Sunday, 25 September 2016

Post 25: Ketogenic Bulking (#ketobulk)

Hi Guys,

How the heck are all you beautiful people doing?

What if I told you there was a way to lean bulk, to gain muscle with minimal fat gain, all the while feeling absolutely amazing? This is ketobulk, which is in my opinion the absolute best way to add muscle while staying lean and feeling great.

Ketobulk is something I’ll be showing you today, and will be following myself for the next year. You see, I’ve been aggregating this information for months, putting together a carefully honed plan which would allow this to be possible. My own desire to add muscle in an incredibly healthy way made me want to answer the question: is it possible to add muscle while still enjoying the therapeutic benefits of ketosis (mental clarity, energy, fat burning, etc.)? Conventional wisdom would say that you absolutely need carbohydrates, tonnes of protein, and big insulin spikes in order to gain muscle. Oh, and buy our “mass gainer shake” while you’re at it!...

When I started my research, the first thing I came across were cyclical ketogenic diets (CKD). There’s a lot of information out there regarding CKDs, and  they mainly revolve around eating your carbs in a timed manner i.e. only after workouts, and not on rest days. This immediately smelled funny to me. It seemed like the CKD world was trying to tell the rest of the world’s bulkers “we’re just like you, honest”. It stank of a middle ground that just wasn’t going to work.

A CKD entails eating carbs only on your workout days, and this immediately made me think of the following:
  1. You bunch up your workouts on two or three days, and eat carbs those days, but does that leave enough time for recovery? On the “off days” you build up your state of ketosis, but then bring it all crashing down again later that week. Being in ketosis is better for recovery, so I think you would have adequate rest, but what about the days when you’re working out, will you feel suboptimal? Or,
  2. You workout every other day, for example, and allow for recovery in a more traditional way, but since it takes two to three days to enter nutritional ketosis you never truly end up in it! Imagine working out Mo/We/Fr, leaving the largest recovery gap on the weekend. Perhaps barely enough time to re-enter ketosis! Not to mention the fact that if you will now be feeling extra pressure on the weekends if your friends are out drinking and eating!

So in my opinion, a CKD just wasn’t going to cut it. I’d much rather be in ketosis all the time, or at least as much as possible!

Taking a step back: at first, before even looking at CKD, I didn’t know if a ketogenic bulk was possible. I had heard all of the common complaints.

So for those people who say that you absolutely need tonnes of protein and carbs to build muscle, read the below common objections…

But insulin fuels muscle growth!?

This is true, insulin does put your body into an anabolic state (muscle building state), and by not eating carbs you are definitely limiting insulin secretion. Therefore, we could say that you need carbs to cause insulin spikes to achieve muscle growth.

However, this all rests on the anabolic effect of insulin being linearly effective. In more simple terms, the truth is that, with insulin, more is not always more. In fact, you can receive the majority of the anabolic effects of insulin simply through that which is spiked by protein consumption!

Basically, you don’t need the level of insulin spike provided by carbs to build muscle, most of it can be done with protein.

But carbs fuel explosive workouts!?

This one is fuzzier. It is definitely true that as exercise goes past the aerobic (endurance) range into the anaerobic (explosive, weight-lifting) range that more of your energy expenditure will come from stored glucose.

But this doesn’t limit you from making strength increases. You can still build strength and muscle even without carbs, but perhaps at a slower rate. However in the long run, you’re more likely to put on less fat and save yourself some time at the end of the bulk cutting away that extra fat.

In addition, as you progress on keto you become better at glycogen sparing, so that the carbs that you do consume are used more efficiently. So that will have an impact.

On top of that, I personally feel better mentally while in ketosis, and this leads to better and “cleaner” workouts. I don’t feel like I’m slogging through my day on the way to my workout, and then require some hideous pre-workout just to make it through.

But protein knocks you out of ketosis!?

Again, true, but remember excessive protein knocks you out of ketosis! Protein is what your body uses to build new muscle, so you definitely want to be providing the right amount (aiming for that upper end of the 1g per pound of lean body mass rule should do the trick).

