The ketogenic, or keto, diet has become increasingly popular.
It is a very low carb, high fat diet that many people use to lose weight and has been linked to various other health benefits.
For a long time, many people assumed that it was impossible to build muscle on a keto diet or low carb diets in general.
That’s because low carb diets restrict carbs, which are known to promote the release of insulin, an anabolic hormone that helps shuttle nutrients into cells, which helps create conditions that drive muscle growth (
Yet, you may wonder whether it’s true that low carb diets hinder muscle growth.
This article provides you with a complete guide on how to build muscle on a keto diet.
What is the keto diet?
The ketogenic, or keto, diet is a very low carb, high fat diet.
It involves drastically lowering your carb intake and consuming fat instead. This helps your body transition into a metabolic state known as ketosis.
Ketosis occurs when your body has limited access to glucose or carbs, the body’s preferred source of fuel for many processes. To compensate, your body uses fat to make ketone bodies as an alternative fuel source (
To transition into ketosis, people typically need to consume fewer than 50 grams of carbs per day, while getting the rest of their calories from a high fat, moderate protein diet (
Aside from weight loss, the keto diet has other benefits and can be used to aid people with epilepsy, control blood sugar levels, and help reduce your risk of various chronic conditions, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and certain cancers (
The keto diet is a very low carb, high fat diet that encourages your body to use ketones as fuel rather than glucose — the body’s preferred source of energy. It’s commonly used for weight loss but has various other possible benefits.
Can you build muscle on keto?
Studies show that it is possible to build muscle on the keto diet.
For example, a study in 25 college-aged men compared a traditional Western diet against the ketogenic diet for muscle gain, strength, and performance, and found that both diets were equally effective (
Still, if you’re new to keto, you may initially experience a drop in strength and performance. It’s important to note that this drop is often temporary and happens because your body is adapting to relying on ketones (
Several studies show that it’s possible to build muscle and improve strength on the keto diet much as you would on a traditional higher carb diet.
How to build muscle on a keto diet
The following recommendations can help you structure a keto diet to build muscle.
Determine your calorie intake
To optimally build muscle, you need to consistently eat more calories than you burn (17).
The number of calories you need to eat per day to build muscle depends on several factors, such as your weight, height, lifestyle, sex, and activity levels.
The first thing you need to do is determine your maintenance calories — the number of calories you need to consume per day to stay the same weight.
To do so, weigh yourself at last three times per week and record your food intake over the week with a calorie tracking app. If your weight stays the same, that is roughly your maintenance calories.
Alternatively, you can determine your maintenance calories using the calculator here.
When you’re trying to build muscle, it’s recommended to increase your calorie intake by 15% above your maintenance calories. So if your maintenance calories are 2,000 per day, you should eat 2,300 calories per day to build muscle (
As you build muscle, it’s a good idea to adjust your calorie intake around once per month to account for the changes in your weight.
What’s more, it’s recommended to gain no more than 0.25–0.5% of your body weight per week to prevent accumulating too much fat (
Eat plenty of protein
Eating adequate protein is essential for building muscle.
That’s because protein is the building block of muscles, which means that you need to consume more protein than your body breaks down through natural processes when trying to build muscle (
There’s some concern among keto dieters about consuming too much protein because it could encourage your body to use gluconeogenesis — a process in which amino acids are converted from protein into sugar, which could stop your body from making ketones (
Track your carb intake
Traditionally, carbs make up the bulk of the calories on a muscle-building diet.
However, if you’re trying to stay in ketosis, then you need to restrict carbs.
You may find that timing your carb intake around your workouts can be beneficial, especially if you believe your performance is affected.
This strategy is known as a targeted keto diet, in which you consume your daily allowed carbs around your workouts to aid exercise performance (
If you’re struggling to complete workouts, you could try a targeted keto approach. Otherwise, feel free to consume your carbs whenever it suits you best.
Increase your fat intake
Monitoring your fat intake is incredibly important on the keto diet.
That’s because your body relies primarily on fat for fuel when you limit carb intake and are in a state of ketosis (28).
After accounting for protein and carbs, fat should make up the rest of your diet.
Both protein and carbs provide 4 calories per gram while fat provides 9 per gram. After subtracting your protein and carb needs from your daily calorie needs (see above), divide the final number by 9 to determine your daily fat requirements.
For example, a 155-pound (70-kg) person on a 2,300-calorie muscle gain diet may eat 110 grams of protein and 50 grams of carbs. The remaining 1,660 calories can be taken up by 185 grams of fat.
To build muscle on a keto diet, you should calculate your calorie, protein, carb, and fat needs based on your weight and lifestyle factors.
Other factors to consider
Other than diet, there are several factors you should consider to help you build muscle on the keto diet.
Resistance train regularly
While nutrition is important, resistance training is also key to gaining muscle.
According to a review of 10 studies, resistance training at least twice a week was more effective at promoting muscle growth than training once per week (
Try incorporating exercises like squats, bench presses, pullups, and pushups into your weekly resistance training routine to encourage muscle growth.
If you’re new to the gym, consider hiring a personal trainer to show you proper techniques to maximize your efforts and reduce your risk of injury.
If necessary, consider supplements
While not required, supplements may help you build muscle.
If you’re struggling to reach your daily protein needs, you could use a protein powder supplement, such as whey, casein, pea, or hemp protein.
However, it’s important to note that many protein powders contain carbs, so you’ll need to account for these carbs in your daily carb allowance to stay in ketosis.
Remember that your body’s levels of sodium, potassium, and magnesium may drop while on keto. Thus, it’s best to eat foods rich in these minerals, such as dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and avocados. Alternatively, you can take a supplement.
Resistance training is crucial for building muscle on the keto diet. Though not necessary, supplements may help you maximize your gains.
Helpful tips for building muscle on a keto diet
Here are some more tips to help you build muscle on the keto diet:Stay patient. If you’re new to keto, you may experience an initial drop in strength and performance. It’s important to note that this drop is temporary, occurring as your body adapts — so be patient and don’t quit early.
Track your carb intake. This helps ensure that you eat fewer than 50 grams of carbs per day to stay in ketosis.
Prepare for initial side effects. When some people start this diet, they may experience the keto flu — a collection of symptoms, such as fatigue, nausea, irritability, and insomnia, that occur as your body adapts to its new regimen.
Beware of hidden carbs. Beverages and condiments typically contain carbs that many people are unaware of, so it’s important to not overlook them.
Test your ketone levels regularly. You can use keto strips or a keto breath test to determine if you’re in ketosis or if you need to adjust your diet accordingly.
To optimize muscle growth on the keto diet, make sure you have a solid nutrition plan and get plenty of sleep. Also, make sure to monitor your carb intake and ketone levels to ensure you stay in ketosis.
The bottom line
Though it involves carefully watching your protein, carb, and fat intake, the keto diet may be as effective as traditional higher carb diets for building muscle.
Simply following the above guidelines can help you plan an effective keto strategy for building muscle.
However, it’s unclear whether the keto diet offers more benefits for building muscle than a traditional higher carb diet.