So you’ve started on a low-carb plan to lose weight and are working on getting in shape. But can you build muscle without carbs? Can we still get in shape on a low-carb diet?
We all know that low carb equals weight loss, and cutting out carbs is a good way to drop the extra fat. But is it also a good way to build muscle mass? If you want to look leaner or make muscle gains, do you need to have some carbs in your diet?
Letting Go of the Idea that Carbs Build Muscle
Can I gain muscle without carbs? Talk to bodybuilders, and you'll likely get two different takes on the low-carb question. Many bodybuilders believe that you need to keep carbohydrates in your diet if you want to build muscle. Others will say that muscle is built from protein, so carbs are unnecessary.
So who is right? Can you build muscle without carbs?
Many people following the keto diet can confirm that you can indeed build muscle and slim down (plus enjoy the other benefits of keto—like boosted mood and increased energy) when you cut out carbs and follow a ketogenic diet. Low-carb muscle building is real.
When you follow a ketogenic or even a low-carb diet, you’ll almost always slim down, lose fat, and get leaner. Of course, building muscle or bulking without carbs is a little slower process initially, but it's still possible. Plus, you'll likely see results quicker because your newfound muscle tone won't be hidden beneath fat.
Many bodybuilders and professional athletes like the low-carb, high protein, and high-fat diet to give them energy and help them gain muscle without carbs. So how is it done? What do you need to know if you're following keto and hoping to make some muscle gains?
Low Carb Muscle Building
Most people who embark on a keto diet aren't trying to get into the professional bodybuilding or powerlifting circuit. Most people are hoping to look good in a swimsuit, slim down for vacation, or fit into their jeans a little easier. Some might be trying to lose baby weight post-pregnancy, hoping for more energy during the workday, or simply looking for a way to get into shape after slipping off track.
At the end of the day, muscle is what helps us look good. We've all heard the claim that muscle weighs more than fat, but it's the muscle that makes us look lean and tight. Some people are afraid of building muscle because they don't want to bulk up or look “too big,” so they stick to cardio like running or biking. Often, they find that they're burning calories but aren't getting the look they want or creating a tight, “long and lean” physique. You've probably heard of the term "”—where people look thin but are generally untoned and flabby beneath their clothes.
If you want a toned butt, sculpted thighs, and flat abs, you’ll need to add some muscle building to your workouts. Muscle building gives everything a lifted, tightened appearance. You don’t need to create huge, bulky muscles, to get the lean-and-mean, tight look that most of us are aiming for. However, you will need to build some muscle. If you lose fat, you want the muscles beneath your skin to look sculpted and strong.
Building lower-body muscles can also help you avoid workout-derailing issues like joint strain and knee pain. Often when people experience problems like runner's knee, for example, it’s because they haven’t built up the other leg muscles to help offset the impact of their workouts on their legs. Similarly, if you want that BBL look without undergoing an actual BBL, you need to do squats and other butt-lifting exercises.
As for upper-body muscle gains, everyone wants sculpted arms, good posture, and a flat stomach. Core work will help you balance the wear and tear of your day job (especially if you're slouched at a computer for 8+ hours a day). In addition, building your shoulders and upper back will help you sit up straighter, improve your poise, and boost your confidence.
Recent studies have shown that resistance training helps you sleep better—even better than cardio. It also helps improve flexibility and prevent injuries from weak muscles and poor joint support. Building muscle will boost your joint health and improve your bone density; you may even experience less soreness and pain.
Healthy muscle tone won’t make you look like a professional bodybuilder, but it will turn your body into even more of a fat-burning machine. Muscle helps torch fat, so when you build more muscle, your body will continue to burn fat even when you’re not working out.
So how do you get all these benefits of lean muscle mass without gaining weight? Historically, many nutritionists thought that carbohydrates helped fuel muscle building: glycogen from carbs created a spike in insulin levels, and the insulin spike caused an anabolic response to build up muscle. But nowadays, most people recognize that the insulin spike isn’t necessary, and you can build muscle on a low-carb diet.