But the overarching aim is to bulk while in ketosis, so clearly this is something to watch just as closely as carbs. Maybe you can up this number a little on workout days, going up to 1g per pound of total body weight, but don’t be misled by some claims of up to 2g per pound of total weight and those who would claim that “more protein is always better”. As with everything, not just in health and fitness, the poison is in the dose.

So we’ve knocked out some of the common complaints people will have, and got over the obstacles that they would put in the way. Now let’s look at the actual method that I recommend putting into place, the exact one which I am using right now. I always try out anything I write in this blog, and this is no exception, although to be fair, this isn’t something I’d want to miss out on! The following advice is just good general suggestions which I’ve put together to help you achieve the leanest bulk possible. I find that writing down and pre-committing to rules such as these really helps you in the future. The truth is, I don’t trust my future-self at all!

Putting the ketobulk vision into numbers

If I was to place myself in an experience category, I would say upper beginner lifter at best. While I’ve been lifting weights for a few years, I’ve never really committed to a proper caloric surplus combined with a solid training regime. This is very important, because it impacts how many pounds of muscle you can expect to put on in a year.

The problem for us all, is that the relationship is not linear. In the first year of lifting, your sweet noobie gains could lead to a pound of muscle gained a month. For someone in their second year this could be a very respectable nine pounds, in their third year six pounds, and then maybe two or three pounds for the years afterwards (disregarding ‘roids!). Don’t let these small numbers fool you, when packed onto someone’s frame numbers such as these make a huge aesthetic difference. They’ll also be a lot more noticeable because you won’t be hiding them with additional fat!

So in order to keep ketobulk as lean as possible I always aim for the conservative estimates, and therefore am looking at that six pounds of lean mass gain category. Like Warren Buffett says: “I’d rather be roughly correct than precisely incorrect”. In this example, it means that if I aim for six pounds (which is a number I’m confident that I can hit), then I might even overshoot that number, which is a pleasant side effect.

My starting advice is to pick which category you fall into, but remember to stay conservative with your estimates. This is vital: you’re limited in the amount of muscle you can put on each month, but not in the amount of fat. So let’s say you put yourself in the nine pounds category but really you should be in that six pound category, then two thirds of your gains would be unwanted fat.

At this point, you believe that ketobulking is possible and you’ve selected how many pounds of muscle could be reasonably acquired in a year. Now let’s see how to do so…

Eating more

There are two methods I would recommend for getting the right amount of food, because you’re going to need to provide your body with more fuel than before. Now, you need the energy to maintain your current state and also build upon it.

The first is intuitive, eat another portion of protein each day in addition to what you were having before (testing to ensure you’re still in ketosis), which will let you hit that upper protein band, and eat fat to the point where you feel full. Do so, and measure your weight at the same time, then analyse whether you need to be adding in more fat (it could be that what makes you feel full is actually weight loss inducing, a common problem amongst ketonians).

Alternatively, you can use a macro calculator such as KetoGain’s which can be found here, which I found really useful for getting a starting point. I began with this method, but that’s because I have experience in counting calories and macros, but don’t feel like you must start here to succeed. The intuitive approach works really well and saves you having to look up nutrient values.

Having been on a ketobulk for roughly four weeks now, I’ve settled on the following macronutrients:

Workout days: 200g F / 170g P / <30g C
Non-workout days: 150-200g F / 170g P / <30g C

Initially the fat amounts were higher but after testing out my reaction to them my weight was increasing at too fast a rate, so I scaled them back down. Notice that I’ve put in two ambiguous figures here.

Fat on non-workout days has a 50g range, which is actually quite a lot of calories. There is on average nine kcals per gram of fat which equates to a 450 kcal possible swing. I’ve included this to give myself a little freedom: if I feel that on some weeks I was gaining weight too rapidly I can dial this back and vice versa. I also dislike the rigidity of saying to myself “I absolutely must hit these numbers”.

The other ambiguous number was the <30g carbs. I’ve put this in there because I don’t count vegetables, so this number is mainly coming from nuts and dark chocolate. By coming in under 30g I should easily be under the 50g sweet spot where your body is still making adequate ketones.

