The Ketogains method: Your ultimate guide to gaining muscle and losing fat on a ketogenic diet
It 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 that gets rave reviews.
Protein as a goal
The primary pillar of the Ketogains system is getting adequate protein, which is critical to building muscle and losing fat sustainably.
A higher percentage of dietary energy from protein promotes satiety and helps us to not overeat.
Getting adequate protein is even more critical when you losing weight. The higher the deficit, the greater our need for protein to prevent loss of muscle. And then, if you are doing heavy resistance training to chase the gainz, you will require even more.
In practice, however, it’s difficult to over-consume protein due to the strong satiety effect of foods that have a higher protein percentage.
While ‘excess protein’ can be converted to glucose as required (if you are not consuming a lot in your diet), it does not instantly 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 via gluconeogensis, 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 much rather some actual chocolate cake rather than having to convert protein to ATP. You can think of it as like resistance training for your metabolism.
Targeting the minimum effective dose of nutrition
If your goal is fat loss from your body, then you want to target the minimum effective dose of macronutrients and micronutrients. As shown in the chart below from our analysis of our series of recipe books optimised for different goals, a higher percentage of protein tends to align with a greater nutrient density.
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 protein. Hence, you may need to top up with more protein to compensate for the protein that will be converted to glucose.
Carbs as a limit
The fact that much of the population is insulin resistant is likely part of the reason the KetoGains approach has been so successful for so many people.
Our analysis of our series of nutrient-dense recipe books also suggests that we are able to get the best nutrient density at around 15 – 20% carbs, which is a lot less than the typical carb intake.
Fat as a lever
In recent years people are swinging back from their extreme fear of fat. 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.
As less of your energy comes from protein and more from the combination of fat and/or carbs, we tend to eat more.
While fat is an excellent source of slow-burning fuel, our analysis of six hundred thousand days of food diaries 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 looking to gain weight, add muscle or perform extended feats of endurance exercise it may be beneficial to prioritise energy-dense foods with a lower percentage of protein.
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 as well as your carbs back and prioritise more satiating foods that have a higher protein:energy ratio.
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.
Unfortunately, focusing purely on macros (e.g. Flexible Dieting, IIFYM, etc.) fails to consider micronutrients. Chronic energy restriction without attention to micronutrients can lead to nutrient deficiencies, a lack of energy, increased hunger, rebound bingeing due to cravings and even death.
- 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.
Active people tend to sweat a lot and need more electrolytes, particularly sodium.
Again, our satiety analysis suggests that people who consume foods and meals that contain more minerals tend to have fewer cravings and consume less food overall (see The Effect of Minerals on Hunger and Satiety).
A low carb diet with less processed food will contain less salt, so you may need to ‘add salt to taste’. The ideal sodium intake seems to be at least five grams and 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. It 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 may be even more beneficial.
While supplements can play a role, it’s ideal to obtain more of your nutrients from whole food.
What to track
“What gets measured gets managed”.
We can only manage a handful of things at once.
“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 are:
- weight/body fat,
- micronutrients, and
- performance (e.g. weight on the bar).
Most people want to have more energy and look good naked.
While easy 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. In addition to weight, it can be invaluable to track your lean muscle mass and target more protein if you find you are losing too much precious muscle.
People who successfully lose weight and keep it off tend to proactively manage their food intake, track 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 over the long term. If you are already lean, then it will be harder to lose fat without losing muscle, so you will need to pay particular attention to adequate protein.
It’s not all about the weight on the scale – you can be losing fat and gaining muscle (i.e. recomposition).
When consuming adequate protein, many people will find they can gain lean mass during weight loss.
Macros / calories
Many people don’t enjoy tracking their food, so we’ve designed a range of food lists and recipes to help people improve from where they currently are. You can use these to create your nutrient-dense fat loss meal plan.
However, if you want to look like a fitness model, or you are not getting your desired results ‘eating ad libitum’ you may need to track your food until you start moving towards your goals.
Performance/weight on the bar
Being stronger will improve your metabolic health, insulin sensitivity and ability to burn fat more effectively. Having more muscle mass will ensure you burn both glucose and fat more efficiently. Lean muscle mass is a crucial predictor of longevity.
Ketogains recommend a 5×5 strength progression which includes 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
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!
Your blood sugar and glucose control is a powerful indicator of metabolic health. But blood sugar readings can vary, 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.
Unless you require therapeutic ketosis (i.e. to manage epilepsy, cancer, Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, measuring your blood ketones is probably going to be a waste of time and money.
Some 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 and improve your metabolic health in the long term.
Blood ketones increase when we don’t eat. But high ketone levels don’t necessarily mean you are burning fat from your body. It could just be the three Bulletproof coffees and exogenous ketones you just had 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 reasonably low (i.e. from glucose, ketones or free fatty acids).
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. Meanwhile, 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.
Ketogains’ co-founder Tyler Cartwright lost nearly three hundred pounds without exceeding 0.4 mmol/L blood ketones on his ketone metre.
Body Mass Index (BMI) is notoriously problematic for people with more muscle. So your waist to height ratio is a much better predictor of the years of life that you will lose due to your poor health. Tracking your waist circumference regularly is a great way 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.
Focusing on nutrient-dense foods and meals will give you a good chance of getting optimal nutrition. However, you can also track your micronutrients in Cronometer to help you identify the nutrients you are not getting from your diet.
To help you learn what nutrients you are currently not getting enough of and which foods and meals contain them, we have designed as free 7 Day Food Discovery Challenge to help you get started on your journey of Nutritional Optimisation.
But what should I eat?
One of the biggest challenges in all this is making wise food choices. That’s why we’ve developed a range of food lists that will help you meet the Ketogains macro targets while still getting plenty of micronutrients.
We’ve also created a suite of recipe books (with full micro and macronutrient details) that will align with your goal.
Ketogains cofounder Luis Villasenor has generously contributed a number of recipes that he uses during an aggressive Protein Sparing Modified Fast, including:
Each of recipe books contains a PDF with 33 beautifully presented recipes with a secret index of links 150 recipes of the best recipes that align with your goals while maximising micronutrients. Once you purchase the books, you will also get access to all the recipes in Cronometer so you can quickly build your own meal plan to ensure you maximise your Ketogains Boot Camp Results are ready to rock #flexfriday.
Recipes for bodybuilders
If you’re in a bulking phase trying to gain muscle without too much fat you may be interested in the bodybuilders’ book.
Fat loss recipes
But if you’re looking to lose fat and retain muscle book of recipes engineered for fat loss will be ideal.
High Protein:Energy for PSMF
Finally, if you’re eager to lose fat in a real hurry on a PSMF style diet, the high Protein:Energy recipes will be ideal.