Ketogenic Diet & Bodybuilding: The Ultimate Pro's Guide

Ketogenic Diet & Bodybuilding
How to Get More Muscles on Keto

bodybuilding on the ketogenic diet

Before we delve into the talks of how to get started or maintain bodybuilding while you're on a keto diet, let us first do a quick recap of what the diet is all about first. 

Carbohydrates are the body’s default source of energy. If the body cannot find enough carbohydrates to continue normal operation, it begins a 2 stage check down to find other energy sources. First, it turns to muscles: but you can protect your muscles from being devoured by your system by making sure you eat adequate amounts of protein. Should your body decide your muscles are not what it's looking for it will then turn to stored body fat instead. As part of the process of burning fat, the body generates what are called "ketones" and when it does that you are said to have entered a state of ketosis. 

While there is no denying the effectiveness of the lifestyle in burning fat and the effectiveness of the low-carb diet in helping you lose weight people still have concerns about whether or not they will be able to be both lean and strong. In other words, are bodybuilding and keto compatible? In this article we’re going to take a look at the ketosis diet for bodybuilding.

Things You Need to Know About Bodybuilding on Keto

Before we get into whether or not ketosis and bodybuilding are compatible we need to understand some of the basic principles that underlie successful bodybuilding. None of these have anything to do with expensive supplements or long-lost secrets passed down from the Aztecs. They have to do with physiological and behavioral truths which, if ignored, will leave your bodybuilding efforts stalled at the side of the road. These principles are:

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  • You must push yourself - Your muscles must be pushed beyond their current capacity in order to achieve growth. If you just keep repeating the same routine you will never see progress.
  • You must consume enough protein - Without adequate protein muscle growth, indeed simple muscle maintenance, is impossible.
  • You must consume enough calories - When it comes to ketosis and bodybuilding, you must consume a sufficient number of calories to enable muscle growth. Almost all of those calories will come from fat.
  • You must drink plenty of water - Your body is 70% water. Denying it what it needs to survive won’t lead anywhere good when it comes to your bodybuilding efforts. The body needs copious amounts of water to in order to recover properly from strenuous workouts.

In general, anyone hoping to embark on a bodybuilding routine must take care to eat right, drink enough water and get plenty of sleep.

The 4 Main Principles of Ketogenic Bodybuilding

Now that we have a better idea of the parameters we’re working with how does being on a ketogenic diet affect our ability to uphold these principles?

Here we will be talking about the four things that you need to uphold at all times to be able to get into the state and maintain the body that you worked so hard for. 

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    Pushing Yourself - It's likely that when you are first transitioning to ketosis, you won't have the same energy levels you did previously and so won't be able to push yourself to new heights when it comes to weightlifting, etc. Don't worry. It's merely a matter of your body adjusting to the lack of glycolysis; which is the process by which the body extracts energy from carbs to produce cellular metabolism. This will pass before long, as your body adjusts to the diet. Exactly how long will depend on the individual and how rigidly they are adhering to the diet. Once the adjustment is complete, you will feel your energy return, and you will be able to start pushing things.
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    Consuming enough protein - Protein is essential to both building and maintaining muscle mass. Without it, our physiques will slowly melt away. In the absence of carbohydrates on the low-carb diet, protein is even more important because it provides glucose via the process of gluconeogenesis. Keto dieters will find that increasing their daily intake of protein will help maintain their current muscle mass and provide the building blocks for future muscle growth. Meats, fish, eggs and high-fat dairy products are all excellent sources of protein for ketogenic bodybuilding.
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    Consuming enough calories - Calories make the weight loss world go round, and that's doubly true when it comes to bodybuilding and keto. Because you will be burning fat on a low-carb diet, you're going to have to consume a greater number of calories in order to build muscles. That means making sure you eat sufficient amounts of protein to fuel muscle protein synthesis while also restricting your carb intake as per the strictures of the keto diet. Then, when you push yourself physically, you'll have the building blocks in place to stimulate and support muscle growth. Just to be clear: make sure any excess calories come from fat, not from carbohydrates.
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    Staying properly hydrated - While water itself isn't going to fuel muscle growth, it will help ensure optimal physical performance while keeping your mind clear and sharp. You can quickly lose 2% or more of your total body water your first week on the keto diet, and that kind of loss can have devastating effects if not replenished. So you need to ensure you are drinking 3 or 4 liters of water every day. If you are involved in keto bodybuilding, you need to drink even more.

How to Step Up Your Game Even More...

While adherence to the above principles is crucial to the success of any bodybuilding efforts while on the ketogenic diet there are additional steps you can take if you want to take your body sculpting efforts to the next level. They include:

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  • Occasional fasting - Much of the data regarding the benefits of intermittent fasting is anecdotal and therefore no hard and fast scientific truths can be gleaned from it. Nonetheless, this anecdotal evidence is significant enough in volume as to warrant serious consideration and the things it tells us about the possible benefits of occasional fasting are potentially compelling: 
  • Intermittent fasting may result in an increase in HGH production.
  • It likely aids in a faster, more complete recovery from a vigorous workout.
  • It may aid in the amount of fat burning.
  • It may help increase ketone levels in the body.

Since science cannot say with absolute certainty, who will enjoy exactly which of these benefits the only way to know if you will is to try intermittent fasting yourself. Keep in mind that your ketosis bodybuilding diet will still require you to meet your daily caloric intake needs to build new muscle which means that the meals you have when you break your fast will need to be slightly larger than they otherwise would be. A good way to approach this type of fasting is to try it 16-20 hours a day during your first couple of weeks on the keto diet plan to sample potential benefits.