Let’s take stock again: you know that ketobulking is possible, you’ve selected a sensible amount of muscle to put on in a year, and you’ve worked out how much food you should be eating. Now let’s figure out how sensible, present-you can anticipate irresponsible, future-you’s actions…

Idiot-proofing the ketobulk

I like to incorporate two things into everything I do: environmental design, and future proofing. The truth is that I just don’t trust my future self to behave, so I need to set things up to make it easier for him to make the right decisions.

My first recommendation would be to set up some rules:
  1. If you’re not doing so more often, or every day, then count your macros twice a week. This will let you know whether your intuition is working, together with the feedback you get from the scales. Preferably do this once on a workout day and once on a non-workout day.
  2. Set yourself an upper bodyfat % limit. I personally don’t see the point of putting on muscle when those efforts make you fat at the same time! Firstly, you won’t be able to see the muscle you put on, and secondly, you’re going to look like crap if you go overboard! The most dangerous mentality someone can have is “I’m bulking so I can eat everything!”. I did this before, and believe me, it’s not pretty.

For me, that upper limit is 15% and I’ve put together a weekly assessment which I’ll use as an indicator. Starting with my initial weight and bodyfat % (12%), every Thursday, I’ll consult the following table and calculate my bodyfat %.

0-0.1 lbs: this is “assumed” muscle gain. This amount is not penalised against bodyfat.
0.1-2.3 lbs: this is “assumed” fat gain. This amount will be penalised against bodyfat.
>2.3 lbs: this is “assumed” water weight. This amount is not penalised against bodyfat.

(These are my figures, to get your own, just pick the amount that would roughly give you the amount you think is reasonable over a year. So for someone just starting out, 0.2 lbs a week would be reasonable, leading to a gain of roughly 12 pounds in a year)

So, for example, a 1.5 lb gain in a week would lead to a 1.4 lb fat penalty, and a 2.5 lb gain in a week would lead to a 2.2 lb fat penalty.

Using these three rules of thumb, you should be able to maintain a rough estimate of your bodyfat % which is going to guide you going forward. Then we have the following instructions if you hit your upper limit:

If measured as 15% bodyfat or more at the weekly assessment, you must immediately drop back down to 14%. If you hit the upper limit again, you need to drop down to 13.5%. Continue oscillating between these two numbers until your starting bodyfat % is reached. When doing these “mini cuts”, follow the same rules as above, except don’t count the first 0.1 lbs as muscle lost (so a 1.5 lb loss would mean taking 1.5 lbs of fat from your estimate, but a 2.5 lb loss would still be considered a 2.2 lb fat loss).

I’ve introduced one additional control, just for myself, that ketobulk should last for one calendar year, at which point I’m going to cut down to 10% bodyfat.

To give you a better idea of the relationship between gaining lean muscle and your bodyfat %, have a look at the below. You can see that if you were to only put on muscle, your bodyfat% would react accordingly. Therefore, it’s clearly beneficial to put on as lean mass!

Taking stock for the last time: ketobulk possible? Check. Picked how much weight to gain? Check. Worked out how much to eat? Check. Put controls in place to make it idiot proof? Check. So now we’re all ready for the takeaways!


So there it is, ketobulk in full, my life for the next year!...

What I really wanted to do here was open up a realm of possibility which some people do not think exists. I do believe that you can be healthy, eat delicious and satiating foods, and gain muscle at the same time. It doesn’t have to be a slog through heavy carb meals, mass gainer shakes, and protein cookies!

Using the information above, you can put together a solid plan.

Before I head off to make some gains, here’s this week’s takeaways:
  1. Bulking on a ketogenic diet is possible! Don’t be fooled by the naysayers!
  2. Pick the right amount of muscle to gain each year and work out how much food you’ll need to achieve this. Keep it intuitive, and measure every now and then your intake.
  3. Idiot proof your plan! Don’t trust your future self to behave. Introduce some rules which makes it easier to achieve what you want to.

