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:

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