Need carbs to build and maintain muscle? Don’t think so!
A bunch of bodybuilders is abandoning the carb bulking and going all-in on a high-fat diet. That's right.
Antonie Bartels, the founder of Keto Fit, is one living example of how you can gain muscle while losing weight on a ketogenic diet. He's crazy about health and bodybuilding and has been on keto for over 2 years now.
We asked him to share his experience and break down the three reasons why a ketogenic diet might be just the right thing for you to build muscle, without gaining tons of fat. All backed by science.
Ketones are muscle-sparing
The theory goes that without a high-protein intake, you cannot maintain muscle mass. This is not actually true. A ketogenic diet, even though it is moderate in protein, can prevent muscle from breaking down through the magic of ketosis. Ketone bodies and especially beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) are muscle sparing.
When you’re following a ketogenic diet, your body starts using fat and ketones as primary sources of fuel, instead of glucose. This leads to less protein conversion into glucose, which in the end, will spare the protein in your body and maintain muscle mass.
In various studies where a low-carb diet 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.
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.
Contrary to popular beliefs, high-carb consumption is not essential to maintain and build muscle. This is definitely possible on a ketogenic diet as well. Of course, it won’t come by itself, so you still have to remain pushing yourself in the gym and making sure you follow a well-formulated ketogenic diet.
Next to the points we discussed, a ketogenic diet might also improve testosterone levels, make you focus better during your lifts and boost muscle protein synthesis.
Now that you know that you don't need to bulk on carbs, here are 4 steps you can take to build and maintain muscle mass on keto:
- Eat a caloric surplus
Consume more calories than your body burns daily. To gain mass, you should eat between 150-500 extra kcal than you would for weight maintenance. But you can always adapt this to your own needs. These extra calories should come from healthy fats and proteins. They don't have to come from carbs.
- Eat your proteins
Make sure you're eating the required amount of protein to build muscle. Ratios vary between 0.8g and 1.6g per kg of body weight depending on your level of physical activity.
- Do regular strength training
For muscle growth to happen, you have to create stress in your muscles that is different from what your body is already used to. This can be done by exercising regularly and continuously changing your routines and weights. If you're struggling to get motivated to workout, make sure to follow these extra tips.
- Don't forget the electrolytes
Maintaining proper electrolyte levels are essential for performing. These are sodium, potassium and magnesium. You lose lots of them through urine and sweat. Laking electrolytes can lead to cramps, fatigue, and brain fog.
Still in doubt? Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed!
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