Ketogaining: is keto good for bulking up and building muscle?

Are Ketogenic Diets Good for Bulking?

The ketogenic diet has been used as a weight-loss diet for over 200 years now. In the 70s, for example, it saw a surge in popularity because of the Atkins Diet, which started off with a strict ketogenic phase. But the fact that it has a long history of helping people lose weight doesn’t tell us much about whether it’s effective for bulking up. Are there any advantages to using keto for building muscle, gaining weight, and getting bigger?

In this article, we cover:

  • How does keto affect lifting and muscle growth?
  • What happens if you bulk on a ketogenic diet?
  • Should you bulk on a ketogenic diet?
  • How do you bulk on a ketogenic diet?

Let’s dive in.

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

Ketogaining: can keto be used for and bodybuilding and bulking?

What is the ketogenic diet? The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, moderate protein, and very-low-carb diet based around eating plenty of meats, eggs, cheeses, nuts, avocados, oils, and fibrous vegetables. For example, a meal might be a fatty cut of steak with a large portion of salad drizzled in olive oil.

What is the ketogenic bulking diet? Since this article is about how a ketogenic bulking diet performs against a traditional bulking diet, we’re going to use the best versions of both:

  • Standard bulking macros: 25% of calories from fat, 55% from carbs, 20% protein
  • Ketogenic bulking macros: 75% of calories from fat,  5% from carbs, 20% protein

Both of these diets have the perfect amount of protein, it’s just that one is high in carbohydrates, the other has almost none.

What does reducing carb intake accomplish? When you eat carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into a type of sugar called glucose, which is what the cells in your body use for energy. Your muscles and liver store sugar in the form of glycogen, your blood vessels transport it around as blood sugar, and your brain even runs on sugar.

If you stop eating carbs, though—either by fasting, starving, or eating a ketogenic diet—then your body can no longer use sugar as its main fuel source, so it begins breaking down fatty acids into ketone bodies (ketones). Over the course of the next few days, your cells switch over to using these ketones for fuel. This process is called ketosis, and it’s the foundation of the ketogenic diet.

What’s the purpose of ketosis? What’s exciting about ketosis is that your body starts burning your body fat for energy. Now, to be clear, any diet that allows you to get into a calorie deficit will allow you to lose fat just as quickly (study, study).

If you eat a high-fat diet, you’ll store more fat and burn more fat. If you eat a high-carb diet, you’ll store less fat and burn less fat. Either way, it balances out in the end. Still, a lot of people like the idea of directly using fatty acids for energy.

Perhaps a bigger advantage of the ketogenic diet is that it suppresses appetite, allowing people to feel fuller while eating fewer calories (meta-analysis). This can make the process of losing weight much less miserable.

But what if you aren’t trying to lose weight? What if you’re trying to build muscle?

How does keto affect lifting and muscle growth?

Does the ketogenic diet affect strength training or hypertrophy training? Is it good for building muscle?

When you lift weights, your muscles run on a carb-based fuel called glycogen. The more glycogen you have in your muscles, the longer you can train before your muscles start to get fatigued.

When you switch to a ketogenic diet, there are fewer carbs available, and your muscles won’t store as much glycogen as they normally do (study, study). Because your muscles aren’t as pumped full of fuel, they’ll look a little smaller and flatter, and they won’t have quite as much strength endurance.

This doesn’t have a big impact on strength training (study, study). There aren’t many reps per set (1–5 reps) and there aren’t many sets per workout. It’s a style of training that doesn’t require much muscle fuel, just muscle strength.

However, strength training isn’t very good for gaining muscle size. Strength training is great for getting the neural gains that will make you stronger for your size, but if you’re trying to bulk up, that’s not the kind of adaptation that you’re fighting for.

If your goal is to bulk up—to gain muscle size—then you’ll want to be doing a hypertrophy program. That means doing higher-rep sets, typically in the 6–12 rep range. This means lifting more total poundage each workout (higher volume), which means digging deeper into your glycogen stores. Our muscles store quite a bit of glycogen, though, and even with hypertrophy training, you won’t run out of glycogen unless you train a single muscle group for several hours in a row.

However, we aren’t just trying to avoid completely running out of glycogen, we’re trying to get the performance-enhancing effects of being absolutely packed full of glycogen. When it comes to workouts that are designed to stimulate muscle growth, most research shows that the more glycogen you have in your muscles, the better (studystudy, study).

In fact, simply having more glycogen in your muscles seems to reduce muscle damage while speeding up muscle growth, allowing us to construct more new muscle tissue (study). So regardless of which type of training you’re doing, if you’re trying to build muscle, it’s probably best to eat plenty of carbohydrates (study).

Furthermore, lifting weights stresses our bodies. It’s a good type of stress, but it’s stress nonetheless. High-carb diets help manage this stress, keeping testosterone production high and cortisol production low. Low-carb diets, on the other hand, cause testosterone to plummet and cortisol to rise (study). This is important because having higher testosterone can help you build more muscle more leanly, whereas higher cortisol (a stress hormone) can reduce muscle growth, increase fat storage, and suppress our immune system.