  • Timing Your Protein Intake - Most bodybuilders will tell you that you need to consume protein within an hour of completing your workout. If you don't, they warn, you won't enjoy any benefits from all your hard work. Science, however, tells us that you are likely to enjoy anabolic benefits from any food you consume within a 5 to 6-hour window surrounding your workout. When it comes to ketosis for bodybuilding, that means if you eat a meal high in protein 3 hours before your workout there will still be a positive effect on muscle growth following that workout, even if you don’t eat afterward.
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Our recommendation for those bodybuilding during ketosis would be to eat high protein meals 3 hours before and 1-2 hours after your vigorous workout to optimize muscle growth. Just make sure the meal you eat before the workout is not excessively large or you could undermine the effectiveness of your workout.

Or better yet, you can take keto-friendly protein powders to juice yourself up just before a workout. Luckily for you, we've found all the products that claim to be "low-carb" and checked them out ourselves. The product that stands out the most is BPI Sports ISO HD. With no carbs, alternative sweeteners, sugar, or anything that can increase your carb intake, it is proven to be in a league of its own. The taste isn't too shabby either!

Reintroducing Carbs into Your Diet 

This is maybe the most controversial aspect of ketosis for bodybuilding, but it’s nonetheless one you should consider. There are a couple of ways you can reintroduce carbs into your keto diet for bodybuilding to aid muscle growth without undermining the state in general. Those methods are:

  • Targeted keto dieting - With this type of keto diet plan for bodybuilding you ingest between 25 and 50 grams of carbohydrates half an hour before working out. This way your body has the carbohydrate foundation it needs in order to withstand the rigors of exercise while at the same time those carbs will be consumed during the workout and won’t linger in the system causing disruption to the ketogenic process.
  • Cyclical keto dieting - People who follow this approach have 1 or 2 days per week where they consume carbs and the rest of the days where they adhere strictly to ketogenic principles. It’s important to remember however that if you don’t exercise vigorously to exhaust the glycogen stores you’ll create with this method, you won’t cycle back into ketosis and you’ll likely need to reset your entire approach.
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Important: If you are getting the results you want while on the standard ketogenic diet for bodybuilders, there’s no need to experiment with either targeted keto dieting or the cyclical dieting approach. These should only be attempted if your results using the standard keto diet methods came up short.

Keto for Bodybuilding: The MCT Oil Advantage

MCT stands for "medium chain triglycerides." This type of saturated fat is quickly processed by the digestive system and moves to the liver fast where it can then be converted to ketones the body can use when it starts to run short of carbs. The result is a faster, smoother transition to a state of ketosis. Once you have achieved the state and your body is humming along burning fat instead of carbs you can also give your bodybuilding on keto efforts a boost by supplementing with 1 or 2 tablespoons of MCT oil an hour or two before working out.

Our favorite choice when it comes to MCT oil is definitely Onnit. With a seamless taste, you can easily add this into your meal, coffee, or snack that you choose to. You can get the best price for it here.

onnit mct oil

When you're in the early stages of your transition to ketosis the fats you consume won't be utilized by the body for energy right away. That's because there will still be ‘legacy' carbs in your system that the body will instinctively draw on. The end result is a transitional period that can last a few weeks and result in your body feeling a bit fatigued and confused. You can help jump-start the transition to ketosis, however (and get your bodybuilding efforts off the ground quicker) by using MCT oil as a supplement.

Final Advice to Building Your Body Properly

We’re going to wind up this guide with a short list of things to be mindful of in order to optimize your results while on the ketogenic diet for bodybuilding.

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     Don’t lose patience - There will be a transition period while your body adjusts from running on carbohydrates to running on fats. While you can help speed up and smooth out the process to some extent by using MCT oil, you are still going to have to endure periods of fatigue. So be patient and stay the course. It will pass.
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    Make sure you consume enough fat - The keto diet is a high-fat diet just as surely as it's a low carb diet. As such you need to ensure your meal plan for bodybuilding includes enough fat or your transition to ketosis will be long, uneven and ultimately unsuccessful. Make sure at least 75% of your calories come from fat.
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    Don’t ignore your need for electrolytes - If you don’t get enough sodium, potassium and magnesium in your ketosis diet for bodybuilding you are likely to experience headaches, lethargy and constipation. These are classic symptoms of the “keto flu” and are likely to make you question your decision to go on the lifestyle. Minimize these issues by getting plenty of electrolytes.
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    Beware hidden carbohydrates - Since your target will be to have no more than 5% of your calories coming from carbs it's important to keep a watchful eye out for hidden carbs. Any time you buy a food product look at the ingredient list for the number of carbs and for the amount of sugar it contains. 
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    Use the right products - If you're planning to build your body through only food and hard work, you will get there... eventually. Most people that have been successful in this journey use a variety of supplements to get them there. One of the most important ones are the protein powder or creatine. And, if you have read this article, we recommend BPI Sports ISO HD to do that job for us.

Ketosis and bodybuilding can work wonderfully together as long as you are mindful of what you are putting into your system and when and as long as you adhere to the principles laid out both at the beginning and end of this guide. Good luck.

About the Author

Ryan is a personal trainer, athlete, health enthusiast, and entrepreneur. He is researching and expanding his knowledge about the ketogenic diet. He spends most of his time writing content about his new learnings of the ketogenic diet and shares it on Ketogenic Supplement Reviews. You can find me on: Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.