- Yeah, You’ve Heard of Keto, but How Do You Work Out on Keto?
- Is There a Best Time to Eat Carbs?
- The Pitfalls of the Keto Diet and Why Carb Cycling Is Better
- Downsides to the keto diet
- How many carbs on keto?
- How to increase your overall carb intake on keto
- Join over 1 million fans
- Building Muscle on Keto: An Evidence-Based Guide
- Muscle Protein Synthesis 101
- How Keto Helps You Build Muscle
- Keto Diets and Muscle Building
- Don’t Fear Protein
- See Those Gains
- 8 Things You Need to Know About Exercising On the Keto Diet
- You might not feel so great at first.
- The first few weeks on keto is not a good time to try a new workout.
- It’s super important that you don’t undereat.
- You could burn more fat during cardio.
- You really need to eat enough fat.
- It could help you reach your body composition goals.
- You might need to rethink your favorite HIIT workouts.
- Listening to your body is crucial.
- Working Out on the Keto Diet Can Be Weird—Here’s What Works
- What to Eat Before & After a Workout on a Keto Diet
- The Fact and Fiction of Carb Loading for Exercise
- What is Peri-Workout Nutrition?
- What Should I Eat Before I Workout?
- What to Eat After a Workout?
- The Final Word
- Protein For Muscle Growth
- The 10 Best Keto Workout Foods
- Keto-Friendly Workout Tips
- Post Workout Keto Fuel
- 6 Things You Need to Know About Exercising on the Keto Diet
- 1. It May Be Tougher to Boost Performance When It Comes to High-Intensity Exercise While on the Keto Diet
- 2. Keto May Boost Fat Burn
- 3. You May Feel Like Your Gas Pedal Doesn’t Work as Well, Especially at First
- 4. Your Body May Burn Calories Quicker on Keto
- 5. Keto Is Better for Maintaining Muscle Mass Than Adding Muscle
- 6. Just Because You Are Burning Fat, That Doesn’t Mean You Are Losing Fat
- How Starting A Keto Diet Impacts Exercise
- Why Ketosis Boosts Your Workout Performance
- Top 3 Exercises For Keto Beginners
- Your 7-Day Keto Exercise Plan
- A Keto Diet Meal Plan and Menu That Can Transform Your Body
- What Type of Workout Is Best on a Low Carb or Keto Diet?
- Understanding the Exercise Types
- What Workout is Best on a Ketogenic Diet?
- Tips for Exercising on Keto
Yeah, You’ve Heard of Keto, but How Do You Work Out on Keto?
Back in the day, weight loss involved eating low-fat, low-calorie foods, combined with intense cardio workouts. That view is largely considered outdated today. We know now that the first, most important step toward losing weight and keeping it off is to change how you eat. You should consume real foods that feed your body, providing it with much-needed energy and nutrients.
The ketogenic diet is an excellent regimen for both overall health and fat loss. What some people may be surprised to know, however, is that keeping a keto diet and exercising don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. If you want to just lose weight, then working out isn’t actually a requirement with keto. So then how should you maintain your physical fitness while doing keto? To get the best results out of your keto diet, there are particular keto workouts and tips that you can follow to be at your physical best.
Keto Workouts: What Are They & Do You Need Them?
Even though we said keto diets and exercise don’t necessarily need to go together, don’t kick your kettlebells and yoga mats to the curb just yet! Consider all the many other reasons to exercise that don’t focus on weight loss. Cardiovascular workouts can make you feel happier, increase your energy levels, reduce the risk of chronic disease, stave off memory loss, promote brain health, and are great for your bones and muscles. Consider working out on keto as an investment in your future—it will help you stay supple and active in your later years.
Ok, so you’re still sold on putting in some time at the gym. But just how do keto and exercise go together? To gain a better understanding, first, let’s review how the body gets its energy while on keto.
Keto Workouts and the Body’s Glucose
Our bodies were designed to be fat burners. Before there were questions of keto workouts or gluten-free everything, our prehistoric ancestors lived off meat and vegetables, but they weren’t eating enough carbs that their bodies needed to learn how to use them for fuel. They were using meat and fat for fuel.
Today, carbs are consumed en masse. This abundance of carbs forces the body to start learning how to process them and use them for energy. When you eat carbohydrates, your body converts those into glucose and uses the glucose as fuel, a very fast process. That’s why when you are feeling a little sluggish, you can have some candy and feel better almost right away. It’s also why you tend to start feeling drowsy in the afternoon—your body has used up its glucose reserves, and you need to replenish them. But the question is: why doesn’t your body just keep using fat instead? Why do keto and exercise even need to happen?
The answer is insulin. Insulin is a hormone that’s used to help the glucose travel through your bloodstream and allow your body to use it as energy. Insulin prevents the fat stores in your body from being released. That’s why your body can’t simply flip the “fat burning switch”. It is only when you reduce your carbs to a very low level, and your glucose levels drop, that your body stops producing insulin and begins to burn fat. So now that you know how your body uses fuel, we’ll tell you how it relates to your keto workout.
The Relationship Between Exercise and Energy
Glucose can be burned during aerobic (with oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen) activities. However, ketones, a type of acid produced by the liver, can only be burned during aerobic activities. This means that purely anaerobic activities such as a 100-yard sprint, or Olympic weightlifting, don’t work as effective keto workouts because they don’t burn off ketones, just glucose.
Conversely, low-intensity exercises like walking, jogging, or cycling (if done at a low enough intensity), don’t specifically require glucose and make for great workouts when on keto. When you restrict carbs, you are depriving your muscles of the glucose it needs to fuel high-intensity activities. This means that a ketogenic diet can actually have a detrimental effect on your performance if you take part in high-intensity activities such as:
- Sprinting or swimming
- High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
- Sports that have minimal resting periods, such as soccer, rugby
- and other high-intensity sports and activities
Bottom line: if your exercise on keto falls under low-intensity cardio, flexibility, or stability, then you can continue with your keto diet as usual. If you are about to initiate a ketogenic diet for the first time, however, be aware that your athletic performance may be impacted for the first month or so. Take it easy and focus on getting your eating right, then you can resume your activities as normal. If you’re finding that even on a keto diet, you’re struggling with weight loss, you might consider adding a natural fat burning supplement to your keto diet and workout plan.
Keto and Exercise for Athletes
Getting the correct breakdown of macros (macronutrients like fats, proteins, and carbohydrates) is important when following a keto diet. But if you’re an athlete who needs to engage in anaerobic or high-intensity cardio, working out on keto can be hard and it becomes even more imperative to get the ratio correct.
So how do you start a keto diet and exercise if you’re an athlete? Start with the right amount of protein. Protein is responsible for muscle building and promotes calorie burning more than the other macronutrients. Eating enough protein while working out on keto will also ensure you don’t lose muscle mass. Once you have calculated your protein needs, then you can work out the other macronutrients based on the Targeted Ketogenic Diet.
A Targeted Ketogenic Diet is based on the Standard Ketogenic Diet with one important addition. You eat 20-50 grams (or less) of net carbs taken 30 minutes to an hour prior to exercise. This 20-50 grams is in addition to your 5-10% caloric carb intake per day as part of the standard macronutrient breakdown in a keto diet. If you are still trying to lose pounds, count the extra carbs as part of your daily calories (and then cut down on the fat).
This extra nutritional boost for your keto workout should ideally be in the form of glucose. Fructose will go straight to the liver, to replenish liver glycogen, rather than going to the muscles. Dextrose tablets or glucose gel packets are ideal for this purpose.
Another option for athletes is to follow the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet while exercising—you follow the Standard Ketogenic Diet for five to six days, then have one to two days of high-carb consumption to refill the muscle and liver glycogen stores. If you are following the ketogenic diet for health reasons (for example, hyperinsulinemia or hypertension), then you should avoid the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet.
While it might seem like working out on a keto diet can be a pain in the gluteus maximus for athletes, it is actually shown in studies to be quite helpful. Also, it’s important to remember that your individual needs will be unique, as every athlete burns fuel at a different pace. You should use these guidelines as a baseline to your keto and exercise plan, and monitor and adjust constantly to find the ideal eating plan for you and your training.
For more information on fitness plans, recipes, and inspirational stories, visit Bare Performance Nutrition today to learn more!
Is There a Best Time to Eat Carbs?
You may wonder whether timing matters when it comes to eating carbs.
The following section reviews the research on the best time to eat carbs for different goals.
To lose weight
When it comes to fat loss, research on the best time to eat carbs is inconsistent.
In one 6-month study, 78 obese adults were asked to follow a low-calorie diet that involved eating carbs either only at dinner or at every meal. The dinner-only group lost more total weight and body fat and felt fuller than those who ate carbs at every meal (5).
Conversely, another study in 58 obese men following a low-calorie diet with either more carbs at lunch or dinner found that both diets were similarly effective for fat loss (6).
Meanwhile, a recent study observed that your body is better at burning carbs in the morning and fat in the evening, meaning that carbs should be consumed earlier in the day for optimal fat burning (7).
Also, several studies indicate that weight gain tends to occur with eating more calories later in the day, so larger, carb-rich meals in the evening may hinder fat loss (8, 9, 10).
Due to these mixed results, it’s unclear whether there’s a best time to eat carbs for fat loss.
Additionally, your total carb intake is likely more important than timing, as eating too many carbs or calories from other nutrients can hinder weight loss (11).
Aim to choose more fiber-rich, complex carbs like oats and quinoa over refined carbs like white bread, white pasta, and pastries, as the former are generally more filling.
To build muscle
Carbs are an important source of calories for people looking to build muscle mass. However, only a few studies have looked into timing carb intake for this purpose.
Some studies find that consuming carbs along with protein within a few hours after a workout may help increase protein synthesis, which is the process by which your body builds muscle (12, 13).
Yet, other studies indicate that eating protein on its own post-workout is just as effective at stimulating protein synthesis as consuming protein along with carbs (14, 15, 16, 17).
That said, when resistance training, your body relies significantly on carbs as a source of fuel, so a carb-rich pre-workout meal or snack may help you perform better in the gym (1).
In addition, carbs have a protein-sparing effect, which means that your body prefers to use carbs for energy instead of proteins. As a result, it can use protein for other purposes, such as building muscle, when your carb intake is higher (18).
Moreover, eating carbs after a workout may slow the breakdown of protein that occurs post-workout, which may aid muscle growth (19).
Still, for most people, eating adequate amounts of healthy complex carbs throughout the day is more important for building muscle than timing.
For athletic performance and recovery
Athletes and people who exercise intensely can benefit from timing their carb intake.
Research shows that eating carbs before and after a workout can help athletes perform longer and recover more quickly. It also reduces muscle damage and soreness (1).
That’s because exercising for long periods can deplete your muscle glycogen stores (the storage form of carbs), which are your body’s main source of fuel.
Consuming carbs at least 3–4 hours before a workout can help athletes exercise for prolonged periods, while consuming them within 30 minutes to 4 hours after a workout can help restore your glycogen stores (1, 20).
What’s more, having protein alongside a source of carbs after an intense workout can further help your body replenish its glycogen stores, all while aiding muscle repair (1).
