When the calories are similar, there was no difference in gains in lean muscle mass when following a keto diet compared to a high carbohydrate diet.


  • Many athletes question whether do you need carbs to build muscle or not.
  • The study found that Keto diet can be equally effective as high carbohydrate diets for gaining muscle when calories are similar.
  • Keto diets have an appetite-suppressing effect which can make getting adequate calories for muscle growth more difficult.


If you have been in the fitness and bodybuilding world for any time, a commonly held belief is that the keto diet is good for reducing body weight and fat loss but not great for gaining muscle. Ketogenic diets require individuals to cut their carbs to less than 50 grams daily.

Keto for women over 50 and older men looking to lose body fat has become extremely mainstream. Other popular versions of the keto diet are the keto carnivore diet (high-protein Keto diet without plant foods) and the keto green diet(emphasizing more low-carb green vegetables). The benefit of keto diets is that there is a greater increase in protein intake, which contributes to muscle protein synthesis and body recomposition. When following a keto diet, it’s important to eat enough protein, follow a weight training program to build lean body mass, and boost fat intake from heart-healthy foods such as olive oil, nuts, and avocados.


You will hear many bodybuilders who compete at a high level (i.e., Pro bodybuilders) say that you need carbs to help build muscle. One may wonder, do carbs help build muscle (i.e., are carbs for muscle growth necessary?)? Some have suggested that the carbohydrates themselves directly contribute to muscle building by enhancing the anabolic factors in muscle directly (Note: studies have found no difference in anabolic muscle signaling factors between low and high carbohydrate diets (Paoli et al., 2019).

Others have suggested the reduction in carbs causes a reduction in training intensity leading thru a reduction in glycogen stores, leading to a decrease in muscle growth (Note: A recent study found that keto diets do not impair workout performance when performing less than 10 sets per muscle group (Henselmans et al., 2022) Several large scale studies have found that keto diets result in less lean mass gains than a higher carbohydrate diet. (Ashtary-Larky et al., 2022) However, this review did not control for differences in calories between groups.


If your goal is to build muscle, a calorie surplus is needed. Current research recommends a small calorie surplus to gain muscle (i.e., 200-300 calories). A meta-analysis of all the studies examining calorie deficits and changes in lean muscle mass responses found that an energy deficit of 500 calories resulted in blunted increases in lean muscle mass. If you are trying to gain muscle, it’s always better to be in a caloric surplus. (Murphy & Koehler, 2022)

A 5-10% calorie surplus above maintenance calories is recommended to optimize protein synthesis and gains in muscle mass while minimizing fat gain. (Iraki et al., 2019)  Numerous studies have found that fat loss between keto and low-fat diets is similar when calories are similar. (Hu et al., 2012) One of the main effects of keto diets is a reduction in appetite, which can contribute to weight loss. (Deemer et al., 2020; Gibson et al., 2015; Paoli et al., 2015; Roekenes & Martins, 2021)

Others have suggested that the reductions in appetite are related to increased ketone bodies from the ketogenic diet. (Stubbs et al., 2018) Could it be that the reason that the studies have found that the keto diet studies have shown lesser gains in muscle was that the subjects were eating less? A 2020 study found that when subjects followed a keto diet with the exact calories of a high protein, high carbohydrate diet had similar gains in muscle. (Wilson et al., 2020)


The meta-analysis analyzed 5 studies with resistance-trained athletes who consumed similar calories and protein. Still, the only difference was that one group followed a keto diet, and the other followed a high-carbohydrate diet. The review assessed 5 studies with 101 participants. All the subjects in the study consumed a protein intake of .7 to 1 grams of protein per pound of body weight. When the calories are similar, there was no difference in gains in lean muscle mass when following a keto diet compared to a high carbohydrate diet. (Vargas-Molina et al., 2022) Thus, although its commonly suggested that you need carbs to help build muscle, this study suggests this is not true.

DO YOU NEED CARBS TO BUILD MUSCLE Carbs to Build Muscle Carbohydrates to Gain Muscle Carbs and Muscle Building Carbs to Gain Muscle Carbs to Help Build Muscle Evidence based muscle
When the calories are similar, there was no difference in gains in lean muscle mass when following a keto diet compared to a high carbohydrate diet.

