Building muscle while on a low-carb diet is a hot debate with the rise of the Ketogenic trend in more frequent years.
Is it possible?
How do I do it?
I thought I had to eat chicken, rice, and broccoli to get gains?
You wouldn’t be wrong to ask those questions.
Carbohydrates such as rice are brilliant ways to build muscle as they release insulin which helps create an environment for ideal muscle growth (1). But, they’re not the only way.
Using the techniques I share here, you will not only build muscle, but you’ll also keep your body fat percentage down in a shredding cycle.
What is Low-Carb Diet?
There are many different low-carb diet trends, the most common being the Ketogenic or Atkins diet.
Many who want to lose weight and tone up also opt for no carbs after lunch. A low carb diet is elimination or minimization of carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are broken down into glycogen, then glucose. They are the main fuel source of our body.
For those of you wondering how many carbs is low carb diet. The science says 130g or less per day (2).
How Do They Work?
Our bodies use up the following sources on energy in this order:
- Glucose derived from carbohydrates
- Triglycerides derived from fats
- Amino acids derived from proteins
If you’re considering a low carbohydrate diet, you’ll need to ensure you’re hitting high macronutrient numbers in your fats and proteins.
When our body isn’t using glucose as a fuel source, it will use ketones putting the body into a state of ketosis (3).
Can You Build Muscle While on a Low-Carb Diet?
If your body starts using your amino acids as a fuel source, you’ll lose muscle. To build muscle on a low-carb diet, increase your macronutrient numbers from fats.
Seek help from an expert physical therapist or a nutritionist to ascertain your ideal macronutrient numbers for your specific goals.
You must be strategic in your calorie intake, macronutrient ratios and you’ll need to ensure you keep up your strength and resistance training regime.
If you're a beginner, it would be good to seek some advice from a professional health coach. They will provide a proper diet plan and training regime that is suitable for your body.
First, work out how much protein you need to maintain the level of muscle mass you currently have then add 15% for muscle growth (6).
You can search for a variety of different online trackers to ascertain your maintenance protein consumption.
The most accurate way is to get a body composition scan to discover your skeletal muscle mass.
Here are the calculations to discover your protein macronutrient numbers based on skeletal muscle mass:
- Sedentary: 1-1.5g protein per 2.2lbs (1kg) of skeletal muscle mass
- Active: 2-2.5g protein per 2.2lbs (1kg) of skeletal muscle mass
- Very Active: 2.8-3g per 2.2lbs (1kg) of skeletal muscle mass
- Athlete: 3-4g per 2.2lbs (1kg) of skeletal muscle mass
As a general guide, multiply your figure by 15% to figure out your daily protein intake for muscle gain.
If you’re unable to get a body composition scan, eat 1.6-2g of your total body weight in protein per day (7).
Watch Your Calories
When it comes to caloric intake, building muscle is the opposite of weight loss. You need to ensure there are more calories in than out.
Depending on your size, consume an extra 100-150 calories to build muscle mass. Muscle also increases your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which means your figures are constantly changing.
As you increase in muscle size, continuously up your calorie intake depending on how much mass you’ve built.
The best way to track this is by using a calorie tracker that also measures your ideal macronutrient content. Fats are calorie-dense.
Naturally, you’ll be increasing your fat consumption to make up for the calories you aren’t gaining from carbohydrates.
Choose healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats with a mixture of Omega-6 and Omega-3.
Good fats come from foods such as nuts, seeds, avocado, and fish. Fat-free diets are a trend of the 90s. Fats are high in calories, but they have been proven to be good for you (8).
Choose Your Carbs Wisely
When you eat carbs, choose and time them wisely. For a low-carb diet, eat 50-120g of carbohydrates depending on your body weight and carbohydrate macronutrient goals.
When you do have a small number of carbohydrates for the day, make sure it is before or after your training to ensure maximum energy output.
The best carbs to eat are complex carbs, they will break down in your body easier to ensure glucose is more readily available for your body to use.
Examples of complex carbs are broccoli, cauliflower, avocado, and raspberries.
Do Strength and Resistance Training Regularly
Without resistance training, you will not build muscle. The extra caloric intake will be stored as glycogen or fat in the body.
In order to utilize the extra protein intake, you must resistance train your full-body at least twice per week for maximum muscle build (9).
While on a low-carb diet, it can be difficult to hit your macronutrient numbers. You may want to consider protein powder.
Read the back of your current protein powder and you’ll see there are a lot more carbohydrates than your daily carb goal.
With the rise in popularity of the ketogenic diet, you will now be able to find many low-carb pre-workouts and protein powders to support your low-carb diet while hitting your essential amino acid intake.
Sodium may drop due to the excess loss of electrolytes while on a low-carb diet. Sodium helps in your nerve and muscle functioning and maintains stable blood pressure. Consider adding more Himalayan sea salt to meals or in water.
While it is possible the build muscle on a low-carb diet, you must be strategic.
Ensure you are hitting your macronutrient goals daily and completing a balanced resistance training program as specified by your coach or trainer.
My name is Daniel DeMoss and I am a personal trainer and an expert physical therapist who helps simplify complex nutrition and movement concepts.
Not only do I share my expertise with my clients and readers on websites like this, but I also share in-depth industry knowledge at Dumbbellsreview.com.