Everything you were taught about the nutritional side of your bodybuilding program, from carb-loading to extra protein consumption, might be hindering your fitness goals.
There’s a food revolution happening that could affect the way you approach your bodybuilding program. In fact, it aims to upend everything you’ve been taught about a healthy lifestyle.
This new approach says that a Ketogenic diet is not just for weight loss. It’s compatible with a bodybuilding program. In fact, advocates say you should embrace keto for bodybuilding because all those extra carbs you’ve been eating may have been hindering your results.
Is that really true? Let’s break down the arguments for bodybuilding with the ketogenic diet to understand if and how this combination could work for you.
What Is a Ketogenic Diet?
First, though, we need to understand how a true ketogenic diet looks and how it differs from the Standard American Diet (SAD). Most of us have grown up with dietary guidelines that promote consuming most of our calories from carbohydrates, a moderate amount from protein sources and very little from fat sources.
A ketogenic diet flips this pyramid on its head. Generally speaking, a keto diet plan dictates that 70-75% of our daily calories should come from healthy fats, 20% from protein and just 5-10% from carbs. By eating this way, your body transitions into a state of “ketosis” which retrains your body to burn fat for energy instead of stored glucose from the carbs you eat.
If you’ve been bodybuilding, you’re probably aware that the amount of protein you’re allowed on a keto diet could be significantly lower than you are used to eating. It’s important that you calculate your macro levels carefully and watch your protein intake as closely as you watch carb intake. Too much protein can kick you out of ketosis.
Other Ketogenic Health Benefits
While the rapid weight loss benefits of a keto diet have attracted most of the headlines, this diet was originally devised to help people deal with seizures that didn’t respond well to drugs. Currently, a ketogenic diet is believed to help alleviate 14 other diseases as well.
Several controlled studies have shown, for example, that a keto diet helps regulate blood sugar in both Type I and Type II diabetics to the point where medications can be eliminated. The ketogenic diet may also benefit people suffering from certain cancers.
Bodybuilding and Food
Not everyone who undertakes a bodybuilding program hopes to become Mr. (or Ms.) Olympia. However, at some point, every weightlifter begins treating their overall health and fitness very seriously.
All bodybuilders realize the importance of nutrition. Now that you’re familiar with the benefits of a ketogenic diet, it’s time to consider how to incorporate it into your bodybuilding routine.
You can’t swap out all the carbs you were eating with healthy fats and consider yourself done. Even if you carefully follow a meal plan and track your macros, you also need to make some adjustments to your training schedule when you first switch to a keto diet.
Your body must adapt to burning fat for fuel instead of carbs. How long it takes varies from one person to the next, but you should plan on the transition taking one to four weeks.
During this time, your body will release a lot of water weight. You may also deplete your stores of three important electrolytes: salt, magnesium, and potassium. This can lead to the “keto fog” or “keto flu” symptoms you might’ve heard about.
Defeating the Keto Flu
Fortunately, these symptoms usually show up early in the adaptation process and are easy to counter if you plan for them. Most people who do experience the fatigue, headaches, and dizziness of the Keto flu do so in the first 4-7 days of their new diet.
While you can take supplements to increase your electrolyte levels, the food you eat can also maintain your electrolyte levels. It’s recommended that you freely salt your food on a keto diet. Sea salt or pink Himalayan salt are recommended over regular table salt.
Leafy green vegetables, avocados, and nuts are the easiest ways to increase magnesium and potassium in your daily diet. In addition to defeating the flu, they provide fiber and high doses of healthy fats.
Keto for Bodybuilding Routines
When you start a Keto diet, your body will continue to look for carbs for fuel. It wants either blood glucose (sugar) or muscle glycogen (stored sugars) for energy. This is what has been fueling your workouts up until now.
As you deplete these stores (and you will very quickly), performing a normal workout will become extremely difficult. You’ll fatigue easily and will lose strength and endurance at a lower rep level. You’ll see this immediately in a lowered ability to sustain efforts for 30 seconds to two minutes.
This has been the true hurdle for lifters who have tried a keto diet. But it doesn’t need to be one that makes you quit in the first week of a new diet. If you want to continue to gain muscle and strength while you are going through your keto-adaptation there are a couple of tricks to try:
First, try lowering your reps to 3-5 from 8-10. This shortens the length of time for each set, allowing you to finish a set before too much muscle fatigue sets in. You can always add more sets to keep your current volume level the same. This means you’ll do six sets of 5 instead of three sets of 10. The overall time of your workout will increase because you still need adequate rest periods between sets and it will decrease the volume of muscle gain—but you’re still building muscle.
Once you’ve overcome the initial adaptation period, you might discover more energy than before you started your ketogenic bodybuilding routine. Some of the fat loss due to the diet might improve your muscle definition.
You won’t crave the high carb, high sugar meals you previously enjoyed. Instead, you’ll appreciate sites like Ketofoodist.com where you can find information on the macros of all your favorite foods and the best items on the menus of popular restaurants to sustain your keto diet.