Are you looking to transform your body into a fat burning furnace to obliterate any extra adipose you may have accumulated over the holiday season?
If you’re like most bodybuilders seeking to reestablish a semblance of shreddedness, your answer would no doubt be a resounding yes. And like most people, fitness-focused included, you probably have a little extra ‘padding’ to lose as the New Year commences. Padding that’ll need to be removed if you’re to stand any chance of looking your best next year.
Despite trying many approaches to getting big and building lean muscle mass last year, you were still not entirely satisfied with your results, there is one method that may help you to achieve your goals. It’s a radical departure from traditional bodybuilding dieting and, to put it bluntly, heretical to most members of the hardcore bodybuilding orthodoxy. It’s called ketogenic diet, or keto, dieting and it is delivering phenomenal results for those who are willing to give it a decent shot.
ACHIEVE AN ANABOLIC STATE CONDUCIVE TO BUILDING MORE MUSCLE, ENHANCE MENTAL FOCUS IN ORDER TO LIFT INCREASINGLY HEAVIER STEEL, AND SUPPRESS APPETITE TO QUELL THOSE HOLIDAY-INDUCED FOOD CRAVINGS.
In essence, keto dieting requires going ultra-low carb so as to encourage the body to exclusively burn fat for fuel. With its low carb focus, water weight is also concurrently banished, giving the body a more ripped appearance that’s easier to maintain over the long term.
Put simply, because insulin levels are kept low in the absence of carbs, fat is no longer stored but instead used as energy. It’s believed, not least by those who’ve found success with this approach, that ketosis is the body’s preferred metabolic state. As the body becomes more efficient at mobilizing fats for energy it is also less likely to break down muscle proteins, thus providing the perfect anabolic state for consistent muscle mass keto gains and fat losses.
IT’S BELIEVED, NOT LEAST BY THOSE WHO’VE FOUND SUCCESS WITH THIS APPROACH, THAT KETOSIS IS THE BODY’S PREFERRED METABOLIC STATE.
These along with other associated benefits make a keto bodybuilding diet a good choice for many. While it may or may not work for you, there’s only one way to find out and, either way, it’s most definitely worth a shot. In this article I’ll explain the keto approach, the best foods to use while on it, and how it may best be adapted for those seeking a full and shredded appearance.
To Go Keto: Adapting Keto Dieter’s Meal Plan
The major goal with nutritionally-induced ketosis is to achieve keto adaptation, a unique metabolic state whereby organic, water-soluble biomolecule by-products called ketones are produced in the liver and used as the body’s primary fuel source.
To derive the many benefits of ketosis, fatty acid production in fat cells must exclusively be engaged to produce the fuel needed to assist the functioning of the brain, organs and muscles. To this end, insulin production must be significantly lowered, remembering that insulin, a key storage hormone, inhibits fatty acid production while also leading to increased fat storage.
…INSULIN, A KEY STORAGE HORMONE, INHIBITS FATTY ACID PRODUCTION WHILE ALSO LEADING TO INCREASED FAT STORAGE.
As carbohydrates produce a much greater insulin response compared to either proteins or fats, their intake must be slashed to around 5% of daily calories when seeking to induce ketosis.
Whenever glucose levels are substantially lowered, a hormone antagonistic to insulin called glucagon is secreted by the pancreas. The major role of glucagon is to scavenge all available glucose (mostly from converted liver glycogen) to keep the body functioning in an optimal state.
As glycogen continues to plummet in the absence of carbohydrates, rates of beta oxidation (a catabolic process which transforms fats into fuel) increase, with more and more fatty acids being mobilized to provide the energy needed by the body for normal metabolic processes. It’s during beta oxidation that the aforementioned ketones (specifically acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate, and the spontaneous breakdown product of the two, acetone) are released from the liver and used by all mitochondria-containing tissues.
TO ACHIEVE KETOSIS, A TRUE KETO DIET COMPRISING 75% FATS, 20% PROTEIN AND 5% CARBOHYDRATES MUST BE CONSUMED FOR AT LEAST TWO WEEKS STRAIGHT.
To achieve ketosis, a true keto diet comprising 75% fats, 20% protein and 5% carbohydrates must be consumed for at least two weeks straight, at which stage you will have reached a crossover point: the aforementioned keto adaptation. During the adjustment process, feelings of sluggishness and tiredness are common. Such feelings lead many to up the carbs, or quit the diet outright. Perseverance is needed. Keep going and focus, drive and mental and physical strength will return, ideally at higher levels than previously experienced.
While full keto adaptation can only be achieved when following the above-listed ratios, certain modifications can be made in and around training to optimize keto dieting for bodybuilders. Keep reading to learn how you may adjust the traditional keto approach for greater manageability and potentially greater results.
