Keto Bulk – Does Bulking In Ketosis Work?
If you’ve ever thought about going through a bulk while in ketosis this is the article for you. Not only have I attempted this personally before but I’ve done plenty of research on muscle-building over the years and have a pretty good understanding of how it works. It seems for whatever reason there is very little information on the internet about bulking while in ketosis.
I remember when I was thinking about trying it and was searching for information there was very little out there. There was virtually no information available with the exception of some forums where someone would ask the question and others would weigh in with their thoughts. So I hope to be able to help you with this post.
I’m not even going to get into the whole debate on whether the ketogenic diet is a healthy one in the long-term or even short-term. If you are searching for this information I hope you have done some research already. I’m only going to look at how well it may or may not work for building muscle while keeping fat gain to a minimum while in a caloric surplus. After all that is the point of a “keto bulk.”
Let me just go ahead and answer the first question people ask about a keto bulk, is it even possible to build muscle while in ketosis? My answer: Of course it is. In fact carbs don’t even play a role in protein synthesis the most critical component of building muscle. Before anyone goes all crazy on me and to defend carbs I’m not saying carbs don’t play a huge role in building muscle, they do in a round about way, but they don’t play a role in muscle-protein synthesis itself. Of course they are very protein sparing and play a role in stopping protein breakdown which all leads to anabolism, but in terms of protein synthesis? Nada.
However, just because you can build muscle without carbs doesn’t mean it’s a very effective way to do it. In fact it’s very much the opposite. Carbs are generally raised in a bulking cycle for good reason. Carbs increase your muscles glycogen stores which are used to lift the weights during training. If glycogen is low your body will use amino acids and fats for energy which in turn means you will be losing them for what could be used for protein synthesis. However, I will say this: If you are in ketosis your fat and protein numbers will be very high, so that will likely be less of an issue than it normally would.
Still, your body’s first source of energy is ATP which is used up almost immediately during intense exercise. After that it switches to stored phosphocreatine which then will begin to breakdown glycogen in order to produce ATP again. If you have extremely low levels of glycogen from lack of carbohydrates, it will use other sources such as fat for energy. That’s kind of the point of ketosis though right? Get your body to use ketones for energy instead of glycogen. Sure is, but that’s why it’s primarily used as a fat burning tool, not a muscle building tool. You need the carbs for energy and strength to build muscle in an optimal way.
There is even some scientific research that supposedly backs the ketogenic diet as one that works well for losing fat and building muscle. However I’d like to point out some major flaws in this research. In this study subjects were either in a control group where they ate 58% of their calories from carbs or the ketogenic group in which they only ate 8% of their calories from carbs. The total fat loss at the end of six weeks was just over 7 pounds in the keto group while the control group lost no weight. Also the keto group added 2 pounds of muscle vs. 1 pound for the control group.
There you go, ketosis built more muscle while lowering fat, what more could you ask for? Hang on, besides the minimal muscle gain from the keto group the thing you really need to look at is 1) the keto group ate almost 400 more calories than the control group and their protein intake was on average 176 grams while the control group only ate 80 grams of protein. Of course they are going to gain more muscle with that much more protein (not that more protein is always better, but this is certainly still well within the anabolic/leucine threshold) and with additional calories. Lets also not forget you are thinking about bulking on keto, you aren’t trying to lose weight, you are trying to gain weight.
If you are looking to bulk while in ketosis there’s a decent chance you’ve had problems with adding more fat than you would like in a previous bulk (unless you are like me and just like to try different things.) I think the big problem most have with a typical bulk is they think they need to stuff as many calories in as they can to build. The truth of the matter, however, is you only need a couple hundred calories above your maintenance calorie level to build. So if you maintain at around 2800 calories than you should be eating around 3000-3100 calories to build. Anything more than 300-400 above maintenance won’t build you any additional muscle but it will make you store more fat. If you go about it in a sensible way you don’t need to worry about putting on excessive fat or trying to do anything drastic like bulking while in ketosis. Not to mention only eating fats and proteins gets old after a while.
One thing I will say is all the normal rules of how each macronutrient works in the body may and probably don’t fully apply while in ketosis. The human body is pretty remarkable and adapts to all the crazy things we throw at it. It’s entirely possible the body doesn’t follow the normal biological rules because it has no choice but to change. Regardless, you’ll have an easier time building muscle with carbs, and the fat gain shouldn’t be a problem if you do it the right way. Bottom line, can you build muscle in while in ketosis? Yes. Is it the best plan for optimally building muscle? Not so much.
For more information on the topic of what macronutrient ratios to use while in a muscle-building phase you can read this two part series I wrote on Lifestyle and Strength. Part 2 is linked at the bottom of the first article. If you have any questions feel free to write them in the comments section below and I’d be happy to answer.