How the Keto Diet and Exercise Work to Build Muscles Without the Carbs

It is an incredibly common misconception that the keto diet makes it impossible to exercise, especially when it comes to strength training or any activity designed to build muscle. This is far from the truth. The Keto diet and exercise go hand and hand and make for an ideal combination for weight loss.

Admittedly, the keto diet does make some kinds of exercises, especially muscle-building ones, a little more complicated – but not by much, and certainly not more than other diets require. Just like with any other diet switch, starting the keto diet means taking into consideration the kinds of exercise you do, how your diet will affect them, and making adjustments where necessary.

To start off, let’s crack open a few myths about the keto diet and exercising so that we’re on the same page about what to expect.

Myth 1: You can’t build muscle without carbs

This is probably the most common myth you here circulating the Internet, but it just isn’t true. You absolutely do not need to eat carbs in order to build muscle. It just isn’t necessary! Muscle is built in three steps, all of which are achievable on a keto diet and does not require any carbs at all.

The first step to muscle building is consuming enough protein. If you’re working to build extra mass and muscle, simply calculate your macros and eat the amount of protein that the figures suggest. You should be consuming 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass that you have.

The second step is consuming extra calories. In order to build muscle, you need a calorie surplus; in other words, you should be eating more than you need. You might think that this is where carbs come in, or where you need to take more protein than the keto diet recommends. Not so! On a keto diet, these extra calories come from fats. This keeps you in ketosis and helps you build muscle, all at once.

The third and final step is proper training. With professional help, or by training in the correct manner, you will induce hypertrophy in the muscles of your body, which builds them up. Obviously, no carbs are needed for this step: just hard work at the gym!


What Do Carbs Do?

You may be wondering: then, do carbs do nothing for muscles at all? Actually, carbs are great for building muscle. Consuming carbs prompts insulin production, which helps to restore glycogen to the muscles and helps build them. But you don’t need to eat carbs to build muscle by a long shot, especially since eating carbs to build muscle also makes you gain fat. Here you can see how the keto diet and exercise work well together to build muscle.

When your body is in ketosis, it doesn’t use glucose or glycogen for energy – it uses ketones from your fat stores. This means that while you’re on the keto diet, you pretty much don’t need carbs to build muscle at all. Any glucose your body does need will be easily taken from the protein you consume.

If you’ve just switched from a normal diet or are getting ready to start the keto diet and have questions, you may notice or think that you’re building mass slower, but this is only because you’re only building lean mass instead of both muscle mass and mass from fat. So all in all, carbs aren’t necessary at all for muscle building.

Myth 2: A Keto Diet will Ruin Physical Performance

Some people believe that a keto diet causes a sharp decline in physical performance, making you weaker, decreasing your stamina, and all around just ruining your exercise game. Once again, this is not true at all.

Numerous professional athletes have tried and tested the keto diet, eat keto diet foods, and found good results with it. In fact, studies have proven that athletes of all kinds – from cyclists, to long distance runners, to marathon finishers, to those who do high intensity cardio – don’t see any negative effects on their performance and endurance once they’ve entered ketosis.

The misconception that being on keto makes you weaker is likely due to the adaptation period your body will experience when you switch to a keto diet. For about two weeks, your body will be taking time to get used to running on fats, and in that period, the lack of glucose in your body will make you feel tired and a lot weaker than usual.

This is a necessary sacrifice to getting your body into optimal shape. As soon as your body adapts to being in ketosis and using fats as energy, you will immediately begin to feel stronger, more focused, and more energized.

Still not convinced? A low carb keto diet has been proven to have little effect on the overall physical performance of well trained athletes. The only difference is a decrease in body fat and some extra weight loss, while muscle mass is either the same or improved, and overall strength sees no negative change.

With that being said, exercises that requires explosive action can be negatively affected by a keto diet. However, you can avoid feeling weak during this kind of exercise by loading up on 25 to 50g of carbs about half an hour before you need to perform explosive exercises. This will provide your muscles with instant energy that they can burn easily, but it won’t affect your state of ketosis at all.

Now that we’ve gotten the myths out of the way, let’s talk about what kinds of exercises best complement a keto diet. Pretty much any kind of exercise can work well with a keto diet, as long as you’ve given your body the time it needs to adjust to burning ketones instead of carbs.

Four Common Exercise to Try on a Ketogenic Diet.

1. Aerobic exercise

This refers specifically to cardio exercise and has to do with steady, consistent cardio training at a low intensity for a period of three minutes and above. Cardio is a fantastic way to burn fat and lose weight, which is what makes it a great companion for the keto diet, and being in ketosis can actually help you lose more weight during cardio.