While athletes and people who exercise multiple times per day can benefit from timing carb intake around workouts, research indicates that it’s less important for the average person.
For the ketogenic diet
The ketogenic, or keto, diet is a very-low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein diet, often used to lose weight.
It typically involves restricting carb intake to less than 50 grams per day to reach and maintain ketosis, a metabolic state in which your body burns fat for fuel instead of carbs (21).
Currently, evidence to suggest that timing your carb intake to aid weight loss on a keto diet is lacking.
However, if you’re an active person, timing your carb intake around your workouts may improve your performance. This is known as a targeted ketogenic diet (22).
Furthermore, if you experience insomnia while on a ketogenic diet, eating carbs closer to bedtime may help you relax and fall asleep faster, according to some research (23, 24).
Summary Eating carbs at certain times does not appear to improve weight loss on low-calorie or ketogenic diets. However, timing carb intake around workouts can benefit athletes and people who exercise heavily.
The Pitfalls of the Keto Diet and Why Carb Cycling Is Better
- On the keto diet, you get most of your calories from fat, moderate calories from protein and very few from carbohydrates. This combination puts you in a fat-burning state called ketosis.
- Some people can run into problems when they restrict carbohydrates long-term, like persistent flu-like symptoms, dry eyes and fatigue. Talk to your doctor if you’re dealing with keto flu symptoms that last over two weeks.
- If your body is asking for more carbs, you have options. When you’re carb cycling, you eat slightly more carbs one day per week. Other styles of keto diet give you more flexibility with your net carb total.
- Get all the details about carb cycling and find out why the Bulletproof Diet is a cyclical keto diet.
What you eat on the keto diet can vary, depending on who you ask.
Generally, it means getting most of your calories from fat, moderate calories from protein and very few from carbohydrates. The exact ratio of fat, protein and carbs can vary (more on that below). This combination puts you in ketosis, a powerful way to burn body fat and dial in your mental focus, among other keto benefits.
But before you cut out all of your carbohydrates, you need to know a few things. The full keto diet isn’t perfect for everyone, and you may need to tweak it a little, depending on your individual biology.
Keep reading to find out what snags you could run into while in ketosis, and what variations might work better with your system. And remember, it’s a good idea to see your doctor before making any major dietary changes.
Downsides to the keto diet
The first two weeks
When you first venture into cutting carbs and entering ketosis, you start what’s known as the “keto flu,” the period during which your body shifts from burning carbs and sugar for energy to burning fat. It takes anywhere from a few days to about two weeks for your metabolism to re-regulate the way it uses food and generates energy.
Whether you call it keto flu, carb flu, carb withdrawal or sugar crash, what you’re feeling is real. You’ll experience some combination of these symptoms:
- Muscle soreness
- Poor focus
- Stomach pains
- Sugar cravings
- Brain fog
- Sore throat
- Dry eyes
- Signs of hormone imbalance
- Signs of adrenal issues
- Aches and pains
Your symptoms of carb restriction should be temporary. Once your body fully adjusts to burning fat instead of sugar and carbs, you should feel better than you did before you started. If your symptoms persist, see your doctor.
Beyond the two-week mark
Your body will tell you if you’ve gone overboard with restricting carbs, or if you’ve gone too low for too long. Some of the negative symptoms of ketosis may include:
- Dry eyes: Carbs help your mucus membranes produce the mucus that lines your gut and nasal passages and keeps your eyes hydrated. Some people notice that after restricting carbs long-term (50 grams per day or less), their eyes become irritated. This is a sign that other necessary mucus membranes aren’t working as well as they could be.
- Hormonal imbalances: Severe long-term carb restriction can cause your T3 thyroid hormone to drop. That’s a big deal because thyroid hormones control the way your body uses energy, so they can affect nearly every organ in your body.
- Fatigue: Burning fat for fuel doesn’t work for everyone. In many people, burning fat for fuel ramps up the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which gives you more energy. But in some people, long-term carb restriction stresses the HPA axis, which makes you feel tired all the time.
If you experience these symptoms, you don’t have to give up keto entirely. You can enjoy the amazing benefits you keep hearing about with some slight modifications.
Namely, you may want to add back in some carbohydrates, or experiment with a cyclical ketogenic diet.
How many carbs on keto?
A good rule of thumb is 50 grams of carbs per day, but it’s your results may vary, depending on your diet and individual biology. If you’re still experiencing flu-like symptoms after the two week mark, your body might be asking for more carbs.
For example, if you’re super active, you might need more than 50 grams of carbs per day. And if you’re hitting 50 grams per day, but not factoring in net carbs (aka your total carbs minus fiber and sugar alcohols), you might need to raise your daily carb intake.
Related: How to Find Your Ideal Carb Intake
How to increase your overall carb intake on keto
Keep reading to learn about different ways to eat more carbs on keto without missing out on the benefits of ketosis.
Remember, if you’re going to increase your carb intake, track yourself to see how your body responds. When you’re experimenting with your carb intake, ketone breath meters and keto sticks are great ways to see if you’re actually in ketosis.
Carb cycling is also called cyclical ketosis, and it’s already built into the Bulletproof Diet.
When you’re carb cycling, you pick one day per week to eat more high-quality carbs (approximately 150 grams of net carbs). On your carb refeed day, you can add things like:
- Sweet potato
- White rice
- Butternut squash
- Low-sugar berries
You might temporarily dip out of ketosis on your higher-carb day, but once your body burns through those extra carbs, you’ll return to ketosis. (This is called metabolic flexibility.)
Carb cycling this way allows you to take advantage of all the keto benefits, like appetite suppression, fat burning, boundless energy and laser focus, while still getting the carbs your body systems need to function properly.
Experiment with exogenous ketones
When you’re in ketosis, your body produces an alternative form of fuel called ketones. You can also supplement with exogenous ketones, which are ketones you ingest. Exogenous ketones can boost your ketone levels, which helps you stay in ketosis, even when you have some carbs in your system.
Here are two types of exogenous ketones — and important details to keep in mind.
- Ketone salts: Not all of the ketones in ketone salts are bioidentical, which means the body may not be able to use them. Learn why you can skip most ketone salts.
- Ketone esters: Ketone esters are more effective than ketone salts, but they taste like something you would find in a hospital antiseptic closet. Plus, they’re expensive to buy and not widely available for purchase.
Brain Octane MCT oil is the happy medium between pure nutritional ketosis and exogenous ketones. It’s pure C8 MCT oil, aka the most ketogenic MCT, and it raises ketone levels four times more efficiently than coconut oil alone. That means more brain-powering, fat-burning keto benefits — and you can add it to anything, like coffee and salad dressings.
Related: Everything You Want to Know About Bulletproof MCT oils
Other types of keto diets
You aren’t limited to one style of eating on the keto diet. There are different variations that can help you stay in the fat-burning state of ketosis, while still increasing your carb intake.
- Targeted keto is great for athletes because you eat more carbs before you work out — that way, your muscles will have glucose available to power through your gym session.
- On the moderate keto diet, you eat 100 to 150 grams of net carbs per day.
- Read more about the different types of keto diets.
The keto diet can totally work long-term, but there are instances where you may need need to modify it just a little to get the maximum lasting benefit — and that’s perfectly okay. In fact, that makes you even more Bulletproof because you’re listening to your body and finding what works for you and your goals.
Related: 7 Reasons You’re Not Losing Weight on Keto
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Building Muscle on Keto: An Evidence-Based Guide
Keto is a weight loss diet…but it doesn’t have to be.
Even though thousands of user testimonials and dozens of research studies have solidified the effectiveness of the ketogenic diet to promote and sustain weight and fat loss, this diet has many more applications than slimming down.
One of those applications is for athletes and individuals who want to get leaner, stronger, and even pack on muscle. However, there is a common myth floating around that the ketogenic diet—which isn’t necessarily a “high protein diet”—makes it hard, if not impossible, to gain muscle.
What’s the source of this belief, and does the criticism hold water? Should bodybuilders be adopting keto?
This article will help to clear the air on the keto diet as it relates to muscle building and dispel some common misheld beliefs along the way. We want to make the case (backed by evidence) that you can maintain and even build muscle mass while adhering to a strict ketogenic diet.
But first, let’s cover some of the basics on how to muscle is built.
Muscle Protein Synthesis 101
Muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is the process that our body uses to build new proteins; it’s essential if we want to gain muscle mass or make our muscles larger—a process known as muscle hypertrophy.
There are a few biochemical pathways that govern protein synthesis. These anabolic (growth-promoting) pathways are activated by things like nutrients from food and, perhaps most importantly, exercise. The exercise has to be specific though.
Overloading the muscle using resistance exercise is essential to increase muscle protein synthesis and ultimately, size and strength.
So, to “get big” you have to “lift big” through weight training. But how exactly does weightlifting increase the size of muscles?
mTOR and Muscle Building
Interest in the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) is growing in the area of longevity. However, this cellular sensor is also involved in the process of muscle hypertrophy and protein synthesis.
mTOR is a nutrient sensor—meaning that it can sense whether the body is in a “fed” or “fasted” state.
mTOR can also sense mechanical forces. This is where its involvement in hypertrophy comes from. When we overload a muscle by lifting heavy weights, mTOR is activated.1,2 Activation of mTOR has two functions—stimulating muscle protein synthesis and preventing protein breakdown. This has a dual effect on helping to increase muscle mass.
Interestingly, the more you activate mTOR, the more you are able to increase muscle growth and strength.3,4 It’s a dose-response effect.
mTOR can also be activated by hormones in the body known as growth factors. These include insulin and insulin-like growth factor—both of which activate mTOR and lead to an increase in muscle protein synthesis.1
Amino Acids are Essential
All proteins (in the body and in food) are made up of amino acids. That’s why they’re often referred to as the “building blocks” of proteins. Without amino acids, we couldn’t build muscle.
Especially important to the growth and maintenance of muscle mass are the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).
These amino acids are also known as Essential amino acids, meaning that we must consume them in our diet because they’re not produced in the body.
Ingestion of BCAAs, especially the BCAA leucine, stimulates muscle protein synthesis through mTOR and other processes.5,6,7 Studies have shown that the BCAAs in particular are the most effective at causing muscle hypertrophy and preventing muscle breakdown, even more effective than the growth-factor insulin.8,9
Amino acids are the reason for the recommendation to consume protein after a hard workout; since this will maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis and help you recover from your effort. While overall protein balance may be more important for muscle protein synthesis, some data show that consuming 20 – 30 grams of high-quality protein after exercise will maximally stimulate protein synthesis. Make sure to include at least 2 grams of leucine—the most potent driver of protein synthesis.
Do You Need Carbs to Build Muscle?
Given it’s advocacy of extremely low carblow intake, the keto diet has been advised against by many in the bodybuilding and sports performance world. The idea that carbohydrates are necessary to induce muscle growth probably came from the fact that insulin and IGF-1, which both rise in response to carbohydrate intake, also stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
Furthermore, many recommendations exist that tell athletes to consume protein plus carbohydrates in the post-workout window to really maximize gains and promote recovery. Again, the thought is that the carbohydrates will stimulate insulin, promoting a greater amount of muscle protein synthesis than protein alone.
