Can you build muscle without carbs?

Can you build muscle without carbs?

Need carbs to build and maintain muscle? Don’t think so! A whole bunch of bodybuilders is abandoning the carb bulking and going all-in on a high-fat diet. That's right. A ketogenic diet might be just the right thing for you to build muscle, without gaining tons of fat.

Ketones are muscle-sparing

Ketone body’s and especially beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) are muscle sparing. In various study’s where a low carb diet and weight loss is compared to a higher carb diet, the lower-carb group seems to lose the most amount of fat while maintaining most of their muscle mass. For example, in a very well-known study,  3 groups were put on a 30, 60, and 104 grams of carbs diet. Protein and calories were equal in all groups. After 9 weeks the groups respectively lost 16.2, 12.8 and 11.9 kg. Within those groups, fat was responsible for 95, 84 and 75% of the weight loss. Therefore, the group with the ketogenic ratio lost the most weight, while preserving muscle mass.

Gain while staying lean

A ketogenic diet is known for putting your body in a fat-burning machine. In the absence of carbs, your body will start to look for another source of energy and will start to tap into stored fat. This will automatically cause fat loss, but will also provide you with the opportunity to stay lean all year round.
Most people probably know the terms bulking and cutting. But I disagree with that traditional way of training and eating. While bulking, most people overeat. And yes, this will increase your weight and muscle, but most likely will also cause a ton of gained fat. The downside in this way of training is that afterwards, you will have to start cutting for a longer period of time. During this period your body is in a caloric deficit and the longer this period is, the longer you might lose muscle mass and the longer your performance might go down.

Improve performance

I experienced that my performance went up after my body became fat-adapted. Before I began my ketogenic journey, my body wouldn’t handle carbohydrates very well and my energy levels would go up and down all day. Especially in the morning, I didn’t have that much energy and after a big meal, it would feel like my body preferred to crash on the couch. Ever since I became fat-adapted my body doesn’t rely on the carbs I eat but has access to thousands of calories stored as fat. Let’s say you’re a well-trained athlete from 80 kg with a fat percentage of 6%. This means you will have 4.8 kg stored fat. At 9 calories a gram this means you still have a fuel tank of 43.200 calories!


There is also research to back this up. In a recent study, a group of 25 resistance-trained athletes was divided into two groups. One group on a Ketogenic diet and the other on a traditional western diet. During a period of 11 weeks, the Ketogenic diet group saw an average decrease of 2.2 kg of fat and the western dieting group a decrease of 1.5kg. Strength and power increased to the same extent, showing performance won’t suffer while even losing fat.


It is definitely possible to maintain and built muscle on a ketogenic diet. Of course, it won’t come by itself, so you will have to remain pushing yourself in the gym and making sure you follow a well-formulated ketogenic diet. Next to the points above, a ketogenic diet might also improve testosterone levels, make you focus better during your lifts and boost muscle protein synthesis. Still in doubt? Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed!



Written by Antonie Bartels*, founder of Keto Fit.

* Antonie is crazy about health and bodybuilding. He's discovered the power of healthy fats a year ago and since then, he's been Keto AF. 

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