If you want to lose weight, get fit, and shape up, your diet and exercise program are crucial to your success. What you eat provides your body with the nutrients and energy it needs to function, while your workout regimen helps burn excess calories and fat, tones your muscles, and is good for your general health.
However, while it’s indisputable that both diet and exercise are essential, it’s not always easy to choose the best workout or diet plan. After all, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of them.
From a dietary perspective, your choices include low-fat, calorie counting, the Zone, Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers, and intermittent fasting, to name just a few. For workouts, cardio, Zumba, CrossFit, Body Pump, and bodybuilding are all viable options.
Does the Keto Diet Help with Strength Training?
One possible diet and workout pairing is keto and strength training so, the question is, are these approaches compatible, or will one negatively affect the other?
The good news is that the keto diet/strength training combo can work and provide you with the weight loss and muscle-building results you want. You may, however, need to modify both of these approaches for increased effectiveness.
So, whether you are a keto dieting neophyte or a strength training beginner, in this article, we’ll explore both of these approaches and show you how to slot them together for the best results.
What is the Keto Diet?
Before we get into combining keto with strength training, let’s revisit the keto diet to make sure you understand how this unique eating plan works. After all, it’s the linchpin that will determine your success!
Keto is short for ketogenic and is a low-carb, moderate protein, and high-fat diet. It’s been around for almost a century and was popularized by doctor Robert Atkins in the 1970s (1).
On keto, you keep your carb intake to less than 50 grams per day and fill up on lots of healthy fat and moderate amounts of protein. After anywhere from a few days to two weeks, this will put you into a state called ketosis, which is where the diet gets its name.
Once you are in ketosis, your body starts burning fat at an accelerated rate. That’s because, with no carbs available, your body needs to find an alternative source of energy. It gets that energy from ketones, which are made from fat.
As well as accelerating fat-burning, low carb, moderate protein, and high-fat meals are very filling, which helps lower your daily calorie intake while fighting off hunger and cravings. Keto also helps stabilize your blood glucose and reduce insulin levels, both of which help speed up fat loss.
The main downside of keto is that going low carb means giving up a few dietary staples, such as bread, rice, pasta, cereals, and foods that contain sugar. Some high-carb fruits and vegetables are also off the menu, such as bananas and potatoes.
But, while you do have to quit these foods on keto, there are plenty of things you can eat instead – this is a meat and fish-lovers paradise!
Getting into ketosis is usually accompanied by a few carb withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, fatigue, nausea, cramps, insomnia, and cravings. The good news is that this so-called keto flu soon passes, and you’ll bounce back feeling better than ever before. You’ll also lose weight at an astonishing weight.
And, in case all that wasn’t enough, keto has been revealed as a very healthy diet that’s good for your heart, and reduces your risk of type II diabetes, and can enhance brain and mental health too.
Is Keto Diet Good or Bad for Strength Training?
Strength training should not be confused with bodybuilding, weightlifting, or powerlifting. While strength training DOES share a few similarities with these pursuits, it’s not the same.
Bodybuilding, weightlifting, and powerlifting are sports and involve quite extreme training methods. In contrast, strength training is not a sport and is done simply because it’s very beneficial. It does not have to be a particularly intense pursuit.
As such, keto and strength training are entirely compatible. You should have no problem hitting the gym and working out for an hour or so a few times a week, even if you are following the ketogenic diet.
That said, there is one potential problem that could have an impact on your workouts – and that’s glycogen.
Glycogen is stored carbohydrates and your body stores glycogen in your liver and your muscles. Muscle glycogen is used for energy, especially during things like strength training.
Eating fewer carbs on keto means your glycogen levels will soon run down, and this can leave you feeling low on energy, especially for workouts like strength training. Strength training is almost exclusively an anaerobic activity, which means fat plays no real part in the production of energy. It’s all about those carbs!
The good news is that your body can happily use ketones for energy in place of carbs and glycogen. However, even then, you may find you tire more quickly or feel a little weaker than usual.
So, while you CAN definitely strength train on keto, you may find it a little harder. You might tire sooner, not be able to do as many reps or lift such heavyweights. Your workouts will still be productive, but your performance may take a small but noticeable dip.
However, there are a few things you can that will make keto and strength training more compatible.
How to Make Keto and Strength Training Work Better
Carbs are your friend during strength training workouts. Your body stores carbs as glycogen and then uses that glycogen for energy during intense workouts. Challenging exercise depletes your glycogen stores, which are then replenished when you eat carbs again.
Of course, you won’t be eating many carbohydrates on keto, so once they’re depleted, your glycogen stores remain empty.
However, while keto IS a low-carb diet, it’s not entirely carb-free. You can eat 50 grams of carbs per day and still remain in ketosis. If you are very active and have good insulin sensitivity, you may be able to consume more than this, as any carbs you eat will quickly be used for energy.
Because of this, if you care about your strength training performance, you can save your daily carb intake and consume it before or after your workout. This will ensure your muscles contain at least some glycogen, and these “carb pulses” should be enough to get you through your workout.
Alternatively, you may want to try a cyclic ketogenic diet. With this keto variation, you follow a strict low-carb diet for 5-6 days per week, and then refuel your glycogen stores with 1-2 days of high-carb eating, most of which will end up on your muscles and stored as glycogen.
As well as being good for your workout performance, the cyclic ketogenic diet makes dieting easier because, every week, you get to enjoy the foods that are otherwise off the menu. These carb-up days are not meant to be uncontrolled binges; you just get to eat things like rice and potatoes instead of the low-carb foods you consume the rest of the time. Overeating any food will lead to weight regain.
Supplements can also help make your workouts more productive. Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are special fats that your body quickly digests and uses for energy, and they can help power you through your workouts. Exogenous ketones can also help. If you need a more noticeable boost of energy, give a carb and sugar-free pre-workout supplement a try.
The bottom line is that you CAN lift weights successfully and productively on the ketogenic diet. Going keto may rob you of a little energy, but there are other ways to fuel your muscles, so any such impact is kept as small as possible.
Will keto hurt your cardio performance? Not so much. Cardio mainly uses fat for fuel, and that’s found in abundance on the ketogenic diet. In addition, cardio uses stored body fat for energy, and even the leanest person has plenty of that. Keto shouldn’t have much of an impact on your cardio workouts.
The low-carb ketogenic diet and strength training are compatible but eating low amounts of carbs may mean you can’t work out as hard or as long as usual. After all, strength training is an anaerobic activity, the fuel for which is glycogen, which your body makes from carbohydrates.
That said, your body can happily use ketones for energy, and things like MCTs are also a viable source of fuel.
If you ARE worried about your strength training performance, try concentrating your carb intake around exercise, eating it either just before or after your workout.
Alternatively, take the cyclic ketogenic diet for a spin, where you eat very little carbohydrate for 5-6 days, and then “carb-up” for 1-2 days. However, such an approach requires willpower as it’s all too easy to overindulge, leading to weight regain.
If you are a weightlifter, powerlifter, or bodybuilder, keto might not be the diet for you. Serious strength training workouts need plenty of carbs and glycogen. But, if you are a recreational exerciser, keto and strength training combine well.
- The Atkins Diet: Everything You Need to Know, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/atkins-diet-101