However, when studies compare protein ingestion alone to a combination of protein and carbs after resistance exercise, there is no difference in muscle protein synthesis.10,11,12,13 Long story short: the carbs don’t seem to be adding anything extra.This is probably due to the fact that the amount of protein ingested is enough to raise insulin levels and activate mTOR. More insulin doesn’t necessarily mean more protein synthesis, in this case.10,11
This might silence any argument against using the keto diet to build muscle. But another argument against keto for athletes has to do with glycogen (stored glucose) in muscle.
If glycogen stores are low during exercise, this could compromise energy availability and limit performance. Not something that any athlete wants. However, this may be more of a concern for athletes involved in endurance activities where glycogen depletion becomes an issue. Athletes in sports involving heavy lifts or bodybuilding might not experience negative effects from low glycogen.
However, the data don’t support that glycogen levels are reduced on a ketogenic diet—at least after a sufficient period of adaptation occurs.
In fact, keto-adapted athletes who were compared to athletes consuming around 600 grams of carbohydrates per day actually had similar levels of stored muscle glycogen. After exercise, the keto-adapted athletes were also able to replenish their levels of stored glycogen just as well as the carbohydrate-consuming athletes—despite consuming about 75% less carbohydrates during that period.14 Something happens to keto-adapted athletes that allow them to maintain glycogen levels at a high level. But what?
Maintenance of glucose and glycogen levels in the body in the absence of carbohydrate consumption can occur through a process known as gluconeogenesis, or GNG for short. GNG is a process that our body uses to create glucose out of non-carbohydrate sources—mainly amino acids and glycerol from fatty acids.
By “manufacturing” glucose from these other substrates, low-carb athletes are able to replenish and maintain muscle glycogen at similar levels to carb-consuming athletes.
So, the fact that carbs aren’t needed to build muscle or to keep up a sufficient amount of glucose and glycogen to fuel athletic activity is a nail in the coffin against the keto diet for athletes looking to get bigger, stronger, or perform longer.
But we are primarily interested in muscle growth for this article. While the foundation is sound, what does the evidence actually say about building muscle on a ketogenic diet?
How Keto Helps You Build Muscle
Where did the idea that you can’t build muscle on keto come from?
For one, there is the idea that low-carbohydrate diets will fail to sufficiently stimulate insulin/IGF-1 in response to training and therefore, impair your ability to grow muscle or even cause muscle loss. Some people think that if you don’t consume carbs alongside your protein, you won’t maximize muscle protein synthesis.
The second and perhaps most cited reason is that the ketogenic diet is one in which protein is moderated—keto doesn’t encourage a super high intake of protein; keeping it around 10 – 15% of total calories. The theory goes that, since protein is essential for growing large muscles, restricting your intake might lead to a significant loss of muscle tissue or an inability to get bigger.
As we will see, the data don’t really support either of these takes.
This is a generally new area of research, so we don’t have a ton of studies. However, some research has been done that points to a net benefit of the keto diet on markers of muscle growth and maintenance.
Get Lean on Keto
Building muscle is great, but another goal of many strength-based athletes is to optimize body composition. A low-carb high-fat diet can do this. Research has shown that athletes who adopt a keto diet experience greater body fat loss than a group of high-carb dieters.15,16 After 8 weeks of a keto-diet and resistance training program, young men experienced reductions in fat mass and visceral adipose tissue—changes that weren’t seen in the non-keto groups.17
It makes sense that fat mass would drop and body fat % go down on a keto diet once you “learn” to efficiently burn fat for energy.
Being keto adapted ultimately leads to a greater ability to utilize fat from food and body storage areas.
As long as lean mass is maintained (which most studies show is the case), increased fat burning capacity will result in improved body composition—less fat and more lean muscle.
Keto Prevents Protein Breakdown
Fail to eat enough protein, the saying goes, and you’ll shrivel up, lose muscle, and go frail.This fear is instilled by people who say that keto doesn’t contain enough protein to maintain lean muscle mass.
However, research shows exactly the opposite—that the ketogenic diet actually prevents muscle from being broken down. When an equal number of calories are consumed on diets containing the same amount of protein but differing levels of carbs, the lower-carb diets actually maintain lean muscle mass to the greatest extent.18
Ketosis might actually improve our ability to utilize proteins. This could be due to the fact that the body no longer needs to breakdown protein for gluconeogenesis—instead utilizing ketones, sparing the protein we have. Studies support this. During ketosis and infusion of ketone bodies, it is shown that the utilization of BCAAs for energy is reduced, leading to enhanced protein synthesis and muscle maintenance.19,20
Not only do ketones spare protein for muscle maintenance, but they actually can significantly increase muscle protein synthesis. Athletes who ingested a ketone supplement made of a BHB monoester had increased activity of mTOR, leading to a doubling of protein synthesis.21
Ketosis seems to have some profound effects of various markers of protein synthesis within the muscle. But how do athletes on a ketogenic diet respond to training. Do the studies show that muscle mass can improve?
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Keto Diets and Muscle Building
As the ketogenic diet has risen in popularity with athletes, more researchers are becoming interested in testing the efficacy of this diet for performance.
Let’s see how the keto diet performs.
In one study, a low-carb diet was compared to a traditional western diet during a 10-week resistance training intervention in healthy young males. After 10 weeks, the group on the low-carb diet diet group gained 2.4% lean body mass and reduced their fat mass by 2.2 kilograms, changes which were similar to the group eating a normal diet.22 However, the keto diet actually led to a greater increase in testosterone throughout the study. This study suggests that when combined with strength training, a keto diet is perfectly adequate for increasing body weight, most of which is lean muscle.
The keto diet has also been shown to preserve muscle mass during training—dispelling the myth that keto will cause you to lose muscle.
Two studies provide evidence for this. In the first, a group of elite gymnasts adopted a ketogenic diet while maintaining their training routines. By the end of the study, muscle mass was the same, but they actually got leaner—reducing body fat and body fat percentage significantly.23
Another study provided similar evidence. After 6 weeks on a ketogenic diet, athletes in a CrossFit program experienced no significant change in muscle mass, but significantly reduced their weight, percent body fat, and fat mass.24
It is important to note that in both of these studies, performance was also maintained in the keto diet groups. Keto diets are often advised against due to their potential impact on high-intensity performance measures which require a high glycolytic capacity.
But, sticking to muscle-related outcomes; a bulk of the research indicates that a keto diet in combination with a resistance training program can preserve or increase lean muscle mass, reduce body fat and body fat %, and maintain strength and power.
It will be exciting to see future studies done analyzing the potential for the keto diet to help with muscle building.
Don’t Fear Protein
While carbs are the major macronutrient of interest on keto, protein is another. While the keto diet isn’t necessarily a high-protein diet, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a low-protein one either. In fact, the actual definition of keto includes a “moderate protein” designation.
If we put some numbers to it, even if you’re eating 15% of your calories from protein on a ketogenic diet, a 2,500 calorie per day diet means you’re still getting 93 grams of protein per day. While hard-core lfters will say this value might be too low, it’s still a fairly large amount of protein.
Consuming even higher amounts of protein in the range of 20 – 25% of total calories is even possible on keto.
In some people, they can still get into ketosis without really restricting protein.
This might be especially true for high-activity athletes.
However, there is the possibility that excess protein will kick you out of ketosis due to gluconeogenesis. This is a highly debated topic, however, and many studies have actually failed to find evidence that protein intake increases GNG enough to stop ketogenesis. GNG occurs slowly, and glucose production following a meal is largely independent of protein content or breakdown.25 One study showed that, even under “optimal gluconeogenic conditions”, eating protein failed to increase GNG.26
Individual variability likely exists in the effect of differing levels of protein on a ketogenic diet. However, eating a bit more protein on a keto diet is likely nothing to be fearful of, and even something to consider if you want to build muscle.
See Those Gains
We hope this article has busted the myth that you can’t build muscle on a ketogenic diet. Research studies consistently show increased, if not maintained, levels of muscle mass in groups who undergo training while on a ketogenic diet.
As long as you’re dieting right and getting adequate fat intake (mainly healthy fats) as a source of energy, you should be able to successfully get into a state of ketosis while also putting on the muscle you want. Whether your goal is lifting heavier, muscle gain, or bulking, you can accomplish it with a well-planned ketogenic diet.
Anecdotal evidence, while not scientific per se, is powerful too. It isn’t difficult to find dozens, if not hundreds of people on social media who are successfully leaning out and building muscle while eating a ketogenic diet. The “evidence” speaks for itself.
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8 Things You Need to Know About Exercising On the Keto Diet
By now, you’ve probably heard about the ketogenic diet-you know, the one that allows you to eat *all* the healthy fats (and almost totally nixes carbs). Traditionally used to treat patients with epilepsy and other serious health issues, the keto diet has made its way into the mainstream and is especially popular with the fitness crowd. While it’s true that it may have some performance benefits, experts say there’s some very important info you need to know if you’re planning to exercise while on the keto diet.
You might not feel so great at first.
And, naturally, that might affect your workouts. “You may feel like you are in a fog for the first few days,” says Ramsey Bergeron, C.P.T., a seven-time Ironman, keto athlete, and owner of Bergeron Personal Training in Scottsdale, Arizona. “Your brain’s primary fuel source is glucose (from carbs), so as it switches over to ketone bodies created by breaking down fats in the liver, it will take some adjusting.” Luckily, the mental fog will typically pass after a few days, but Bergeron recommends skipping workouts that require quick reactions to stay safe, like riding your bike on roads with cars or doing a long, challenging outdoor hike.
The first few weeks on keto is not a good time to try a new workout.
“Keep doing what you are doing,” advises Bergeron. This is mainly because of the first point-most people don’t feel so great at first on keto. When extreme, this initial icky period can be dubbed the “keto flu” thanks to its flu-like grogginess and stomach upsets, which generally pass within a few days to a couple of weeks. Still, it’s probably not the best time to try out a new class or go for a PR. “I always recommend that my clients limit the variables when they do something different,” says Bergeron. “If you change too many things at once, you won’t know what worked and what didn’t.”
Image zoom Photo: wundervisuals / Getty Images
It’s super important that you don’t undereat.
“Make sure you’re giving your body enough energy and you’re not cutting calories too strictly,” says Lisa Booth, R.D.N., dietitian and health coach at 8fit. This is especially key because people on keto are likely to undereat, she says. “When you restrict an entire food group (in this case, carbs), you often naturally cut calories, but a keto diet also has an appetite-suppressing effect, so you might think you’re not hungry even if you don’t give your body enough energy.” When you reduce calories too much and combine that with working out, you will not only feel crappy but it can also affect your performance and results. (Not sure where to start? Check out the keto meal plan for beginners.)
You could burn more fat during cardio.
This is one of the main reasons people swear by keto for weight loss. “When in ketosis, you aren’t using glycogen as your energy source,” says Booth. “Glycogen is a substance deposited in muscles and tissues as a reserve of carbohydrates. Instead, you’re using fat and ketone bodies. If you are following aerobic exercises such as running or biking, a keto diet can help increase fat oxidation, spare glycogen, produce less lactate and use less oxygen.” In other words, that could translate into more fat burned during aerobic exercise. “However, it probably won’t enhance performance,” he adds.
