What keto levels should I aim for to bulk up?

(David ) #1

Hi all,

I’ve been on keto for about 8 months - was type 2 diabetes so needed some drastic changes to drop the excess weight and get my diet / lifestyle in order.

Now I am BMI 18.5 and I am looking to bulk up with lean muscle mass - not make the same mistakes I made before eating junk.

Curious what keto levels should I be aiming for to Put on lean muscle mass? Most of the articles I have read talk about nutritional ketosis between 0.5 - 1.5 and higher readings are the weight loss sweet spot.

What’s the sweet spot for gaining mass? Is there one? And I need to be in a caloric surplus to pack on the mass? Any idea where I can find the ratios / macros i need to be hitting for lean muscle gains?

(Old Baconian) #2

Dr. Phinney has stated that he and Prof. Volek see no particular benefit to β-hydroxybutyrate levels above 1.0, so your actual level is not particularly important. He does say that 1.0 is better than 0.5, which is the level at which they generally begin to see the benefits of nutritional ketosis.

My understanding is that for bulking muscle what is important is more protein, in particular branched-chain amino acids. The essential BCAA’s (i.e., the ones the body cannot make for itself) are leucine, iso-leucine, and valine, so you’d probably want foods rich in them.

The right kind of exercise is also important, from what I have read. You want to stress your muscles properly to promote growth, so you probably want fewer reps at heavier weight, repeated to failure, instead of more reps at lower weight. But don’t go by me; I get my exercise from jumping to conclusions.

(Michael - When reality fails to meet expectations, the problem is not reality.) #3

Keto makes for good overall health. Protein makes muscles.

(David ) #4

Ok thanks for the replies :+1:


BMI doesn’t matter, ESPECIALLY when it comes to having muscle, it’s a pointless “measurement” forget it exists. Take measurements.

Like BMI, typically a pointless thing to care about. Unless you have a medical condition that’s positively impacted by high ketone levels then don’t waste your time with them. There is no “sweet spot” with ketone levels and fat loss, nor is there one for muscle gain.

Eat at a small surplus to start and make SURE you’re getting in enough protein for your goals. Make your protein a GOAL (must get it in) your carbs a limit and your fat fills in the rest but I’d get in at least 0.5g per lb of body weight. We do need the fat for our hormones!

Right here

(Ken) #6

This is not really the place for this question. There’s lot’s of good intentions but not much real experience on this topic. I suggest you go over to the Keto subforum on Bodybuilding.com and ask the same question. I was on it for over a Decade, and believe me, the answers you’ll get over there are very different (and valid) than what you’ll get here. There’s much more long term experience over there.

(Bob M) #7

As a former pseudo-bodybuilder, that’s likely true. (I was a “pseudo-bodybuilder”, as I realized when I was younger that to look like Arnold, you have to (1) have genetics; (2) have genetics; (3) have genetics; (4) take drugs; (5) lift a lot for someone in the military then in engineering school. All the people I knew wanted to be Arnold. We all got bigger, but none of us got anywhere close to him.)

Anyway, now that I’m older and have a lot more injuries (completely torn rotator cuff, both arms; injured upper back; too many others to list), I’m more after getting some muscle but the most important thing is not getting re-injured. My days of benching and squatting are long gone, for instance. Behind the neck military presses? I think that’s what caused the first partially torn rotator cuff.

Anyway, more power to bodybuilders. They are an extreme, dedicated group. And anyone who wants to look like them, can probably find good info over there.

(Bob M) #8

I should also note that with “normal” keto and no TKD or CKD, I’ve been able to gain* around 10 pounds of muscle mass or so. Hard to know; need another DEXA scan, but at $150 each where I live, they are too expensive for me now.

  • Should say regain, as I was much, much more muscular when younger. Regaining always easier than gaining.

(David ) #9

Thanks for replying and I think we share the same concerns.

I started lifting in school and was pretty full on with my lifting and eating - was normal for me to eat about 3-4 Big Macs a day just to get the calories I needed - behind the neck presses were my bread and butter and how could you not love the pumped look that came afterwards :)) -

But as I got older my shoulders were the first to go - had rotator cuff issues - had injections then got impingement issues which I have managed to partially fix by changing my form and using a closed grip style - again I wish I knew all this before lifting but I guess i can pass the knowledge onto my kids…

I struggled a bit with my weight when I started slowing down at the gym and had pre-dia typ2 issues then…but keto has been great for me and pretty excited about getting a tight meal plan down pat - I’m not fussed about taste of food anymore - for me its just about getting whats best into my body so I can be around to play with my grandchildren.