For the first several weeks of your keto plan, however, be sure to keep carbohydrate intake at no more than 50g per day to ensure that this popular macro does not serve as the exclusive fuel source for your body. Only then may you enter full ketosis and begin reaping the many benefits of this largely unheralded approach.
Successful Shredding and Mass Building using the Keto Diet
Though primarily associated with weight loss and health, using the Keto Diet is also suitable for those wanting to secure a muscle building edge. If done correctly, a state of ketosis should provide you with the following five benefits.
1. Better Health
The nature of this article precludes an in-depth analysis of the full array of health benefits to be derived from ketosis. Suffice to say that much research supports the efficacy of low carb dieting when seeking to become healthier generally.1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 13, 15, 16, 23, 24, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 40, 42, 43, 44
A low carb dieting with specific keto emphasis can, to mention but a few health benefits, improve heart health, protect brain functioning, help lose weight (to be discussed in benefits 3 and 5), reduce the risk of cancer, suppress seizure activity in those susceptible, decrease blood sugar levels and reduce the likelihood of insulin resistance (to be discussed in benefit 4).8, 12, 19, 41
WHEN A DIET IS HIGH IN BOTH FATS AND CARBS THAT INSULIN RESISTANCE, OBESITY, CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE AND OTHER HEALTH AILMENTS ARE MORE LIKELY TO OCCUR.
High fat diets are not inherently unhealthy, despite what some researchers have misleadingly concluded. In fact, it’s when a diet is high in both fats and carbs that insulin resistance, obesity, cardiovascular disease and other health ailments are more likely to occur.38
It’s when fat is prevented from being used as fuel (a hallmark of the typical Western diet) that people are more likely to encounter health problems. By its very nature the keto diet reduces the risk of ill health while providing health benefits not experienced with high carb/fat nutrition.
2. More Muscle
By enabling a greater percentage of fat to be burned for energy, the keto diet reduces stored body fat, thus potentiating testosterone production (remembering that the T-inhibiting enzyme aromatase is stored in fat cells). As well, by promoting a wide range of additional health benefits ketosis places the body in an anabolic state in which muscle growth can more readily occur (for example, by decreasing blood sugar and increasing insulin sensitivity, ketosis energizes the body both mentally and physically, resulting in more productive, growth-enhancing training sessions).
More specifically, ketosis prevents protein from being burned for energy (the famed protein sparing effect). Since the body burns fat more readily and efficiently when in ketosis and because there is no shortage of fat to be burned for energy when following a keto diet, there is no requirement for the body to oxidize protein in order to produce glucose via gluconeogenesis. As a result, the body retains more muscle. In addition, when in ketosis, less protein will be needed to build this muscle in the first place.
ONE OF THE FIRST STUDIES ON KETO DIETING AND BODY COMPOSITION EXAMINED THE IMPACT LOW CARB/HIGH FATS MIGHT HAVE ON MUSCLE RETENTION.45
In this study, three groups of college students were all given the same amount of protein and calories while being placed in a calorie deficit. The groups consumed 104, 60, and 30 grams of carbohydrates per day respectively (each group took in the same amount of overall calories).
It was discovered that with the 104-gram carb group, 25 percent of the weight lost was muscle while the 30-gram group lost virtually no muscle. This finding supports the notion that keto dieting can assist muscle retention when dieting.
Indeed, the ketones which have become the body’s new energy source are believed to reduce the degradation of the major aminos responsible for muscle protein synthesis (particularly leucine). However, to enjoy the protein sparing, anabolic effects of ketosis, full adaptation, as discussed earlier, must first take place.
3. Fat Burning
Once the body has achieved keto adaptation and has thus switched from carbohydrates to fats as a major fuel source, 90g of fat per hour will, on average, be used during exercise, as opposed to 30g per hour when on a higher-carbohydrate plan.25 This equates to a more consistent energy supply and more total fat burning in the long run, resulting in lean body mass and better performing physique.26
High carb dieting can be hit or miss. When the body is accustomed to using carbs for energy it continually adjusts its metabolic processes to accommodate the types and amounts of various carb-rich foods. The body lazily expects carbohydrates to supply its daily energy quotient.