You really need to eat enough fat.
Otherwise, you’ll miss out on all the benefits, and your performance could suffer. “If you don’t eat enough fats on a keto diet, you are essentially doing an Atkins diet: high protein, low carb, AND low fat,” says Bergeron. “This can leave you extremely hungry, can actually lower your muscle mass, and is almost impossible to maintain.” There’s a reason why most low-carb diets get a bad rap. Without enough fat to compensate for the carbs you’re missing, you’re likely to feel tired and miss out on actually going into ketosis. That’s why it’s super important that the majority of your calories come from healthy fat sources like grass-fed meats, fish, avocado, and coconut oil, says Bergeron.
It could help you reach your body composition goals.
“Studies have shown that ketogenic diets coupled with moderate-intensity exercise can positively affect one’s body composition,” says Chelsea Axe, D.C., C.S.C.S., fitness expert at DrAxe.com. “They have shown that ketogenic diets enhance the body’s ability to burn fat, both at rest and during low- to moderate-exercise intensities, so your weight-loss efforts may be maximized while training in these zones.” A 2011 study published in the Journal of Endocrinology found that a ketogenic diet increased hepatic growth hormone (HGH), which can improve strength and youthfulness. Though the study was done in rats and thus can’t be translated directly into human results, this is definitely a promising finding. (Related: Why Body Recomposition Is the New Weight Loss)
You might need to rethink your favorite HIIT workouts.
“Studies have shown that diets high in a specific macronutrient like fat promote an increased ability to utilize that macronutrient as fuel,” says Axe. “However, during high-intensity exercise, the body shifts to use glycogen as fuel regardless of your macronutrient ratio intake.” As you’ll remember from earlier, glycogen stores are fueled by carbs, which means if you’re not eating many of them, higher-intensity exercise performance can be compromised. “Instead, moderate intensity exercise is ideal for optimizing the body’s fat-burning potential,” says Axe. Because of this, athletes and exercisers who are doing intense workouts like CrossFit or HIIT are better off doing keto in their off-season or when they’re less focused on performance and more focused on body composition improvements.
Listening to your body is crucial.
This is especially true in the first couple weeks you’re on a keto diet, but also during your whole experience. “If you often feel tired, dizzy, or exhausted, your body might not be working well on a very low-carb diet,” says Booth. “Your health and well-being should be the most important. Add some more carbs and see how you feel. If this makes you feel better, the keto diet might not be the right choice for you.”
Working Out on the Keto Diet Can Be Weird—Here’s What Works
Oh, the keto diet. Everyone’s buzzing about it—my friends, their friends, random Facebook friends I don’t actually know but have somehow appeared in my feed. People simply won’t shut up about how the keto diet has been yielding all these amazing results, like super-fast weight loss and increased energy. At first, I found this profoundly annoying, but eventually, I decided that if you can’t beat ’em, well… I went ahead and tried it for myself.
Make fun of me for being the sort of person who would throw herself off a bridge if all of her friends were doing it all you want—at least I did my research going in: I learned early on that this diet is different, and I couldn’t just try keto out for a quick week or two like most fad diets. Clinical nutrition coach Ariane Hundt, M.S., told me that, depending on your usual eating habits, it could take 1-2 weeks to drop into ketosis—a state in which your body turns to fat instead of glucose as a main energy source—and that it’s best to go an additional two weeks to see significant results.
That put me at a month of counting my macros like crazy, making sure that 75 percent of my caloric intake came from healthy fats, 15 percent came from protein, and a mere 10 percent came from carbs. To put that into perspective, on my 2,000 calorie-a-day diet, I’d have about 25-50 grams of carbs allotted per day, and one New York City bagel (which I am very, very fond of) has about 67 grams of carbs.
Once I realized my usual eating strategy (that focused mostly on protein and a healthy hit of fats and carbs) was about to fly out the window, I started to wonder how my workouts would fare.
At first, I didn’t feel so hot.
Like any good dieter, I started keto on a Monday after a weekend of enjoying the f*ck out of some pizza and a few beers. More often than not, my calendar has a sweat session scheduled Monday through Friday, but I figured it’d be smart to take the day off from a hard workout in case I felt funky on day one.
That day came and went and I felt… fine. So I returned to my regularly scheduled programming on day two, starting with one of my favorite running-and-strength treadmill classes at Mile High Run Club. I know it’s not a genius idea to try a brand new workout and a brand new diet (the fewer variables you have, the better) so I thought it was a safe choice.
I felt OK during most of the class—I didn’t pass out or fly off the back of my treadmill—but whenever I kicked up the speed to my usual interval paces, I was quickly hit with fatigue. I rode the struggle-bus during the kettlebell portion of class too. Using the same weights I typically choose, I couldn’t bust out as many reps as I normally do in the time allotted.
Menacham Brodie, C.S.C.S., C.N.C., head coach of Human Vortex Training, tells me this is normal. “Your body is using a different pathway to unlock the energy it needs to meet exercise demands,” he says. “Plus, as a general rule, high-intensity workouts with repeated hard efforts tend not to go well with the keto diet, as your body is using fat for its fuel source. In order to get the energy it needs, the body has to break down fats as opposed to pulling from carbs, and that takes more time.”
Which is why, for the rest of the week, I scaled back on the intensity of my workouts. “Understand that what you ‘should’ be able to do will be different, as you’re asking the body to run in a different fashion, and on an energy system that can’t keep up with demands in the way that you’re used to,” Brodie says.
I also wasn’t fueling my workouts well enough, and I learned the hard way.
Toward the end of my first week, I was slammed with the keto flu, a series of nasty, flu-like symptoms that often crop up as your body adjusts to a new energy source and decreased electrolyte levels. I had a boxing class at Rumble scheduled but decided it was better for my body to rest—interval workouts needed to take a backseat as my body balanced itself out.
“For the sake of easing into ketosis, in the first week or two, it’s best to focus on workouts that ensure appetite, cravings, and energy are balanced—like weight lifting two to three times a week, followed by low-intensity cardio,” Hundt says. “Lower-intensity cardio burns more fat as fuel, while higher-intensity burns more sugar as fuel. That’s why lower-intensity workouts allow you to move into ketosis with more ease.”
What wasn’t easy? Eating.
Another change I needed to make? Eating more. Because I was consuming such a high percentage of fats—which Hundt says can be very filling—I felt full a lot of the time. But I wasn’t hitting my calorie goals. Brodie explained that if I was in too much of a caloric deficit, my body would kick into starvation mode, and that can lead to muscle breakdown and even more energy shortage than what I was already experiencing. It could also increase my odds of injury, he says, and there was no way in hell I was about to take myself out of the workout game entirely.
I thought I was doing enough, tracking every morsel on my Fitbit app and constantly Googling, “How many carbs does fill-in-the-blank have?” But I was still eating on the fly. Brodie explained that planning my meals in advance would make life on keto a lot easier.
Steady-state workouts were my jam.
Every so often, I have days when I totally draw a blank about what workout to do. When that happened during this month-long experiment, Brodie suggested I fall back on steady-state, endurance-style workouts.
“It’s the fluctuation of effort that can kill you,” Brodie explained. “When you start having these variations in intensity, that’s when the carbohydrates are called upon to fill a quick need.”
This actually ended up working out perfectly: I was signed up for a 62-mile charity bike ride right as my month of keto dieting was wrapping up. Rather than get bogged down with my normally interval-heavy workout schedule, Brodie gave me permission to hop on the saddle for exploration rides around the city. To stave off boredom, he suggested increasing my intensity once a week to see how I fared.
“Plan mini-experiments with increasing intensities in 1-2 workouts every 5-7 days,” he says. “This will help you find your body’s limits and continue to kick ass and take names while hitting your goals.”
And strength training saved me.
While I did a lot of bike riding on the weekends, I focused more on strength training during the workweek. “Increasing dense, lean muscle mass helps the body burn more fat at rest and can supercharge you on your body-transformation journey,” Brodie says.
Hundt agrees. “Strength-training workouts provide a much better metabolic effect than cardio workouts, whether you’re in ketosis or not,” she explains. So long as I busted out a routine that made me hot and sweaty, increased my heart rate, and reached muscle fatigue, I’d cash in on the coveted afterburn effect for up to 48 hours post sweat, she says.
Plus, strength workouts provide a boost in testosterone and growth hormone, which Hundt says shifts the body into fat-burning and muscle-building mode—two things I definitely wanted to experience on keto.
And there’s at least some research to back her up: A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research recorded the results of 25 men following a resistance training program. Some were on the keto diet, and others were on a standard Western diet. While lean body mass increased and fat mass decreased in both groups during the first 10 weeks, only the keto group showed more of an increase in lean body mass during the final week, when carbs were reintroduced. Of course, a study of 25 people is hardly proof, but it is a good start to supporting evidence.
That’s why Brodie suggested I incorporate 3-4 days a week of strength training. But seeing how much I love the tread, he said I didn’t have to ignore the machine completely. “After your strength training, hit the cardio equipment for 20 minutes of low-endurance work based on heart rate,” he suggests. My go-to? Audio-guided outdoor running and treadmill classes on the Peloton app.
At the end of the day, sure, I had to scale back on the HIIT classes I usually sign up for…
but that freed up time for activities I know I love but rarely make time for, like riding outside and lifting. And after that first week, so long as I fueled correctly, I could still work my body in an endorphin-producing, sweat-inducing, fat-burning way.
And now that I’m done? I have a hot date—with an everything bagel.
Samantha Lefave is a freelance writer who is living, eating, and sweating her way around the world. You can find her Instagramming her favorite destinations, squeezing a Friends quote into every conversation she can or—when there’s downtime—eating peanut butter straight from the jar.
What to Eat Before & After a Workout on a Keto Diet
Exercising is one of the best ways to enhance a keto lifestyle, not to mention to improve overall health and wellness. But since it’s long been believed that carbs are critical for workout energy, one of the most common questions from people on a keto diet is how to fuel the body for exercise without carb loading. In this article, we clear up the confusion and share information on what you should eat before and after a workout for optimal performance and recovery while on a ketogenic diet.
The Fact and Fiction of Carb Loading for Exercise
It was a long-held belief that carbohydrates are required to fuel and recover from exercise. But recent research by scientists and physicians such as Dr. Jeff Volek (a registered dietitian, professor at Ohio State University, and keto expert), provide a better understanding of the physiology of the body. The consensus? Carbohydrates are not the only fuel source it can use during and after exercise. In fact, his studies suggest carbs are perhaps not even the optimal source, and that a higher fat, low-carb diet has more promising results. These findings are the reason you may be hearing about more athletes and people dedicated to an active lifestyle following a keto or low-carb diet.
Still, despite these long held common misconceptions, there is some truth in the need for eating before and after working out. In the nutrition world, this is called peri-workout nutrition.
What is Peri-Workout Nutrition?
Simply put, peri-workout nutrition is the nutrition around your workout, or what you eat before exercise to fuel your performance and what you eat after exercise to facilitate recovery.