Finally, there’s insulin, which is used to shuttle nutrients towards fat storage or muscle gain. Both protein and carbs will stimulate insulin production, meaning that even a ketogenic diet will produce enough insulin to allow for muscle growth. However, eating more carbs will raise insulin production even higher, and in the context of lifting weights and building muscle, that’s a good thing. Higher insulin production will reduce muscle damage and allow for more muscle growth (study, study).

That gives us a laundry list of benefits from a higher intake of carbs:

  • Bigger and fuller muscles
  • You might be able to lift more reps
  • You might have more strength endurance
  • Higher testosterone
  • Higher insulin
  • Lower cortisol
  • Less muscle damage
  • More muscle growth

What’s interesting is that these performance-enhancing and muscle-building benefits of carbohydrates are well known, even in the ketogenic communities. As a result, there are modified versions of the ketogenic diet that are designed for people who are trying to build muscle:

  • Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD): The cyclical ketogenic diet allows people to load up on carbs 1–2 times per week, allowing them to get some of the muscle-building benefits of a higher-carb diet.
  • Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD): The targeted ketogenic diet allows people to eat a small quantity of carbohydrates before working out, allowing them to get some of the performance-enhancing effects of carbohydrates.

These might help mitigate some, or even many, of the downsides of bulking on a low-carb diet. However, they don’t offer any advantages over a diet that’s consistently higher in carbohydrates. They’re simply less bad.

Does keto reduce fat gain while bulking?

Given the paucity of research, it’s hard to say for sure, and the effect might not be large, but you’ll likely gain more fat while bulking on a ketogenic diet.

When you’re in a calorie surplus, your body is presented with extra nutrients. It can do a few things with those nutrients:

  • Carbs can easily be stored as muscle glycogen, improving lifting performance and muscle growth
  • Protein can be burned off as body heat and used to build muscle
  • Fat can easily be stored as body fat

In this situation, the extra carbs and protein are helping you build muscle leanly. The fat, on the other hand, isn’t causing any extra muscle growth, and it’s more likely to be stored as body fat.

To be fair, it’s possible for protein and carbs to transform into fat (de novo lipogenesis). However, this rarely happens to people who exercise. Even when it does, the conversion is so inefficient that only a fraction of the carbs and proteins actually wind up being stored as body fat.

What usually winds up happening when you’re bulking on a higher-carb diet is that you consume some fat (say 20% of your diet) and your body will wind up storing some of it directly as body fat. This means that even on a higher-carb diet, yes, you can gain fat. However, because it’s less abundant, you’ll gain less of it.

Now, the caveat to this is that if you’re eating in a large calorie surplus for a long period of time without working out (without using any of the glycogen in your muscles), then it doesn’t matter as much what your macros are. Both the high-carb and the high-fat diets are going to cause a lot of body-fat gains. That isn’t relevant to us, though.

Bulking on a high-carb diet should yield leaner gains than bulking on a ketogenic diet. But again, given the limited amount of research, it’s hard to say for sure, and the effect may be small enough that it doesn’t matter.

Why would you use keto for bulking?

Ketogaining? Is the Ketogenic diet good for bulking, building muscle, or bodybuillding?

Most people doing keto aren’t interested in bulking up, they’re interested in losing weight. The reason they love keto is that it suppresses their appetite, allowing them to eat until they’re full while still losing weight. In fact, because overweight people have so much energy available in their body fat, they’re often able to build a little bit of muscle even while losing weight.

If you want to build muscle quickly, you need to be in a calorie surplus (study, studystudy), but that’s usually not the top priority for someone who’s overweight. For them, weight loss is usually better, even if it drastically slows down muscle growth.

If you’re a skinny guy who’s trying to bulk up, though, appetite suppression can be a real problem. It’s already hard to eat enough calories while bulking, and ketogenic diets only make that harder.

It’s especially hard to bulk on keto during the first month or two of switching over. Your body won’t be used to digesting so much fat, which can cause indigestion. It’s also common to feel fatigued which is known as the “keto flu.” After adapting to the diet, it becomes a little easier to eat more calories. Even then, though, it can still be hard to bulk on keto.

For example, Menno Henselmans, MSc, is a researcher who loves the ketogenic diet. If he has an overweight client who wants to lose fat while building muscle, he’ll often recommend it. If someone’s goal is to bulk up, though, Henselmans flips his recommendation around. Here’s a quote from an interview he did with Mike Israetel, PhD:

You rarely see people who bulk in ketosis. It’s not because it’s not physiologically possible, it’s because, practically, it really sucks.

Even Dom D’Agostino, PhD, who is famous for promoting the ketogenic diet on The Tim Ferriss Show and The Joe Rogan Experience, doesn’t recommend using keto for bulking. When asked about using the ketogenic diet to gain muscle, he said that it might help men over 40 who struggle to digest carbohydrates, but that it isn’t an optimal bulking diet for the average person.

There are others who are slightly more enthusiastic about it. For example, Nate Martins, an advocate of bulking on keto, wrote:

We’re here to rewrite the narrative that building muscle on keto is impossible. Both science and subjective experiences speak to the ability to maintain, or sometimes gain, muscle mass while on keto.

What I find interesting about that statement is that even though Martins is clearly a fan of the ketogenic diet, when it comes to bulking, he’s setting the bar very low. He’s not saying that bulking on keto is better, easier, or quicker. His claim is simply that it’s sometimes possible to gain muscle mass on a ketogenic diet.

