There’s a number of myths, misconceptions, and misinformation floating around that are confusing a lot of people about the ketogenic diet. They’re teaching that when you’re training, whether for strength or for endurance, that carbohydrates are necessary in order to get the best results. This is not true, and I’ll tell you why.
You Need Carbs To Build Muscle
People that tell you this don’t understand how muscle building really works – it’s entirely possible to be gaining muscle mass while on keto.
In a simple way, the 3 easy steps to build muscle are:
- Eating enough protein – For mass building between 1.0 – 1.2g / pound of LEAN body mass.
- Eating a calorie surplus – You can’t build muscle without eating more calories than you need, and these come from fats in a ketogenic diet.
- Training correctly – You need to promote hypertrophy in your muscles.
Are carbs good for building muscle? Of course they are – they promote insulin release and help restore glycogen in the muscles. With carbs you gain mass quicker, but that’s because you’re also gaining fat.
What exactly is glycogen? It’s a molecule that our bodies use as energy.
What exactly does glycogen do? Wikipedia explains it nicely:
In humans, glycogen is made and stored primarily in the cells of the liver and the muscles, and functions as the secondary long-term energy storage (with the primary energy stores being fats held in adipose tissue).
Muscle cell glycogen appears to function as an immediate reserve source of available glucose for muscle cells. Other cells that contain small amounts use it locally as well.
As you can see, glycogen is being used as a secondary source of energy, where fats are being used over it. Once your body has become adapted to using fats (you’re in ketosis), then little glycogen is actually needed.
That little amount of glycogen you need? Well it can be created from the protein you eat in a process known as gluconeogenesis.
Are carbs necessary for building muscle? Of course not – You can still refill glycogen stores in muscles through a ketogenic diet. A ketogenic diet can be great for building muscle, as the protein intake is high and you’re unlikely to lose muscle mass. If you are unsure of what your nutrient intake should be, head over to our Keto Calculator to help out.
Putting mass on may be slower on a ketogenic diet, but that’s because you’re putting lean mass on. If you need to put total mass on quicker, you can achieve your goals through other methods. Seek advice in my alternative ketogenic diet post.
It Will Hurt My Performance
If it’s not about building muscle, people will argue that performance is decreased while on a ketogenic diet. That just isn’t true at all. This study was done on well trained cyclists who were on a ketogenic diet for 4 weeks.
The results show that aerobic endurance was not compromised at all. Their bodies adapted through ketosis, limiting both glucose and glycogen stores, and using fats as the predominant energy source.
Before your body enters ketosis and can use fats as the primary source of energy, you will see some strength and endurance loss. BUT, once your body becomes adapted to the fat intake, you will begin to convert fats into ketones to be used as a source of energy for both strength and endurance.
Even if you are doing very long cardio training, marathons and biking included, a ketogenic diet has been proven time and time again.
Summed up, the paper explains that a very low carbohydrate ketogenic diet can be useful for weight-class based athletes in their respective sport. Over the 30 day period of the study, on 8 different athletes, the results came out to be the same.
The athletes were fed a strict diet of green vegetables, olive oil, and high quality proteins (fish and meat). In all of their physical tests, they performed the same as when the initial tests were done.
Each athlete decreased their body weight, their body fat, and kept their muscle mass near enough the same. None of them had negative effects on their strength performance over the course of the study.
The only real time where ketosis can give performance loss is in exercises that need an explosive action. If you need a little boost in your performance during these, you can “carb-up” by eating 25-50g of carbs about 30 minutes before you train.
Carbing up will give your muscles the instant energy that they may want, while not allowing your ketogenic state to be interrupted.
Timing is everything with protein
Many people seem to believe that a large amount of protein eaten in 1 sitting is wasted. The myth that’s floating around is that if you eat more than 30g of protein in 1 sitting, the rest is wasted.
Where did this 30g of protein come from? I have no clue, it may have been assumed from the 10g/hour standard that many bodybuilders use in their typical meal approach.
Nutrient timing provides minimal results in regular trainers. Fulfilling your daily nutrient needs is, by far, the most important thing. That being said, you probably don’t want to sit down and eat 150g of protein in one sitting, as this can bring you out of ketosis.
Eating too much protein at once is fine; none of it will be wasted. As you eat high amounts of protein, your body can regulate the speed at which the intestines contract, resulting in slower digestion for proper absorption.
In normal conditions, your small intestine is responsible for sucking up all that fantastic protein as you digest it. In fact, it’s been shown that it absorbs about 95% of your protein.
If by chance you skip a meal and have to eat 100g of protein in one sitting, your small intestines won’t be able to properly absorb all of it. When this happens, your small intestine will store the proteins amino acids and release them as the body needs, and even recycling them if that’s needed.