Standard recommendations for peri-workout nutrition are based on false pretenses that carbohydrates are essential for performance but also recovery. This leads many people to “carb load” before and after exercise.
On a ketogenic diet, where carbs are essentially off limits, carb loading obviously isn’t an option. But that doesn’t mean your energy or performance has to suffer.
What Should I Eat Before I Workout?
Here’s the truth: your body does not need carbohydrates to perform. In fact, on a keto diet, your body doesn’t need any pre-workout food in order to maintain stamina. That’s one of the beautiful things about being keto; when you’re in ketosis, your body is in prime fat-burning mode. This means that during exercise, your body can tap into stored body fat to fuel performance. In fact, studies have shown that ketogenic dieters burn over twice as much fat during exercise compared to those fueling themselves with carbs. So, if your primary goal is fat burning, not eating before exercise may be a great way to maximize your efforts.
However, not everyone exercises with fat burning in mind or wants to exercise without fueling up first. To those people wondering what to eat before a workout, we have great news: You can eat whatever keto-friendly foods you know to nourish your individual body and allow you to achieve your exercise goals.
If you’re not sure what those are, follow these guidelines:
- Eat protein: it’s great to include before exercise because it gives your muscles the amino acids it needs to perform and repair themselves during exercise.
- Eat fat: it’s your primary energy source on a ketogenic diet, so adding fat before exercise gives your body more energy to call on.
- Eat a full meal, if works for you: Though not everyone can stomach a big meal before exercising, a full meal before a workout ensures you get enough fat and protein to fuel performance.
- Or drink a protein shake with MCTs: It’ll ensure you have a fast-digesting protein and fat source your body can access shortly after eating, without having to worry about being too full to perform.
What to Eat After a Workout?
Whether you’re keto or not, what you eat after your workout is an important factor for how your body will recover from exercise. During this time, protein is your best friend.
Protein is often under-consumed on a ketogenic diet for because our classic recommendations are to eat 20 to 25 percent of our calories from protein to maintain ketosis. Although these guidelines were developed for children suffering from epilepsy, they continue to be recommended (along with 5 to 10 percent daily calories from carbs) because they represent a baseline for people wanting to get and stay in ketosis, meaning pretty much anyone who stays within these guidelines should be able to get into and maintain ketosis. But because every body is different, what actually works for you depends on your body and your lifestyle. For example, if you exercise intensely on a regular basis, you need more protein (more on that below, but also see Dr. Marc Bubbs’ book Peak: The New Science of Athletic Performance That is Revolutionizing Sports).
Many people fear eating excess protein on a ketogenic diet because they think it will be converted to glucose in the body and potentially kick you out of ketosis. While this can occur, this conversion is a demand-driven process, meaning your body only converts protein to glucose when it needs glucose for uses such as cells in the body that can only use glucose for energy (e.g. red blood cells) or to help replenish glycogen (our bodies stored form of carbohydrates) after exercise.
Regardless, you shouldn’t fear protein consumption, especially since many ketogenic dieters don’t eat enough of it even when they’re not exercising.
While getting enough protein is something you should focus on anyway, getting enough is even more important if you exercise. Research shows that consuming just 20 percent of your calories from protein while exercising can lead to muscle loss. This tells us that your body requires more protein if you are exercising, likely closer to 30 percent of your calories or more depending on your individual body. Plus, right after you exercise, your body is ready to soak in nutrients for recovery, especially protein. This is why reaching for a quick keto-friendly protein shake on your way home from the gym may be your best option.
But it’s just as important to note that choosing the right protein source after a workout is also essential. You need something that is fast-digesting during your post-workout window, which starts right after your workout and extends up to 24 hours. Whey protein, which comes from dairy, is the fastest-digesting protein powder, and when taken after exercise, it can stimulate muscle-protein synthesis, or the building of new muscle. This matters because muscle-protein synthesis is essential for recovery and preventing sore muscles.
People avoiding lactose from dairy can still get the benefits of whey protein by choosing a protein powder containing whey protein isolate (aka whey isolate, a dietary supplement that separates components from milk), which contains the lowest amounts of lactose.
Once you’ve nourished your body with rapidly digesting protein, you’re ready for a full meal. After you get home from the gym, prepare a high-protein and higher fat meal to make sure that you are continuing to focus on protein intake and getting all of the micronutrients from quality fat sources. Both will help facilitate recovery.
The Final Word
The most important thing to take away from this article is to not fear protein consumption. The traditional low-protein recommendations for keto are based on epilepsy treatment and should be modified to fit your own bio-individuality and lifestyle. Bottom line: if you’re exercising, you need more protein, especially after exercise.
Most post-workout foods aren’t keto-friendly. They have too much sugar, too little protein, too many additives — or all of the above.
Read the label of any popular pre-workout or post-workout bar or shake. Many of them are packed with grains, sugar, and additives.
Plenty of these bars contain your entire day’s carb allotment in one serving. All of them raise your blood sugar, kick you out of ketosis, and — worst of all — put you into fat-storage mode. No thanks.
Birthday Cake Keto Bars are here!
The answer to your sweet tooth. 17g of fat, 3g of net carbs, incredibly delicious.
Instead, you need post-workout foods that not only support your keto lifestyle — they support your fitness performance and recovery.
Unfortunately, most of the information about post-workout nutrition includes eating a ton of carbs after your gym session.
And that’s just not true.
In fact, muscle protein synthesis — or workout recovery — actually works better without carbs. Instead, you need plenty of protein and fat.
Get all the details in this article, including:
Before reviewing post-workout foods, however, you’ll want a primer on post-workout recovery. This knowledge will come in handy later.
Protein For Muscle Growth
When you lift weights, run, or dance-ersize, you break down muscle tissue. To come back stronger — to recover — that muscle tissue needs protein.
Specifically, those muscles need leucine — one of several branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) found in complete proteins. Leucine promotes muscle growth, or muscle protein synthesis.
Resistance exercise or strength training creates microscopic tears in your muscle tissue. This is perfectly normal, and it’s actually how your muscles grow. We’ll call that “muscle breakdown.”
When you eat adequate leucine-containing foods, you’ll maintain a positive net protein balance, and your muscles will grow back stronger.
Don’t eat enough leucine? The muscle stays broken down.
So how much leucine-rich protein should you eat?
That depends how much you exercise:
- Heavy exercise: 1.6 g / protein per kg body weight
- Moderate exercise: 1.3 g / protein per kg body weight
- Not much exercise: 1 g / protein per kg body weight
Up to 2 g protein/kg body weight a day — about 160 grams protein for a 180-pound person — is considered safe.
And what about protein intake on a ketogenic diet? It turns out that moderate- to high- protein intake is fine — even when you’re keto. Although most people keep their protein intake to around 30% of caloric intake, it’s unlikely you’ll experience gluconeogenesis even if you eat more than that.
Use the Perfect Keto Calculator to see how your macros stack up, then adjust according to your activity level and goals.
A brief word on protein timing and the post-workout anabolic window. You do need protein to build muscle — but it doesn’t matter if you eat that protein before or after the workout. The result will be similar.
How The Keto Diet Preserves Muscle
A low-carb high-fat keto diet not only burns adipose tissue (body fat), it also preserves lean tissue.
#1 Keto Spares Muscle
Ketones are your backup energy source. When you eat a low-carb high-fat diet, your body stops using glucose and starts using ketones.
When ketones enter your bloodstream, they send a message to your body: carbs are scarce — time to burn fat and preserve muscle. Technically speaking, ketones (specifically beta-hydroxybutyrate or BHB) interact with the amino acid leucine in your muscles to promote protein synthesis, aka muscle growth and repair.
This adaptation helped hunter-gatherers stay strong in times of famine.
As long as you have fatty acids and ketones in your bloodstream, your muscles will stay strong. Get adequate protein, and they’ll get even stronger.
Along with boosting BHB, keto also boosts adrenaline.
#2 Keto Boosts Adrenaline and Growth Factors
Going keto lowers blood sugar and low blood sugar stimulates adrenaline production. Adrenaline then increases both muscle preservation and fat loss.
In addition to adrenaline, low blood sugar also signals the release of growth hormone (GH) and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). These hormones interact with your muscle cells, telling them to grow and recover.
Now for some clinical trials on the muscle-sparing effect of keto.
#3 Keto Improves Body Composition
There’s plenty of evidence that keto improves body comp in overweight people. But what about in healthy people?
To answer that question, researchers fed 26 athletic young men two diets: low-carb keto and a high-carb conventional western diet.
After 11 weeks of weight training, the keto athletes had more muscle — and less fat — than the high-carb athletes.
So for building muscle — where keto succeeds, high carb fails. You’re about to learn why.
Why Carbs Fail Your Muscles
You may have heard the rumor that you need carbs to build muscle. More specifically, that you need insulin. And nothing raises insulin better than carbs.
This is really old information, though.
Yes, insulin is technically an anabolic or “building” hormone, but it’s not true that you need it to build or maintain muscle.
The truth is: when you’re getting enough leucine, you need very little insulin to repair muscle.
For instance: in a small controlled study, a low-carb keto diet promoted muscle synthesis better than a high-carb western diet.
The consensus? You don’t need carbs for muscle growth. Plenty of protein and healthy fats will do.
But what exactly should you eat to maximize recovery and stay keto? Read on to find out.
The 10 Best Keto Workout Foods
#1 Whey Protein
The amino acid leucine is necessary for muscle growth. And whey protein is your ultimate source of leucine.
First of all, whey protein is a complete protein — meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids, including muscle-building branched chain amino acids. You can’t synthesize essential aminos like leucine. You have to get them through food or supplementation.
Compared to other protein powders, whey stacks up favorably. In fact: according to the World Health Organization (WHO), whey ranks higher for digestibility and efficiency than casein, hemp, pea, or soy protein.
And when it comes to post-workout recovery, whey is king. Two quick examples now.
In one study, researchers gave 12 athletes whey or carbs, then had them lift weights. Unsurprisingly, whey won. To be specific: at both 12 and 24 hours post-workout, the whey-supplemented group had better markers of muscle recovery, strength, and power.
Another study, this time on 70 older women. After 12 weeks of strength training plus either a whey or placebo pre- or post-workout, the whey-supplemented women stayed stronger.
They also maintained more muscle mass than placebo control — a promising victory in the fight against age-related muscle decline.
Whey also pairs nicely with keto-induced weight loss. For instance: one group of researchers showed that adding whey to a ketogenic diet preserves muscle and blasts fat.
Whey protein isolate — preferably the grass-fed variety — is easy to add to your keto lifestyle. Just scoop 20-30 grams into your smoothie and blend away.
#2 Meat And Fish
Both high-quality grass-fed, pastured meat and wild-caught fish are excellent sources of fat and protein. Because of this, both make a great post-workout meal.
Meat and fish, like whey, are complete proteins. Remember: you can only get leucine from complete proteins.
Plus, both meat and fish are super keto-friendly — especially the fattier choices like wild-caught salmon or a nice grass-fed rib eye.
For reference, the keto diet is about 60% fat, 30% protein, and 10% carbs by calories. A salmon fillet is fatty and protein-rich, making it the perfect post-workout meal. Plus, it won’t add to your carb quota.