As far as I can tell, nobody is arguing that it’s better to bulk on keto. They’re just arguing that it’s possible to bulk on keto.

There’s no reason to think that they’re wrong. It’s surely possible to bulk on a ketogenic diet… right?

What happens when you bulk on a ketogenic diet?

There’s only one high-quality study investigating what happens when you bulk on a ketogenic diet. The results are interesting. Not surprising, per se, but interesting.

The researchers split the study participants into a ketogenic group and a high-carb group:

  • High-Carb: 25% from fat, ~55% carbs, 2g/kg protein
  • Ketogenic: ~70% fat, less than 10% carbs, 2g/kg protein

Both groups were put on a 4-day/week lifting program. Both groups were put on a high-calorie bulking diet. After eight weeks, here’s what happened:

The study found that high-carb diets produce much more muscle growth than ketogenic diets, but it's not that simple.
  • High Carb: +3 pounds muscle, -1 pound fat
  • Ketogenic: -1 pound muscle, -2 pounds fat

The high-carb group gained a substantial amount of muscle while losing a little bit of fat. That might not seem like much muscle growth in 8 weeks, but these were experienced lifters, so that’s to be expected.

The ketogenic group was more interesting. They lost a little bit of muscle during their 8-week bulk, so the researchers concluded that ketogenic diets weren’t effective for building muscle, even in a calorie surplus. However, there’s a huge flaw here that completely undoes their finding—the ketogenic group wasn’t in a calorie surplus. They weren’t bulking.

It turns out that the ketogenic diet is so effective at getting people into a calorie deficit that even though the keto participants were trying to bulk, they simply weren’t able to. Struggling to eat enough calories to gain weight is a common struggle for hardgainers, but it’s surprising to see a group of regular people unable to gain weight like that.

As a naturally skinny guy who always had trouble eating enough calories to gain weight, this study terrifies me. I had a nightmare last night about opening my cupboard to grab a snack, but instead of finding 500-calorie portions of trail mix, it was packed full of avocados.

Now, there’s always the possibility that a single study could have outlier results, but these findings line up with previous research:

  • A case study found that after switching to a ketogenic diet, four out of the five lifters started losing weight and stopped gaining muscle mass. One of the researchers, Eric Helms, PhD, commented that “if your goal is to put on muscle mass, it’s probably best to have some level of carbohydrate in your diet.” Based on his review of the research, he recommends a bare minimum of one gram of carbs per pound bodyweight per day.
  • In a study on CrossFitters, the control group gained weight and gained muscle mass, whereas the ketogenic group lost weight and lost muscle.
  • A couple of other studies found that when strength athletes switched to a ketogenic diet, they lost weight and stopped being able to gain any muscle mass.

So far, so bad. All five of these studies show participants failing in their efforts to bulk up while eating a ketogenic diet. They were lifting weights, eating enough protein, and trying to build muscle, but they couldn’t.

However, these studies just show that ketogenic diets suppress appetite. Since none of the participants were able to gain weight, we don’t actually know what happens in a calorie surplus… which is where the controversy begins.

What About the Other Keto Bulking Study

Since we’re talking about bulking on a ketogenic diet, we should probably mention the elephant in the room. There’s an oft-cited sorta-study showing that it can produce rapid muscle growth with simultaneous fat loss.

In this study, the researchers split the participants into two groups:

  • High-Carb: 25% from fat, 55% carbs, 20% protein
  • Ketogenic: 75% fat,  5% carbs, 20% protein

After 11 weeks of doing a 3-day/week lifting program, their results were:

  • High-Carb: +4.8 pounds of muscle, -3.3 pounds of fat
  • Ketogenic: +9.5 pounds of muscle, -4.8 pounds of fat

Now, that might seem like a lot of muscle growth, and it absolutely is, but that alone doesn’t make this study suspect. As we covered in our newbie gains article, there are plenty of studies showing tremendous amounts of muscle growth, especially in untrained lifters:

  • This study on beginners found that guys were able to gain 9 pounds of muscle during their first 8 weeks of working out.
  • In this study, a group of untrained beginners were able to gain an average of 12 pounds of muscle during their first 10 weeks of working out.
  • In another study, beginners were able to gain 15 pounds of muscle during their first 12 weeks of lifting weights.

These three studies all show high rates of muscle growth in guys who lift weights, eat in a calorie surplus, and eat enough protein. It’s not that unreasonable to assume that guys aggressively bulking on a ketogenic diet could get similar rates of muscle growth.

However, this study was conducted on experienced lifters, who tend to build muscle much more slowly. Moreover, the ketogenic diet outperformed the traditional bulking diet by a large margin, which is the opposite of what we’d expect.

Is this what happens when keto lifters are able to get into a calorie surplus? Do they really gain muscle twice as quickly?

Well, we don’t really know for sure, but probably not. The reason I call this a sorta-study is that it isn’t a study, per se, it’s a research poster. It’s a one-page summary of a study that doesn’t seem to be available anymore.

Perhaps relevantly, this is the same research group that published a controversial study on HMB, showing that it produced more muscle growth than high doses of steroids. That study attracted quite a lot of scrutiny as well, and the results couldn’t be replicated by other researchers (study).

