working out on keto


There are whole books and websites dedicated strictly to the topic of how to combine a ketogenic diet with exercise. IT’S HUGE! Too much. So, for this round of working out on keto, we’ll cover how different kinds of exercise affect you on keto and the ways to tinker with the keto diet to optimize your workout in order to meet your goals (1).


Many people first come to keto because they hear about or see weight loss testimonials from the people who’ve proven the success keto brings in dropping fat. So for most who get started on keto, the impetus is to fat burn for weight loss. Keto is exceptionally good at this all by itself. Follow the diet, limit the carbs, and the pounds will shed with minimal physical effort (2).

However, many people who have success on keto realize, after they’ve lost that initial twenty pounds or so, that they feel better and exercise sounds like a great way to kick their new lifestyle into a higher, healthier gear. Sedentary people, who’ve felt guilt and shame about not being able to endure the pain of working out, suddenly feel this new opportunity has been given to them and exercise is a possibility again.

This is a wonderful thing, but the correct order of importance needs to be followed:

  • The KETO DIET is at the top of this heap. It must still be diligently followed – what you eat is the ACE.

  • Strength Training with weights and resistance is the first type of physical exercise (3) that should be added for fat burning – Strength training is the KING.

  • Cardio adds extra effort and time to burn the same amount of fat and calories as strength training – Cardio is the QUEEN.

  • The HIIT (high intensity interval training) requires explosiveness and can burn fat faster than lower intensity cardio – HIIT would be a higher suit QUEEN.

  • LISS (Low intensity steady state) is slower but longer for equal results to HIIT – LISS is a QUEEN of a lower suit.

But the most important part of exercising on keto is to do what you will enjoy and stick with.


At a certain point in your keto health journey, you’ll look in the mirror one day and be shocked at the lean person staring back. It’s a cathartic moment. It’s the moment when you realize anything is possible. This is the point where a lot of ketoers who hopped on the keto diet train go from fat-burning focused to making keto a lifestyle. For many, it’s the moment when they realize that they want to do more by bulking or toning up these new muscles they’ve just found.

Welcome to strength training and muscle gaining on keto. This is the point where the rules change slightly.

It’s been a long held misconception that in order to build muscle and lean body mass you have to have carbs. It’s now being shown that those claims simply aren’t true as this study outlines (4). Not only do keto lifters not suffer strength loss due to carb depletion, they actually gained strength over the longer duration (5).

Because the truth is, gaining muscle is about 4 key components:

  1. Eat a calorie surplus – your newly worked muscles need the extra calories to repair and get bigger.

  2. Eat the correct amount of protein, since this is the fuel your muscle use to grow – eat about 1 gram of protein for every pound of lean muscle mass.

  3. Train heavy – lift heavier weights for fewer reps. Aim for muscle hypertrophy.

  4. Rest – muscles take time to recover and build so give them the proper number of days off.

What does all this mean for ketoers who want to strength train?

It means the keto diet you’ve come to know and love needs to be tweaked. By the time you’ve reached this point, you know that your daily macro breakdown typically looks like this:

FAT- 65% PROTEIN – 25% CARBS – 10%

Now that muscle growth is the new goal, since the body fat has been cut, the ratios need to change in order to accommodate the rules of gains discussed above. Your new ratio will look more like this:

FAT – 80% PROTEIN – 15% CARBS – 5%

“Hold on, you just said muscle needs more protein. Why does strength training on keto demand a smaller protein percentage than keto for weight loss?”

Because of gluconeogenesis. GNG, as it’s often called, is the body’s ability to turn protein into glycogen (6). Glycogen is the fuel source the body uses when carbs are present and abundant. The burning of glycogen for energy prevents the liver from creating the ketones from fat that keto needs in order to help you burn the stored fat you’re getting rid of.

The reason for the drop in protein is that you have a drop in carbs as well. Eating even fewer carbs means the body will be looking for extra protein to synthesize into GNG for a glycogen fuel base which kicks you out of keto and stores the extra fat you’re eating instead of using it as the main fuel for energy.

This strength training calculator can help you find your macro ranges and explain the process along the way.


Standard Keto Diet

When you first start strength training on keto, whether transitioning from a fat-loss based goal or jumping straight into training on keto, it’s best to begin with the standard version of the diet with the macro ratios adjusted for strength and muscle gain. It’s recommended that you use the adjusted macro form of the diet for the first three months minimum or until you feel comfortable moving up in workload. Starting with the base, modified-macro keto diet plan is the best way to adapt to lifting with a fuel source that your body isn’t used to.