In addition to protein and fat, salmon also contains the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA. Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory and have been shown to minimize post-workout soreness.
A final benefit of meat and fish? They tend to be hypoallergenic.
Some people can’t eat dairy — which rules out casein and (sometimes) whey. Others have trouble with soy. Others still with egg.
If any of these sound like you, perhaps meat and fish should be your post-workout protein source of choice.
Another hypoallergenic, gut-friendly choice? Collagen powder.
#3 Collagen Powder
When you work out, you don’t just break down down muscle. You also break down connective tissue.
Connective tissue holds your bones together, determines your force output, and influences your range of motion.
What’s that connective tissue made of? It’s made of collagen. And so after exercise, collagen synthesis is crucial for recovery.
And the best way to boost collagen synthesis is to consume collagen powder.
Collagen powder doesn’t contain much leucine, but it does contain high amounts of the amino acids glycine and proline. These aminos are your chieftains of collagen production.
Is collagen keto, you ask? Yes indeed — collagen is the perfect keto food.
That’s because collagen doesn’t add to your carb count and helps keep your blood sugar low. And low blood sugar is how your body knows to stay in ketogenic, fat-burning mode.
The egg is nature’s ketogenic miracle: high fat, moderate protein, very low carb.
According to the WHO, egg protein is the only protein that rivals whey for efficiency, bioavailability, and digestibility. Which means that eggs — like whey — are a great choice to support your body post-workout.
Egg yolks are also high in choline, a nutrient that powers mitochondria in muscle cells. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of your cells, so this is great news for strength and recovery. No choline, no power.
And like salmon, pasture-raised and organic eggs contain anti-inflammatory omega-3s. Good for minimizing soreness after a workout.
Here’s the thing about eggs though. They take time to make. And if you want to buy a good-quality egg white protein, brace yourself for sticker shock.
Plus, a lot of people are sensitive or allergic to eggs, taking them off the table entirely.
Nonetheless, if you find yourself at a breakfast buffet and you can tolerate eggs — skip the croissants and load up on scrambles and omelets instead.
Or just have a protein bar.
#5 Protein Bars
It’s hard to find a keto-friendly protein bar. Most of them have way too many carbs. Even worse — those carbs often come from straight-up sugar.
Too many carbs spike your blood glucose, which raises your insulin levels, which slams the door on ketosis. And with high insulin levels — a fat storage hormone — you can’t lose fat.
Keeping your blood sugar low, on the other hand, keeps you in keto mode — and keto helps you lose weight, burn fat, and preserve muscle.
So yes, you want to stay in keto.
But you also want something quick after a workout. Something high in protein that won’t kick you out of ketosis. Something without artificial flavors, artificial colors, or sugar alcohols.
One option — maybe the only bona fide “keto-friendly” option — is the Perfect Keto Bar. With 10 grams of protein, 19 grams of fat, and 1 gram of sugar, this is a fantastic (and delicious) option for keto gym-goers.
Speaking of keto, how about drinking some ketones post-workout?
#6 Exogenous Ketones
When you eat a ketogenic diet, your body starts producing the ketone body beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB). In turn, BHB lowers your blood sugar and preserves muscle.
But diet alone isn’t the only way to increase your blood ketone levels. You can also consume ketones directly.
These edible ketones — called exogenous ketones — come in two forms: ketone salts and ketone esters. Ketone esters are more potent, but they don’t last as long as ketone salts. Plus the esters taste kind of nasty.
And exogenous ketones can enhance exercise performance.
Researchers fed 10 athletes a carb-heavy drink, a fatty drink, or a ketone drink before a cycling session. After the workout, the ketone-fed athletes had:
- Increased fat burning
- Improved glycogen conservation
- Lower muscle lactate levels (indicates better muscle endurance)
- Higher BHB levels
Another benefit of exogenous ketones? They help move blood sugar out of your blood and into lean body mass. In other words, you enhance athletic performance and lower your blood sugar at the same time.
And since high blood sugar is linked to obesity and chronic disease — it’s good to keep it low.
Another way to boost ketone levels and lower blood sugar? MCT oil.
#7 MCT Oil
MCT oil — or medium chain triglyceride oil — is a type of fat derived from coconut oil. You’ve probably heard of it, maybe even had some.
The nice thing about MCT oil? Adding some to drinks or meals — even just a few grams — can get you into ketosis pretty quickly.
That’s because, unlike other fats, MCT oil heads straight to your liver for ketone conversion. MCT oil is your keto-shortcut — an easy hack to raise blood BHB levels.
And higher BHB levels, you just learned, synergize with leucine to preserve and repair muscle tissue.
Getting ketones and leucine together is simple. Just add MCT oil — or MCT oil powder — to your post-workout protein shake.
Another food to add to that shake? Think green.
Your macronutrient requirements on keto are simple enough — fat, protein, carbs. You already know the best ratios.
Micronutrients, however, are not so simple. You need dozens of nutrients for everything from brain health to respiration to workout recovery. Vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, iron, zinc, iodine — the list goes on.
To get your micronutrients — Grandma was right — you need to eat your vegetables. Especially your greens.
But even if you follow Grandma’s advice, you may still be short on micronutrients. You’d need to eat 3-4 cups of spinach, for instance, to reach your daily requirement for magnesium.
When it comes to building muscles — and supporting your nervous system — magnesium is a non-negotiable. Without enough magnesium, you simply can’t perform.
Next time you make a post-workout shake, consider adding a well-formulated greens powder to the mix. That way, you’ll cover your macro and micro requirements all in one shot.
Next, another macro/micro powerhouse: the avocado.
One cup of avocado contains the following macronutrients:
- 22 grams fat
- 4 grams protein
- 13 grams carbohydrate
Wait, isn’t 13 grams of carbs too high?
Not in the presence of dietary fiber. The thing is, an avocado has 10 grams of fiber — and this fiber offsets the carb load by limiting your blood sugar response.
To put it mathematically: 13 grams carbs – 10 grams fiber = 3 grams net carbs.
And so, for your keto purposes, you only need to count 3 grams of carbs from an avocado. Phew.
Avocados are strong in the micronutrient department too. In just one cup of this green fruit, you have:
- 42% of your daily vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid — for energy production
- 35% of your daily vitamin K — for blood clotting
- 30% of your daily folate — for energy, metabolism, and DNA repair
- 21% of your daily vitamin E — for antioxidant defense
Finally, texture. Avocados turn your smoothie from runny mess to thick, velvety pudding. Yum.
If you’re still hungry after that smoothie, consider a handful of nuts.
Want to add more fat to your diet without chugging olive oil?
Easy. Eat nuts.
Almonds, macadamia nuts, cashews, walnuts, and pistachios are all high fat, low carb, keto-friendly snacks.
But nuts aren’t just good sources of macronutrients. They’re also good sources of micronutrients.
A quarter cup of walnuts, for example, contains 53% of your daily copper, 44% of your daily manganese, and 20% of your molybdenum.
Take copper. It’s crucial for collagen synthesis — which, as you learned, is part of any good workout recovery. And it’s hard to get enough copper through diet.
So if you live a keto lifestyle, nuts should be a mainstay in your snack routine. Nothing’s easier to bring to the gym, office, or movie theater.
If you want to mix it up, consider nut butter — the delicious, semi-liquid form of nuts. It beats the pants off chugging olive oil.
Now that you’ve loaded up on the best post-workout keto foods, it’s time to put your keto workout plan into action.
Keto-Friendly Workout Tips
#1 Limit Carbs
You do not need carbs to build muscle.
In fact, eating carbs will impede your keto workout goals.
With that in mind, try this strategy. Calculate your daily carb intake, then write that number down.
If that number is over 10-15% of your total caloric intake, you may be out of the keto-zone.
To bring your carb intake down, make some swaps. Swap nut butter for jelly, avocado for banana, Keto Bars for other higher-carb bars.
Soon you’ll be fueling your workouts like a ketogenic champ — and your muscles will thank you.
#2 Blend A Post Workout Smoothie
You can almost every item on today’s list to a post-workout smoothie. Here’s what that smoothie might look like:
- 20-30 grams grass-fed whey protein isolate
- 1-2 tablespoons MCT oil powder
- 1 scoop exogenous ketone salts
- 1 medium avocado
- 2-3 scoops collagen protein powder
- 1 scoop greens powder
- ½ cup coconut milk
This smoothie is high fat for your keto goals and high protein for your muscle synthesis goals. Plus it has a ton of micronutrients.
The best part of having a smoothie routine? It spares you the agony of decision fatigue.
#3 Snack Wisely
Even if you go keto and cut your cravings, you’ll still want a snack now and then. That’s okay.
What’s not okay is snacking on junk food — chips, high carb protein bars, cookies, etc. These foods will boot you out of ketosis and make your cravings even worse.
Instead, you need to arm yourself with high-fat snacks — keto bars, nuts, nut butter, and coconut chips — that stave off hunger, fuel exercise, and keep you in fat-burning mode.
Think of it as a pantry makeover. You can do it.
#4 Exercise Right
When it comes to staying strong and looking good, proper nutrition is only half the equation. The other half, of course, is exercise.
Here are some movements to help you stay lean, mean, and healthy:
- Bodyweight exercises like squats, push ups, pull ups, or planks
- Heavy lifts like back squats, deadlifts, bench press, or kettlebell swings
- High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) — shown to boost hormones associated with muscle growth
- Yoga — useful for strength, mobility, and flexibility
Your exercise options are nearly limitless. Pick a few, cycle high- and low-intensity, build in recovery time, and reap the benefits.
Post Workout Keto Fuel
Picture this. You finish your workout, feel famished, and walk to your gym’s food counter.
The options are usually bleak. The protein bars are more like candy bars. The protein shakes are more like milkshakes. High-carb, high-sugar nightmares.
You can wait a few minutes until you get home.
There you have all the ingredients to make the perfect keto smoothie. Whey protein, MCT oil powder, collagen, avocado, greens powder, nut butter — perfect for post-workout fuel.
It will be a high-fat, high-protein keto bomb designed to enhance your recovery. And it will hit the spot.
6 Things You Need to Know About Exercising on the Keto Diet
If you’ve decided to try out the ketogenic (“keto” for short) diet, you probably hope to reap some of the myriad health benefits it claims to bring. The keto diet is designed to put the body in a state of ketosis. When your body is in ketosis, it is burning fat as a fuel source, as opposed to running on carbohydrates. The touted advantages of keto include weight loss, boosted energy, and fewer blood sugar swings.
RELATED: Everything You Should Know About the Potential Risks and Benefits of Keto
One question mark around the diet, however, is whether or not it does your exercise any favors.
“We have very little evidence that says the ketogenic diet is better for anything exercise-wise,” says Andy Galpin, PhD, an associate professor of kinesiology at California State University in Fullerton. Though for some types of exercise, it might affect performance more than others.
Here’s what you should know.
RELATED: 10 Amazing Benefits of Exercise
1. It May Be Tougher to Boost Performance When It Comes to High-Intensity Exercise While on the Keto Diet
The majority of high intensity exercise — activity that requires short, intense bursts of energy — is powered by the carbohydrates you eat. The human body stores carbohydrates in the muscle cells as muscle glycogen. That muscle glycogen becomes an immediate fuel source for your body when you do any sort of activity that periodically requires intense movement, including strength training, sprinting, and other sports.
