Bulking on Keto, Can You? Should You?

Meet Gregory, a writer and the brains behind Face Dragons. He's the go-to guy for getting things done. Gregory's been living the digital nomad life in Asia for as long as anyone can remember, helping clients smash their goals. He writes on topics like software, personal knowledge management (PKM), and personal development. When he's not writing, you'll catch him at the local MMA gym, nose buried in a book, or just chilling with the family.

Bulking on keto is a controversial topic. Some say you can’t bulk on keto, while it seems to work for others. Carbohydrates make up a huge part of the average bodybuilder’s diet, so can someone eat a high-fat diet bulk while staying in ketosis? Here’s my experience doing a keto bulk, what you can expect, and how to do it.

About me

I started keto in 2018, and my 30 days of trying keto turned into 18 months. I lost weight and was carrying less fat than ever. Until the pandemic forced me to eat carbs. Once the stores reopened, I jumped straight back on, though, this time with a different goal, to bulk on keto.

This is what I learned by bulking on keto, the problems, solutions, and what I’m going to do differently next time.

Factors for Bulking on the Ketogenic Diet

Most people who try low carb or keto diets do it for weight loss. Ketogenic diets are perfect for losing weight, the diet teaches your body how to burn fat. But when it comes to tyrign to gain weight, it’s a different story. There are a few factors that will affect your goals.

If you’re eating a bodybuilding diet, standard American diet, or keto, the three factors that determine how much muscle you can put on are:

  • Genetics
  • Diet
  • Workout

In that order.

If you have good genetics for putting on weight, it will be easy regardless of what diet you’re doing. Similarly, if you are already close to your genetic potential (if you’ve been training hard for 10+ years), it will be much harder to squeeze out the last few pounds.

Secondly, you must have your diet right to make gains in the gym or pack on muscle. The two most critical dietary concerns are:

  • Protein
  • Calories

Hitting your protein requirements each day is usually easy with the keto diet. Most coaches recommend 1-1.5g of protein per lb of lean body mass. Most keto meal plans use fatty meats to ensure enough dietary fat, so you naturally consume a lot of protein too.

Calories are another story, though. The satiating nature of eating large quantities of fatty meat makes hitting your calorie requirements much harder than when eating sugary or starchy carbs, which are digested faster and leave you craving more.

The third is your workout. There are a million workout programs, and almost all of them will work. You just need to work out hard enough to provide your muscles with the stimulus they need to grow.

Can you Bulk on Keto?

The simple answer is yes, you can bulk on keto. I’ve done it. Between 2020 and 2021, I went from 66kg to 71kg, and I even lost a little fat while putting on those 5 kg (11 lbs) of muscle.

But the devil lies in the details. In this section, I want to outline what you need to know to ensure you successfully create a diet plan to bulk on keto.

Don’t Try to Bulk When Starting Keto

If you haven’t started the ketogenic diet yet and are thinking about starting keto and bulking simultaneously, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

When you first start keto, your body is not fat-adapted at all. It doesn’t yet know what to do with all the fat you’re feeding it. At the same time, the glucose it is used to has disappeared, and your body feels like it’s going into starvation and withdrawal-it is.

You will likely lose water, weight, fat, and strength in the first month of keto. You may also feel the effects of keto flu which can affect performance in the gym. So bulking in your first month of keto will be very challenging.

Bulking After a Few Months on Keto

After you’ve gotten through your first month, your weight has stabilized, and you’re feeling good, you might start thinking about a keto bulk.

After bulking for a month, you might not have gained any weight and may have even lost more! The reason? Fat adaption.

Although you’re over the initial withdrawal symptoms and feel good on keto, your body isn’t yet fat-adapted. You can’t undo decades of eating carbs in a couple of months.

I noticed a massive difference in how my body responded after 18 months on keto compared with the first six months. This is because your mitochondria become much more proficient in utilizing ketones the longer you are on the diet.

Get Enough Calories

As an ectomorph body type, I struggle with this sometimes.

When you eat mostly meat and other fatty food, satiety comes quickly, so it’s hard to eat more calories. But a calorie surplus is a necessity if you want to bulk.

The solution? Track your calories for a few days and ensure you’re hitting your calorie goals. Then, if the scales aren’t going up, add more.

Is Keto Good for Building Muscle?

Most research shows that keto isn’t as good for building muscle as an equivalent diet utilizing carbs.

Carbohydrates supply your muscles with glucose which can be stored in the muscle as glycogen, meaning that the muscles can have an immediate energy source. All this leads to better performance in the gym.

Eating carbohydrates also causes the release of insulin, an anabolic stimulus that shuttles nutrients into the muscle for growth and reparation.

Will I Lose My Gains if I Quit Keto?

Staring keto I lost strength gains, so I was worried about losing mass after quitting keto.

The keto diet is very muscle-sparing because of the body’s new ability to utilize fat for fuel instead. But when you quit keto, this stops being the case. I noticed I lost some of my gains within a month or two of stopping keto, as well as an increase in body fat.

How to Bulk on Keto

These are the rules that worked for me. I noticed that my progress would stop or slow down considerably when I strayed from these rules.

  • Stay on a strict diet for approximately 6 months before starting your bulk
  • Workout consistently and push yourself in the gym
  • Hit 1.5g of protein per pound of lean body mass
  • Exceed your required calories while staying under 5% calories from carbs

Other Tips for Bulking Successfully on Keto

  • Add cream to everything! Cream and protein powder was my favorite!
  • Cook veggies in bacon grease
  • Lift heavy once per week and use regular body building rep ranges (8-12) the rest of the time
  • Add some carbs (approx 20g) if you plateau.