I check my keto levels every other day and they seem to fluctuate a bit between 0.1 - 1.5. I’m starting to think the only way I can maintain “ketosis” is incorporate IF into my routine always…I cant seem to maintain Keto levels about 1.0 by just strict diet but maybe thats b/c I haven’t been to gym in about 3 months since Covid…and not strict about working out at home…


Also no shortage of Orthopedic appts between my shoulders and back, love those nice days of X-Ray and MRI naps! I’ve beat myself good over the years. Not sure your mindset on anabolics but pretty much all the private practice hormonal docs are all about them for those of us that aren’t 20, beat up bodies but want to maintain/gain muscle and have working joints again. For me it’s been night and day! Downside is it’s not the cheapest thing to do.

(Kenny Croxdale) #11

Ketone Levels

The reference to keeping ketone levels is interesting. Can you provide me with those articles?

As PhilL noted in his post, “Dr. Phinney has stated that he and Prof. Volek see no particular benefit to β-hydroxybutyrate levels above 1.0, so your actual level is not particularly important.”

Another source that promotes that same Ketone Level Range is…

Thomas DeLauer

In this video, DeLauer indicates that around 1.0 to 1.5 Ketones is a good level for individuals who are training.

Another piece of the Ketone Level puzzle come from…

Jimmy Moore

Moore’s findings is that when you initially go on the Keto Diet, your blood Ketones are elevated. Basically, the body is over producing ketones. Thus, the higher readings.

However, after you have been on Keto for a while, the body adapts. It only produces enough ketones that your body needs for energy.

Gaining Mass

Gaining mass require an increase in caloric intake.

Since carbohydrate intake is restricted to around 50 gram and protein is has a ceiling of around 25% of your macro calorie intake, that means you need to increase your fat intake.

More on how to do that below.

Increasing Protein Intake

As PaulL stated in his post, one of the keys to increasing muscle mass is to increase protein intake.

With that said, an increase in your fat calorie intake means you can increase your protein intake, keeping it in the 25% of calorie intake macro range.

One of the keys to maintaining ketosis is to keep your fat and protein in the right macro percentage range. As we know, carbohydrates have a definitive number; 50 grams range.

My Personal Experience

In July 2016, I was diagnosed with a metabolic condition. Based on the research, the Ketogenic Diet and Intermittent Fasting indicated that it might assist with my condition; that appears to be true.

I initially overreacted. I went on the Ketogenic Diet, only having two meals a day; a dramatic drop in calorie intake.

I ended up losing 17 lbs in 35 days; averaging a weight loss of half a pound a day.

I then, like you, wanted to…

Gain Weight/Mass Back

To do that, I increased my calorie intake with fats: Oliver and Avocado Oils, Medium Chain Triglycerides, Liquid and Solid Coconut Oil, and snacking on just Butter, etc.

I’d often just drink small shot of oil to increase my calorie intake.

I got that idea from…

Bill “Peanuts” West

West was a Bodybuilder/Powerlifter who didn’t have much money, back in his day. So, to gain weight, he’d drink a few shot of peanut oil; which was cheap and fit his budget.

I realize this sound nuts. However, it worked. I gained back the 17 lbs.

The 17 lbs that I gained back was mostly muscle and a little body fat.

With that said, I believe I could have obtain better results with increasing muscle mass an minimizing fat gain if I had come across this information before hand…

How to Bulk and Gain Weight (Muscle) on Keto

DeLauer cites research on how increasing protein intake on a Ketogenic Diet, up to around 1.0 gram per pound produced an increase in muscle mass.

To ensure that ketosis was maintained, fat intake was kept at around 75% of macro intake. That is a lot of fat and calories.

The Problem

The problem is that an over consumption of calories leads to an increase in body fat.

The Solution

DeLauer provide a reasonable solution via Intermittent Fasting.

Intermittent Fasting allows you to not over consume calories during the week.

This enables you to keep your protein intake at 1.0 gram per pound of body weight and your fat intake at 75% of your macros during the weeks so that you maximize muscle gain and minimize fat gain.

Leucine or Branch Chain Amino Acids

Another good post by PaulL is…

“My understanding is that for bulking muscle what is important is more protein, in particular branched-chain amino acids. The essential BCAA’s ( i.e., the ones the body cannot make for itself) are leucine, iso-leucine, and valine, so you’d probably want foods rich in them.”

Leucine “The Anabolic Trigger” for Muscle

Leucine triggers mTOR in the body. mTOR trigger muscle growth.

Research shows (Drs Donald Layman and Layne Norton) that the optimal dosage is around 3.0 gram for older individual; approximately 1.5 hour after a meal and before the next meal.