If you’re on the keto diet, your body is burning fat for energy rather than carbohydrates (if you’re doing keto right). As a fuel source, that fat isn’t as easily burned as carbohydrates, so the process is overall less efficient, Galpin explains.
The result is that the keto diet tends to limit performance during high-intensity workouts, while lower-intensity workouts may be less affected.
One small study that followed 42 healthy adults after they spent six weeks on the ketogenic diet found that the participants’ performance in endurance capacity and peak power dropped. The data was published in February 2017 in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism.
Galpin says he wouldn’t recommend the diet as a means to improve performance. “It’s not going to be any better for physical performance than the standard diet,” he says.
RELATED: What to Eat Before and After You Work Out
2. Keto May Boost Fat Burn
While keto may not be best for things that require short bursts of energy such as weightlifting or Spinning, it does seem to work well in burning more fat in people who like to do steady state aerobic exercise, like distance running or cycling at a steady pace.
In the May 2017 issue of the Journal of Physiology, a study of elite competitive walkers showed that the athletes who were on ketogenic diets were able to significantly increase fat burning in their bodies during training compared with walkers on a more standard diet that included carbohydrates. But despite burning more fat during training while on the keto diet, those athletes also experienced worse athletic performance than the athletes on the more standard diet. The race walkers on the keto diet complained that they felt it took greater exertion to complete the same workouts as the athletes on a more standard diet, and they were less likely to complete the assigned workouts compared with the athletes on the more standard diet.
3. You May Feel Like Your Gas Pedal Doesn’t Work as Well, Especially at First
As your body becomes “keto-adapted,” it begins to train itself to burn fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. Initially, that process may leave you feeling less energized than usual when it comes to working out.
Some research findings suggest that athletes have been successful in increasing their ability to use fat as a fuel source, according to Nitin K. Sethi, MD, an associate professor of neurology at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, who began studying the effects of the keto diet on human performance because one of its original purposes was to treat epilepsy.
Dr. Sethi cites a small study published in July 2017 in Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. “While athletes on a high-fat diet experienced reduced energy initially, the athletes experienced a return of higher levels later on, especially during exercise,” he says.
Sethi cautions that the athletes in the study had more difficulties undertaking higher intensity forms of exercise.
4. Your Body May Burn Calories Quicker on Keto
A study published in the BMJ in November 2018 found that when overweight adults replaced carbohydrates in their diet with fat for a period of five months, their bodies were able to burn approximately 250 more calories per day than people who ate high-carbohydrate and low-fat diets. Keep in mind though that gram per gram, fat is more calorie-dense than carbohydrates: each gram of fat has nine calories, while a gram of protein or carbohydrate has four calories (according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture).
That difference in caloric burn over the course of a day can add up when it comes to weight loss. Remember, to lose weight the body needs to burn more calories than it takes in. “Calories are not the only thing that’s relevant, but they still matter,” Galpin says.
RELATED: Study Sheds Light on How Low-Carb Diets Can Boost Metabolism and Help With Weight Loss
5. Keto Is Better for Maintaining Muscle Mass Than Adding Muscle
Maintaining and growing muscle mass helps slow down the aging process and protect against the risk of age-related bone loss. Muscle mass helps you to burn more calories each day, even when you aren’t exercising.
RELATED: What You Should Know About Exercise at 40 and Beyond
If you are in the gym to keep the muscle mass you have, a ketogenic diet could work for you. But if you are looking to add muscle mass, the lower amounts of calories and protein you take in each day while you are on keto could make it tougher for you. “The average person is going to have a much harder time adding muscle on keto,” Galpin says.
Part of that difficulty would arise if you’re trying to consume fewer calories than you burn, meaning if you’re on the diet for weight loss (and that would be the case if you’re on any diet). But it’s also more difficult to build muscle on keto because your body has fewer carbohydrates available, which it would otherwise store in your muscles and use as part of the muscle growth process. It’s not impossible, but it’s a much less efficient way to build muscle, Galpin says.
6. Just Because You Are Burning Fat, That Doesn’t Mean You Are Losing Fat
While the ketogenic diet can be a good way to train your body to use fat as a fuel source, it doesn’t mean that when you exercise, the body will use up all that fat. You still need to be burning more calories overall than you’re consuming to actually lose fat (and lose weight).
“Burning fat doesn’t always mean fat loss,” Galpin says. When you are on keto, you burn more fat, but you also store more fat, because more of your calories are coming from fats than they otherwise would, he explains. “You still have to have a calorie deficit to see weight loss results.”
If you’re just starting the keto diet and want to find an exercise routine that will support your health and fitness goals, this complete routine is for you.
When you first start keto, some high-intense exercises aren’t ideal because your body needs time to adjust to a new fuel source: fat.
Other exercises however, such as low-impact workouts, are perfect for keto newbies.
The answer to your sweet tooth. 17g of fat, 3g of net carbs, incredibly delicious.
Low-impact workouts can help with weight loss, fat burning, strength, body composition goals, and recovery as you lower your carb intake.
Today you’ll learn about keto-adaptation, the health benefits of exercising in ketosis, and the best exercises for keto beginners.
Plus, you’ll get a keto exercise plan that you can start using today.
But first, a little explanation on adapting to ketosis.
How Starting A Keto Diet Impacts Exercise
To power your cells, little organelles called mitochondria burn two primary energy sources: glucose and fatty acids.
Going keto shifts your body toward burning fatty acids (fat) — a process called beta-oxidation — and away from using glucose for energy — a process called glycolysis.
This shift, however, takes about two to three weeks for most people.
During this adaptation period, you may experience the keto flu — a catch-all term for the sleep issues, irritability, and other side effects that you might experience in the early stages of ketosis.
The keto flu may occur for several reasons:
- Adapting to fat as energy naturally takes time
- Electrolyte or micronutrient deficiencies
- Carb withdrawal, which has similar symptoms as caffeine withdrawal
These factors are either within your direct control (you can take electrolytes and eat more vegetables) or resolve on their own within the first week or two.
Naturally, these symptoms will impact your exercise plan.
You may feel fatigue during the first few weeks on keto, or have a harder time recovering from workouts.
The good news is: while you adapt to keto, you can still benefit from exercise.
Why Ketosis Boosts Your Workout Performance
For optimal health, you need to get your diet right first.
If you’re just starting keto, you’ve taken a big step toward…
- Better body composition
- Lower inflammation
- Higher energy levels
But exercise is important too.
A sedentary lifestyle is linked to nearly every chronic disease, including diabetes and obesity.
A regular exercise routine helps:
- Burn fat
- Build strength
- Improve body composition
- Boost your mood. The adrenaline released during a workout not only helps you burn fat, but also travels to your brain to make you happier.
The good news for keto-dieters is that ketosis can make your workouts more effective.
It makes evolutionary sense. Early humans didn’t always have access to carbs, and they needed to maintain high performance during long hunts.
Research shows keto enhances workout performance:
- Keto-adapted endurance athletes burned 2-3 times more fat on a run than high-carb athletes
- In a recent study, endurance athletes lost more body fat and reported better recovery after 10 weeks on a low-carb, high-fat diet
- After adapting to a keto, obese people walked on the treadmill nearly twice as long
- Cyclists fed ketone salts burned more fat than placebo-fed controls
- Young men added more muscle mass by lifting weights on a ketogenic diet than on a high-carb diet
In most of these studies, the participants had sufficient time to adapt to a state of ketosis.
But what if you’re new to keto and still adjusting to using fat as fuel?
Top 3 Exercises For Keto Beginners
There are many kinds of exercises at varying levels of intensity.
Powerful, short-burst exercises are glycolytic — meaning they require glucose as fuel — and include high-intensity interval training (HIIT), Crossfit-style weight training, and “boot camp” classes at your local gym.
Once you’re keto-adapted, you should be able to handle and benefit from HIIT training.
That’s because keto-adapted people can preserve muscle glycogen — the storage form of glucose — for use during intense exercise.
But during your keto-adaptation phase, when you’re not quite ready to fully use ketones for energy, low-intensity activities like hiking, yoga, and easy weight lifting will be better for you.
Here are the top 3 exercises you can do while you’re transitioning to ketosis:
#1: Lighter Cardio
Some aerobic exercises are great for keto beginners, provided you keep them low-intensity (40-50% of your max heart rate),.
These cardiovascular exercises are great for easing into keto while you transition into keto:
- Lower settings on cardio machines
#2: Easy Resistance Training
Contrary to conventional wisdom, you don’t need carbs to build muscle.
Whether you’re fully keto-adapted or not, eating adequate protein and having ketones in your blood helps you maintain lean mass and build strength.
An easy, high-rep low-weight lifting program tends to work best for keto beginners.
#3: Balance and Flexibility
You should incorporate balance and flexibility into your routine to prevent injury, improve range of motion, and activate your core, such as:
Your 7-Day Keto Exercise Plan
To take the guesswork out of the equation, here’s your 7-day endurance strength program, with lighter weights and higher reps to help you stay out of the glycolytic (glucose burning) zone.
Back Squat 3 15 1-2 mins Reverse Lunge 3 10 each leg 1-2 mins Split Squat 3 15 1 min Glute Ham Raise 3 15 1 min 20 mins LISS
Strict Press 3 15 1 min Pull Ups 3 15 1 min Push Ups 3 15 1 min Ring Row 3 15 1 min 20 mins LISS
DAY 3: REST
Deadlift 3 15 1-2 mins Glute Bridge 3 15 1-2 mins Good Mornings 3 15 1 min Step Ups 3 10 each leg 1 min 20 mins LISS
Bench Press 3 15 1-2 mins Bent Over Row 3 15 1-2 mins Plank Hold 3 1 min hold 30 secs Reverse Hypers 3 20 30 secs Hanging Knee Raises 3 15 30 secs 20 mins LISS
DAY 6: REST
40 mins LISS
A Keto Resolution
Going keto is a big step. It means taking control of your health.
For more actionable meal plans and tips for starting keto, check out our comprehensive Keto Kickstart program.
A Keto Diet Meal Plan and Menu That Can Transform Your Body
Switching over to a ketogenic diet can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.
Your focus should be on reducing carbs while increasing the fat and protein content of meals and snacks.
In order to reach and remain in a state of ketosis, carbs must be restricted.
While certain people might only achieve ketosis by eating less than 20 grams of carbs per day, others may be successful with a much higher carb intake.
Generally, the lower your carbohydrate intake, the easier it is to reach and stay in ketosis.
This is why sticking to keto-friendly foods and avoiding items rich in carbs is the best way to successfully lose weight on a ketogenic diet.
Keto-Friendly Foods to Eat
When following a ketogenic diet, meals and snacks should center around the following foods:
- Eggs: Pastured, organic whole eggs make the best choice.
- Poultry: Chicken and turkey.
- Fatty fish: Wild-caught salmon, herring and mackerel.
- Meat: Grass-fed beef, venison, pork, organ meats and bison.
