Ketogenic Diet Effects on Muscle Gain and Athletic Performance (Volek/Phinney)

Non keto-athletes and serious exercisers often talk about how on a ketogenic diet we lack lack the pathways to gain muscle and improve performance. THIS IS NOT TRUE! And here is the scientific reasons why!

Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney, are leading researchers in the field of keto adapted athletic performance, they have debunked this myth completely, and documented some of their findings very well in their co authored book “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance”.

The most talked about “draw back” of a ketogenic diet for athletes is that lean muscle mass production slows, and muscle protein synthesis is negatively effected. This in fact, couldn’t be farther from the truth. We have all heard of the positive body composition changes from the burning of fat for fuel in a ketogenic diet, but it turns out that the reduction in body fat percentage is amplified due to the ability to maintain and increase lean muscle mass. Volek and Phinney state in their book that, “Evidence clearly indicates that a well formulated ketogenic diet spares the body’s proteins from oxidation”. This is possible due to the fact that the structure of ketones resemble that of the amino acids that are metabolized in a standard western diet, therefor are burned as a substitute. This allows blood levels of Branched Chain Amino Acids to stay elevated in ketogenic metabolism. The misconception of a detriment to muscle protein synthesis, or MPS, is rooted in the fact that insulin is regarded as a key factor in promoting MPS, and as we know, without the influx of glucose in the blood stream, an insulin response is not triggered. It turns out the Branched Chain Amino Acid, Lucine, easily fills the role of the missing insulin and is able to promote MPS in its own right. This, combined with the protein sparing effects of ketosis that up regulates lucine levels, muscle protein synthesis is promoted at levels just as high, if not higher than diets that include high amounts of carbohydrates to stimulate insulin production. In addition this lack of insulin response allows anabolic hormones such as testosterone and human growth hormone, which play a large role in exercise recovery and muscle regeneration, to be at an all time high.

Perhaps the most significant improvement, when converting metabolism to a fatty acid fuel source, is the practically endless supply of fuel, in comparison to the finite amount of carbohydrates we are able to store as muscle and liver glycogen. When glucose is not directly metabolized to create ATP, it is converted and stored as glycogen in the liver and skeletal muscle throughout the body. On average these glycogen stores can hold around 400-500 grams of glycogen, to later be burned as glucose, accounting for 1600-2000kcal of energy. This is when we begin to see that this fuel reservoir doesn’t begin to compare to the energy stored in fat, even in extremely lean individuals. Each gram of fat contains 9kcal of energy which is more than double that of the energy of carbohydrates, to go further, the storage capacity of fat is endless, even in a lean 10% body fat athlete, the energy available in the fat fuel tank is about 20x that of the energy in the carb fuel tank, somewhere around 40,000kcal. This expanded fuel tank rids athletes of the need to carb load and continuously provide nutritional energy throughout high endurance exercise, such as marathon running and competing in triathlons. Which is why in the past decade athletes on ketogenic diets have emerged as some of the best performers in these ultra endurance competitions.

These next two ketogenic improvements to overall athletic performance go hand in hand. They are the improvements in ventilatory drive and the production and regulation of lactate during exercise. One of the largest drivers of respiratory rate during exercise is the acidity, or pH of the blood. The two pathways that increase acidity, and decrease pH, are high amounts of carbon dioxide and high amounts of lactate in the blood stream. During exercise, as exertion increases these chemicals are produced at a higher rate than they can be dealt with, causing levels in the blood to raise, and resulting in increased respiratory rate or hyperventilation. In the metabolization of fat, less C02 is produce per calorie burned, resulting in less build up in the blood. In addition with much less reliance on the burning of glucose through glycolysis in a ketogenic diet, significantly less lactate is present in the blood stream, making it easier to regulate respiration, in other words, its easier to breath.

  • been on keto for 2 months and no longer losing weight. why?

  • Great video and awesome that you respond so thoroughly to comments/questions. Are there documented case studies, then, of a SKD (rather than TKD or CKD) working well for bodybuilding/gaining? I'm already lean and trying to put on 20 lbs muscle

  • Incredible video and explanation. Thanks brother

  • So if my primary goal is to gain muscle and lower bodyfat % is TKD or CKD not the way to go?

  • hoe many carbs do you eat once keto adapted

  • I'm gonna ask one more question here since you seem like an expert and nice enough to answer comments haha
    Will I still lose bodyfat if I eat maintenance or slightly over? I don't really care about losing weight since I'm at a healthy weight but I just want to drop my 21% bodyfat as much as I can while I maintain my weight.

  • amazing explanation. Keep it up!

  • I'm probably between 10-15% body fat and want to get into the 5-8% range as well as put on some lean muscle. What is the best approach? Should I cut calories till I get lean and then increase then to build muscle? Or what? Thanks

  • Wow, what a great video summarizing lots of info.

    I suggest you to slow down on the talk so listener will have time to digest the content, than just reading from a set of materials quickly. The slides are too fast and these are very advance and technical material for average person to comprehend with the speed you went through.

    Hope this helps.

  • Fantastic presentation/explanation!
    I have been on Keto for 6 months and will never go back.
    You have a new sub!

  • Very well put, informational video. Good stuff man!

  • This is awesome

  • Thank you for producing this great video! This has been my question and I like to hear the same answer from a few sources. I can't wait to start this new journey. I am tired of the mainstream and ready to go against the grain and make others wonder what the Heck is going on! I subscribed and excited to pick up what your laying down!

  • Came here from Jason's Shoutout to ya! Subbed!

  • I experienced the fat loss,muscle building effect with the first few months on keto. after the initial water loss I was at 243 lbs and 28% body fat. after the next two months I dropped to 241.5 lbs but my body fat went down to 23.2%.

