in a way that follows the keto guidelines. You will find this is not hard at all, and in fact, it may make it so you can eat more.
Carbohydrates are usually very heavy in calories. So let us just assume you eat the average two thousand calories a day. If you follow the common leangains protocol, you will have eight hours to eat. That will probably equal two or three meals. Each meal could be about seven hundred calories, give or take a few.
Now, if you eat traditionally, you may eat a sandwich. The bread alone would be about two hundred calories already. Then you add the meat and cheese and usually a bag of chips, and you have easily exceeded the seven hundred calories.
Imagine that you are following the keto diet instead. You make a salad with the works. Bacon, cheese, maybe some chicken. Add some full-fat dressing and hard-boiled eggs. You have this huge protein and fat-rich salad in front of you, and you still have calories left. Now you can also have some keto-friendly snacks after.
If you are fasting all day and finally get to eat, which would you rather have? The regular-sized sandwich and small bag of chips, or the huge salad full of fats and proteins that will keep you feeling full and satiated for longer?
Keto and IF are also both slated as being amazing for insulin sensitivity, longevity, and cardiovascular health. They are also both used for weight loss and keeping lean. As a bodybuilder, you may be worried about building muscle on keto and IF together. You may be wondering how you will have the energy for your workouts while fasting.
Here is the deal:
For bodybuilding specifically, IF is not always the best option.
It can work for you very well if you have the right supplement routine, but ultimately, studies have shown that having your protein throughout the day is just as important as how much protein you eat.
If your daily protein intake needs to be 60g of protein a day you need to split them up a bit throughout the day. Eating them all at once, or within a very narrow window, will not make up for you missing out on protein for the rest of the day.
If you want to try IF and still make gains, you may want to consider either making your IF routine follow your workout schedule, or schedule your workouts around your IF hours. Another way to work it in altogether that has been recommended by experts has been to fast from fats and carbs but to still spread protein out throughout the day.
Ultimately, intermittent fasting and keto can work very well together to keep excess fat off your body and keep you gaining muscle.
Building Muscle on Keto
All the experts agree that you will not lose muscle mass on a keto diet, and in fact, a keto diet has been shown to preserve muscle mass better than any other weight loss program in the studies that have been performed. That is awesome in itself, but what about those of you who want to make gains while following a keto lifestyle?
First, we will cover how muscle is built. Then we will compare how keto diet and the traditional western diet affect muscle building and maintainance.
The Science Behind Bodybuilding
From a physical perspective, gaining muscle sounds easy. Resistance training, whether using weights or your own body weight, causes micro-tears and damage to the tissue. Your body has an immune response and releases satellite cells.
These satellite cells have two jobs. They can fuse to the damaged muscle and multiply to help fix the tear, and they can be used to build new muscle fiber. Another name for the satellite cell is the “Muscle stem cell”, because, like stem cells, they can build new cells and cell groups.
Now we can move into the real science behind bodybuilding.
Hormones control most functions in the body. There are three primary hormone groups: steroids, amines, and peptides. Each type is uniquely structured to work within cell groups in a specific way.
Steroids work with the receptors in the nucleus of a cell. Some examples of steroid hormones that are used in bodybuilding are testosterone and cortisol. Testosterone is an anabolic hormone, which means it is used by the body to build tissue. Cortisol is catabolic, so it breaks tissue down, for example, it breaks down muscle tissue to release protein and triglycerides to make glucose when your blood sugar has dropped too low.
A little bit of cortisol can be a good thing, as it ups your endurance and can allow you to break fat down. It can affect you negatively, however, because when you release too much of it you break down too much muscle. Nobody wants to lose all the muscle they fought to gain.
Amines include epinephrine, norepinephrine, and thyroid hormones t4 and t3. T4 and t3 are the hormones produced by your thyroid that set your base metabolic rate. If these hormones are not working properly, you may not be able to lose fat or build muscle.