Anyway, to figure out what to make of this research, I reached out to Brad Dieter, PhD, a researcher who’s written about the ketogenic diet. He told me:

The literature surrounding ketogenic diets and muscle growth is still nascent and has methodological issues that prevent us from drawing any real meaningful conclusions. Currently, from my perspective, there isn’t much data one can use to suggest it is superior to other approaches or to show it is not inferior to other approaches

So there’s not a lot that we can do with this one study unless other teams of researchers start getting similar findings, which at this point seems unlikely.

How to Bulk On a Ketogenic Diet

 The ketogenic diet is so effective at suppressing appetite that it can make bulking quite difficult. Furthermore, there are no known advantages to using keto for building muscle.

However, there are other reasons why someone might want to follow a ketogenic diet, such as having trouble digesting carbs, and it’s certainly physiologically possible to build muscle while doing it.

Here’s how to bulk on a ketogenic diet:

  • Follow a good bulking program: Ketogenic diets are commonly paired with strength training but remember that strength training isn’t designed to stimulate muscle growth. If you’re trying to bulk up, choose a hypertrophy program instead. You’ll build muscle more quickly and leanly.
  • Eat enough calories to gain weight: for a beginner, we usually recommend gaining about a pound every week, which means eating around 500 extra calories each day (which is usually a total of around 18–22 calories per pound body weight per day). If a week goes by and you don’t gain weight, add another 200 daily calories. Adjusting every week will allow you to keep gaining weight even as your metabolism adapts to your bulking diet. For more experienced lifters, gaining 0.5 pounds per week usually works better.
  • Eat enough protein (0.8g/lb/day): eating around 0.8 grams of protein per day should allow you to build muscle at a maximal pace while having no trouble staying in ketosis. This is usually pretty easy while on a ketogenic diet, and most guys doing keto naturally eat enough protein for muscle growth.
  • Eat mostly whole foods: on a ketogenic diet, this is going to mean eating lots of unprocessed meat, dairy, eggs, nuts, avocados, oils, and fibrous veggies. Avoid processed meats. Watch out for letting your saturated fat intake rise much higher than 10% of your total calories, especially if it’s coming from processed foods.
  • Eat a diet that’s easy on the appetite and easy to digest: You might want to lean towards ground meat, which is easier to chew and digest, making it easier to get into a calorie surplus. You’ll also want to drizzle your salads with plenty of olive oil, adding a ton of nutritious fat calories to an otherwise low-calorie part of your meals. If that’s not enough to get you into a calorie surplus, you may even want to sip (or shoot) olive oil.
  • Get enough quality sleep: you’ll want 7.5–9 hours of good quality sleep each night. That might not always be possible, but the more sleep you can get, the more quickly and leanly you’ll build muscle.

The main challenge of bulking on a ketogenic diet will be eating enough calories to gain weight. However, there are ways around that, and that just so happens to be our specialty. Here’s our guide for how to eat more calories. It’s not specific to the ketogenic diet, but all the same principles still apply.

During my final bulk, gaining my final 15 pounds, I ate a ton of ground beef, drank a bunch of raw eggs, and took a shot of extra-virgin olive oil every night. It wasn’t my favourite way to eat, and nowadays I rely on trail mix and smoothies instead, but those couple little tricks made it much easier to get into a calorie surplus.

Although the ketogenic diet probably isn’t ideal for building muscle, with some cleverness, you should still be able to bulk up with it.

About Shane Duquette

Shane Duquette, BDes, is a writer and illustrator with a degree in design from York University. He co-founded Bony to Beastly and Bony to Bombshell, where he specializes in helping skinny people bulk up.More about Shane here.

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32 Comments

  1. ricky may on August 13, 2019 at 12:16 pm

    love this! I am a BIG fan of the ketogenic diet and have been on it since March and it has been absolutely amazing for my chronic stomach issues. That being said though, it is SOOOO difficult to try and bulk on.

    Also, I think that in general the keto diet is very difficult to sustain (more meal-prepping, more cooking, and less readily available options) and do not recommend it to anyone who doesn’t need or want to try it.

    Again, I LOVE keto, and I also FULLY agree with this article, haha.

    • Shane Duquette on August 13, 2019 at 12:27 pm

      Woot, glad you dug it! I was thinking of your email while writing this.

      Have you noticed bulking getting any easier now that you’ve spent a couple months adapting to keto? That’s something these studies don’t really investigate—how hard it is to bulk on a ketogenic diet for someone who’s ALREADY adapted to keto.

      • Ricky May on August 13, 2019 at 12:34 pm

        Yes, I definitely took the first month and some change off before even starting to lift (was doing some bodyweight stuff, but that’s about it) to give my body time to adjust. I didn’t really experience any keto flu besides a headache the first two days, but I still realized that I was asking my body to switch to a completely new fuel system. But ALSO, I was just overjoyed to be able to bulk again, because I hadn’t been able to at all due to stomach issues. Again though, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who can avoid it haha

  2. Rick J on August 13, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    I am doing keto for health reasons as part of the carnivore diet. I gain slightly more easily, and I have slightly less bloating. I have less DOMs. Other than that, it really seems to come down to calories, protein, and digestion.