  • wauw! I wish my stomach could tolerate a keto diet, but im not using the fats, it goes right trough me 🙁

  • Sent over from Jason Wittrock channel. Excellent video I will be checking out Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney research.

  • Great video, thanks man, Awesome!
    the energy is just endless during keto, I can't believe this amazing diet, I truly feel blessed that I got familiar with this lifestyle. I can easily workout with highest efficiency for 3-4 hours (if I wanted) even with high intensity cardio included. There is no fatigue, no sugar rush, no sudden change in the mood. it's just amazing.

  • great video series. i am subbed. i suggest looking up Dr Jason Fung about his method of fasting and lchf dieting and the science of how these can actually improve metabolism, testosterone and hgh levels. great science to back the hype

  • great vid. keep it up!

  • Love your content! Incredibly informative and easy to understand. Are you a qualified nutritionist yourself or have you got this information from other sources such as Volek and Pinney and presenting it in a more easy to process way?

  • Really glad Jason mentioned you. Awesome videos,with great explanation. I've been on keto for about 5.5 months im down 36lbs. Ive noticed strength is holding and i don't seem to have lost muscle, im at 2200 calories a day. With keto do you believe i would have to be in a calorie surplus to put on muscle size? Ive been bodybuilding for yrs and it's always been a calorie surplus to grow im just wondering if it's the same for keto? Feedback would be appreciated. thank you!

  • Really glad Jason mentioned you. Awesome videos,with great explanation. I've been on keto for about 5.5 months im down 36lbs. Ive noticed strength is holding and i don't seem to have lost muscle, im at 2200 calories a day. With keto do you believe i would have to be in a calorie surplus to put on muscle size? Ive been bodybuilding for yrs and it's always been a calorie surplus to grow im just wondering if it's the same for keto? Feedback would be appreciated. thank you!

  • Great video, great summary, I shall be pointing people (uninformed vegans mostly) people in this direction from now on, thanks for the great summary!

  • Great video and really interesting,I've got a question, I'm currently at 7%bf but i want to gain muslce without putting fat on, if I go on the keto diet will gain muscle but not fat?

  • I'm turning 50 in October and have NO more joint pain and tummy troubles…Mental concentration is amazing….

  • Oh and soreness and recovery after working out is completely minimal…I've been working out since a young child and I've never experienced that before ever until now…the beauty benefit is because I'm not experiencing inflammation anymore my face and skin feels like I'm in my 30's AGAIN…

  • what ratio do you recommand for keto

  • being an vegan
    a person is consuming lot of pulses, legumes& beans
    so is it possible to be on ketosis??

  • Great video, thanks!

    Keto, Intermittent Fasting and Buteyko Breathing helped me get out of 4 years of dreadful chronic fatigue. Great stuff!

  • when should I use leucine just post workout?

  • I like your videos. keep it up

  • do I have to still be in a calorie deficit to lose weight on a keto diet.

  • Your videos and animations are amazing. Well researched and perfectly delivered. Keep up the great work.

  • So true!!!! Im a female only 4 feet 11 inch in height.. decided to go on keto diet not for fat loss but because im sick and tired of feeling lousy, having aches and pain, low energy despite eating well..
    I ditch all processed food, grains, wheat and started eating lots of protein. My carb would only come from veggies and fruits.. people
    Wont believe me when i tell them
    I eat steak almost every two days, eats lots of eggs( with yolk), avocados and my salad are all drenches with either macadamia or
    Olive oil.. i didnt gain any weight( even though that time i wasnt into lifting weight) i stayed really lean and sooooo much energy that even after a night shift, i can still
    Last another 24 hrs without sleep…

  • i'm doing a keto diet for 10 day's now, and i'm never going back to those carbs again! i feel fit,strong, have no hunger, lose fat weight and have all day energie! wow best thing happend to me ever!

  • That was fantastic! Excellent explanation and visuals.

  • Why does everyone get mad when I tell them that Carbs is the most useless macronutrient?

  • I'm a keto guy, board certified in Human Anatomical Path, retired bodybuilder (I'm 38yo)and a wrestling coach. I would never want to compete in a sport like wrestling without switching to low fat high carb a few days before a tournament.

  • I have been on keto for 4mths and had great bodyweight reduction, 51 lbs. , feel good. But I have experienced a very significant reduction in strength. I train 5x per week, and have for 50 yrs. and my poundages for 1 rep and all rep ranges has dropped significantly. I am happy to sacrifice this for the much needed weight loss etc. but seems contrary to what you say here. Any tips?

  • Beautiful work, the animation helps immensely. These are especially helpful for sharing with others. An important type of communication filling a gap in the great work out there in YouTube, podcasting and books and e-books available. Would be useful to do a follow-up video on implications for non athletes. On just the theme of exercise performance: Better breathing for the 80 year old with a breathing disorder on inhalers. Better breathing and less exertion for the heart patient with chest pain and good preparation for going into a surgery. Far easier recovery for the heart patient undergoing stent surgery. An amazing lack of lactic acid buildup and sore muscles for the regular exerciser. All benefits I have witnessed either myself or up close in family.

  • What is the weight of this individual who is 10% body fat?

  • So can you build muscle while on keto ? Thanks

  • Hey I love the explanation you do! I was wondering if you had any links to the literature that supports this

  • ive been wanting to hop on the keto wagon but i just cant get over the thought of it hurting my performance with mma, i need glycogen. right?

  • About 24 hours into my keto experiment.
    Let the great experiment BEGIN!

  • DUDE!! Where have you been!!

    your videos gave me so much answers to so many things about health that i was wondering about,

    now that's ramadan all muslims go into fasting, do you think that would get us into ketosis?