Amino Acids\

Amino Acids perform different functions.

Some Amino Acids are Glucogenic; converted to glucose for energy.

Other Amino Acids are Ketogenic or Glucogenic: they can be converted either way.

Leucine is only a Ketogenic Amino Acid. It is shielded and primarily used to maintain or increase muscle mass.

The Strength Components For Increasing Muscle Mass

As per PaulL…

“You want to stress your muscles properly to promote growth, so you probably want fewer reps at heavier weight, repeated to failure, instead of more reps at lower weight.”

Research by Dr Brad Schoenfeld determine that following are necessary for increasing muscle mass.

1) Mechanical Tension

As PaulL notes, this means part of your program needs to be in lifting heavy loads for low repetitions.

2) Metabolic Stress

This means performing light to moderate heavy weight for high to moderate repetitions.

This is the primary method used by Bodybuilders; aka The Pump, that elicits an increase in muscle mass.

3) Muscle Damage

At some point, as PaulL noted, you need to push an exercise to failure or near failure. However, going to failure or near it needs to be limited.

Going to failure or near it every workout leads to Overtraining; you get weaker and lose muscle mass.

Also, pushing yourself to that level of intensity every workout, mentally and emotionally burns you out.

Stimulate, Don’t Annihilate

One of the keys to increasing muscle mass and strength is to progressively increase the intensity over a number of weeks (increase repetition, weight, etc);

In the final week of your training cycle is where you need to push an exercise to failure or near to it.

Once you do that, you start off with a new training cycle that is light and easy. Doing so, allows the muscles to grow and increase in strength.

This is knowan as…

Active Recovery

Recovery is where an increase in muscle mass and strength occur.

Dropping back down to a light, easy load for an exercise increase blood flow to the muscles. This promote a faster recover.

Kenny Croxdale

(Kenny Croxdale) #12

Ketone Fluctuation

Your 1.0 to 1.5 is are really good numbers; you are still in ketosis.

Ketone level are going to fluctuate due to a number of factors.

It is no different than your body weight fluctuations when you weight, varying day to day around let’s say a pound or so.

The same is true with things like training; strength fluctuation occur from one training session to another, at times.

One of the training principles that addresses that is…


This means how your feel on a training day needs to be taken into consideration.

If you are feeling good/strong, you can push it a little harder.

If thing don;t feel right on a training day, back off a little.

Thomas DeLauer and Jimmy Moore

The information in their videos goes into the reason for the fluctuation in ketones.

Kenny Croxdale

(David ) #13

That’s awesome literature @KennyCrox - thanks so much man - very much appreciated. :+1:

(Michael - When reality fails to meet expectations, the problem is not reality.) #14

For your consideration:

(Bunny) #15

“…a typical macro breakdown for fat loss and muscle gain is 40 percent protein, 30 percent fat, and 30 percent carbs. …” …More

The link below is super deep; high carb/high protein, low carb/high protein; it really does not matter either way other than what’s more desirable to eat?

(Kenny Croxdale) #16

Building Muscle on Keto

Overall, it provides some good informatin. As the article notes, one of the issues with many studies that compare higher carbohydrate diets like the Standard American Diet with low carbohydrate diets like the Ketogenic Diet is protein consumption.

Many of the studies allowing for higher protein intake in one diet over another essentially negates the study.

That due to the fact that higher protein intake, as PaulL noted in his post, plays a vital role with increasing muscle mass.

Thomas DeLauer’s video goes into the research on how increasing protein up to 1.0 gram per pound increased muscle mass on a Ketogenic Diet. It was contingent on maintaining high fat intake of 75% plus of macros, as a maintaining ketosis.

How Much Protein

As this article states, " In short, given that the muscle-building benefits of protein have been shown to plateau at around 0.7 grams per pound (1.6 grams per kilogram) of bodyweight per day, it’s still possible to remain in ketosis while eating enough protein to support muscle growth."

Research from Volek/Phinney and other have demonstrated that optimal results for increasing muscle mass occurs with at least 1.6 gram of protein per kilo of body weight.

"The Muscle Building Cheat Sheet"

This is advertised in the article.

Step 5 Sets and Repetitions

This provides some general guidelines.

However, one of he key factor to strength training program that’s written specifically for an individual on the Ketogenic Diet need to be catered to the right…

Energy Systems

  1. Phosphagen (ATP) Energy System

This system works off ATP (Adenonine Triphosphate) not glucose or ketones.

ATP is used up in 30 seconds in high intensity training. However, after 15 seconds you are pretty much out of gas; strength and power drop like a rock.

