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Are Ketones Good for Building Muscle?

August 1, 2022
Written by
Team NutriSense
Yumna Farooq
Reviewed by
Katie K.
RD

Whether you’re a regular gym enthusiast focused on building muscle or an athlete looking to maximize your performance, there always seems to be a new “magic bullet” solution that promises excellent results for fitness.

One such concept that has curiously gained traction is the use of ketones for muscle building. While this may seem counterintuitive, especially for athletes that focus on high carbohydrate consumption for performance, some evidence suggests that ketones may help with exercise, and even muscle building.

So, how effective are ketones for building muscle, and how do they create these benefits? In this post, we’ll dig into the connection between ketones, exercise, and muscle growth to determine whether ketones are indeed a new trick, or just hype.

How Your Body Builds Muscle

someone doing pushups with dumbbells

First things first: there are a few key factors that can influence the growth of your muscle mass. These are protein intake and muscle inflammation due to training, which are crucial for optimal muscle building to occur. 

While ketone bodies may potentially support muscle growth, muscle building can’t occur without proper protein intake. Similarly, interfering with natural inflammatory processes can reduce your muscle growth rate.

You Need Protein to Gain Muscle

In the simplest of terms, your body builds muscle through amino acids, the building blocks of protein. There are 20 different amino acids, nine of which are considered essential. 

Unlike non-essential amino acids, essential amino acids are those that your body cannot produce, so you must get them from dietary sources. To grow muscle, the rate at which your body builds muscle fibers must be greater than the rate at which your muscles are broken down. 

So, if you’re doing strength training while making sure to eat sufficient protein, you’ll speed up the rate at which your muscle fibers are growing. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that you can only build muscle if you have enough of all essential amino acids to finish the process and create a complete protein for muscle tissues to use. 

To figure out how many grams of protein you should consume for optimal muscle growth, you’ll need to consider your current weight, goals, and activity levels. Your dietitian can help determine how much is enough protein for your unique goals.

Of course, you’ll also want to ensure you‘re working on building muscle through resistance training and regular exercise. 

Inflammation and Muscle Growth

Along with protein, BCAAs, and essential amino acids, inflammation plays a significant role in muscle growth. Your body actually needs short term (or acute) inflammation for optimal muscle building.

Acute inflammation increases levels of ROS (or reactive oxygen species) in the body, and can increase muscle growth and force and help muscles adapt to exercise. This is a short-term increase in ROS in response to exercise. 

While chronic high levels of ROS can damage muscle and decrease performance of muscles, other research suggests that low levels of ROS are required for increasing skeletal muscle force and adaptation. 

All in all, you need a good balance of inflammation from activities such as weight lifting as well as consuming adequate amounts of protein for optimal muscle gain.

Ketones and the Keto Diet

a plate of greens, avocado, eggs, and bacon

Most people associate ketones with the ketogenic diet (a low-carb diet which restricts carb intake). After all, following this high-fat diet is what leads to higher levels of ketones in the blood and urine. 

Let’s dig into how ketones are created so you can understand how they can help with muscle growth and exercise performance.

What is the Keto Diet?

The keto diet was originally created and used as a treatment for those with epilepsy, or more specifically, for intractable epilepsy. However, over the years, keto has become a popular diet to balance blood sugar, lose body fat, and improve fitness. 

This low-carb, high-fat diet requires that 60 to 80 percent of the calories you consume should come from fats. A high fat intake, along with restricted carb intake, puts the body into a state called ketosis, in which your body starts using fat as fuel, and this is where ketones come in. 

What are Ketones?

On the surface level, you know that ketones (or ketone bodies) are what we use to indicate whether you’re in ketosis or not. Ketones are produced by your liver as it goes into the ketosis state. 

Usually, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and used for energy production. However, when you reduce your carbohydrate consumption on the keto diet, your body re-routes its energy production methods. Instead of using glucose to make ATP (the energy molecule), your body breaks down fats into fatty acids.

These fatty acids undergo a process called beta oxidation in which they are then converted into a molecule called acetyl CoA. Then two additional things happen: this molecule is used to produce ketone bodies and it is also used to produce ATP.

That’s why ketones are almost always used as an indicator of whether an individual is in ketosis or not. Ketones are an alternative fuel source for your body, and when the body begins burning fat, muscle growth, skeletal muscle performance, and exercise performance can all be altered.

Building Muscle on Keto and Ketones

someone at the gym with dumbbells

Some research suggests that ketones can affect skeletal muscle performance

While a high-carb diet has typically been considered the gold standard for better performance and replenishing muscle glycogen stores,  ketones function as another fuel source. As a source of energy, ketones can amp up everything from heart function to muscle performance.

However, while adopting a low-carb diet can increase ketone body levels, research has found that ketone body supplementation can also create a state of the body called hyperketonemia, or ketone levels in the body higher than one mmol. This condition can have potentially harmful side effects.

Ketoacidosis is another condition that can result from ketone levels that rise adobe three mmol and usually occurs in individuals with type 1 diabetes. Ketoacidosis occurs when the body has higher levels of both blood sugar and ketones and not enough insulin. If you’re in a state of ketosis and take ketone supplements, you may have a higher risk of developing  ketoacidosis.