Epinephrine and norepinephrine are the hormones that stimulate your fight or flight response. These hormones are the reason your heart rate goes up and you begin breathing heavy during strenuous exercise. They allow more oxygen to enter your body in order to fuel your workout. Epinephrine is also known as adrenaline.
Now we have come to peptides. Insulin is one of the most important hormones our bodies create and it comes from the peptide family. Insulin is what regulates our blood sugar and tells our bodies when to release and when to store glucose. Diabetics and those who suffer from PCOS cannot process insulin correctly, and therefore, they may have a harder time releasing glucose. This can cause glucose to be stored as fat instead of allowing it to be used as energy.
Human growth hormone, or HGH, and Insulin-like growth factor, or IGF, are also peptides. They both help your body build more muscle and promote fat loss, among other things.
These hormones all work together. Some of them give you the initial energy to get moving, some of them help you maintain energy, and some of them are used in the actual muscle building process. Now, carbohydrates often play a role in these processes, so can you build muscle on keto?
The studies say yes!
Our bodies are capable of taking the same steps by using the ketones produced through ketosis.
Studies that have been done up to this point have shown that although keto does not necessarily build muscle better than the traditional diet, you can still build muscle at the same rate.
Keto and Muscle Building
Switching from a western diet can provide you with all the benefits of keto while allowing you to get off of the bulking and cutting cycle and still build your muscles to the level you aspire to. There is a caveat, however.
Start slowly. Your body will need time to adjust. Switching from a western diet to a keto diet is drastic. Your body absolutely can adapt, but it will not happen overnight. Also, remember that every single person on this planet is different. Your body may adjust faster, or slower, than someone else’s.
Start off your lifting routine on keto by doing shorter reps than you would usually take on. You should still be lifting the same overall weight, just give yourself more frequent breaks. After the first couple of weeks, you should be able to get back to where you were, and start pushing even harder.
Eat enough protein. I cannot stress this enough. You cannot juice a stone, and your body cannot create muscle from thin air. You need fuel. Fat and protein are your fuel sources now, and although fat should make up the bulk of your diet, protein is what your body needs for real muscle growth.
Time your protein as well. Eating proteins a couple of hours before and very soon after a workout will help your body have the energy for your workout, and to complete the processes needed for the muscles to repair and build upon recovery.
Keep up your caloric intake. You need to eat enough to keep your body going, plus build more. You do not want to limit your calories too much while you adjust. It is important that you really keep an eye on your macros as well. Make sure you are not getting too little fat and too much protein, or vice versa.
Finally, hydration is key. Your body is adjusting. Anytime your body is adjusting to a major change it is very important to get lots of fluids in. Water is your best friend. Many people who live the ketogenic lifestyle will drink black coffee with butter in it to add to their energy stores as they adjust as well.
There are many supplements out there to help people on keto. However, with the right macros and a quality diet, you do not need anything extra. Once you are in ketosis it should not take long for your body to complete the adjustment and allow you to begin building muscle. Be careful though. Here are some common traps and tricks to making keto work for you:
1. Giving up too soon. It takes time for your body to optimize the use of ketones instead of carbs. Relax. It will happen.
2. Not paying attention to hidden carbs. Check everything you eat and drink for the first few months. You would be surprised to see how much sugar can be hidden in foods.
3. Not eating enough. Do not starve yourself. You may feel like it is easier to not eat vs. learning to create a good diet plan.
1. Pay attention to macros. Eat enough fats, proteins, and the few carbs you still need. It is easy to load up on one while ignoring the rest.
2. Talk to the professionals. Ask your doctor if keto is safe for you. If you get the go-ahead, ask for a referral to a dietician so you can get the perfect caloric and macro calculations based on your body type. Do not fall for the generic things you find online.
3. Find new recipes and try them! Many people have trouble sticking to keto. This is usually due more to becoming bored with food choices than it is because of missing carbs.
