More Muscle Gains and Fat Loss on a Ketogenic Diet

What happens when you combine weight lifting with a very low carbohydrate ketogenic diet (VLCKD)? You get greater muscle gains and more fat loss than when compared to a conventional diet.1

The study looked at a group of “college aged resistance trained men”, and put them on either a conventional Western diet or a VLCKD.

The conventional diet was 55% carbohydrate, 25% fat, and 20% protein, similar to what lots of people eat, though a bit higher in protein, a bit lower in fat.

The low-carb diet was 5% carbohydrate, 75% fat, and 20% protein.

Note that protein, the main macronutrient responsible for muscle growth, was the same in both groups. Both groups did resistance training three times a week for 11 weeks.

The very low carbohydrate group gained twice as much muscle as the conventional group, 4.3 kg vs 2.2 kg.

The very low carbohydrate group lost 50% more fat than the conventional group, -2.2 kg vs -1.5 kg.

It should be noted that this is from a “poster presentation” at a conference, and as such has not been peer-reviewed.

What could be going on here? The extra fat loss was not a surprise to me. Low-carbohydrate diets have a much better record at fat loss than do conventional diets. However, this was not a weight-loss trial, and presumably the participants ate as much as they wanted.

How ketogenic diets could increase muscle gains

There are several ways that muscle gains could be greater when a ketogenic diet is combined with weight training. 2

  1. Adrenergic stimulation. Lower blood glucose (sugar) stimulates adrenaline release, which inhibits muscle protein breakdown. Although this doesn’t directly relate to gains, the breakdown of muscle is a normal, daily occurrence in healthy people, for instance with overnight fasting. Inhibiting this could mean greater gains.
  2. Ketone bodies produced by the VLCKD inhibit muscle breakdown. However, carbohydrate ingestion does this also, so perhaps this aspect is a wash.
  3. Growth hormone. Lower blood glucose means an increase in growth hormone. As carbohydrate does not increase growth hormone, this could be a major factor in better gains and fat loss.
  4. Dietary protein. Generally, people ingest more protein on a low-carb diet, resulting in increased muscle mass. However, the protein consumption here was the same in both groups.

Most bodybuilders will tell you that you need carbohydrates to build muscle, or that it’s more effective with carbohydrates, but there are several reasons for thinking that is not the case.

Protein alone and not carbohydrate is responsible for muscle growth and, once the metabolism is adapted to burning fat, intense exercise can be performed on a low-carb diet.

One reason for thinking that carbohydrates make for better gains, and this may be a real consideration, is that people often spontaneously decrease calorie intake on a very low-carbohydrate diet. This may account for much of this diet’s efficacy in fat loss. But if you’re looking for those gains, you need to eat enough, and it could be that many low-carb eaters do not.

But it seems for most people a VLCKD could be just the ticket for muscle gains and fat loss when combined with regular resistance training.

PS: for all about the benefits of muscle gains, see my book Muscle Up, and for the benefits of low-carb eating, see my book Stop the Clock.

PPS: Check out my Supplements Buying Guide for Men.


  1.  Rauch, Jacob T., et al. “The effects of ketogenic dieting on skeletal muscle and fat mass.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 11.1 (2014): 1.
  2.  Manninen, Anssi H. “Very-low-carbohydrate diets and preservation of muscle mass.” Nutrition & metabolism 3.1 (2006): 1.

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More Muscle Gains and Fat Loss on a Ketogenic Diet – Transhumanism and Longevity Feed says August 9, 2016

[…] Original Article: More Muscle Gains and Fat Loss on a Ketogenic Diet […]

    TAL Feed says August 9, 2016

    I hope you don’t mind me adding your site to my new aggregator site P.D.?
    I noticed it’s doing this ping back thing above.
    Let me know if it’s a problem for you! I’ll be happy to remove it if needed.

      P. D. Mangan says August 9, 2016

      No, that’s great, thanks. I can turn pingbacks on or off if needed, but it’s fine.

Jonas says August 13, 2016

Interesting. I’m gonna try this. Mangan, if you possess the knowledge I would be interested in nutrient density apart from carbs, proteins and fats and how that affects health, training, recovery, etc. Your page is pretty much the only one health and training related that keeps me interested in this day and age. Keep it up!

    P. D. Mangan says August 13, 2016

    Thanks, Jonas. More protein and especially leucine and the other BCAAs seem to do the most for recovery.

Philomathean says August 15, 2016

I’m eating ~80 whole grain carbs a day at lunch after a workout. Would you consider this low carb?

    P. D. Mangan says August 15, 2016

    Generally, anything under 100 grams daily would be considered low carb, but it may not be ketogenic. For that you generally need to go to ~ 50 g, unless you work out a lot.

Daniel says August 16, 2016

If ketones protect muscle breakdown and ingesting carbohydrates do as well… What do you need to do in order to lose muscle? 😉 In other words: I think people are far too scared about muscle loss when dieting.

From my 3 years of experience with keto its the best way to lose fat and keep your endurance and strength. It is even easier than regular “low carb” since you get a lot of cravings, this doesn’t happen in keto. Once you are shredded you need to rev up your calorie count specially protein, and then carbs/fats for energy.

    P. D. Mangan says August 16, 2016

    Daniel, in a sense you may be right that diet isn’t all important for muscle when losing weight. But, losing muscle when dieting *is* worth worrying about. Aproximately 1/4 to 1/3 of all weight lost on a reducing diet is muscle, and that’s a lot. Most people will never regain that muscle, and in fact this is probably why a)weight loss doesn’t seem to decrease mortality and b)higher BMI is not associated with higher mortality when you adjust for fat mass. In other words, don’t lose muscle.

    That being said, doing strength training while on a calorie-restricted diet could be more important for retaining muscle than the composition of the diet, also assuming enough protein is consumed.

      Derek says June 28, 2017

      I know I am late to this discussion but I figured I would put some info out there. I am 5’7 small frame build. Graduated high school 14 years ago weighed 130 lbs. at 32 years of age, I weighed 216 lbs and never worked out a day in my life. I didn’t carry the weight good or bad but I was getting really big. The 2017 year of change. I got interested in low carb diets from Atkins frozen meals. figuring it was proportioned right and could help me cycle in more adequately portion meals while losing my carb intake. I also started lifting weights. After doing Atkins for about a month straight I moved into a Ketogenic diet and making my own food (sounded healthier and has a cooler name!) on keto and lifting weights lost 57 LBS of body fat when from a 2xl shirt down to a medium. The body is much more defined and all in all I was on a ketogenic diet all while lifting weights. I feel into the usually advised most gym rats give you about protein and I upped my protein significantly to around 135 grams to 150 grams a day. been doing this last month of June. All progress has slowed – I do not feel stronger with the increase in protein and adding carbs in I actually feel weaker. I am struggling to maintain pushing the weights I was at and actually lowered weight in some exercises. I still have maybe 10-15 lbs of BF I want to loose and that stopped completely. I now have hardcore food carvings were on ketogenic I was on auto pilot had to remind myself to eat because my body needed nutrition. I know different people react differently to different diets and some things work for others etc but I am going back to follow diet plan as the increase of protein would take me out of ketosis (I bought test strips) In summary I experienced much more satisfaction in weight lifting with the ketogenic diet then loading up on protein and adding reasonable carbs (still under 50g).

        P. D. Mangan says June 28, 2017

        Interesting, Derek, thanks for the input.

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