…MORE CONSISTENT ENERGY SUPPLY AND MORE TOTAL FAT BURNING IN THE LONG RUN…
But with no carbs on which to draw energy, the body has no choice but to become efficient at mobilizing fats for fuel. In addition, ketones also appear to have an influential effect on leptin signals in the brain’s hypothalamus, thus helping to prevent the metabolic slowing that may occur on other diets.28
The biggest caveat to using fats for fuel, and indeed to enjoying the aforementioned health benefits of ketosis, remains strict adherence to the keto diet. Remember the role of insulin in the body and the requirement to keep it low when going keto? If excessive carbs are introduced into the keto diet, insulin levels are increased which, in turn, inhibits a fat burning enzyme called CPT1, which, in turn, prevents fat oxidation from occurring – the last thing you want when seeking to exclusively use fat for fuel.
4. Lowered Insulin
Controlling the release of insulin has become standard practice in modern-day preventative medicine. A double-edged sword, insulin is believed to be anabolic, but it is also the body’s most lipolytic hormone (it encourages fatty acid and dietary glucose to be stored as bodyfat).14 Insulin can also inhibit the use of fatty acids as energy, making this storage hormone potentially deleterious when seeking to shred.
In addition, it’s been found that powerful bodybuilding hormones such as growth hormone and other growth factors are increased in the absence of insulin.18
BY KEEPING INSULIN LOW, THE BODY’S GROWTH POTENTIAL AND CAPACITY TO BURN FAT CAN BE ACCENTUATED.
5. Suppresses Appetite
The biggest problem with most diets (traditional high carb, high protein, low fat bodybuilding diets included) is that they may leave the dieter hungry and unfulfilled most of the time. Such a state makes life less enjoyable but, more problematically for dieters, may also lead to food cravings, which in most cases encourages regular gorging, caloric overload, and poor results.
However, when in a state of ketosis, the body no longer craves high carb/high fat fare. Aside from spiking insulin when consumed above a certain level (often hard to gauge, especially when in the throes of competition dieting), which leads to dramatic drops in blood glucose and resultant hunger and low energy levels, carbs can also be less satisfying and less satiating compared to fats or proteins. 10, 11, 21, 32
In addition, when in a state of ketosis the hunger hormone ghrelin is suppressed while the digestion hormone cholecystokinin (CCK), which produces feelings of fullness, is increased – both to a much greater degree than when consuming a regular high carb diet.27 Combined with possible direct appetite suppressant actions of the ketone bodies themselves, these hormonal interactions make keto dieting easier to continue. And, as we know, the trick to making any diet work is to stick with it over the long term.
Making Keto Work for Bodybuilders: Is There Another Way?
At this point you might be asking: if the keto diet is so efficient at burning fat and accelerating fat loss, retaining muscle gain and improving health then why has it not become standard practice for all bodybuilders? One word: ratios.
A diet high in fats, moderate in protein and ultra low in carbs is more restrictive than many of the alternative nutritional approaches traditionally used to gain muscle and lose fat (approaches that do, in and of themselves, produce great results when correctly adopted).
Less nutritional variety does not appeal to many people and for this reason alone may dissuade such folk from going full keto. It’s also wrongly believed by many that a diet high in fats will lead to ill health and adiposity while one centered on low carbs will result in low energy and poor performance. Remember, it’s when high fats and high carbs are concurrently consumed that health problems are more likely to arise.
IT’S ALSO WRONGLY BELIEVED BY MANY THAT A DIET HIGH IN FATS WILL LEAD TO ILL HEALTH AND ADIPOSITY WHILE ONE CENTERED ON LOW CARBS WILL RESULT IN LOW ENERGY AND POOR PERFORMANCE.
The moderate protein levels needed to enter and stay in ketosis will also be an instant turn off for many long-time bodybuilding traditionalists who’ve become accustomed to consuming 30-40% of their daily calories in the form of protein. To succeed with the keto approach it’s nevertheless essential that protein levels are kept in check. To derive the full array of benefits from keto dieting it’s important to keep protein at around 20% of total daily calories (you may experiment with going as high as 25% but certainly no higher).
As is the case with too many carbs, a diet too high in proteins prevents ketosis from occurring due to the fact that certain amino acids are gluconeogenic (glucose forming), making protein consumption in excess of 1.8g per kg of bodyweight a definite ketosis killer.2
20-25% PROTEIN MORE THAN ENOUGH TO KEEP THE MUSCLE GAINS COMING
But do not panic. You’ll find 20-25% protein more than enough to keep the muscle gains coming due to the profound aforementioned protein-sparing effect of ketosis. This will make gorging on endless plates of dry chicken breasts a thing of the past (a relief for many).
In fact, the biggest barrier to successful keto dieting could be the mental adjustment needed to stick with this radically and decidedly non-traditional eating plan. As mentioned above, however, there’s much to be gained by following through and achieving true ketosis.
