Ketogenic Diet for Strength Training

A ketogenic diet may be the best way of eating for full range strength.  Here's why. 

Starting at least 1.8 million years ago, and lasting up until just about 12,000 years ago, the Earth was in an ice age which scientists call the Pleistocene Epoch.  During this epoch, sheets of ice covered all of Antarctica, large parts of Europe, North America, and South America, and small areas in Asia. In North America they stretched over Greenland and Canada and parts of what is now the northern United States.

This climate favored the spread of savannas that provided an abundance of grass, and limited the growth of fruit-bearing trees.  Consequently large grass-eating animals such as mammoths, mastadons, and woolly rhinos.  Human ancestors were ambush predators hunting these large animals as far back as 2 million years ago. 

Mural by Charles R. Knight -, Public Domain,

For the duration of the Pleistocene our ancestors were hunters of fat animals because there was nothing else to eat.  Archaeological evidence indicates that ancestors of modern Europeans in particular (Neanderthals and Cro Magnons) were top-level carnivores during the Pleistocene.

This means that our ancestors ate a very low carbohydrate diet composed primarily of meat and fat for long periods of time.  They could not have survived the Pleistocene otherwise; edible plant food, containing carbohydrate, was simply too scarce during glaciation. In turn, this means that our metabolism is fundamentally adapted to a low-carbohydrate diet.  Bioenergetically, the ketogenic diet is the default human diet.

Are Carbohydrates Humans' Kryptonite?

In the comic book story of Superman created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, Superman could be weakened by exposure to kryptonite. Beyond a minimal level, carbohydrates seem to be like kryptonite to humans, weakening us from the inside out.

Dietary carbohydrates feed acid-forming bacteria that colonize the mouth, and the acids produced weaken human teeth and gums, causing dental caries and periodontal disease. Without strong teeth and gums, good nutrition is impossible.  It has been found that ancient hunters eating low carbohydrate diets had much better teeth than subsequent farmers eating high carbohydrate diets. Populations eating high carbohydrate, low fat diets have an increased prevalence of periodontal disease; eating more fat and less carbohydrate protects against tooth decay and loss.  

There exists a considerable and growing body of evidence that diets bad for the teeth are also bad for the body. Dental disease caused by carbohydrates is most likely the harbinger of systemic diseases such as digestive system diseases, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and a myriad other diseases that were rare to non-existent in human tribes that lived on meat and fat, but epidemic in civilizations built on high carbohydrate diets.

Ketogenic Diet for Strength Training

Wilson et al divided 25 college-age males into two groups, one of which was assigned to a ketogenic diet (KD) while the other ate a standard Western diet (WD) for a 10 week period during which they all performed a supervised resistance-training program [1].  Before and after the 10 week trial all subjects had a comprehensive metabolic panel of tests including testosterone levels.

At week 10, subjects in both groups had increase in lean body mass, with the WD group gaining more (4.4%) than the KD diet group (2.4%).  Here it is important to keep in mind that a KD reduces while a WD increases stores of glycogen and water, both of which are lean but are not contractile tissue. Also, Wilson et al reported that between weeks 10-11, only the KD group showed an increase in lean body mass.   Fat mass decreased in both groups, more in the KD group (-2.2 kg average) than the WD group (-1.2 kg average).  This might suggest that increases in lean body mass may occur more slowly on a KD, but for a longer period of time and with a significantly greater loss of fat mass.  Strength and power increased to the same extent for subjects in both groups.  Of even greater interest, testosterone levels increased by an average of 118 ng/dL in the KD group, but testosterone decreased by an average of 36 ng/dL for subjects in the WD group.  This might suggest that the high fat level of a KD supports higher testosterone levels than a WD.

Paoli et al assigned 8 elite gymnasts to eat a very low carbohydrate ketogenic diet (VLCKD) for 30 days, then a Western diet for 30 days [2].  Before and after each phase they tested performance in hanging straight leg raise, ground push up, parallel bar dips, pull up, squat jump, countermovement jump, and 30 sec continuous jumps.  They found that the VLCKD did not have any negative effect on strength.  However, when on the VLCKD the athletes lost on average about 2 kg (4.4 pounds) of fat mass while increasing lean mass.

Rauch et al [3] assigned 26 men to a periodized 10 week resistance training routine and either a 75% fat, 5% carbohydrate ketogenic diet or a conventional 55% carbohydrate, 25% fat diet.