However, keep in mind that while weight loss may be your goal, overdoing aerobic exercise is never a good thing. Doing too much at once can also bring stress and negative moods as is raises cortisol production. Cortisol is a stress hormone that causes visceral fat storage in the stomach area.

While an occasional overdone cardio session can still be okay, doing this too often can cause cortisol levels to be higher in the long term, which can result in leptin resistance – and without good leptin sensitivity, your body loses its appetite control and will make you feel hungry even when you don’t need more food.

Prolonged cardio sessions that last for very long periods of training are actually more likely to have very little effects on overall fat loss. As with everything else in life, aerobic exercises need to be done in moderation. Don’t knock yourself out, be consistent, know your body’s limits, and the keto diet will reward you.

2. Anaerobic exercise.

Anaerobic exercise refers to explosive training at a high intensity, meaning you will need short bursts of high amounts of energy at once during this kind of exercise. Examples of exercises in this category are High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and weight training.

This sort of workout requires glucose in order to fuel your muscles to be able to do explosive, powerful moves in quick bursts. Fat and ketones will not provide you with all the energy that you need for these workouts. This is why not many people who are on the keto diet choose to do anaerobic exercises.

But if you prefer doing high intensity exercises, all is not lost. In fact, there’s no problem at all! You just have to carb up 30 minutes before your workout with 25-50g of carbs to provide your muscles with the extra energy it needs. Don’t worry, this will not affect your body’s state of ketosis, as your muscles and body will be quickly using and burning all that extra glucose and glycogen for fuel, so after your workout, you’ll be back on ketones again.

If you’re weight training without a professional training, focus on major muscle groups – you have four of them – and never neglect leg day, or squats! A keto diet is actually great for those who are weight training as it promotes muscle sparing, which allows your muscle mass to be preserved and for you to continue to build lean body mass.

What is High Intensity Interval Training?

Many keto dieters shy away from anaerobic exercises, especially HIIT, because they are worried about needing to increase their carb intake. The fact is that HIIT has been proven to be one of the best kinds of exercises for weight loss and fat blasting.

In addition, HIIT can actually make you feel less hungry, despite the powerful calorie-busting moves that you’re pulling! Don’t be afraid of carb loading before exercises; trust us when we say all those carbs will be long gone by the time the workout is over. Just adjust your intake depending on the length and intensity of your workouts.

3. Flexibility exercises.

This refers to exercises that are designed for joint support, improving flexibility, and giving your muscles a good stretch. The most common form of flexibility exercise is yoga, but even simple pre- and post-workout stretches count under this area. These are great options for those on a keto diet who don’t like strenuous exercise but want to get moving, as you don’t have to concern yourself with any hazards here, as long you do them in moderation.

4. Stability exercises.

These refer to exercises that help improve your balance, alignment, and muscle strength. They may also often involve core training. Like flexibility exercises, these can be done freely without worry, as long as you don’t overdo it; as a rule, no exercise should ever be overdone.

You might be thinking that since the keto diet already causes you to lose weight, there is no need for you to exercise at all. On one hand, if your only goal is weight loss and body fat loss, sure, this is a doable option. But keep in mind that, depending on how your body works, simply staying in a state of ketosis without working out can lead to muscle mass loss, too.

Not exercising while on the keto diet is also a really big waste of a lot of potential, as there are plenty of benefits to working out while in ketosis. Studies have proven that a low carb diet can actually help you burn off up to three times more fat when exercising when compared to those on a normal diet.

A keto diet and exercise is also likely to help your body better maintain its blood glucose levels during exercise, ensuring that you always have more than enough energy to get you through your work out. On top of all that, when doing aerobic exercise, a keto diet can help you work out for much longer than usual without feeling tired.

What about exercise goals?

It’s more than okay to be ambitious in your expectations, but remember to be realistic, too. Pushing yourself too hard to reach goals that aren’t possible is not going to end well for anyone. Include rest days in your weekly workout plan, and unless you train for professional purposes, there is no need to work out every single day. Very light exercise done most days a week coupled with more intense workouts three times weekly is a great schedule to stick by.

Your weight loss goals should also be realistic. Your aims should not exceed 2 pounds per week, and you should not be giving yourself more than a 500kcal deficit. Moderate calorie deficits are the best option for promising long term results. On a keto diet, you will naturally be eating less due to how filling your meals are and how much fat you have in your body that can be used for energy. Don’t worry too much about the number of the scale and focus more on your overall health and well being.

At the end of the day, you know what you want for your health, and you know your body better than anyone else. Make the keto diet and exercise work for your and be sure your decisions are based on what you know!

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