I hope you enjoyed this post, if you did leave a like or share with your friends. Are you considering ketobulk? Leave a comment below and get the discussion started!

Until next time,


KetoGains Macro Calculator:

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Post 24: Keto Study Analysis (plus building your toolbox)

Hi guys,

Sorry this one was a little late; I had to work Saturday and I prefer to release posts in the morning, and thusly, this Sunday read was violently thrust upon you…

I also want to admit, that this post is very self-indulgent. Not from a perspective of vanity, but from one of enjoyment. You see, I love bringing you information about the key concepts like intermittent fasting, my experience on the ketogenic diet, and the side effects of excessive fruit, I really do.

Pretty much me every week...

Each time I bring out another post, I want to explain things in ways that people haven’t heard before, and convey mechanisms in a manner which is easily understood. I also want to give you the tools to build back up to the advanced level. I’m hoping in that transferring this knowledge to you, you can improve and use your own critical eye, never taking an article on first impressions again.

The truth is that some people aren’t used to reading academic work, and why would they? Academics have a strong tendency to overcomplicate their vernacular, and use elongated words in order to bamboozle you and compound your confusion.

This leaves the world of research quite opaque to the layperson. What’s more impactful is the knock-on effects. If you can’t go to the source, then you must rely on a middle man. An intermediary who will ferry the information back and forth to you. This middle man is called the media. (Now we’re about to get conspiratorial- C) The problem with the media is that their incentives often are not setup to keep you accurately informed. They are driven to sell their product, and in particular draw eyeballs and clicks to generate advertising revenue.

Remember that today, the primary value you have to give to a company is your views. Your clicks are compiled into big data, given value, and sold.

So that’s why this post is probably quite self-indulgent, because this is one of the things I really want to get across: understanding the mechanisms and building your own toolbox. In doing so, we erode the significance of the middle man, and are a much knowledgeable, happier, and healthier population.

But how are we going to do that?

We're going to build your toolbox, but in a much less sinister way to this one...

If I asked for a drumroll, I’m afraid it would be incredibly anti-climactic, but we’re going to be reading the abstract of a recently published study and understanding what is being said. The title of the paper is “Energy expenditure and body composition changes after an isocaloric ketogenic diet in overweight and obese men”, which is a true mouthful.

It’s possible that at this point your finger is tentatively hovering over the little X in the corner of your screen but wait a second.

Before you run away, because to be honest, that does sound really, really dull, just read the next paragraph.

What this study is looking at is whether you burn more or less calories when on a ketogenic diet. Does that sound more appealing now? If you really can’t stomach the analysis, skip ahead to the section explaining what the results mean to you.

This study was run by the Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI) who includes on its board of directors, Gary Taubes, who’s one of the most prominent figures in the low carb/ketogenic world (from now on abbreviated as LC/KD). This is another interesting point: this study is literally run by the people who you might expect to produce studies supporting their ideas! If the sugar industry can do it, then why not the “good guys”!?

The interesting point that emanates from this setup is that the paper rules in favour of ketogenic diet, but only slightly, and is not a complete knock-out. We’ll address this later by looking at the magnitude of the findings.

As well as learning about the results of the study, we’re going to be assembling the beginnings of your own analytical toolbox. Using this toolbox, you can start reading the abstracts and summaries of other articles and truly understanding what they say. Talk about teach a man to fish!

To begin, here’s the link to the study itself: The paper was originally drawn to my attention by the Mark’s Daily Apple blog, which I recommend reading to accompany this post.

First, I want you to familiarise yourself with just the layout of the abstract, which is quite common. People are constantly scared of the unknown, so learn how to get to grips with these things. For the uninitiated, an abstract is the summary at the start of a piece of academic research which lays out the purpose, method, and general results of the paper. It helps you to get the jist of the whole thing, but I’m assuming at this point it just looks like gobbledygook!

Here’s a glossary of the terms used and what they mean:

Energy expenditure (EE): calories burned in a period, typically a day.

Body composition: bodyfat %.