    Here’s a few observations on why keto may get bigger in the bodybuilding world:

    First, there is a history of guys gaining on ketogenic diets in the golden age, such as Vince Gironda’s steak and eggs diet with a weekly carb refeed (cyclical ketogenic diet).

    Second, there is the keto bodybuilding world, with people like Luis Villasenor of KetoGains. They point out research showing that glycogen can be refilled on keto.

    Third, there is the rise of the carnivore diet, which is mildly ketogenic. The carnivore diet is zero carb, which means that the 5-10% carbs in normal keto can be eaten as protein. So typical carnivore macros may be 25-30% protein, and 70-75% fat.

    Look at carnivore monster Dr. Shawn Baker, for example (world champion indoor rower, deadlifts 405×50 at age 52). He eats 4 lbs of ribeye steak a day, and that’s it. This is a very different diet from avocados, coconut oil, and salmon at a deficit. And ribeye is going to be way more palatable than swigging olive oil, which is legit gross. Any guy who eats 4 lbs of ribeye a day is going to gain, the question is whether that is feasible.

    Another factor is the question of digestion and satiation. This article points out cases where people end up losing weight (or failing to gain) on keto due to difficulty getting into a surplus. I acknowledge that this happens, but it can also play out the other way around. Some people get digestive problems due to fermentation of carbs, similar to the known issues with fiber. So if you take a guy with SIBO or candida yeast—which feed on carbs—then going keto or zero-carb carnivore might help them eat more, due to reduced gas and bloating. Not everyone is built for 55% carbs. In the endurance world, there is an epidemic of athletes getting prediabetes from their carb intake, and having to go keto, like Peter Attia.

    Of course, there is going to be an adaptation period for digestion on keto, during which time digestion may be lousy, and there are some people who never get through this due to problems with fat digestion. But since many of these studies aren’t long-term, so it’s possible that some of these people eating ketogenic diets would be able to eat more once they are better adapted.

    I will also posit that it’s easier to eat more on keto when you are closer to a carnivore protocol, eating only 70-75% fat. When you get closer to 80% fat, fat digestion gets tougher. Also, concentrated fat sources (aka “fat bombs”), olive oil shots, MCT or coconut oil, can cause some people digestive issues or nausea. If you get your fat from fatty cuts of meat and eggs, then you don’t have to add extra fat, which gives your digestion a break.

    Another advantage of meat-heavy keto is that red meat, eggs, and liver are packed with micronutrients like B-vitamins, folate, choline, zinc, creatine, and carnitine. You could of course eat these things on a mixed diet, of course, and not all of the mainstream keto world emphasizes red meat and eggs. But in meat-based keto, you have room for a lot more of these foods.

    In summary, there are versions of keto like the carnivore diet that are a bit higher in protein and lower in fat bombs, which may be better positioned for hypercaloric eating than traditional keto. And which might be more digestible for someone who has problems with carbs. Hopefully future research takes a look at the higher protein, hypercaloric, carnivorous versions of keto so we can see how it performs.

    • Shane Duquette on August 13, 2019 at 6:54 pm

      Hey Rick, I love your comment. This is exactly the kind of response I was hoping for, and you bring up a lot of great points. Overall I agree with you, but I still want to go through them one by one.

      First, I totally understand how some people don’t digest carbs well. If eating a ketogenic diet allows someone to digest more food more easily, then the main bulking disadvantage of keto becomes an advantage. It completely flips things around. So for you and Ricky May, keto might indeed be the better bulking diet. However, I think the majority of people—especially naturally skinny guys—tend to handle higher-carb diets better than ketogenic diets.

      (And to be clear, when I say “higher-carb diets,” I’m not talking about extremely high-carb or high-sugar diets. I mean carbs intakes in the 50–60% range, which is the carb intake that most health experts recommend and that most of the healthiest cultures in the world eat. Different people respond to food differently, and there are certainly exceptions, but for the average person, this lines up pretty closely with what’s considered an optimally healthy diet.)

      We’ve got guys like Vince Gironda, Luis Villaseñor, and Dr Shawn Baker who prove that it’s possible to build an incredible amount of muscle and strength on a ketogenic diet. However, if we’re looking at the history of bodybuilding, I think they’re the exceptions that prove the rule. Almost all bodybuilders build their muscle on higher-carb diets.

      I totally agree that glycogen can be refilled on a ketogenic diet. Plus, even long bodybuilding workouts won’t fully deplete muscle glycogen to begin with. There’s little risk of ever running out of glycogen. However, with a lower carb intake, overall glycogen levels will be lower (study). There’s research showing that having higher levels of glycogen in your muscles allows for more muscle growth, so there’d still be a (rather small) disadvantage.

      Meat tends to be quite filling per calorie, especially when compared against something like olive oil, but I definitely hear ya that it’s more palatable. Still, when midnight rolled around and I realized I was still behind on calories, I wasn’t turning to meat, I was cracking some eggs into a glass or pouring myself a shot of olive oil. The carnivore diet wouldn’t include the giant salads that most keto diets include, though, right? That’d certainly make it quite a bit easier to get into a calorie surplus.