The biggest knock on keto dieting is a supposed reduction in physical strength and power due to its lower than normal carb composition.17, 29
Such a belief is largely unfounded, however, as it’s been shown that as much muscle and strength, if not more, can be gained when functioning in full ketosis.20, 22, 31
The key is to enter full, not partial, ketosis (a process that can be determined by measuring the levels of ketones in the body via keto sticks). Once serum ketones are within the 0.5-3.00 mM range you will have achieved full nutritional ketosis and producing ample energy with which to power the toughest training sessions should not be a problem. Stay within this range for best results.
Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TDK)
For those rare individuals who have not, for whatever reason, been able to achieve true ketosis or who simply do not wish to relinquish their starchy carbs completely, a method exists that might make keto eating a little more palatable and easier to manage.
For those who feel their performance is compromised by drastic carb cutting, short carbohydrate feedings before training sessions may offer some salvation. But remember, because the reintroduction of more carbs than are necessary for ketosis can push the body out of ketone producing mode, such feedings are to be limited to 2-3 times per week (for example 30g of brown rice one hour out from training).
While the intermittent intake of carbs around workouts can enhance performance while not inhibiting ketosis for any great length of time, it’s best to keep carbs at around 30g per serving (contributing to a daily carb intake of around 80g on such days) to ensure fat continues to be more consistently burned for energy at all other times.
Cyclic Ketogenic Dieting (CKD)
Another alternative to true, or standard ketogenic dieting (SKD), is cyclical ketogenic dieting (CKD). The purpose of the cyclical keto approach is to restore muscle glycogen stores, for short periods, via recurring carbohydrate refeeds. The time between refeeds will vary from person to person.
If choosing one over the other, TKD would probably work best as it does not force the body out of ketosis to the same degree as CKD (which produces only mild ketosis at best).
The comparative benefits of SKD and CKD have been studied. One such study found that while both study groups (SKD and CKD) lost 3kgs of bodyweight after an eight-week period, the group that followed the SKD plan lost 3kgs of fat whereas the CKD group lost 2kgs of lean mass.39 Furthermore, the SKD group improved in both strength and endurance while the CKD group declined on the same measures. The researchers concluded that the negative effects experienced by the CKD group came about as a result of incomplete keto adaptation.
Like any diet, once you gain more experience on the keto plan you will learn when and how to incorporate carbs at specific times to optimize performance. Ideally, however, you’ll want to stay in full ketosis to fully experience its many benefits.
Best Keto Foods
As enjoyable as it may sound, getting 75% of one’s calories exclusively from fats may not be the easiest of tasks. Adapting a keto diet for bodybuilding is not simply a case of loading up on saturated-fat heavy foods like bacon and cream at each meal. The chemically altered trans-fats must specifically be avoided.
To stay healthy while entering ketosis it’s best to consume natural fat sources like meat and nuts, supplemented with various oils (both monounsaturated like olive, canola and flax oils, and avocado; and saturated like those found in coconut oil, butter, egg yolks, and red meat). Omega three essential fatty acids (derived from fish oils primarily) are to be liberally included.
Remembering that the major objective in achieving ketosis is to keep protein at 20% of total daily calories, it’s best to consume proteins that are higher in fats while ensuring that the quality of the protein source is kept high. For example, darker chicken meat is more desirable than white as it is higher in fat. Also, be sure to check any processed meats to ensure that the carb composition of such products will not keep you from reaching of falling out of ketosis.
Higher carb foods like rice, potatoes (and other starchy carbs) and, in particular, simple sugar-rich carbs such as sweets, fruit juices and high glycemic fruits like bananas are not suitable when dieting for ketosis. Instead, aim for lower-carb carbs; for example, cabbage, spinach and green beans.
|Best Keto Fats||Various oils (including avocado oil), Egg yolks, Cream, Lard, Ghee|
|Best Keto Proteins||Fatty meats, and associated foods: including bacon, pork rinds, sausages, and high fat ground beef and pork. Fatty fish, Poultry, Offal meat, Nut butter, Whole Eggs, Dairy products (cheese, Greek yogurt and whipping cream, for example), A high quality, low carb whey protein powder: ISOFLEX|
|Best Keto Carbs||Broccoli, Asparagus, Cauliflower, Mushrooms, Avocado, Tomato, Brussels sprouts|
Making the Switch
Despite what you may have heard, ketogenic dieting is not, as many would have it, antithetical to long-term bodybuilding progress. In fact, if done correctly, the reverse is true. The biggest mistake people make when going keto is to sabotage the effectiveness of this approach with ineffective planning and poor follow-through. Like anything else in bodybuilding and life, once you have considered it worthwhile and have thusly committed to it, give keto dieting your full attention. Include the right foods in the proper ratios and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.
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