Targeted Keto Diet

This version of keto is designed for lifters or cardio-movers who have reached the point where a heavier workload or more intensity is needed, within the work out, in order to produce gains. After initially beginning your workout journey with the standard keto diet, if you find yourself expending more energy to continue getting better results, or if you find yourself hitting a wall during the deeper parts of your routine, then targeted keto could be the answer.

In targeted keto, you’ll maintain your normal keto diet while eating additional carbs around your workouts. Eating between 25-50 grams of carbs right before a workout can aid in performance, but the real goal is to create a post-workout glycogen synthesis that burns off quickly in order to set up a better recover and performance for your next workout.

Most practitioners of the targeted method eat their 25-50 grams of carbs right before, or even during, their exercise. Often times, easily absorbed carbs are used so the process will begin sooner and burn off faster: quick dissolving candies, a slice of toast, or even a carb heavy drink.

During the workout, the body will drop out of keto due to the new carbs, but the intensity of the exercise will use and burn off all traces of the carbs, leaving you back in keto within an hour or so of finishing.

This method is highly experimental. Try different methods to see what works for you.

Cyclical Keto Diet

This method is also known as carb back-loading. Basically, you run your diet on a 7-day cycle. For the first two days of your workout regimen, you would consume as many carbs and calories as necessary. The reason experienced lifters and runners on the keto lifestyle like the Cyclical version of the diet for training is that in those first 2 days of the week, when they are carb loading, they don’t have to adhere to strict macro sets like they do the rest of the week. It’s highly personal, and athletes who have reached this level of intense working out know their bodies well enough to know what they can eat. This makes the Cyclical keto diet much less restrictive, which is great when you’re already hyper-focused on the work outs that need to be performed (7).

During the other 5 days in the week, you’d revert back to the Standard diet, adhering to the macros you’re used to.

The caution with the Cyclical keto training diet is to not see this as a license to eat 3 pizzas and drink 40 beers. The carbs need to come from healthy options and be within reason.

Cyclical is also meant only for seasoned, high volume, athletic types who’d rather crawl to the gym than miss a workout. The amount of effort need to burn off the glycogen created by the backload is tremendous. So if you’re training to compete, this might be the version for you.

For more information on these keto variations, check here.


The important things to remember about working out on keto are:

  • Take it slow - this is all new!

  • Listen to your body - if things are twinging, stop and drop the intensity.

  • Get enough rest - put your phone down in bed, stop staying up until 2 a.m. looking at memes.

  • If you have any doubts or questions, talk to a doctor, and don’t be afraid to ask ketoers who’ve blazed the path in these areas.

Happy working out! You can do it!


(1) Salvador Vargas,Ramón Romance, Jorge L. Petro. Efficacy of ketogenic diet on body composition during resistance training in trained men: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 15: 31. 2018.

(2) Antonio Paoli. Ketogenic Diet for Obesity: Friend or Foe? Int J Environ Res Public Health.(2): 2092–2107. Feb; 11th, 2014.

(3) Lehri, A. and Mokha, R. Effectiveness of Aerobic and Strength Training in Causing Weight Loss and Favourable Body Composition in Females. Journal of Exercise Science and Physiotherapy, Vol. 2: 96-99, 2006.

(4) Wilson, Jacob M.1, Lowery, Ryan P.1, ; Roberts, Michael D, et al. The Effects of Ketogenic Dieting on Body Composition, Strength, Power, and Hormonal Profiles in Resistance Training Males. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: April 07, 2017 - Volume Publish Ahead of Print. Last Updated: September 21, 2018.

(5) Sean A McCleary, Matthew H Sharp, Ryan P Lowery. Effects of a ketogenic diet on strength and power. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014; 11(Suppl 1): P41. Dec. 1st, 2014.

(6) V. A. Zammit. Ketogenesis in the liver of ruminants – adaptations to a challenge. Volume 115, Issue 2October 1990 , pp. 155-162. Published online: March 1st, 2009.

(7) Ali Mueller, Amelia Reek, Josh Schantzen. Effects of Carbohydrate Loading on High Performance Athletics. Accessed Sep 23rd, 2018.

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