The secret to building muscle on Keto isn't a secret. Just get enough protein, eat enough calories, and strength train.
If your regimen checks those boxes, you'll be well-positioned for Keto gains. More importantly, you'll be well-positioned for a longer, healthier life.
Keep reading for answers to common questions on low-carb muscle building. You'll learn the best foods, the proper macro strategy, if meal timing matters, supplement-related questions, and much more.
Why Build Muscle?
An ad campaign for building muscle wouldn't have just one ad. There are too many benefits to jam into thirty seconds of air time.
You might build muscle to:
- Prevent age-related muscle decline (sarcopenia[*]) and live a longer, higher-quality life
- Feel better naked (or half-naked)
- Improve your sports performance
- Strengthen your bones[*]
- Arm wrestle your new next-door neighbor into submission
- Reduce your risk of fall-related injuries[*]
- Improve your metabolic health
- Lower your risk of chronic disease
- Carry more groceries for the neighbor across the street
These are just a few examples. Muscles keep you vital and functional, folks.
The Keys to Building Muscle
As you'll recall, there are three keys to building muscle:
- Adequate protein intake
- Adequate caloric intake
- Strength training
You need protein because protein contains the building blocks (amino acids) for muscle growth. The amino acid leucine (high in animal protein) is crucial for muscle protein synthesis.[*]
You need calories because consuming fewer calories than your metabolism demands leads to weight loss. Building strength while losing weight is possible, but a caloric surplus is better for pure gains.[*]
Finally, you need resistance training. Stressing your muscles activates pathways like mTOR and IGF-1[*], which help your muscles come back bigger and stronger.
Can You Build Muscle on Keto?
You may have heard that carbs are required for muscle growth. This isn't quite true.
Eating carbs makes you release insulin (a growth-promoting hormone), but you don't need much insulin for gains. Instead, you need leucine from high-quality protein sources.[*]
Let's simplify. If your goal is maximal gains, consider consuming carbs. (You do get a growth boost.) But if your goal is body composition (less fat and more muscle), consider a low-carb diet that includes nutrient-dense foods rich in protein, fat, and micronutrients.
10 Low-Carb Foods for Building Muscle
- Organ meats
- Whey protein
- Collagen powder
- Green leafy vegetables
- Full-fat dairy
Let’s move on to pragmatics now.
Keto Muscle Building FAQ
If you're keen on Keto gains, take two minutes for these questions and answers.
What should my macros be?
Aim for a high protein Keto diet of 30–35% protein calories. The remainder of your calories will come primarily from fat.
A science-based target is 1.2–1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.[*] (About 110 to 150 grams for a 200-pound person.) It's safe to go higher, but don't go lower.
How many calories should I consume for muscle growth?
To add muscle mass, consume more calories than your metabolism demands. Start with a 10% caloric surplus and work up if you don't see results.
For best results, track calories and protein in Carb Manager. It's hard to calibrate your nutritional needs without access to the data.
Do meal and protein timing matter?
Yes and no. No, because a 2020 meta-analysis evaluating 65 studies found that the timing of protein intake did not affect lean body mass, grip strength, or leg press.[*]
But yes, because this analysis didn't consider everything. For instance, cramming all your protein and calories into one meal a day (OMAD) won't work as well as distributing your meals.
You can only absorb so much protein in one sitting—much less than the recommended target of 1.2–1.6 grams per kilogram bodyweight. According to one review paper, you maximize gains by consuming 0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight across a minimum of four meals.[*] In other words, four smaller meals beat one big meal.
Should I take supplements to build muscle?
You don't need supplements if you're training and eating the proper diet for building muscle. But these compounds may enhance your efforts:
- A whey protein supplement to supply leucine
- A collagen supplement to support connective tissue
- Omega-3 fatty acids to help reduce muscle loss[*]
- Creatine for strength and power[*]
- A well-formulated multivitamin to prevent deficiencies that could hinder gains
How will cardio affect my gains?
What should my strength training regimen look like?
According to the science-driven US Physical Activity Guidelines, you should strength train at least twice weekly.[*] But 3–4 times may work better to maximize gains.
The heavier lifts—back squats, deadlifts, bench presses, leg presses, weighted pull-ups, etc.—have the most significant effects on muscle protein synthesis. When in doubt, work large muscle groups and go heavy.
But if injuries are a concern, you can still build strength on a bodyweight regimen. Listen to your body and your common sense.
Does muscle building look different for women than men?
Men tend to have an easier time building muscle than women. The male sex hormone testosterone helps with that.
Depending on women’s muscle-building goals, they can modify their regimens accordingly.
Moderate-weight, higher-rep protocols work best for staying lean and maintaining muscle. For gains, increase weight and decrease reps.
Building Muscle Holistically
Remember the three muscle growth keys? Protein, calories, and strength training.
You need all three for gains. Think of them as the base of your muscle-building pyramid.
Completing the pyramid with a nice pointy top requires a holistic approach that entails:
- Preventing micronutrient deficiencies.
- Getting plenty of sleep for recovery.
- Proper hydration with electrolytes. (Hard to lift weights with cramped muscles!)
- Not smoking, excessively drinking, or otherwise increasing systemic inflammation.
- Managing stress and social ties (The stress hormone cortisol breaks down muscle[*]).
You don't have to be perfect in all of these areas. Just make a concerted effort, and you'll move steadily towards a longer, more muscular life.