The men assigned to the 75% fat, 5% carbohydrate diet gained almost twice as much muscle in 10 weeks compared to those assigned to the 55% carbohydrate, 25% fat diet.

It may be that the high fat, high cholesterol, low carbohydrate diet raises anabolic hormone levels (as shown by Wilson et al) and has an anticatabolic effect.

Manninen [4] reports that KD may reduce muscle catabolism by the following mechanisms:
1 . Raising adrenaline levels.  Low blood sugar stimulates adrenaline release, and adrenaline inhibits proteolysis of muscle.
2.  Raising ketone body levels.  Very low carbohydrate intake raises ketone body production, and ketone bodies inhibit oxidation of amino acids.
3. Raising growth factor levels.  A high protein ketogenic diet appears to raise levels of skeletal muscle expression of IGF-I mRNA about 2-fold
4. High protein intake.  High dietary protein intake stimulates muscle protein synthesis.

Thus, a KD may be both more anticatabolic and anabolic than a high carbohydrate, low fat diet.

Hyatt et al reported that mice fed a very low (10%) carbohydrate diet showed greater improvements in mitochondrial function in response to resistance exercise, in comparison to mice fed a conventional relatively high (43%) carbohydrate diet [5].

Ketogenic Eating

Ketogenic eating involves limiting the carbohydrate you consume to generally less than 50 g per day.

Here are some basic guidelines for getting started with ketogenic eating:

  • Eat unprocessed meat, poultry, fish and eggs.  Include about 4 ounces (120 g) of liver once weekly, or take desiccated liver as a supplement.
  • Eat fats, including fatty meats, tallow, lard, and any other animal fat.  You won't succeed if you try to eat lean meats.  You need to favor fattier cuts like beef brisket, ribs, salmon, dark meat of poultry, ham or cured pork.  If using uncured pork, it is recommended to marinate in vinegar for 24 hours prior to eating to make it more tender, and kill any potential pathogens that may be found in uncured pork.
  • Don't count calories.  Don't worry about getting adequate micronutrients.  Eat until full.  Then stop.  Eat again when hungry again.
  • If desired, have a little heavy whipping cream or butter (or ghee).   
  • If you are new to eating fat-rich meals, you may benefit from taking Swedish Bitters before meals to stimulate fat digestion.

You may benefit from avoiding all plant foods during your first 30 days eating keto.  For more on this, read "Go Extreme" on Tracy's Living Your True Nature blog.

After your 30 day experiment with no plant foods in your diet, you can find out how much of low-carbohydrate plant foods you can eat without adverse effects. 

A ketogenic breakfast.

A Ketogenic Diet Supports Full Range Strength

Beyond a minimal level, eating carbohydrates weakens the body.  A ketone-generating diet restricts carbohydrate intake to less than 50 g per day, which avoids the deleterious effects of carbohydrates on dental and general health, and may support a higher testosterone level and a more anabolic, muscle-building yet fat-burning metabolism. 


1.  Wilson JM, Lowery RP, Roberts MD, Sharp MH, Joy JM, Shields KA, Partl J, Volek JS, D'Agostino D. The Effects of Ketogenic Dieting on Body Composition, Strength, Power, and Hormonal Profiles in Resistance Training Males. J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Apr 7. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001935. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 28399015.

2. Paoli, Antonio et al. “Ketogenic Diet Does Not Affect Strength Performance in Elite Artistic Gymnasts.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 9 (2012): 34. PMC. Web. 21 May 2017.

3.  Rauch, Jacob T et al. “The Effects of Ketogenic Dieting on Skeletal Muscle and Fat Mass.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 11.Suppl 1 (2014): P40. PMC. Web. 2 May 2017.

4. Manninen, Anssi H. “Very-Low-Carbohydrate Diets and Preservation of Muscle Mass.” Nutrition & Metabolism 3 (2006): 9. PMC. Web. 2 May 2017.

5. Hyatt HW, Kephart WC, Holland AM, et al. A Ketogenic Diet in Rodents Elicits Improved Mitochondrial Adaptations in Response to Resistance Exercise Training Compared to an Isocaloric Western Diet. Frontiers in Physiology. 2016;7:533. doi:10.3389/fphys.2016.00533.

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