      You’re bringing up some really interesting points about digestion. I’ve taken shots of olive oil while bulking, but I’ve never had enough of my calories coming from fat to notice differences in digestion based on where the fat is coming from or what it’s mixed with. I could see those details becoming incredibly important for someone bulking on a ketogenic diet, which is one of the reasons I love your comment so much.

      There isn’t much research looking into bulking on keto, and you’re right—it could be that there are variations of the ketogenic diet that make it easier to get into a caloric surplus and that mitigate the downsides (most of which are fairly minor anyway).

      My general approach is to help people build muscle using the diet that suits them best. We have our keto members bulking up right alongside our vegan members. Are those diets better than traditional bodybuilding diets? Probably not, but the downsides are fairly minor. They can still be great for building muscle if the more important principles are in place: a good workout program, enough calories, enough protein, enough sleep, etc.

      • ricky may on August 14, 2019 at 11:08 am

        I’m with Shane on this one 100%! I love keto because it HELPS me bulk–but if I were able to digest carbs more easily, it would be cheaper, easier, and less stressful to bulk with them. So I still strongly recommend not doing keto if you don’t have to haha

      • Rick J on August 15, 2019 at 11:35 pm

        Shane, thanks for the nuanced response. What I appreciate is that while being skeptical, you are giving keto its due for particular cases (in contrast to the blanket “you can’t build muscle without carbs”-tier debate on a lot of the net). I agree that the evidence available now in favor of keto isn’t stunning enough to overturn conventional bodybuilding wisdom.

        So I’m going out on a limb a bit by predicting that the potential of keto—especially hypercaloric meat-heavy, protein-heavy versions—hasn’t really been captured yet in the research, nor in everyday bodybuilding practice. This is based on my own experiences and some results I’ve seen from people gaining in the carnivore sphere. I can’t be certain that these results will pan out in a larger population, but I’m hoping they will.

        There is an episode of Human Performance Outliers with Shawn Baker where Zach Bitter (world-class ultramarathoner) points out that the endurance world is so high-carb that if you aren’t carb tolerant, you wash out. Consequently, there could be a bunch of guys who would have been successful runners on a more low-carb regimen, but this is never discovered because they can’t tolerate the training diet. There is now a big shift in endurance running towards keto. Could the happen in the lifting world? Probably not to the same degree, because keto shines the most in aerobic sports. But we could have another cases where some people just can’t handle the conventional training diet for whatever reason and would do better with a low-carb approach. And from a fat-loss perspective, keto is going to make headway in bodybuilding, especially for contest prep (an approach used in the 60s and then forgotten).

        For another dimension, there’s a way to look at bodybuilding history in which the high-carb approach is more of a historical accident rather than a triumph of a superior method. The Weston A Price Foundation has an article about the history of bodybuilding nutrition. The way they tell the story, bodybuilding used to be lower carb, but carb-loading become more popular at the same time as protein powders and steroids. And of course, juicy lifters could gain on carbs just fine. Could it be possible that carbs and protein powders got a popularity boost due to the association with gear, and that they were never actually proven superior to Gironda’s steak and eggs? Or Armand Tanny’s raw ground beef and shellfish?

        Once the whole bodybuilder world moved into 50%+ carb macros, then there was no longer anyone testing the alternatives, which might be premature. And the few people who are doing keto or carnivore tend to be sick, so they aren’t well positioned to be poster boys. To get a star, you really need a large population of healthy guys with good genetics testing a diet, and right now, this isn’t happening for low-carb bodybuilding—which means that keto or carnivore might be being underestimated currently. I guess we’ll find out. Once more people try it, then we will see if the results of Gironda, Tanny, Shawn Baker, etc… are replicable. And we will get a better sense of what sort of person thrives on a low-carb vs high-carb diet.

        • Shane Duquette on August 18, 2019 at 11:52 am

          I totally agree. Lots of people are proving that it’s possible to gain a ton of muscle and strength on a ketogenic diet, and I think once more people try it, and once more research comes out, we’ll have a much better idea of how it impacts muscle growth.

          It’d be interesting to see more research on the cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD) and targeted ketogenic diet (TKD) as well.

  3. Killerdone on August 13, 2019 at 3:28 pm

    Is it true? I need weight mass to turn it to muscle and i cant gain muscle without mass?

    • Shane Duquette on August 13, 2019 at 3:35 pm

      I’m not sure I’m understanding your question. Some people can build muscle without gaining weight by losing fat while simultaneously gaining muscle. It’s possible, but mostly in overweight beginners, and even then it’s slow and unreliable.

      If you’re a skinny guy who’s trying to gain a substantial of muscle or if you’re trying to build muscle quickly, then you’ll want to be in a calorie surplus. That’s the only way to grow bigger.

      Calories are incredibly important for building muscle. Lifting weights is priority #1, calories are priority #2, and then there’s protein at a distant #3.

      • Killerdone on August 13, 2019 at 4:00 pm

        I mean they said that I am too skinny to gain muscle and I need to just eat more junk foods, cookies and candies in order to gain weight or body mass then once I gained that weight then I can workout and turn that weight to muscle.

        Ik but my siblings and parents say that I am too skinny to workout and I gotta just eat more to gain mass In order to workout to turn that mass to muscle.