What it comes down to is eating well and staying active and hydrated. Work yourself as hard as you can, but understand the first few weeks you may feel limited. This will go away as you become fat adapted and able to use the fat as energy.
Do not fall into some of the pitfalls we discussed here. Come on, don’t pretend you won’t stare at that donut or piece of cake longingly. Nobody is perfect. If you fall off the wagon and eat that donut, just get back to it. It is ok.
Now, it is time for the fun part!
Let’s explore the keto staples and get to a few recipes to get you started!
Do bacon and eggs sound good right now?
What about a big juicy steak and a salad with full-fat dressing?
I bet you could go for some salmon seared in olive oil and seasoned to perfection. These are all amazing options when you are eating the keto way!
You absolutely need to keep those electrolytes up. I’m talking sodium, magnesium, potassium, calcium, phosphate, bicarbonate, and chloride. Keto flu is, in general, a myth. It can be avoided for the most part by staying hydrated and keeping up with your electrolytes.
Trainers often ask their clients to drink broth or stock when they aren’t feeling well, and they quickly realize they had allowed their electrolytes and hydration levels to drop too far.
Also, keep some extra fatty foods around to hit those fat goals. Fat will be your primary fuel, and as a bodybuilder, you will need a ton of fuel.
Staple Foods to Keep on Hand
There are several foods that are considered staples in the keto world. These staples can be used for many recipes and are readily available.
1. Eggs. Eggs are probably the top food you will want to keep available at all times. One egg includes protein, fat, no carbs, and a ton of nutrients your body needs. They can be used throughout the day, on their own or in recipes.
2. Avocadoes. These are a good source of fat and healthy nutrients.
3. Nuts and seeds. Again, these are a good source of both fat and protein.
4. Full-fat cheeses
6. Fatty fishes. These include salmon, sardine, and mackerel.
7. Beef in all its forms.
9. Sour Cream.
10. Heavy cream.
11. Cream cheese.
12. Chicken broth and bouillon cubes to make broth.
13. Olive oil
14. Butter, olive oil, and other carb-free fat choices.
15. Pork Rinds
16. Vegetables. Be careful here! Go for green veggies, peppers, and mushrooms. If you aren’t sure about something, use a food tracking app to check the macros on a food.
17. Almond meal
18. Natural peanut butter
19. Dark chocolate that is 85% or higher in pure cacao.
As you continue on in your keto journey you will find what you like and dislike, but all of the foods on this list are “safe” and will keep you in ketosis. Some of them make great recipes when combined!
As a bodybuilder, you have studied the science behind muscle gains, weight loss, bulking up and cutting down, along with what supplements to use and what diets to follow.
I know that keto has mixed reviews, but it isn’t any less valid than any other diet.
Keto is an ultra-low-carb diet that teaches your body to turn the fat into ketones that it will then use as energy. You can burn off any excess fat, and then use the fat from the foods you eat for fuel for your workouts.
Gaining muscle on keto is not any different than gaining muscle on a traditional western diet. The differences you see will be in your overall health and wellness. You can choose to go classic keto, or you may choose to cycle carbs into your diet. Maybe you will follow a traditional eating schedule of eating six times a day or maybe you will use intermittent fasting.
No matter which choice you go with, please be sure to talk to your doctor and a professional dietician. Your body is unique and your hormone levels and metabolism are going to be different than anyone else’s.
(You may have noticed I did not put any specific macro recommendations here, and that is why).
In the meantime, get to the gym! Get in those gains! Do some deadlifts. Get down on the bench. Find Greg (Isn’t there always a Greg?) and tell him to come spot you.
He’s a good guy!
Remember, you can be keto and be an amazingly successful bodybuilder. It takes the same things that it takes you now. Careful nutrition, strategic lifting, and perseverance. Do you have all of those qualifications? Yes?
Then what are you waiting for?
Get stacked, eat well, and have fun.