Ketogenic Diet

26 June

When preparing for a bodybuilding contest, some bodybuilders will follow a ketogenic diet, or ketosis diet. Ketosis occurs when you cease to intake any carbohydrates, and both the liver and muscle glycogen stores are empty. Free fatty acids are then converted into ketones that the body will utilize for fuel.

The advantage of a ketosis diet is muscle preservation. When ketones are being used as fuel, the body will not look to break down amino acids that are stored in muscle tissue, therefore maintaining a high percentage of muscle mass despite being on a calorie restricted diet.

There are three types of ketosis diets that bodybuilders use for a contest prep diet.

Standard ketosis diet is refraining from eating any carbohydrates and the body remains in a state of ketosis for as long as carbohydrates are severely restricted. Since the muscle will have very little stored glycogen, workouts usually are less than expected and lifting heavy weights is not advised.

Targeted ketosis diet is eating a small portion of carbohydrates just prior to engaging in exercise or strenuous activity. The muscles will utilize the extra glucose very quickly which gives a small burst of energy, just long enough to complete a workout. After the workout has ended and the glucose has been used, the body returns to ketosis.

Cyclical ketosis diet is alternating days of ketosis with days of non-ketosis, so your body stays in ketosis or non-ketosis for longer periods of time, anywhere from one day to two weeks or even longer.

For a ketosis diet to be effective, your body must first enter a state of ketosis. This can usually be done within 3-4 days. Removing all forms of carbohydrates is required, including fruits, vegetables, potatoes, rice, starches, processed foods, and dairy. Any food that has sugar or carbohydrate must not be eaten. You are allowed to eat meat, macadamia nuts, oils and small amounts of cream cheese.

The body will go through many changes while transitioning to using ketones, including headaches, fatigue, nausea, vision changes, mental fatigue, mood swings and others.

You will lose a lot of water weight in the first few days due to the body using stored carbohydrates. Each molecule of carbohydrate stored in your liver and glycogen is attached to three molecules of water. When a molecule of carbohydrate is used as energy, the body releases the three molecules of water into the urinary system. This is why people lose a significant amount of weight when first starting a diet, and then the weight loss seems to slow dramatically. It is mostly water weight that is being lost.

After entering ketosis most people feel very good, despite not eating any carbohydrates. Increased brain clarity, elevated mood levels, elevated energy, dull appetite and increased general well being have all been reported after entering ketosis.

A Standard Ketosis Diet

When the body is in a state of ketosis, it is not advised to do heavy weight lifting or any overly strenuous activities. The muscles are not at their full capacity, so even if you did lift weights, the amount of weight you could lift will be drastically reduced. Because we are restricting carbohydrates, the muscles will not be able to recover after a workout, which would lead to muscle breakdown, and that is what we don’t want prior to a bodybuilding contest.

It is advised to do low to moderate cardiovascular activity to help burn body fat.

A Targeted Ketosis Diet

The purpose of a targeted ketosis diet is to reap the benefits of a ketosis diet, but still lift heavy weights to help maintain muscle mass. This is done by restricting carbohydrates on a daily basis and being in a state of ketosis, except for eating a small meal or snack consisting of carbohydrates and some protein prior to a weightlifting workout. This small amount of carbohydrate will fuel your workout and help aid recovery afterwards, however you must calculate exactly how many carbohydrates the body will consume during a workout, so you can quickly return to ketosis afterwards.

It is best that the small carbohydrate snack contains a simple sugar so it can be digested quickly to fuel the muscles. Dextrose is a common choice, also is sugary candy, white bread, white potatoes, or white rice. Fruit should be avoided because it is slower to digest and enter the bloodstream. A small amount of lean protein such as grilled chicken, fish or lean beef should also be consumed. Fat should be avoided, as it also tends to slow digestion.

While in a ketogenic state it is best to do low to moderate cardio to help aid fat burning.

A Cyclical Ketosis Diet

A cycle can be any length of time from one day to two weeks, or even longer. A ketosis diet is maintained on a daily basis, with no heavy weight lifting performed. Low to moderate cardio can be done to aid in fat burning.

When a cycle begins, often called a “carb up,” the bodybuilder will return to eating a diet of high carbohydrate, moderate protein and low fat to quickly get out of ketosis. Heavy weight lifting workouts can be done, also heavy cardio sessions. After a cycle is completed, the bodybuilder returns to ketosis and refrains from heavy weight lifting.

Calculating how much carbohydrate the body requires during a cycle is extremely important. If too much carbohydrate is consumed, body fat will be gained and it will take longer to return to ketosis. If not enough carbohydrate is consumed, the body will not be able to complete a workout and recovery will be hindered.

The majority of bodybuilders who choose a ketosis diet to prepare for a bodybuilding competition use either the targeted or cyclical version of the ketosis diet. Standard ketosis diet often leaves the muscle appearing small and flat. Some form of weight lifting is always advised when preparing for a bodybuilding competition, and the targeted or cyclical versions of the ketosis diet allow for heavy weight lifting to be continued on a regular basis.

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  1. What is the max amount of protein i can eat in a day on the ketosis diet? Im 5' 9" and weighing 177 right now.

    Thank you so much.

  2. Hi Justin,
    There is no set maximum of protein per se. Most BB's go for 1g up to 1.5g per pound of bodyweight. For 175lb, you should eat about 175g of protein daily, or 700 calories. The rest of the calories should come from dietary fat. Go no lower than 1,000 calories below your maintenance caloric level. If the bodyfat isn't coming off, try decreasing your protein and increasing your dietary fat as protein is more easily converted to glucose than fat.

  3. Anything above minimum protein and aminos will be used for fuel in gluconeogenesis delaying keto adaptation.


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