The weight-loss benefits of ketosis speak for themselves. It’s the keto diet’s main draw for mainstream dieters because everybody wants a slim, healthy figure. However, not everybody wants that slim figure to come at the cost of hard-earned muscle.
There’s plenty of rumors floating around the internet that ketosis will sap your muscles along with your fat, leaving you weak and unable to finish your workouts. The mere thought of losing muscle can be enough to scare any keto newbie back onto bread and pasta. But is there any truth to these rumors?
Yes and no. While it is possible to lose muscle, it’s just as possible to maintain and even to build muscle-mass on a keto diet! Let’s go over the science behind this along with our best tips for triggering muscle growth in ketosis.
Does Ketosis Burn Muscle? What the science says:
To understand how ketosis effects your muscles, you first need to understand the two basic metabolic states: catabolism and anabolism.
Catabolism is the metabolic state where your body breaks down large molecules into smaller ones, like breaking down your food into energy. Or in the case of ketosis, breaking down your fat cells into energy. Ketosis triggers catabolism, which helps create the weight-loss we all know and love. Unfortunately, fat cells aren’t always catabolism’s only targets. Ketosis can sometimes break down your hard-earned muscle to use for energy, which isn’t ideal for anyone looking to build strength.
Anabolism on the other hand is your body’s maintenance and repair mode. It’s triggered by insulin and glucose found in carb-heavy foods. This is the state that’s responsible for weight gain and fat storage. But there’s another side to anabolism: it’s also the metabolic state responsible for building muscle. A diet high in carbs can help trigger anabolism and offer the energy needed for hard workouts.
Does this mean that it’s impossible to build muscle on a keto diet?
Nope, not at all! Although reaching a state of anabolism can be more difficult in ketosis, it’s not impossible. Studies have also shown that it’s easier for your body to build muscle once it adjusts to a state of ketosis. And there are plenty of things you can do to trigger anabolism in the meantime.
Here are our best tips to trigger anabolism on a keto diet, helping you build the lean, strong muscles of your dreams!
Tips for Gaining Muscle on a Keto Diet
#1 Eat more calories
To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn. Plain and simple. But if you want to gain muscle, then the opposite is true. You’ll want to eat more calories than you burn so that your body can pack the surplus into your lean muscle.
To create a calorie surplus, try to eat anywhere from 1-500 calories more than your maintenance calorie rate. For example, if you need to eat 2,000 calories a day to maintain your current weight, try upping your daily intake to 2,100 or 2,500. If you don’t know what your maintenance calorie rate is, there are plenty of online calculators available to help you calculate it.
Just remember to follow the macro-nutrient guidelines of a keto diet when picking out your extra calories: 65 to 90% fat, 5 to 25% protein and 4 to 10% carbohydrates.
#2 Up your protein intake
The majority of your calorie intake on a keto diet should be coming from fat, true. But this doesn’t mean that you should be neglecting protein. Protein is absolutely essential for building lean muscle, and studies show that most Americans don’t get enough of it. To build more muscle on your keto diet, try adding an extra serving of chicken breast to your afternoon salad, or bulk-up your beef patties in your bun-less burger.
If you don’t want to add more meat to your diet, consider supplementing your protein intake with a protein powder instead. Just be sure to check the labels thoroughly if you choose this route. Many protein powders are loaded with unnecessary sugars and artificial ingredients that may throw off your state of ketosis. Keep an eye out for the keto seal of approval on your protein powder for added peace-of-mind.
#3 Rev up the resistance training
If you want to pump up your muscles and get into anabolism, resistance training is absolutely key. More so than any other form of exercise. Resistance training refers to exercises that involve forcing your muscles to overcome an oppositional force. That force can be just about anything from weights and dumbbells to resistance bands and even your own bodyweight.
You don’t have to hit the gym to get in a good workout, and you don’t need any fancy equipment either. You can trigger muscle-growth at home with bodyweight exercises like push-ups and squats. Just make sure to allow plenty of rest time between workouts, which brings us to our next tip...
#4 Make sure you’re getting enough rest
After a hard day of eating right and exercising, it’s important to make sure that you have time to recharge. Giving your body time to rest is a key factor in triggering anabolism, so a proper recovery period is essential for building muscle. Make sure to give yourself plenty of downtime between resistance workouts, and try to get at least eight hours of sleep every night.
Are you struggling with insomnia on your keto diet? No worries. Check out our article on ketosis and insomnia for our best tips on getting a good night’s rest.
#5 When all else fails eat more carbs
The fact of the matter is, not everyone is going to be able to workout on a strict regiment of 20 carbs or less per day. But there’s no shame in that! If you’re struggling to exercise while eating 20 carbs or less per day, consider upping your carb intake to 25 or 30 per-day. Depending on age and body type, many people can consume up to 50 carbs per-day and still stay in ketosis.
Alternatively, some people enjoy what’s called a ‘cyclical keto diet’. On this keto diet variation, you’ll follow a traditional keto diet for 5-6 days of the week but eat a carb-heavy regiment for 1-2 days. This can be a good balance for those looking to take advantage of carbohydrate-induced anabolism while still reaping the benefits of ketosis.
You could also lower the intensity or duration of your workouts if staying under 20 carbs is your top priority. Or you can take longer breaks or add more rest days to recuperate. Above all else, always listen to what your body has to say. Only you can determine how many carbs per-day you need to workout. And only you can determine whether or not a keto diet is right for your health.