Many people like to argue that the ketogenic diet is an efficient way to build muscle. Your strength will skyrocket, it will position itself, and you will feel less sore and recover faster. Critics of the diet, however, often say the opposite: ketogenic diets limit your ability to train hard, according to the theory. Trying to build muscle without carbohydrates is like Batman patrolling the streets of Gotham without his belt. There is no way to build muscle during ketosis.
So who is right? First, let's take a look at science: back in 2002 researchers from the University of Connecticut looked at how six weeks of low-carb diets influenced body composition in two groups of healthy normal-weight men. One group switched to a ketogenic diet for six weeks while the rest continued their normal diet. The men who went to the keto absorbed just over two pounds of muscle. The control group won just under a pound. At first glance this sounds like a win for the low-carbers; At the same time, they gained twice as much muscle.
However, if you look under the hood, as the study was conducted, there were some problems that limit the conclusions we can draw. First, there was a big difference in protein intake between the two groups. Test persons on the ketogenic diet ate twice as much protein as those of the control group, which alone could be responsible for the additional muscle growth.
In an ideal world, both groups would have completed the same training program. But they did not do it. Basically all of them just did their own thing, so any differences in muscle growth between the two groups would be more likely to be due to a better exercise program than a diet alone. Recently, a team of Florida researchers conducted a similar study . This time, protein intake was adjusted between the two groups, and everyone in the study followed the same exercise program. What happened?
In Weeks 1
The keto group was "encapsulated" in the last week of the study, resulting in a seven-pound gain in muscle mass. In other words, much of the increase in lean tissue came from glycogen (the name of the carbohydrate stored in the body) and water. Considering the results of the first ten weeks before the keto group increased its carbohydrate intake, there was no significant difference in muscle growth rate between the two groups.
Even the researchers write that it is "likely that both groups gained similar levels of muscle throughout the study." When building muscle, most studies show that ketogenic diets have no advantage over their higher carbohydrate counterparts.
For example, a team of Brazilian researchers took a group of overweight men and women and trained them with weights three times a week for eight weeks. Half of the subjects were asked to limit their carbohydrate intake while the other half followed a diet that had more carbs and less fat. Both groups ate a similar amount of protein – about 0.7 grams per pound of body weight.
There were very small differences in results between the low carbohydrate groups and conventional diets. Both became stronger, lost fat and reduced their waist size. There was also no significant difference in muscle growth – measured by ultrasound on the biceps, triceps and quadriceps – between the two groups.
Similar results were found in a three-month study of men with metabolic syndrome and a ten-week study of obese women. The combination of strength training with a ketogenic diet had no beneficial or detrimental effects on maintaining muscle mass during weight loss compared to the same exercise regimen combined with a conventional diet.
Ketogenic diets may, under certain circumstances, be for people who know what is beneficial to you and why they are doing it. After a period of intelligent experiment, they seem to be better off with less carbohydrates in their diet. You can be one of these people. If the diet works and you feel good, stick with it.
Most low-carb diets do a lot of things right – the focus is usually on eating simple, healthy and nutritious foods that tend to fill up with less calories. By almost completely eliminating an important macronutrient from your diet, you can greatly simplify your eating habits.
And your muscles do not need carbohydrates to grow. Lifting weights increases muscle protein synthesis, which is the main driver of muscle growth. But you do not need carbohydrates for that. Carbohydrates are convenient because they promote work that stimulates muscle growth, not because it directly contributes to growth per se . However, ketogenic diets have a number of disadvantages: they are very restrictive and you need to monitor your carbohydrate intake very carefully.
If you know that you can not have something, it is human nature to want it all the more. So if you're allowed to eat "no carbohydrates," carbohydrates are just what you want.
In addition, the low-carb approach tends to make some people in the gym struggle with low energy levels. You feel tired and mentally blurry. If you work out intensively, the quality of your training can subside.
You do not have to take complete keto to take advantage of limiting carbohydrate intake. Many people are well off with a modest intake of carbohydrates by cutting out the sugary snacks and replacing some of the starchy carbohydrates with fruits and vegetables. But if you cut the carbohydrates even further, it feels worse than better, and they do not stay long.
To sum up, one can build muscle through a ketogenic diet. In addition, there are several studies showing that ketogenic diets perform just as well as carbohydrate-rich carbohydrates when it comes to maintaining muscle while losing fat. However, there is no compelling evidence that ketogenic diets provide any muscle building benefits that you will not get with a higher carbohydrate diet that provides adequate levels of protein.
If you want to get rid of your bowels If you are building muscle at the same time, a ketogenic diet is a viable option. However, if you're relatively lean, training hard three or four times a week, and your main goal is to give your frame more mass, it makes little sense to be so restrictive. In fact, a study from 2018 shows that a group of men who had learned resistance did not get any muscle at all after two months of weightlifting on a ketogenic diet.
Christian Finn is a British personal trainer with a masters degree in motor science.