One of the things I hear most, especially in the gym from other lifters, is that I'm never going to get truly bigger or stronger on a diet that's high in fat and low in carbs. They say, "Keto simply isn't good for athletes; especially bodybuilders."
Their argument isn't entirely off base but that's because they don't know how to properly flip the switch and teach their body how to use fuel differently. Until the body learns to use another fuel source, for them, they may need to eat carbs to burn and build.
Usually, a person lifting weights on a regular basis with the intent to grow size and strength will need carbs to produce glycogen (a form a sugar that is stored by the body and used to fuel your muscles.) This is why most treating physicians and personal trainers suggest high-carb diets for athletes.
While I'm certainly no bodybuilder, I'm happy to be in the the best shape of my life. My personal trainer has me on cyclical ketosis and you know what - I'm gaining size and strength so I know it can be done.
Now let's talk about how ketosis is taking my athletic performance to the next level.
Until now, most studies have concluded that you top out at around 10% of energy recruited from fat and for the rest you rely mostly on glycogen, a form of sugar stored in your muscles and liver. That’s the main reason high-carb diets have been the standard for athletes for so many years. With a low-carb diet, your glycogen stores empty quickly, you run out of fuel, and you start breaking down your muscles for energy. Yes?
Well, this is not entirely true if you teach your body to prefer fat for fuel over carbs.
See, I work out five days per week, and two of those days are with my trainer. This is when we kick up the intensity levels without any problems. So, how do we flip the switch?
A groundbreaking new study out of UConn found that low-carb endurance athletes perform just as well as high-carb endurance athletes, if not better. The results of this study challenge the 50 years of research telling us the very opposite.
Half of the participants ate low-carb (<20% of calories from carbs) for 6 months, the other half ate high-carb (>55% of calories from carbs) for 6 months.
On test day, athletes ran for 3 hours. The researchers measured the runners’ energy expenditure and gathered blood, muscle tissue, saliva, and a variety of other samples. They then pieced everything together to better understand what each group was burning for fuel, and how hard they had to work.
The results were impressive. The ketogenic runners showed (to quote the lab techs) “extraordinarily high rates of fat oxidation.”
In other words, the low-carb athletes were fat-burning machines. They recruited tremendous amounts of energy from fat during the 3-hour run and showed no more fatigue than the high-carb runners did. What’s even more fascinating is that both groups had the same muscle glycogen levels during and after exercise, and they weren’t breaking down their muscles to do it.
In other words, a ketogenic diet can help you.
For me, the switch has flipped. My body now understands that in order to operate, it must find fat and burn fat for fuel. Why? Because it's no longer getting the volume of carbs it used to get to sustain daily activity. I feed it fat now.
The results are impressive:
1. I've gained 10 lbs of muscle.
2. I massively increase the fat I burn
3. I preserve my muscle tissue
4. I have intense (no crash) energy and that lets me keep exercising like a boss
In fact, the study’s lead author said that several of the high-carb ultra-marathoners in the study switched over to a low-carb diet after seeing how well the ketogenic participants performed.
So, it helps runners, but what about lifting weights?
You can build muscle on a high-fat, low-carb diet, too. For me, upping my fat intake and limiting carbs has been a powerful way to improve performance, both in and out of the gym.
While we all can attest that it’s easy to get caught up in ratios and percentages when you’re eating low-carb, please remember that we all have different genetic backgrounds, and you very well may find that cyclical ketosis works better for you (like it does for me ) rather than being in ketosis all the time.
I build size and strength using cyclical ketosis which is basically five days of low-carb, then two higher-carb days. The two higher-carb days are the days that I am taking training to the next level with my trainer in the gym attacking both compound exercises for multiple muscle groups and whole body workouts to blast the entire body all at once.
Whatever works for you, be sure to listen to your body and focus on how you feel and play around with the fat-to-carb ratio until you find something that works for you. Keto, if done consistently and done well, can upgrade your biology and change your DNA. (more on that in the next chapter.)
Lastly, eating testosterone-boosting foods during the week has been invaluable for me.
It truly helps that I love everything listed here, and the items listed here are also satiating and flavorful which makes eating them that much more enjoyable. It also doesn't feel like work; or like I'm sacrificing anything.
In conclusion, if you’ve been working out while eating paleo, keto, bulletproof, or any other variation on a high-fat, low-carb diet, here’s some good news - brand new research shows that you not only don’t need carbs for athletic performance, you can actually gain an advantage if you cut way down on them.
So, push ahead and take keto to the next level.