The key to building muscle on a low-carb, high protein, high fat diet is to have patience. When you first enter ketosis, your body changes from using the carbohydrates in your diet to burning the fat in your body as fuel. During this time of keto-adaptation, you might notice that you aren’t getting your typical muscle gains or that your workouts don’t seem to be paying off quite as quickly. It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for your body to adjust.
Many people also notice that their exercise stamina decreases when they first embark on a keto diet. They can't keep up their workout intensity and might even feel frustrated or discouraged. It's important to realize that this is part of the process and a sign that your body is making the change from getting fuel from glucose, a process known as glycolysis, to getting energy from fat, the process known as ketosis.
Once your body's made the switch, you'll likely discover that you have more energy and can work out longer and harder than you did before. You may also find that you can build muscle even better than ever. Once your body is in ketosis and adjusted to the keto diet, it will even stop breaking down muscle when you burn through fat.
Cutting Back Carbs When Building Muscle
So if you're trying keto or just embarking on a low-carb diet, it's essential to recognize that most people on the standard American diet are eating too many carbs, especially too many empty carbs from processed foods. Even if you don't go full keto, cutting back on carbohydrates will often help you see some weight loss and improvement in your physique.
When we eat too many carbs, our bodies become insulin resistant. We burn through carbs and continue to crave them more and more, rather than tapping into our fat storage for energy. When we keep the carbs coming, our weight loss stalls, and we may even gain weight. Our bodies can also experience other adverse effects like unstable blood sugar, insulin resistance, and higher levels of inflammation.
By going low-carb, you're likely to see a significant initial improvement as you shift to more whole foods, fewer processed foods, and better sources of energy. Many foods that are lower in carbs and higher in protein keep us fuller longer. As a result, we feel more satisfied, and we're less likely to crave carbs, even when we're hungry.
So if you're wondering if you can build muscle on a low-carb diet, you definitely can. Muscles don't need carbs; they need workouts. When we work our muscles, we cause microtears in the tissue, and as the muscle heals, more muscle grows—we become stronger and “build” muscle with no carbs required. The carbs give us the energy to work out, but we can also get that same energy from other sources.
Carb-Free Ways to Stay Satisfied
If you’re considering going low-carb or even trying the keto diet, you might be concerned about carb cravings. After all, what do you eat if you want energy to fuel your workouts?
The good news is that you don't need to give up your favorite foods just because you're on keto or trying a low-carb diet. Instead, you need to tweak your diet a little with some delicious but low-carb swaps. That's where It's Skinny becomes your new best friend.
It’s Skinny Pasta and It’s Skinny Rice offer a delicious and easy way to enjoy your favorite dishes without derailing your ketosis or messing up your carb counts. That's because It's Skinny has ZERO net carbs and only 9 calories per bag.
What’s more, It’s Skinny is super easy to work with. Cook up your favorite sauces, protein, and toppings, and then tear open the bag of It’s Skinny Pasta, drain, and add it to the pan for about a minute to heat through. You're ready to enjoy a low-carb meal without boiling water, waiting for the pasta to cook, or making a mess with a spiralizer and zucchini.
It’s Skinny has a perfect texture. It’s made from konjac root—an Asian vegetable that offers an ideal swap for pasta. Also known as shirataki noodles, It’s Skinny pasta takes on the flavors of the surrounding ingredients in the dish. Unlike cauli-rice or some other carb-swaps, it won’t overpower the meal or leave you feeling unsatisfied.
It’s Skinny is perfect pre- and post-workout. Top it with any protein and you’ll feel full and satisfied for your entire trip to the gym. Build muscle the low-carb way with It’s Skinny.
Ready to try It’s Skinny Pasta and It’s Skinny Rice? It’s available at many grocery retailers and you can easily order a 6-pack online. The variety pack offers spaghetti, fettuccine, angel hair, and rice so that you can experiment with your favorite dishes. So order It's Skinny today and enjoy your favorite low-carb meals without the guilt!