I’ve been fascinated by claims of fitness enthusiasts and “experts” who claim one can get stronger on a Ketogenic diet. Why? Because, everything I’ve learned over the years (and have experienced first hand) is that one must consume carbohydrates in order to grow stronger. So, when I hear eating 50g of carbohydrates a day can stimulate strength gains I had to investigate further. Before we go into the findings I want to quickly clear up what research has already shown us what a Ketogenic diet can and cannot do.
Since the early days of ketogenic research we have learned the diet can: improve brain function, cognitive thinking, memory, and fat/weight loss. Clearly, there are some health benefits to following a ketogenic diet. This is not to say other diets cannot do the same. For example, a Mediterranean diet is known to improve brain function. In addition, numerous diets have shown benefits for fat/weight loss. In other words, it’s an effective diet for numerous reasons but it’s not the “end-all, be –all” diet. So, what does the current research say regarding strength gains on a ketogenic diet?
While the research on a ketogenic diet for strength gains is recent there are only a few studies pertaining to strength training. Most of the researchers wanted to know that in the event the body can’t rely on carbohydrates for energy can ketones (hence the name “ketogenic” diet) compensate and maintain or increase strength gains through a resistance training program. Here are the results so far…..
One of the best studies I’ve found was an 8-week study on men between the ages of 25-35 who had at least 2 years of lifting experience under their belts. (Quick point: this is the IDEAL group to study since their testosterone levels are high and they already have a strong baseline of strength…in other words, if something works on them it will work on most populations). During the study the subjects were divided in a ketogenic group and a moderate carbohydrate group (50% calories from carbohydrates). The caloric intake and protein was equated across both groups. After 8 weeks the researchers concluded that a ketogenic diet can sustain lean muscle mass while decreasing fat mass. However, the researchers concluded the diet might not work for muscle gain when the subject’s diets are put into a caloric surplus.
Another study was conducted on recreational Crossfit trainees (not athletes…big difference) for a period of 12 weeks. At the end of the study the researchers found that all participants had lost fat while maintaining their strength and cardiac output. However, there was a noticeable loss in lower body mass. This could be due to 1) loss of weight typically leads to loss of lower body muscle mass or 2) a detrimental effect of a prolonged adherence to a ketogenic diet.
There were a few other studies involving the effects of a ketogenic diet on strength training but these were the best ones I could find with trained individuals. So, while more research still needs to be conducted for longer periods of time it’s safe to say that if your goal is to increase strength and/or muscle mass you should eat plenty of carbohydrates. If your goal is to lose fat while maintaining muscle mass/strength then you may give a ketogenic diet a shot. I would recommend gradually decreasing your caloric intake with your current diet (assuming it’s already nutrient dense and high in protein).
STAY FIT MY FRIENDS!