The number of people using a ketogenic diet to not just lose weight but to gain muscle is growing significantly. Most athletes can benefit from the added endurance, mental clarity and the possibility of increasing strength and muscle mass without adding fat, thus reducing the need of a last minute strict diet to stay under their category weight.
But the ketogenic diet is increasingly used by a number of amateur bodybuilders, but also by some higher level contestants who decide to use keto during some phases of their preparation.
If your goal isn’t to win the Mister Olympia, and you simply want to bulk up muscles instead of fat, staying in great shape all year round, keto is the way to go, but there are some mistakes that could prevent you from obtaining the best results.
1. YOU DON’T EAT NOT ENOUGH PROTEINS
Proteins are the basic element from which muscles are built. Bodybuilders know it, but many in the keto and low carb community still have an unmotivated fear that an excess of proteins could kick you out of ketosis. It’s not true and clearly debunked by many researches, and yet many keto groups are pushing a low protein philosophy that can do a lot of harm, not just to your muscles.
Particularly women are afraid of eating protein, with many barely eating enough to satisfy the normal maintenance needs. While 1.5 to 2 grams per kg of your ideal weight is enough to stay in good health, if you want to gain muscle it’s better to stay in the range of 2 to 2.5 grams, with many obtaining the best results with 3 or plus grams per kg a day.
Giovanni Cianti, an Italian researcher that developed the amino tank theory, believe that the excess of protein is naturally stored into muscles (protein accumulation), even in the absence of a physical stimulus. Also keep in mind that many proteins haven’t the ideal amino acid composition, therefore a surplus can compensate for the lower quality, especially if you count vegetable proteins in your macros.
2. YOU DON’T EAT ENOUGH
To build muscle, you need a calories surplus. Yes, a calorie isn’t a calorie, but only up to a point, more on this later. If you adhere to a keto diet, since the amount of carbs allowed per day is limited to 20-25 grams, and the amount of proteins is defined by your body weight, the leverage that you have left to push the scale up or down is fat.
You need enough surplus of calories so you can build muscle but not too much to gain also fat.
3. YOU TRAIN TOO MUCH
If three sets are good, 6 sets are better, right? Er… no. Overtraining is one of the most common reason why people can’t obtain the results they are aiming for. Especially on a keto diet, intensity is the key: not only you need to avoid training too much every muscle, but is important to allow enough time between training the same muscle so it can supercompensate the stress of the resistance training.
4. YOU DON’T TRAIN WITH ENOUGH INTENSITY
If you could have done another rep in the last set, you should have done it. Providing a correct technique, you should always aim to to the maximum number of reps in any set, if you could have done more and you didn’t want to do more reps, it means that you should have added more weight.
If you use pumping to improve your hypertrophy, try to concentrate on the sensation of blood filling your muscle, on the sharp burning pain at every rep, not just on lifting the weight. Low volume and high intensity is the key to great results.
5. YOU DO TOO MUCH CARDIO
Let me be clear: you don’t need cardio to build muscle (and you don’t need cardio to lose weight). Just one set of squat properly done, with enough intensity, will keep your metabolism elevated for up to 24 hours, without any cortisol production, without consuming your glycogen and stimulating your appetite for carbs.
Look around you when you are at the gym, you see some people sweating every day on the treadmill, running for hours. How many of them have 10% or less body fat? Are their muscle full and hard or are they empty and saggy? That’s your answer.
6. YOU DON’T SLEEP ENOUGH
Arnold Schwarzenegger used to say: don’t stand if you can sit, don’t sit if you can lay down, don’t stay awake if you can sleep. Eat, train, sleep: this is all you need to build muscles, with the importance of the sleep part often underestimated.
It doesn’t matter how well you eat and train in the gym, it is when you rest and sleep that the muscles repair themselves and grow. At night when we sleep we have usually our peak production of growth hormone (GH), but also sleeping keeps down cortisol levels, a hormone with the capacity of causing inflammation and inducing muscle catabolism.