        • Shane Duquette on August 13, 2019 at 6:00 pm

          This doesn’t really have much to do with bulking on a ketogenic diet, but let me try to answer this.

          If you’re overweight, will that extra fat make it easier to gain muscle? In a way, kinda, sorta, yeah. Overweight people are often able to build muscle even while losing weight—even without being in a calorie surplus. Plus, simply overeating will cause people to gain some lean mass.

          However, in order to become overweight, you need to eat in a calorie surplus anyway. So why not just try to gain muscle leanly while you’re in that surplus, you know? Eat a good bulking diet, follow a good lifting program, and focus on building muscle as you gain weight. It’s a more direct path. It will be much quicker and easier.

          So the idea that fat can be turned into muscle (or that muscle turns into fat) doesn’t really make a lot of sense. However, your family is correct that if you want to build muscle, you do need to eat more calories. That’s WAY easier said than done, though, especially for us naturally skinny “ectomorphs.” I think you’ll like our article about why it’s so hard for ectomorphs to gain weight and our article about how to eat more calories 🙂

  4. Paul on August 14, 2019 at 7:39 am

    From a bodybuilding / hypertrophy standpoint, I understand that carbs are probably the best source of energy to fuel workouts .I am no medicale or nutrition expert, but as I understand it, all forms of carbs basically get converted to glucose (blood sugar) by the body. Now from an overall long term health perspective,the Keto diet is probably the best, as sugars are more often than not the cause of a plethora of illnesses,ailments and diseases. Do you want more muscle or total overall long term health and are you going to eat more carbs to gain muscle quicker and maybe compromise long term health? Or are you prepared to wait a little longer to gain muscle on a Keto diet and possibly have better overall long term health? I guess at the end of they day it’s your choice. And I don’t know if it is that simple and maybe I am totally wrong about my assumption. What do you guys at Bony 2 Beastly reckon? I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. Cheers. Paul

    • Shane Duquette on August 14, 2019 at 9:30 am

      Hey Paul, my area of expertise is strictly focused on muscle growth, and I’m hesitant to comment on general health issues, but the consensus from experts on general health seems to line up pretty closely with a traditional bulking diet, with around half of calories coming from whole-food carbs (fruits, veggies, grains, legumes, and so on).

      Marcelo Campus, MD, writing for Harvard, said the following when asked if the ketogenic diet was best for general health: “A balanced, unprocessed diet, rich in very colorful fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish, whole grains, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and lots of water seems to have the best evidence for a long, healthier, vibrant life.”

      If we look at the “blue zone” cultures of the world, which are known for having the best health and longevity (study), we also see carb intakes at around 50% of total calories. For example, in the Mediterranean diet, 40–50% of calories come from carbohydrates, and in the Okinawan diet, over 58% of calories come from carbs (study). These carbs tend to come from vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.

      It’s certainly possible that it’s also healthy to bulk up on a ketogenic diet. I’m not sure we have much evidence one way or the other, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all. However, eating a higher carb diet made up mostly of whole foods is generally considered the healthiest way to eat by most experts, at least for the average person. I suspect this remains true even while bulking.

      • Ricky May on August 19, 2019 at 2:27 pm

        listening to the JRE podcast with Dom Dagostino and Layne Norton helped me a lot with this: it seems like a healthy whole foods diet you can stick to with a minor caloric deficit seems to be the healthiet diet there is, vs. any type of “____ is the best for longevity” type argument. Check it out! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u93oh9kC-rU

  5. Killerdone on August 14, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    Shane you know the NBA player named Steph Curry is same height and weight as you? He is 6’2 without shoes and 190 lbs and he is 6’3 with shoes.

  6. […] Update: We’ve got a full article about whether the ketogenic diet is good for bulking. It includes this new study along with every other study on how keto affects muscle […]

  7. Sam on August 15, 2019 at 5:43 pm

    “Genius Foods” by Max Lugavere is an amazing book thats been published quite recently and talks about the different effects carbs vs. fats have on your body. Having sugar/carbs in your bloodstream essentially ages you much faster than fats/ketones. Ketones are a much more efficient energy source for your brain and body and your cells will age slower using ketones.

    HOWEVER, if you are about to/have just exercised, then the carbs/sugar in your blood will draw straight to your muscles anyway, so that’s all fine! Consuming large amounts of fat after a workout though??? Surely not the most efficient way to refuel the muscles!?

    So I actually think the answer is to meet somewhere in the middle for most people.
    And its also about TIMING. I have the bulk of my carbs before and after my workouts, then consume most of my fats the rest of the day for example.

    I have more of a 20/35/45 split for protein/fats/carbs. I get PLENTY of carbs around my workouts and a little more for the rest of the day. Ill eat lower fat meals around the workout and higher fat meals any other time.
    So guess what, on my days off, i actually decrease my carbs and increase my fats, because the muscles are already full… so let your body get more ketones on those days…

    I really dont think even an ectomorph needs 60%+ of his calories from carbs!! The muscles glycogen levels will be overflowing lol! Its overkill surely? But i think 10% is too low. Even if you ate that 10% around your workouts, it seems too restricting/extreme, and wont make your meals enjoyable.
    But 35-45% carbs is a nicer balance provided they are eaten around the workouts and the fats are consumed more in your other meals. Having slightly lower carb intake also allows you to eat more olive oil, nuts and seeds, avocados, which are all SO healthy and calorific, great for ectomorphs with small appetites. I put 2tbsp olive oil in my protein shakes and cant even taste it… 240 healthy kcal added no problem by doing it. I can eat dark chocolate and cashew nuts all night without getting full! Whereas carbs carbs carbs USUALLY means less micronutrients… unless you eat loads of veg alongside them, but vegetables are so filling and we ectomorphs cant handle much of them per meal.