Isocaloric: means “the same calories”; so if two people both eat 2000 calories a day but one only ate butter and the other only ate bread, they would be on isocaloric diets (diets with the same calories).

Carbohydrate-insulin model of obesity: carbohydrate intake leads to insulin release. Insulin is a signal which stops fat burning.

Hyperinsulinemia: abnormally high insulin and hence, insulin resistance (your body is so resistant it has to release loads).

Respiratory Quotient (RQ): measured carbon dioxide production in the breath. We can tell which type of fuel you’re burning by the ratio of CO2 expelled to oxygen taken in. When this ratio is 1, your purely burning glucose. When this ratio is 0.85, you’re mainly using protein. When this ratio is 0.7, you’re purely burning fat. Therefore, we might say as a rule of thumb, that it is better when your RQ is lower, with the lowest being 0.7.

P-values: the research shows that the they have (100-P)% confidence that the true value (the population value i.e. if you averaged everyone in the universe) lies within this range.

I’ve put p-values at the end because they deserve special attention. This is because p-values are a quick way to view whether a result is statistically significant. Results can be statistically significant, and/or significant in magnitude. What this means, depending on which category they fall into, can be seen below:

Is Significant in Magnitude
Is not Significant in Magnitude
Is Statistically Significant
You have enough observations and your data has sufficient strength. The result would also make a material difference to someone’s life. You win.
Your data reveals a strong relationship, but would not make a very big different to someone.
Is Not Statistically Significant
Your data shows a relationship which could make a big difference to someone, but they are probably the lucky ones.
You suck.

So clearly the aim is to be in that top left hand box, where you can reasonably expect a certain result to arise from the process investigated and it will make a sizeable difference.

Taking an example from the paper, energy expenditure measured by doubly labelled water, the p-value was 0.03. That means that the researcher has (100-3)%=97% confidence that his findings are correct.

Commonly, papers will state that their finding are (statistically) significant at the 95, 99, or 99.9% confidence levels. All this means is that their p-values are under 0.05, 0.01, and 0.0001 respectively.

Breaking down the study’s results

So what exactly did the study say? I’ve written a layperson’s translation below, I hope that it reads as simply as possible,


Calories burned and fat loss after a ketogenic diet with the same calories in overweight and obese men.


It is thought by some that high carbohydrate consumption leads to fat gain because this leads to insulin release, which leads to lower calories burned. Therefore, if these people were to eat just as many calories of fat, then their metabolism should increase and they should burn fat. In contrast, when “a calorie is a calorie”, this swap from carbs to fats should have no effect.


We investigated whether a diet of the same calories but low in carbs/ketogenic leads to more calories burned, lower RQ and fat loss.


17 overweight or obese men consumed a high carb diet for 4 weeks followed by a ketogenic diet for 4 weeks which contained the same number of calories. Calories burned, calories burned while asleep and RQ were all measured as was bodyfat %.


The participants experienced a 300 calorie deficit per day causing them to lose water weight and bodyfat. The number of calories burned increased on the ketogenic diet (normal and sleep amounts) and RQ decreased. Body fat loss slowed during the ketogenic diet and loss of muscle increased.

Numerical Results

Energy expenditure on the KD measured by a metabolic chamber increased by 57 kcals per day on average. This result was highly statistically significant (discussion on whether this was significant in magnitude later).

Sleeping energy expenditure on the KD measured by a metabolic chamber increased by 89 kcals per day on average. This result was also highly statistically significant.

RQ (remember we want lower values to burn fat- C), decreased by 0.111 on average and was also highly statistically significant.

Energy expenditure measured by doubly labelled water increased on average by 151 kcals. This result had strong statistical significance, but not as much as earlier, which is shown by the p-value of 0.03.


The ketogenic diet did not increase fat loss but did cause small increases in calories burned

So what does this mean for you?

At this moment, possibly not a lot. This is where looking at the magnitude of the results comes in. Here, we find out whether anyone actually cares about the findings!

