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.