    Balance and timing… best of both worlds.

    Examlle workout day:

    Meal 1
    P/C/F
    25/60/15
    563kcal

    Leg Workout

    Meal 2
    P/C/F
    16/64/20
    813kcal

    Meal 3
    P/C/F
    13/45/42
    850

    Meal 4
    P/C/F
    24/10/66
    640

    This way you get those nightime ketones, and morning carb-fueled workouts.
    Works for me! Any thoughts??
    Maybe ive missed a trick somewhere.
    Ive sort of based this around the research shown in the book Genius Foods.

  8. Killerdone on August 18, 2019 at 10:27 am

    They say counting calories is only for people who is trying to lose weight and are on a diet. And also they said trail mix is for fat people on a diet.

    • Shane Duquette on August 18, 2019 at 11:49 am

      I don’t know who they are or why they’re saying that, but it sounds to me like they’re wrong.

  9. Killerdone on August 19, 2019 at 6:18 pm

    How can I gain weight with a high metabolism?

    • Ricky May on August 20, 2019 at 10:33 am

      dude. for the love. just do bony2beastly. these guys are pros who have done it themselves and have helped thousands of guys like you and me do it. I have a high metabolism, I was skinny as a skeleton when I started, I had very little muscle or fat, and I still gained over 20 pounds on this program. Just friggin do it. invest a few bucks and follow the program and you are GUARANTEED to see gains. And stop listening to your family who probably knows nothing about weightlifting lol

  10. Hoi on August 20, 2019 at 9:54 am

    Interesting. Glad you got the body you wanted, but I’m giving up. Too much work and expense — no visible reward. Not really a narcissist or into kids.

    Best!

    • Ricky May on August 20, 2019 at 10:35 am

      Hi Hoi,
      I strongly suggest you don’t give up. It’s so much fun being stronger and fitter, and looking stronger and fitter too. Also, this is NOT a program that will make you a narcissist. And to be honest, that sounds like a cop out/excuse you’re telling yourself so you don’t have to challenge yourself. Just do the friggin program man, it’s awesome

    • Shane Duquette on August 20, 2019 at 12:56 pm

      I know lifting is a great way to improve your appearance, but that doesn’t mean that it’s only for narcissists. Just because something makes you look better doesn’t mean that it ONLY makes you look better. Lifting’s also great for your health, strength, energy levels, brain, longevity, and so on.

  11. […] with weight loss (study). This is the same problem that we see with intermittent fasting and ketogenic diets. People tend to lose weight when they restrict food groups. And obviously, as skinny guys who are […]

  12. […] Where the ketogenic diet truly shines is in its ability to suppress appetite (meta-analysis). If you’re an endomorph with a naturally larger appetite and stomach, this can make it easier to get into a calorie deficit, and thus help you lose weight. Since the ketogenic diet also tends to have a higher-than-average protein intake, this can also help with muscle retention. (Although, to be clear, the ketogenic diet isn’t ideal for building muscle.) […]

  13. Ectomorph Bulking Diet: How to Eat More Calories on August 29, 2019 at 11:18 am

    […] same is true with the ketogenic diet, which makes it almost impossible to bulk up. In theory, it’s possible to bulk up on a ketogenic diet, but when researchers tried to study […]

  14. What's the Best Type of Lifting for Skinny Guys? on September 5, 2019 at 3:18 pm

    […] if we train for strength, perhaps some muscle growth will come along as a byproduct. The same can be said with general […]

  15. […] If we stop eating carbs, though—either by fasting, starving, or eating a very-low-carb diet—then we can no longer use sugar as our default fuel source. That would cause us to undergo a process called ketosis, which allows us to use fat as our main source of fuel. This is the foundation of the ketogenic diet. However, so far research is showing that the ketogenic diet isn’t very good for bulking. […]

  16. […] Eating too much saturated fat: If you’re bulking on a diet that’s high in saturated fat, you’ll gain less muscle, more fat, and more visceral fat, which is the worst kind of fat to gain (study). To be clear, eating some saturated fat is healthy. It helps you produce testosterone and it can help with muscle growth. But when you’re adding calories into your diet to bulk up, it’s better to get most of your fat from sources like nuts, olive oil, fatty fish, and fish oil. (Speaking of which, we have an article on the ketogenic diet.) […]

  17. […] Flatness. If you eat a bunch of carbs, your muscles are going to swell up with glycogen. This is especially true if you’re in the habit of lifting weights, and also if you’re a male. When you get out of the habit of lifting weights or eating a carb-filled diet, your muscles won’t hold onto as much glycogen, and they’ll deflate a little. Bodybuilders call this looking “flat.” (This is also why some people start to look smaller when they start eating a ketogenic diet.) […]

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