It’s so important to make the distinction, and ask whether the findings will make a difference to someone. If the findings were highly statistically significant, but only amounted to an extra one calorie burned, then no one would care. This is a key drawback to relying on a middle man for information because they can manipulate significance; the article might be referring to statistical significance.

So let’s tot up the figures, and we can reveal whether I’ve been wasting your time for 1700 words!

Remember that the results are given “per day”, so we need to account for that. Using the more conservative results provided by the metabolic chamber method:

16 hours awake / 24 hours * 57 = 38
8 hours asleep / 24 hours * 89 = 29.66
Total extra calories burned a day = 38 + 29.66 = 67.66

So that result seems quite piddly. A measly 67 extra calories burned a day is small change! I could eat that many calories in one bite!

But look a little deeper. That was 67 extra calories burned without doing anything but swapping over to a ketogenic diet. Extrapolating those numbers:

67.66 extra calories burned a day
473.62 extra a week

Using the rule of thumb that it takes a 3500 calorie deficit to burn a pound of fat:

0.13532 lbs a week
Over a year, that’s just over 7 lbs, without using calorie restriction at all!

But if only it were that simple!

I would not expect a seven pound weight loss every year from now to the end of the world, and  remember that this study was performed only on 17 obese and overweight people. This number could be different for leaner people and for the population as a whole.

It’s also unreasonable to think that if you go  on a LC/KD that you’re going to lose seven pounds every year without actually experiencing any difficulty. Taking that to it’s logical conclusion, eventually you will disappear!

There’s variation in there as well, which is given by the intervals; some people will burn more calories than others.

Another thing to remember, is that this was the effect after 4 weeks. What happens if you followed it for a year, or five years? Would the results taper off?

There are so many roadblocks that you could erect. You could go blue in the face trying to put this paper in disrepute, but it is the same for every other paper out there. No research is airtight, ever! The only thing you can do is take the information on board and adapt to it. At this point, you now know that it is at least possible to burn more calories while eating a LC/KD. Furthermore, we’ve been given an inkling as to one of the drivers of the insidious weight gain experienced by most westerners in the 21st century. I personally don’t see this paper showing me that I can lose 7 lbs a year by doing nothing; rather I could avoid gaining 7 lbs a year.

Supposedly this picture shows calories burned...

Closing tips and tricks, and takeaways

I hope you found this post useful.

I know I normally go for “enjoyable” or “entertaining” as the hoped for feeling, but this time I really want to start building your toolbox. We have the takeaways to address, but before we do, I want to introduce a list of questions to ask whenever you’re reading an article about health or (God forbid) a research paper:

  • Who funded the research? What are their incentives?
  • What is the aim of the article/paper?
  • Is the information being presented in a “flashy” manner? Why?
  • Does the author go to great lengths to create a balanced argument? Is this to their detriment? Are they clutching at straws?
  • Are you the target market for this piece?

And some LC/KD specific ones:

  • How long were the participants given to adapt?
  • Is the fat content greater than 65% of calories?
  • Were the participants given adequate sodium?
  • Were the participants exercising at the same time?

I’ve included the LC/KD questions specifically because these pitfalls occur all the time. Ideally, you want at least a three week adaptation period, 65% dietary fat, 3g of sodium per day, and some form of resistance training.

And before we go I want to give you your takeaways, and a homework assignment this week!* Your homework assignment is to read an article about health, which definitely doesn’t have to be a research paper. Just pick out an article you find interesting from any web source, and start asking yourself the questions above. Heck, you could even do it for one of my articles!

Here’s this week’s takeaways:
  1. Beware the middle man information - you should be asking questions!
  2. Swapping to a ketogenic diet will probably lead to burning more calories, especially if you are currently overweight or obese
  3. Don’t be scared of research, it can be broken down piece by piece and reassembled as something easy to understand

Until next time,

*To be honest, I’m inspired to write that by the bit in Fight Club where Tyler Durden tells everyone that their homework assignment is to go out and start a fight. So secret homework assignment part 2: start an argument with your colleague, friends, or (preferably and) family regarding carbohydrate consumption. Extra points for irreversibly breaking bonds in such a way you can never see that person again.