- Full-fat dairy: Yogurt, butter and cream.
- Full- fat cheese: Cheddar, mozzarella, brie, goat cheese and cream cheese.
- Nuts and seeds: Macadamia nuts, almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, peanuts and flaxseeds.
- Nut butter: Natural peanut, almond and cashew butters.
- Healthy fats: Coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, coconut butter and sesame oil.
- Avocados: Whole avocados can be added to almost any meal or snack.
- Non-starchy vegetables: Greens, broccoli, tomatoes, mushrooms and peppers.
- Condiments: Salt, pepper, vinegar, lemon juice, fresh herbs and spices.
Foods to Avoid
Avoid foods rich in carbs while following a keto diet.
The following foods should be restricted:
- Bread and baked goods: White bread, whole-wheat bread, crackers, cookies, doughnuts and rolls.
- Sweets and sugary foods: Sugar, ice cream, candy, maple syrup, agave syrup and coconut sugar.
- Sweetened beverages: Soda, juice, sweetened teas and sports drinks.
- Pasta: Spaghetti and noodles.
- Grains and grain products: Wheat, rice, oats, breakfast cereals and tortillas.
- Starchy vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, corn, peas and pumpkin.
- Beans and legumes: Black beans, chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans.
- Fruit: Citrus, grapes, bananas and pineapple.
- High-carb sauces: Barbecue sauce, sugary salad dressings and dipping sauces.
- Certain alcoholic beverages: Beer and sugary mixed drinks.
Though carbs should be restricted, low-glycemic fruits such as berries can be enjoyed in limited amounts as long as you’re maintaining a keto-friendly macronutrient range.
Be sure to choose healthy food sources and steer clear of processed foods and unhealthy fats.
The following items should be avoided:
- Unhealthy fats: Margarine, shortening and vegetable oils such as canola and corn oil.
- Processed foods: Fast food, packaged foods and processed meats such as hot dogs and lunch meats.
- Diet foods: Foods that contain artificial colors, preservatives and sweeteners such as sugar alcohols and aspartame.
Sugar can be found in a wide variety of beverages including juice, soda, iced tea and coffee drinks.
While on a ketogenic diet, high-carb drinks must be avoided just like high-carb foods.
It’s no small matter that sugary beverages have also been linked to various health issues — from obesity to an increased risk of diabetes (6, 7, 8).
Thankfully, there are many tasty, sugar-free options for those on the keto diet.
Keto-friendly beverage choices include:
- Water: Water is the best choice for hydration and should be consumed throughout the day.
- Sparkling water: Sparkling water can make an excellent soda replacement.
- Unsweetened coffee: Try heavy cream to add flavor to your cup of joe.
- Unsweetened green tea: Green tea is delicious and provides many health benefits.
If you want to add some extra flavor to your water, try experimenting with different keto-friendly flavor combinations.
For example, tossing some fresh mint and lemon peel into your water bottle can make hydration a breeze.
Though alcohol should be restricted, enjoying a low-carb drink like vodka or tequila mixed with soda water is perfectly fine on occasion.
Summary A healthy ketogenic diet should revolve around high-fat, low-carb food choices and restrict highly processed items and unhealthy fats. Keto-friendly beverage options must be sugar-free. Consider water, sparkling water or unsweetened green tea and coffee.
What Type of Workout Is Best on a Low Carb or Keto Diet?
The ketogenic diet is a low carbohydrate diet that restricts carbs to the point that the body goes into prime fat-burning mode. In fact, research has shown that the ketogenic diet is so good at helping the body burn more fat that you can experience fat loss without the addition of exercise. However, that doesn’t mean exercise can’t accelerate your results or help you achieve other goals besides shedding fat. Moving your body is important to your overall health, and adding exercise to your ketogenic lifestyle can lead to even more drastic health improvements. But the question is, what type of exercise is best on a keto diet?
Understanding the Exercise Types
There are many different types of exercise, each of which impacts the body a little differently and relies on different energy systems. The two primary categories of exercise we’ll discuss in this article are resistance training and endurance training, since these types of exercises are most impacted by keto.
Each of these exercise types can be further broken down as follows:
Resistance Training (anaerobic training)
- Strength Training: training with the primary goal of improving strength. While all resistance training can improve strength to some degree, strength training is exercising in a way that maximizes increases in strength. Bench presses, deadlifts, and squats are great examples of strength training.
- Hypertrophy Training: a type of exercise that’s focused on muscle growth. Differences between hypertrophy training and strength training include different repetition ranges, different rest times, and different training volume. For hypertrophy training, rep ranges are between 8 to 12 with a lower weight, greater rest time, and a higher training volume than strength training.
- Power Training: a type of training that focuses on training the body in a way that promotes rapid, explosive movements, most often used for sport. This type of training also differs in rep ranges, rest time, and training volume. During power training, you’ll do explosive movements like box jumps, broad jumps, or squat jumps. Strength training lifts can also be used for power training, but at lower rep ranges, longer rest time, and a much lower training volume.
Endurance Training (Aerobic Training)
- High-Intensity Interval Training: Also known as HIIT, this is a type of cardiovascular training that is short in duration but high in intensity and repeated after bouts of rest. An example of HIIT is sprinting for 10 to 20 seconds followed by one minute of rest, repeated for multiple rounds.
- Low-Intensity Steady State: Also called LISS, this training is the opposite of HIIT. It’s long in duration but low in intensity. An example of LISS is a 30-minute jog.
What Workout is Best on a Ketogenic Diet?
While it was previously thought that muscle and strength gain was not possible on keto, there is more and more research demonstrating that you can improve strength and muscle mass on a ketogenic diet. Thus, there is no one exercise that is best for a ketogenic diet; the exercise you choose should be based on your goal.
Heightening Overall Strength
If your primary goal is to get stronger, then you should follow a strength program. A strength program will consist of a lower number of repetitions and a greater amount of weight. You will also have more rest time between sets on a strength program to allow your muscles to recover for the next set. On most strength programs, squats, bench presses, and deadlifts are the core three lifts you’ll be mastering.
You may have seen conflicting information regarding improving strength on keto. This is because many exercise performance studies are short. One thing we know about ketogenic dieting is that after the initiation to the diet, there is a period of reduced physical performance. Thus, short-term studies show decreases in exercise performance. However, longer studies typically demonstrate improvements.
For Greater Muscle Mass
If your primary goal is muscle growth, then you should be following a hypertrophy-training program. A hypertrophy program will consist of more reps, typically 8 to 12, with a shorter rest time. During hypertrophy training the goal is to stimulate the muscle to grow, and this is done through increasing your training volume and decreasing your rest time.
You may have also heard that carbohydrates are required to stimulate muscle growth, but this is not true. What’s more important is getting enough protein in to stimulate the repair and growth of muscle tissue following hypertrophy training.
Endurance training, better known as cardio or aerobic training, is a type of training that relies heavily on your cardiovascular system. Endurance training includes both HIIT training and LISS and should be used when your primary goal is improving your cardiovascular endurance. Endurance training is also a great way to stimulate fat loss, making it a fantastic addition to a weight-loss plan.
Research has shown that the most robust improvement in exercise from ketogenic dieting is endurance performance due to the diet’s ability to tap into stored fat, a fuel source of more than 20,000 calories in even the leanest individuals. This ability to tap into a larger fuel source means more energy to support endurance performance.
For Weight Loss/Better Overall Health
If you’re looking to add exercise to your keto diet to improve overall health, then you should be practicing a variety of strength, hypertrophy, and endurance training, since each provide different benefits. Plus, if you’re incorporating exercise for fat loss, a variety of these exercises will be helpful. Remember, keto makes fat the body’s primary fuel source. If you exercise, you will burn more fat.
For Therapeutic Reasons
If you’re practicing keto for therapeutic reasons, you may need to get even more specific with your exercise selection. According to naturopathic doctor Dr. Nasha Winters, “Folks with high stress/adrenal issues might do better without cardio and cancer patients need to be careful of stimulating too much growth factor so it’s not a time to train for a marathon or start bodybuilding.”
To further drive the point home, exercise should be tailored to the individual and should primarily be based on goal. However, choosing the best exercise also depends on where you are in your ketogenic journey.
Exercising for New Keto Dieters
It’s important to point out that just because you should exercise on a ketogenic diet, doesn’t mean it will be easy, especially for people new to the ketogenic lifestyle.
If you’re new to keto, it’s likely that you will be experiencing at least one of several common “keto-flu” symptoms as your body adjusts to the diet. Common keto-flu symptoms include:
- Brain fog
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle cramps
- Impaired mood
Experiencing any of these symptoms could impair the desire to exercise or the quality of exercise performance. However, skipping exercise is the last thing you want to do because exercising can aid in faster adaptation to the ketogenic diet. Thus, exercise should especially be included while you are adjusting from a high-carb lifestyle to a low-carb, higher fat one.
For this reason, during this time it’s important to select exercise that’s enjoyable to you. It can be as simple as going for a walk, shooting some hoops, or being out in your garden. Just move!
Remember, physical performance is going to decrease for a short period of time after starting keto so do not be discouraged if you are not performing as well as you usually do. Your performance will come back, especially when you incorporate some of these keto exercise tips!
Tips for Exercising on Keto
There are many strategies you can take to improve your exercise performance while following a keto diet:
- Hydrate: Without making a point of hydrating, dehydration is a common side effect of ketogenic dieting. Dehydration can impair exercise performance and general well being, so be sure to drink ample water daily.
- Get enough electrolytes: Electrolyte deficiency is also a common side effect of keto dieting. Several electrolytes, like sodium, magnesium, and potassium, all of which can get kicked out of balance on a keto diet, are especially important for muscular function. To combat this, replenish electrolytes via whole food sources, supplementation, and a pinch of Himalayan sea salt in your drinking water.
- Take pre-workout supplements: While many pre-workout supplements just contain a lot of caffeine, a good pre-workout supplement will also contain ingredients that support exercise, such as citrulline, beta-alanine, and creatine.
- Consider taking exogenous ketones: Supplemental ketones can provide additional energy to your body during exercise. Ketone salts are also rich in electrolytes, further contributing to their exercise improving capabilities.
- Eat more protein/calories: If you are exercising, your calorie demand is higher, especially in the form of protein since your body needs it to help recover from the exercise. Be sure to adjust your macronutrients accordingly. You can do that here.
One final note on exercise: It’s important to not push too hard. As Dr. Winters advises, “Many in the keto community are also weekend warriors or ‘over-exercisers,’ which can increase a lot of inflammation and oxidative stress.” Be sure to not push too far and listen to your body when it needs more time to recover.
The Last Word
Choosing the best exercise on a ketogenic diet is dependent on your goal. Whether your goal is improving physical performance, body composition, or overall health, the right training program accompanied by a ketogenic diet can help you get there.
Remember, when starting keto, you may struggle with exercise. Don’t get discouraged, follow the keto tips mentioned in this article, stay consistent, and watch your health transform!
For a more in-depth read on the connection between health, nutrition, and exercise, check out Dr. Marc Bubbs’ book Peak: The New Science of Athletic Performance That is Revolutionizing Sports.Exercise and keto diet