There are many different things you can do while staying on a ketogenic diet. The most attainable effect of this very unique and strict diet is the ability to lose weight in pure fat form rather than in combination with muscle loss.
When you take carbs away from your body and only consume a very minuscule amount of them, generally 50 grams per day as a limit, then increase your fat intake to a whopping 75% of your total daily carb intake and 20% protein intake, the result is your body going into ketosis.
Ketosis is a unique metabolic state during which your body turns to fat and ketones as primary energy sources because there aren’t any carbs in the system, which means there isn’t any glucose. Low amounts of glucose equal low amounts of insulin production, which allows an enzyme called CPT1 to move fat into the mitochondria and break it down for energy.
This is all peachy and fantastic, but how does the ketogenic diet effect muscle gain and growth? Well, the answer isn’t exactly easy to explain, but we can give it a shot. Let’s talk a little about muscle growth, carbs, insulin, and protein.
Carbs, Protein, Insulin, And Your Muscles
Simply put, carbohydrates create anabolism, the synthesis of complex molecules, through a reaction of many different events which are caused by hormones which are created when carbs enter the system. Among these hormones is the insulin which is produced by our pancreas. Most people associate insulin with its ability to regulate glucose levels in the blood, but it has other more intricate abilities, as well.
Insulin is also capable of driving amino acid uptake. This means that insulin makes it possible for you to take amino acids out of your bloodstream and drive them into your muscles. So, insulin can actually be responsible for muscle growth and the storage of muscle glycogen.
But are carbohydrates necessary for synthesis of protein? The answer is no. Leucine is an essential amino acid which is found in egg yolks and is the primary driver of protein synthesis. So, this means we don’t need carbs in order to synthetizes protein. Ok, then is insulin anabolic?
It might seem like we are asking the same question over and over again. It all depends on your definition of anabolism. If you are one of the people who think of anabolism as a synonym to muscle protein synthesis then technically no, insulin is not anabolic. However, if you see anabolism as a physiological process that helps your muscles grow and become stronger, then the answer is yes.
Insulin, Carbs, And Muscle Recovery
Many people have a tendency to overlook recovery as a huge player in your ability to gain muscle mass. Your muscle recovery is hugely influenced by your carbohydrate intake. Carbs are capable of enhancing your recovery after a workout, and faster recovery time means that you are able to work out again sooner. The ability to work out frequently promotes more muscle mass gain.
So technically speaking, because carbs are able to reduce muscle breakdown, and even though they do not promote protein synthesis, they can still be essentially called anabolic indirectly. Basically, what we are trying to say is that since carbs are able to help your muscle building process they are indeed anabolic in that sense. Additionally, insulin is able to help with protein synthesis and muscle breakdown through increasing uptake of amino acids and glucose into the muscle.
Another factor that carbs are able to help with is your immune system during intense workouts. They are able to reduce the impact that intense workouts have on your immune system and help quickly restore your depleted levels of glycogen.
However, there are many factors you need to consider before loading up on french-fries or sweet potatoes right after a workout, like the type of training you are doing, how frequently you are doing this training, and how intense your training is, as well as your ultimate goal with this specific training.
For example, if you are only training a few times per week, then chances are you won’t have to load up on extra carbs after each workout. Your regular carb consumption from your regular diet should be more than enough to help with glycogen replenishment. If you are interested in gaining some muscle mass, then it might also be a good idea to snack on a banana or two post workout.
There are many reasons why you should use creatine as a supplement throughout your workouts. Obviously, the number one well known reason is its ability to help you increase strength. The secondary and lesser known reason is how it effects your cognitive functions and insulin sensitivity. Combining creatine supplements with carbohydrates will enhance your muscles’ creatine store capacity, as well as increase intramuscular creatine levels.
Electrolyte build up in cells is something else that can be improved with creatine intake. Essentially this leads to increased cell volume levels. This means that you are able to increase your cellular hydration, which can give you sort of a kick start effect when talking about anabolism.
Can You Achieve Anabolism Without Carbs?
Back to the original question. Yes, carbohydrates are clearly anabolic, and even though they aren’t directly anabolic they do influence your ability to synthesize protein and produce muscles. So, is it possible to increase your muscle growth with nearly no carbohydrate consumption? The answer is yes, but it is not an easy task.
Your biggest challenge while following the ketogenic diet and trying to increase your muscle mass is recovering from your workouts. You no longer have access to what your body was so used to using to regain levels of glycogen and recover, so you have to give yourself more time to recover after each workout.
At the same time, when you go through keto-adaptation and your body is fully used to using fat and ketones as an energy source, there are quite a few changes that it has undergone which also change the way your muscles synthesize. First and foremost, your use of glycogen becomes a lot more efficient when following a ketogenic diet rather than when carbs are readily available.