Thus, the ATP Energy System is optimal for individual on the Keto Diet when repetition are kept to 15 seconds or less.

  1. Glycolytic Energy System

Glucose is used for fairly high intense training with repetitions that range over 30 seconds to around 2 minutes.

The Glycolytic Energy System is essentially the Bodybuilding/Hypertrophy Training System.

However, for Keto Adapted individual who utilized ketones for energy, the Glycolytic Energy System is a limiting factor.

Keto Adapted individual are efficient at using ketones for fuel and less efficient at using glucose; which is an issue for Keto Adapted individual.

An effective method for Bodybuilding/Hypertrophy training for Keto Adapted individual is…

Hypertrophy Cluster Set Training

One of the issues with Hypertrophy/Bodybuilding Training for increasing muscle mass is that strength and power dramatically decrease.

Dr John Oliver’s research set out to find a method of increasing muscle massw without being detrimental to strength and power.

Oliver’s research determined that Hypertrophy Cluster Set Training allowed athletes to increase muscle mass without any decrease strength or power.

Six (6) Repetition or less were performed per Set. A 15 to 45 rest period was taken after performing let’s say 6 repetitions, then another set was performed, then another rest period, then another set.

This allowed individual in the example above, to perform 3 Cluster Sets of 6 Repetitions for a total of 18 repetitions.

The rest period between the sets of 5 repetition allowed for ATP (the gas) to be restored in the muscles.

ATP was the primarily energy source used in these strength training sets; the Glycolytic Energy System was bypassed.

Thus, Oliver method for increasing muscle mass while maintaining and/or increasing strength and power works for individual on the Ketogenic Diet; by passing the Glycolytic Energy System.

Let’s look at the final energy system…

  1. The Oxidative System

This involves low level intensity exercise like walking or a slow jog.

The Oxidative Energy System is where most of the Ketogenic Diet research has been performed. That because lower intensity training utilize more ketone for energy.


  1. Ketogenic Diet protein intake needs to be around 1.6 gram per kilo or higher.

To ensure you remain in ketosis, the right fat and protein macros need to be maintained; Fat around 75% and Protein limited to 25% or less.

  1. Cluster Set Hypertrophy Training for Ketonians optimize result for increasing muscle mass.

It allows you to bypass the Glycolytic Energy System, which needs glucose to drive it.

Kenny Croxdale

(Old Baconian) #17

Thanks for a very thoughtful post. I’m not a weight-lifter, but you sound as though you know what you’re talking about, so I’d love to hear your thoughts on this particular point:

And not to contradict you, because there’s definitely some truth in what you write here, but have you considered the recent study by Volek’s team, of athletes who had been fat-adapted for two years at the point where they were studied? Their glycogen stores turned out to be at the same levels as those of the carb-adapted athletes they were being compared to. There performance was pretty similar, too. Apparently it takes glycogen levels longer to normalise than just the six to eight weeks fat-adaptation normally takes.

I know that when I joined these forums three years ago, we were telling people that explosive performance wouldn’t be so good on a ketogenic diet, but in light of this study, I’m now wondering whether we shouldn’t have been telling them just to wait for another year (or whatever). What are your thoughts?

(Kenny Croxdale) #18

Glycogen Levels In Keto Adapted Individual

Paul, you are right.

Glucose levels in Keto Adapted individuals are essentially the same as individual on higher carbohydrate diets.

Keto Adapted individual have enough muscle glycogen. However, Keto Adapted individual don’t appear to be able to use glucose as effectively and efficiently as individuals on a higher carbohydrate diet.

Let’s look at…

Glucose Dependent Individuals

These individuals primarily use glucose for energy. There system is designed (via diet) to breakdown carbohydrates into glucose for fuel.

Most individual store up to 500 gram of glucose/2,000 calories, which they are dependent on for energy.

Let’s say a 200 lb person is 15% body fat. That means they have 30 lbs of body fat; 105,000 stored calories (30 lbs of body fat X 3500 kcals per pound of fat).

The irony is that little of that body fat is being used for energy, that because a Glucose Dependent individual’s system primarily use glucose rather than ketones/body fat for energy.

Glucose Dependent individual do use some ketone. However their system is designed to for glucose energy production. It going to use more glucose than ketones for energy.

Keto Adapted Individuals

A Keto Adapted individual appears to the the reverse of a Glucose Dependent individual.

Keto Adapted are “Ketone Dependent” individuals. Their system are set up (via diet) to primarily use ketones rather than glucose…

Based on the research, it appears that the Ketogenic Diet is not efficient or effective for individual training or in sports that fall into the Glycolytic Energy System.

So, it is not a matter of a Keto Adapted individual not having the same amount of muscle glycogen as an individual on a high carbohydrate diet.

It is more of a matter of a Glucose Dependent individual being able to access and use glucose faster and more efficiently than a Keto Adapted individual.

Something else to consider is…

Metabolic Flexibility with Intermittent Fasting

Metabolic Flexibility amounts to your body performing like a Hybrid Car that runs off electricity or gas, dependent on how you use it.

Research by Dr Mike T. Nelson found that one of the benefits of Intermittent Fasting is that your body becomes efficient (like the Hybrid Car) at using glucose or ketones, dependent on your activity.

Car Examples

  1. Hybrid Car.

Think if this as being Metabolic Flexibility; you are efficient at using glucose or ketones, dependent on the activity.

  1. Gas Car

Think of this predominately using glucose, Glucose Dependent.

  1. Electric Car

Think of this as predominately using ketones, Keto Dependent.

Science Is A Fluid Environment

As someone said, science is fluid, it keeps changing direction.

Power and Strength Training On The Ketogenic Diet

As per Dr Mike Israetel, an assistant professor of nutrition, exercise science, and public health at Temple University…

“…if you’re keeping sets at between roughly one and three reps with long rest periods of three to five minutes, this may be long enough to regenerate the ATP levels (a method of intracellular energy transfer) even if you’re in ketosis.” Source: https://barbend.com/ketogenic-diet-strength-training/

Dr Mike Israetel’s statement takes us back using the right energy system when training on the Ketogenic Diet; the Phosphagen Energy System.

As Israetel states, Keto Adapted training with lower repetition (ATP System) works.

Based on my practical experience with Maximum Strength and Explosive Power Training over the last 4 years, I have found it work, maintained and inceasing my strength and power.

Personally, I like the Ketogenic Diet. It appears that it may be helping me with my metabolic issue.

It took me a year of training doing things wrong (2016 - 2017) before I understood how to write and execute a Ketogenic Diet Training Program. From 2017 - 2020 my Ketogenic Diet Training Program has rocked along: I am still learning.

With that said, here is some research for you that counter some of the information that I presented, just to be fair.

A Low-Carbohydrate Ketogenic Diet Combined with 6-Weeks of Crossfit Training Improves Body Composition and Performance https://clinmedjournals.org/articles/ijsem/international-journal-of-sports-and-exercise-medicine-ijsem-3-054.php?jid=ijsem

This research information indicates that individual on the Kegogenic Diet can adapt to training in the Glycolytic Energy System.

As someone who uses and like the Ketogenic Diet, I’d like to believe this.

However, I question how well Glycolytic Energy System Training is for an Keto Adapted individual. That based on my research and practical experience over the last 4 years.

Kenny Croxdale

(Michael - When reality fails to meet expectations, the problem is not reality.) #19

(Bob M) #20

I think I injured my first rotator cuff doing behind the neck presses on a machine where the bar was behind the body to begin with…and I missed putting one side on the rest. Then tried to get up.

Here’s the way I THINK (might not be true) about muscle glycogen. I think for someone like me, working out 3 days a week and doing whole body weight (BW) lifting one day, then two days of substantially fewer BW lifting + HIIT (on a bike, outside, currently), I think I get enough replacement glycogen, even eating keto. That’s probably because I’ve been doing this 6.5+ years, and when I started out, I probably couldn’t do it.

I think if you’re exercising more, say lifting daily or more extensively, some carbs might be good. I even tried a TKD where I ate higher carb the meal after my workout. That did seem to help a bit…but since I have plenty of time before my next exercise, it wasn’t tremendous. And since stopping that, I’ve still been doing fine.

On the other hand, if you really are doing tons of workouts, or you want to get HUUUUGE, carbs might help. Then again Shawn Baker is carnivore and does outrageous workouts, and still seems OK. BUT, his HbA1c is really high (over 6?), and I think that’s his body trying its darndest to get glycogen.

Dr. Bikman in a podcast was talking about someone who wanted to bench more all the time and that was the goal. At one time, I was that person.

But I think I’m old enough that I agree with Dr. Bikman’s current philosophy. He tries to do exercise that he thinks makes him healthier, and to allow him to be a better father and husband. I try to do exercise that gives me some “shape”, but also makes me feel better.

As for ketones, I ignore those for many reasons. If you want high ketones (at least in blood test), just slam some fat. Having eaten high fat and low fat (keto all the while), it doesn’t seem to matter to me, and I don’t get a buzz from higher ketones – at least not any more. And if there is a benefit to higher ketones, I can’t tell.