Why do you have to be in a keto-surplus to build muscle?

(Warren Bode) #1

I have this question:

I have heard over and over that your calories need to be in a surplus to build muscle. With Keto this would require you eating excess fat.

But if you are Keto adapted and your calories are at a deficit level and eating the right amount of protein for your weight.

Why can’t you still build muscle while your body taps into your own fat reserves for the extra needed energy?

(Robert C) #2

I am pretty sure that all you need to build muscle (under any circumstances) is to force the muscle to adapt by lifting heavy things.

Eat all the calories you want and do not stress the muscle - no muscle gain.

Eat nothing at all and stress the muscle - add muscle.

(Boots on? Balls to the wall? Good start.) #3

No it wouldn’t - the fat on your body would provide the ‘excess’.

If you’re already quite light you would need to add calories.

(Karim Wassef) #4

My experience is that building muscle is about three things:

  1. Lifting to create the need to build muscle (this involves lifting to failure and then allowing for rest and healing) - basically what Rob said :slight_smile:
  2. Availability of amino acids that are required to rebuild (protein).
  3. This one is still controversial to me but I’m starting to open up to it - you need small windows of insulin to be anabolic. This doesn’t mean breaking keto completely but it does mean mini-cycling to allow your body to recover gycogen stores and then build more tissue. My view of doing this is with protein & not carbs - specifically I’m focusing on Leucine myself.

The first two will maintain muscle and can even increase strength, but if you want size, you need to switch from catabolic to anabolic hormonally. I’m learning here too, so please take my input with a grain of salt. Jerry is one resource who’s speaking to this:

and here’s a couple more videos on the topic:

I’m not advocating Jerry as the only or main resource for this, but he has some interesting experiences to share. I also like Thomas DeLauer.

There’s no need for “keto-surplus” to build muscle… your own fat is already surplus :slight_smile: as safi pointed out.

(Robert C) #5

Making muscle gains is a very difficult and slow process that (I think) does not have much to do with adding calories to your diet. Except for a few genetically endowed individuals, the process is so slow that pulling any extra calories you need from body fat will just work out fine if you are looking to not overeat. You’ll also get enough amino acids from regular real food for that (again slow) muscle building process but, what will determine how far the needle moves is how hard you work out.

On the other hand - if you are bodybuilding (taking steroids or “gear”) you very likely need extra calories because you can work out much longer and recover much faster than a regular human. You will see large muscle gains quickly - in fact the muscle strength increases so quickly compared to the tendon strength that it is not uncommon to tear or rupture them (which doesn’t happen nearly as often on a slow natural building of both muscle and tendon strength).

(Warren Bode) #6

Cheers Rob
Yeah not on the gear. Have been lifting heavy for the last 8 years and certainly know it is a slow road. Keto, for the last 2 years, has seem to help me put on the most muscle as I am susceptible to inflammation due to a sporting career. Presently on +3000 keto calories but I often have conversations about deficit idea in regard to cutting one day. ATM just enjoying lifting heavy and eating low carb.

(Boots on? Balls to the wall? Good start.) #7


(Give me bacon, or give me death.) #8


Anyone who wants to gain muscle needs to be eating adequate protein for the purpose, especially foods containing branched-chain amino acids, which are necessary for muscle growth, as I understand it. The three essential BCAA’s are leucine, valine, and iso-leucine. If you don’t get enough of them, you can’t put on muscle. (Again, as I understand it.)

As for the need for insulin, IGF1 and HGH can do an adequate job of promoting muscle growth, I don’t see the need for exogenous insulin. Furthermore, protein stimulates insulin secretion, though at half the rate at which carbohydrate does, so I suspect that eating enough protein should raise insulin enough for anyone’s purpose. Remember that raising insulin too high causes fat storage and stuffs the muscles with glycogen.

The muscles may look larger if full of glycogen, but one good workout should take care of that. My concern would be adding unwanted adipose tissue, as I don’t like the look of that layer of fat that even the leanest athletes seem to have these days.

ETA: Don’t forget that the reason fat and carbohydrate can’t build muscle tissue is that they don’t contain any nitrogen. Only proteins/amino acids contain nitrogen.

(Bob M) #9

As a former pseudo-bodybuilder, I learned bodybuilding depends on (1) genetics, (2) genetics, (3) genetics, (4) genetics, (5) drugs, (6) hard work. I got bigger, but it was a slow process taking years and I got nowhere close to what Jerry Brainum looks like (at the time I was a “bodybuilder”, Arnold, Lou, and Franco, and Mike and Ray were the bodybuilders I was trying to become). Of course, back then, I was on a low fat diet, which might not have helped, though tuna in water and egg whites…yum?

And all my friends at the time, who wanted to become bodybuilders, none of them ever did. You need that genetics.

(Karim Wassef) #10

Yes. My comment on insulin was to create natural small increases using leucine to promote muscle growth. I don’t see exogenous or carb-loading insulin as a healthy path. That’s why I call it mini-cycling. The idea is to lift fasted to failure, recover with a burst of leucine to get a mini-insulin spike that promotes growth, then go back into keto.

By the way, my favorite food is the classic egg. It’s like the ideal source for goodness. The yolk is awesome rebuilding cholesterol heaven and the white is like nitrogen heaven. Get it farm raised orange yolk if you can but an egg is just sweet muscle nutrition. I just go for the leucine as a mini kicker to get the engine throttle open.

(Give me bacon, or give me death.) #11

Makes sense. I can see you’ve put a lot of thought into this. I’ve been enjoying the clarity of your comments in various threads.

(Todd Allen) #12


(Give me bacon, or give me death.) #13

“An amino sugar occurring in many polysaccharides of vertebrate tissue and also as the major component of chitin.”—Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, 1997.

So if you think your body needs more starch or cellulose, sure. :grin:

Certainly, cartilage is important, but I thought we were talking about muscle growth, sorry.

(Karim Wassef) #14

I think this was good too :slight_smile:

He’s talking about Leucine as well

(Todd Allen) #15

I brought up glucosamine not as a suggestion for muscle growth but as a counterpoint to the idea that it is nitrogen that makes protein special with respect to muscle growth as glucosamine is a nitrogen containing carbohydrate. There are also nitrogen bearing fatty acids and we get nitrogen in many forms such as nitrites and nitrates.

I expect a better explanation of the value of protein in supporting muscle growth is there are essential dietary amino acids that we are unable to synthesize which are needed elements of muscle proteins. In particular leucine and methionine, both essential, are stimulators of metabolic pathways such as PI3K/AKT/mTOR which promote muscle hypertrophy.

(Kelly Silverman) #16

Hey Karim, I just wanted to say that everytime I come to the forum looking for answers about something, you’re one of the top commenters and I wanted to say thank you because I learn a lot.:grinning: