The Ketogains method: Your ultimate guide to gaining muscle and losing fat on a ketogenic diet
It’s really shouldn’t be surprising that Ketogains has grown into a thriving community of more than one hundred thousand members on the back of a no-nonsense system that consistently produces fantastic results.
This article examines the critical components of the wildly popular system to dissect the secrets of works so consistently for so many people.
Protein as a goal
The first pillar of the Ketogains system is protein, which is the cornerstone of building muscle and losing fat sustainably with greater satiety.
The Ketogains macro calculator recommends a minimum protein intake of 0.8g per pound of lean body mass (LBM) (i.e. 1.8 g/kg LBM) and 1.0g/lb LBM (or 2.2g/kg LBM) on days you work out.
This aligns with our finding that protein promotes satiety and helps us to not overeat without having to constantly fight our appetite
Protein becomes even more critical in a calorie deficit. The higher the energy deficit, the greater is our need for protein to prevent loss of muscle. If you are doing the heavy resistance training to chase the gainz, you will require even more protein. 
In practice, however, it’s difficult to over-consume protein due to the strong satiety effect.
While ‘excess protein’ can be converted for glucose if required (via gluconeogenesis), it does not turn to chocolate cake in your bloodstream (unless you are in a significant energy deficit with very low levels of non-fibre carbs and fat). Your body can use protein for fuel but it is an energy-intensive process to convert protein to energy (approximately 25% of the calories in protein are lost converting it to energy compared to 11% form carbs and 3% from fat). Your body would would much rather some actual chocolate cake rather than having to convert protein to ATP.
Targeting the minimum effective dose of nutrition
If your goal is fat loss, then you want to target the minimum effective dose of macronutrients and micronutrients. As a general rule, a higher protein intake tends to align with a better micronutrient profile and greater satiety, which means that it will be easier to maintain a long term. 
Can you build muscle on keto?
The short answer to this is “Yes, so long as you have enough protein”. If you are consuming a low carbohydrate intake, your body can get the glucose it needs from your protein. Therefore you may need to top up with more protein to compensate for the protein that will be lost to glucose.
Carbs as a limit
The fact that much of the population is insulin resistant with elevated blood sugars is likely part of the reason the Ketogains approach has been so successful.
If you have already developed prediabetes or diabetes, then reducing your carbohydrate intake to the point you achieve normal blood glucose levels is a good idea.
Our analysis also suggests that a higher intake of non-fibre carbohydrates also correlates with a lower nutrient density.
Fat as a lever
In recent years people are starting to embrace dietary fat again. However, while we do require some essential fats, we don’t need that much of it to thrive, particularly if we are trying to lose weight.
Many people do fine on a diet that obtains a lot of the energy from carbs while others do well on a diet that gets the majority of energy from fat. Where things seem to go wrong is when people consume a diet that is high in energy-dense nutrient poor fat and carbs together with minimal amounts of protein.
The satiety analysis below shows that we’re more likely to overeat when we’re consuming between about 30 and 60% carbs.
While we get an excellent satiety response from protein, once we remove the protein and consume refined oils ‘fat to satiety’ no longer seems to work.
While fat is a good source of slow burning fuel, our analysis of 25,000 days of food logging from Optimisers shows that a higher percentage of dietary fat will make it harder to control your overall energy intake and lose fat from your body.
If you are trying to reduce body fat, then it is important to maximise nutrient density while reducing the energy density of your food.
If you are looking to gain weight, add muscle or perform extended feats of endurance exercise regularly, it may be beneficial to prioritise energy-dense foods. However, if you are not an endurance athlete but trying to use your body fat for fuel (like most of us these days living in a sedentary environment full of hyper-palatable food), you may want to wind your dietary fat intake back and prioritise more satiating foods.
Once you’ve determined your macros and get the hang of using fat as a lever to manage energy intake, the next step is to ensure you are getting your share of micronutrients.
Unless you like eating a lot of organ meat, shellfish, or fresh raw meat, you will likely benefit from consuming some non-starchy veggies to get your essential vitamins and minerals.
Focusing purely on macros (e.g. Flexible Dieting, IIFYM, etc.) unfortunately fails to consider micronutrients. Chronic energy restriction without attention to micronutrients can lead to chronic nutrient deficiencies, a lack of energy, increased hunger, rebound bingeing due to cravings and even death.
As much as we tend to focus on macronutrients (i.e. fat, protein, carbohydrates, fibre, ketones), micronutrients are arguably more useful to assist us in our nutritional decision making. Getting adequate minerals is especially important for:
- avoiding the symptoms of the keto flu,
- reversing insulin resistance and minimising the amount of basal insulin circulating in your body,   and
- maximising athletic performance.
People who are active tend to sweat a lot and tend to need more electrolytes, particularly sodium.
Again, our analysis of 25,000 days of food logs of Optimisers suggests that people who consume foods and meals that contain more minerals tend to have fewer cravings and consume less food overall.
While a less low carb diet with less processed food will contain less salt, the ideal sodium intake seems to be at least five grams and likely more if you’re active.
While the Estimated Average Requirement for magnesium is 0.35 g per day and the Daily Recommended intake is 0.42 g per day for men, consuming higher levels from food seems to be beneficial (say 1.25 g/per day for men and 1.0 g per day for women).
Potassium is possibly the most neglected nutrient in our food system and is deemed to be a ‘nutrient of public health concern’, with less than 2% of Americans meeting their recommended daily potassium intake. While very few people are meeting the Adequate Intake of 3.8 g per day or the Daily Recommended Intake of 3.8 g per day, it seems that even high levels of 6.0 g per day for men and 4.8 g for women would be even more beneficial.
While supplements can play a role, it’s ideal to obtain more of your nutrients from whole food. For the vast majority of us, this will mean consuming more non-starchy vegetables and/or nutrient-dense organ meats.
What to track
“What gets measured gets managed”.
But we can only manage a handful of things at a time.
“If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.”
Rather than trying to track everything all at once, you need to identify a few things to monitor to ensure you are moving towards your goals.
In the context of losing fat and gaining muscle the best things to track appear to be:
- weight/body fat,
- macros/calories, and
- performance (e.g. weight on the bar).
Weight / body fat
Most people want to have more energy and look good naked. While it’s much easier to track body weight, it’s ultimately about losing body fat and preserving muscle.
While you can do your head in focusing on the fluctuations in your weight or body fat from day to day, you want to see your overall weight and body fat reducing toward your target levels.
People who successfully lose weight and keep it off tend to proactively manage their food intake, measure their weight regularly and stay active!  If you are not moving towards your goal, something needs to change.
If you are disciplined, it is possible to lose 1% of your mass per week, but 0.5% is more realistic. The average rate of weight loss in the Nutrient Optimiser Challenge was 0.75% per week. If you are already lean, then it will be harder to lose fat without losing muscle.
It’s not all about the weight on the scale – you can be losing fat and gaining muscle. The weight on the scale is probably the most reliable indicator that you’ve got your inputs right. If you’re getting enough protein and working out, increased muscle mass should be looking after itself, and any loss should be mainly fat. For reference, the average rate of fat loss in the Nutrient Optimiser Challenge was 2.1% per week for men and 1.6% per week for women.
When consuming adequate protein many people will find they can gain lean mass during weight loss. The increase in lean mass shown in the chart below from Optimisers was just from focusing on nutrient-dense high satiety foods without necessarily doing any weight training.
Macros / calories
Many people don’t enjoy tracking their food, so we’ve designed a range of food lists and meals that will help people using the Nutrient Optimiser improve from where they currently are. It will be pretty hard to get/stay morbidly obese if you eat only nutrient-dense high satiety foods and meals.
However, if you want to look like a fitness model, or you are not getting your desired results ‘eating ad libitum’ you will likely need to track your food to overcome your inbuilt impulse to maintain a higher body weight. Tracking your food in an app like Cronometer can be a useful educational experience, even only for a while to help you change your habits.
Performance/weight on the bar
Being stronger will improve your metabolic health, insulin sensitivity and ability to burn fat more effectively. Having more lean muscle mass will ensure you burn both glucose and fat more efficiently. Lean muscle mass is a key predictor of longevity.
The Ketogains boot camp uses a 5×5 strength progression. The Stronglifts 5×5 or Starting Strength uses a similar progressive overload approach. These programs involve compound lifts (squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, row, etc.) and progressive overload, meaning that you add weight to the bar each time and continue to get stronger. By doing this, you train your body to produce energy more efficiently.
Other things you can track
There are other things that you might like to track, but they will be less useful than the things mentioned above. Most people have limited time and don’t want to live a completely quantified life. Unless this is your only hobby or you are a professional athlete or fitness model, you may quickly hit ‘analysis paralysis’ and give up.
There is no guarantee that technology will help you reach your goals. In fact, it seems that you are more likely to gain weight if you use wearables like a Fitbit because people tend to congratulate themselves and eat back the calories the app has told them they burned.
So, don’t try to track too many things at once!
Heart Rate Variability
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a measure of the variability between your heartbeats. If you are stressed and/or exhausted your heart will beat more rhythmically as well as more rapidly. If you are relaxed and well-rested, your heart will beat more to stresses and quickly return to rest.
Measuring your Heart Rate Variability (HRV) can tell you if you’re pushing too hard and need to rest and recover or you’re not pushing hard enough and should be working harder to maximise your progress. Training hard when you are burning out can be counterproductive and lead to injury or under-recovery. But it’s also important to train as much as you can reasonably sustain if you want to keep making progress. If you want to maximise your gains, you want to find your maximum recoverable volume of training.
HRV tells you whether your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system is balanced.
- If you are “parasympathetic nervous system dominant” you might be overstressed from too much activity, not enough sleep, too much caffeine or work stress.
- If you are “sympathetic nervous system dominant”, then it probably means your body wants to rest. You’ll probably do better if you listen to it and let it recover.
- If your overall HRV is dropping, it means you are burning out and should consider slowing down.
It’s uncanny how many times I will see my HRV fall a few days before I get the flu, hit the wall or crash and start reaching for the comfort foods.
Your blood sugar and glucose control is a powerful indicator of metabolic health. But blood sugar readings can vary depending, not just due to the food you eat or your metabolic health, but also exercise and stress.
If you have diabetes refining your food choices to normalise your blood sugars is essential. However, regular blood sugar tracking is probably going to be a waste of time and money for most people who are following a Ketogains style approach (i.e. tracking their food to ensure they are moving towards an optimal weight, getting adequate protein and lifting regularly).
If your waking blood sugars are less than 100 mg/dL or 5.6 mmol/L, then there’s probably not much use worrying about blood sugars if you are actively managing your body fat and lean muscle mass.
Unless you require therapeutic ketosis to help manage epilepsy, cancer, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, measuring your blood ketones is a waste of time and money.
Lots of people get caught up chasing ‘optimal ketosis’ by eating more dietary fat and less protein. However, this is precisely the opposite of what you need to sustainably gain strength and lose body fat.
Blood ketones do increase when we don’t eat. But high ketone levels don’t necessarily mean you are burning your body fat. It could just be the three Bulletproof coffees and exogenous ketones you just had to get that are driving your high ketone levels.
Some people, especially those who are physically fit and/or have been practising a low carb diet for a long time, seem to have lower blood ketone levels, even if they are eating a ‘ketogenic’ diet. It’s hard to know whether this is due to the more efficient use of ketones or the fact they are burning more fat through non-ketogenic pathways.
Someone who is not metabolically healthy can load up on exogenous ketones, butter and MCT oil and see a high blood ketone reading. But this may just mean that they have eaten a lot of fat that they are not burning (because of their lack of activity and/or poor metabolic health) but rather backing up in their bloodstream.
A healthy metabolism seems to keep the total energy circulating in the bloodstream fairly low (i.e. from glucose, ketones or free fatty acids). If you are metabolically healthy, you can easily access your fat stores, so you don’t need to build up high energy stores in the blood.
The chart below shows more than three thousand data points of blood glucose and ketones together from a range of people following a low carb and ketogenic diet. Having high blood ketones and high blood sugar at the same time is not a good sign! Healthy people tend to have lower blood sugar and moderate level ketones.
If you focus on nutrient-dense foods that maximise satiety and building strength your body will likely look after the rest.
Ketogains’ co-founder Tyler Cartwright has lost nearly three hundred pounds without exceeding 0.4mmol/L blood ketones on his ketone metre (other than that time he ate nothing but lard for two weeks as an experiment and got to 0.5mmol/L).
Whereas blood ketones (BHB) indicate that you have energy building up in your bloodstream, breath ketones (breath acetone) give you more of an indication of your metabolic health and whether you are burning fat. But again, tracking breath ketones is not necessary if you are already focusing on a nutrient-dense diet without too much energy and plenty of activity.
BMI is often used to assess whether or not someone is at a healthy weight.
However, BMI is notoriously problematic for people with more muscle.
Waist to height ratio is a much better predictor of the years of life that you will lose due to your poor health. So tracking your waist on a regular basis is a great idea to ensure you are moving towards optimal health.
A reduction in your waist circumference of around 1% per week is a reasonable target in a fat loss phase.
Micronutrients and nutrient score
Focusing on nutrient-dense foods and meals will give you a good chance of getting optimal nutrition. However, you can also track your macronutrients in Cronometer to help you identify the nutrients you are not getting from your diet.
But once you’ve tracked your food in Cronometer, you are left wondering what foods and meals you should eat.
Nutrient Optimiser Score
The Nutrient Optimiser Score is a measure of the micronutrient quality of your diet. If you were able to get three times the recommended daily intake of all the essential micronutrients, you would get a perfect score of 100%. To demonstrate what this looks like in practice, Ted Naiman’s diet got a very respectable nutrient score of 70%.
Luis’ got 72%.
Nutrition nerd Alex Leaf scored an impressive 74%.
Mike Berta also scored 74%.
Brianna Theroux’s scored a very healthy 79%.
And Dr Rhonda Patrick scored 82%.
But the coolest competition is against yourself. Andy Mant managed to seriously up his nutritional game…
… by eating a LOT of nutrient-dense seafood…
… in preparation for his Paris wedding.
And after a couple of rounds of following the Nutrient Optimiser recommendations and a couple of Ketogains boot camps, Matt Standridge (aka The Ketodontist) has stepped up from a nutrient score of 48% to 73%. He says he is feeling great and continues to gain muscle and lose fat.
Check out the current Nutrient Optimiser Leaderboard here.
While there are common themes, each person’s micronutrient fingerprint is unique and therefore the optimal foods and meals that will balance your micronutrient profile are unique to you. Nutrient Optimiser will tell you what foods are ideal to balance your diet while also aligning with your goals.
If you want to step up your game and provide other data, we can work with that to further refine your nutritional prescription to fill in your micronutrient gaps. The system will also adapt with you to improve your nutrition, ideally from diabetic to weight loss to achieve your performance goals. We’d love you to take a moment to check out your Nutrient Optimiser Free Report to see the nutrient-dense foods and meals that it will recommend to achieve your goals. It might just be your secret weapon to help you blitz #transformationtuesday .
- Nutrient Optimiser Free Report
- The Nutrient Dense Protein Sparing Modified Fast
- Nutrient Density 101
- The ultimate PSMF calculator… the fastest way to your summer body!
- Optimal macros for fat loss, maintenance and bulking
- “high protein” vs “low protein”
- Guess what happened to body fat, lean mass and waist measurements when a hundred people tried the Nutrient Optimiser?
- A hundred people used Nutrient Optimiser for six weeks. Can you guess what happened to their weight?