This study suggests you can build muscle without carbs when calories are similar. People commonly ask, “Are carbs good for bulking?” It is not the carbs per se; it’s the increase in calories driving muscle growth when protein is similar. Adding carbs for muscle growth and gaining muscle on keto are both viable options for gaining muscle when calories are similar.

Lack of long-term adherence and the appetite-suppressing effects of a keto diet may not be an optimal approach to gaining muscle. The author states, “Due to the satiating effect and the consequent lack of adherence that a KD generates, it does not seem to be an optimal nutritional strategy, especially if it is maintained continuously for eight weeks or more.”


Ashtary-Larky, D., Bagheri, R., Asbaghi, O., Tinsley, G. M., Kooti, W., Abbasnezhad, A., Afrisham, R., & Wong, A. (2022). Effects of resistance training combined with a ketogenic diet on body composition: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr, 62(21), 5717-5732. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2021.1890689

Deemer, S. E., Plaisance, E. P., & Martins, C. (2020). Impact of ketosis on appetite regulation-a review. Nutr Res, 77, 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nutres.2020.02.010

Gibson, A. A., Seimon, R. V., Lee, C. M., Ayre, J., Franklin, J., Markovic, T. P., Caterson, I. D., & Sainsbury, A. (2015). Do ketogenic diets really suppress appetite? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev, 16(1), 64-76. https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.12230

Henselmans, M., Bjørnsen, T., Hedderman, R., & Vårvik, F. T. (2022). The Effect of Carbohydrate Intake on Strength and Resistance Training Performance: A Systematic Review. Nutrients, 14(4). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14040856

Hu, T., Mills, K. T., Yao, L., Demanelis, K., Eloustaz, M., Yancy, W. S., Jr., Kelly, T. N., He, J., & Bazzano, L. A. (2012). Effects of low-carbohydrate diets versus low-fat diets on metabolic risk factors: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials. Am J Epidemiol, 176 Suppl 7(Suppl 7), S44-54. https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kws264

Iraki, J., Fitschen, P., Espinar, S., & Helms, E. (2019). Nutrition Recommendations for Bodybuilders in the Off-Season: A Narrative Review. Sports, 7(7), 154. https://www.mdpi.com/2075-4663/7/7/154

Murphy, C., & Koehler, K. (2022). Energy deficiency impairs resistance training gains in lean mass but not strength: A meta-analysis and meta-regression. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 32(1), 125-137. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.14075

Paoli, A., Bosco, G., Camporesi, E. M., & Mangar, D. (2015). Ketosis, ketogenic diet and food intake control: a complex relationship. Front Psychol, 6, 27. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00027


Paoli, A., Cancellara, P., Pompei, P., & Moro, T. (2019). Ketogenic Diet and Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy: A Frenemy Relationship? J Hum Kinet, 68, 233-247. https://doi.org/10.2478/hukin-2019-0071

Roekenes, J., & Martins, C. (2021). Ketogenic diets and appetite regulation. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, 24(4). https://journals.lww.com/co-clinicalnutrition/Fulltext/2021/07000/Ketogenic_diets_and_appetite_regulation.14.aspx

Stubbs, B. J., Cox, P. J., Evans, R. D., Cyranka, M., Clarke, K., & de Wet, H. (2018). A Ketone Ester Drink Lowers Human Ghrelin and Appetite. Obesity (Silver Spring), 26(2), 269-273. https://doi.org/10.1002/oby.22051

Vargas-Molina, S., Gómez-Urquiza, J. L., García-Romero, J., & Benítez-Porres, J. (2022). Effects of the Ketogenic Diet on Muscle Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men and Women: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Int J Environ Res Public Health, 19(19). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph191912629

Wilson, J. M., Lowery, R. P., Roberts, M. D., Sharp, M. H., Joy, J. M., Shields, K. A., Partl, J. M., Volek, J. S., & D’Agostino, D. P. (2020). Effects of Ketogenic Dieting on Body Composition, Strength, Power, and Hormonal Profiles in Resistance Training Men. J Strength Cond Res, 34(12), 3463-3474. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000001935

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