Furthermore, the gene expression of some of your enzymatic machinery is regulated a in a different way when in ketosis, thus improving enzyme performance. Basically, your body changes and adapts to perform as well as it can possibly perform without the presence of carbohydrates and much smaller amount of insulin.
How To Increase Muscles Growth While On A Ketogenic Diet?
There are a few things you can do to ensure that your muscles grow while you are observing a ketogenic diet. We have decided to break it down into four different categories that you should keep in mind while trying to improve your muscle growth.
This is pretty simple. Your body will shed muscle quickly if there isn’t enough stimulus to continue keeping or increasing your current muscle mass. The reason is pretty simple, too. Muscles are expensive, from an energy consumption standpoint, to maintain and your body is well oiled machine capable of adapting to the many different conditions and environments. The moment that you stop training or the moment that your training becomes lax, you will start to lose muscle.
Maintain a strict regimen with plenty of stimulus and watch the muscles increase, even under harsh conditions such as those during a ketogenic diet. Your body is amazing and it will adapt.
Eating enough protein is also pretty important. While on a ketogenic diet you should consume about 20% protein. However, if you are trying to gain muscle mass it might be a good idea to slightly increase this intake. Some people have seen great results when slightly increasing protein consumption during a ketogenic diet, but you have to be careful and not overdo it. Too much protein can increase the formation of glucose from the little amounts of carbohydrates that you do consume, which will have an adverse effect on your ketosis.
Even though it is recommended to keep your calorie consumption reduced when trying to lose fat during a ketogenic diet, if you are trying to gain muscle it might be a good idea to increase your calorie consumptions instead. No matter how you spin it, one thing is certain; your body needs energy to function and synthesizing muscles takes up a lot of energy.
Muscle Building Hormones
Besides insulin, there are other hormones out there which are known for their ability to increase your ability to build muscles. Among them are Testosterone and HGH. Luckily, both of these hormones are not affected greatly by low carb diets. Hormonal output is controlled a lot more by fatty acids rather than carbohydrates.
So, while carbs do have an impact on the hormonal production in our body, fatty acids have a much bigger impact on hormonal output. This means that low carb diets shouldn’t make too drastic of a change in our hormone production.
As it turns out, the best Testosterone boosting foods are actually omega-3 and cholesterol. This means you should be looking for stuff like eggs, fish, and beef to increase your testosterone production, which have no carbs.
HGH, human growth hormone, is stimulated by exercise, fasting, and is released the most throughout your first few hours of sleep. This also happens to be the exact same time that your body starts the self-repair mechanisms that cause muscle mass to grow.
It might sound somewhat odd, since we are pretty much eliminating the biggest supporter of muscle growth from our diet, but building extra muscles while on a ketogenic diet doesn’t require as much energy as many people think.
When your body becomes adapted to using fat as an energy source, it derives this energy from your adipose tissue, the loose connective tissue composed of adipocytes which is designed to store energy. This process will nearly always put you into an anabolic state. Basically, the energy needed for your muscle growth will be withdrawn from your previously stored triglycerides.
All of this means that you can be building leaner, stronger muscles all while losing fat and following a ketogenic diet. This isn’t a theoretical statement, this is a proven fact that many people have done before. In fact, there was a study performed on elite level gymnasts which shows that growing muscles while following a ketogenic diet is very possible.
Who Should Follow The Ketogenic Diet?
We wish we could suggest this type of a diet for everyone; however, every person is different. Unfortunately, it might be too difficult for some people who have a psychological dependency on carbohydrates. Another clear example of someone who should not undergo a ketogenic diet is a diabetic who is insulin dependent.
It might sound strange that those who can’t produce insulin which is necessary to breakdown carb driven glucose don’t benefit from a ketogenic diet but there are plenty of reasons why this diet is not the best choice for diabetics. We suggest choosing an alternative.
If you are planning on attending highly competitive events with short recovery timeframes, it might be a good idea to not follow the ketogenic diet. Whether you like it or not, carbohydrates can reduce the recovery time drastically and reduce the muscle breakdown process during and after workouts. So those of you who are shooting for the Olympics are probably better of following another specifically tailored diet.
Ketogenic Diet Muscle Building Summary
Increased muscle growth isn’t impossible when you reduce carb consumption drastically. In fact, it is very possible and absolutely achievable. However, it isn’t a cakewalk and is often a lot more difficult under a ketogenic diet then other alternative diets.
Your number one source of muscle gain is going to be your training. Conditioning your body into thinking you need more muscles and more strength to function is the best way to grow extra muscle while following a keto diet.
Don’t forget that there are plenty benefits to a ketogenic diet, but it isn’t the easiest diet out there and it might be slightly too much for some. All we can suggest is do your best and stick to it, eventually you will become keto-adapted.