One study illustrated that ketones can also prevent muscle breakdown (also known as muscle atrophy), finding that a specific component of ketones, abbreviated as 3HB, actually prevented the breakdown of muscle.

This is something to keep in mind or bring up with your dietitian if you’re trying to boost blood ketone levels for enhanced performance. You may want to make sure that if you are aiming for higher ketone levels to support muscle growth, your muscle tissues can absorb this nutrient properly. You’ll also want to make sure you’re taking the correct dose to prevent hyperketonemia.

Ketones and Exercise

a plate of bacon, greens, avocado and eggs

There is some evidence supporting the idea that exercise can increase ketone production. If you’ve tried restricting your carbohydrate intake, logging your meals to see which foods may be hindering your progress, and are already intermittent fasting, exercising may also be helpful.

So exactly how does exercise affect ketone levels? 

One study demonstrated that exercise did appear to increase blood ketone production. However, the increase observed did not result in greater beta oxidation, suggesting that while exercise can boost ketone levels, it’s not a long term or effective solution to moving the body into ketosis.

Physical exercise while fasting may even boost ketone levels even more. Research has found that exercising for an extended period of time in the fasted state can stimulate ketogenesis during exercise, resulting in increased ketone levels..

These studies have found that ketone body concentrations in this fasted state can go up to 0.5–1.0 mmol/L after a two hour workout done in an overnight fasted state. Interestingly, after that workout, ketone levels can go up to 1–4 mmol/L in the post-exercise recovery phase.

Other studies suggest that ketones can improve exercise performance, post-exercise recovery, and muscle growth by acting on the inflammatory pathways that are so important for the muscle building process.

Do You Need Ketone Body Supplements for Muscle Growth?

someone drinking a green smoothie

As we’ve discussed, adequate protein, regular exercise, and inflammation are crucial for muscle protein synthesis and performance.

If you’re a bodybuilder or have fitness goals such as building muscle, improving body composition, or fat loss, you will want to focus on a high-protein diet. Your muscles will also need certain amounts of acute inflammation to aid the muscle building process, and increase lean muscle mass.

Finally, ketones can also boost muscle growth and performance by improving physical performance. However, ketone body supplements are not necessary to reap these benefits, and have not been proven to be effective for muscle growth.

Besides ketones, there are many other health hacks you can use to boost muscle growth and performance, such as adjusting macronutrient ratios to consume more protein and doing progressive overload training at the gym.

Other Tips to Increase Ketone Levels

Here is a quick summary other tips (some of which we’ve already discussed throughout this article) to help your body boost ketone levels:

  • Try a fasted workout. Note however that this may not work for everyone, as some people may find they have lower energy and lower performance when working out in a fasted state.
  • Adopt the ketogenic diet and adjust your macronutrient ratios accordingly..
  • Try intermittent fasting.

Monitor Your Fitness Performance With NutriSense

When it comes to muscle building, learning how to properly eat to optimize your progress can be tricky to figure out. The optimal way to support muscle building is to focus on an individualized approach, and this is where a continuous glucose monitor, or CGM, can help.

As a NutriSense member, you’ll be able to track your meals inside the innovative NutriSense app and monitor how the protein and antioxidant-rich foods you’re eating may be affecting your blood glucose.

You’ll also be able to work one-on-one with a credentialed dietitian or nutritionist to find a suitable diet that supports optimal muscle building.

Fill out this short questionnaire to learn more about how NutriSense can help you reach your health goals today.

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Are Ketones Good for Building Muscle?
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Low Glycemic Index Recipe Ideas Everyone Will Enjoy
Low Glycemic Index Recipe Ideas Everyone Will Enjoy

Whether you're looking for low GI summer snacks or healthy sweet treats, this post has got you covered. Here are tasty low glycemic index recipes everyone will enjoy!

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Do Grapes Raise Blood Sugar Levels?
Do Grapes Raise Blood Sugar Levels?

Wondering if grapes are safe for people with diabetes to include in their diet? Read on to find out.

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7
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The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar

Cholesterol plays a very important role in the human body, contributing to the structure of the cells, helping with vitamin D synthesis, and also promoting the production of steroid and sex hormones, like cortisol, aldosterone, testosterone, and estrogen. But how exactly is cholesterol connected to blood glucose levels?

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11
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20 Questions to Ask Your CGM Provider (with Kara Collier)
20 Questions to Ask Your CGM Provider (with Kara Collier)

We sat down with Kara Collier, our co-founder and VP of Health here at NutriSense, to take a closer look at how CGMs work and what you need to know about these devices before using one.

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7
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Are Carbs and Sugar the Same? 
Are Carbs and Sugar the Same? 

Are carbs and sugar the same? In this post, we break down the key differences between the two and share the benefits of complex carbohydrates.

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9
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Best Recovery Breakfasts to Beat Post-Workout DOMS
Best Recovery Breakfasts to Beat Post-Workout DOMS

Read on to learn more about DOMS, how long it can last, and then pick from our list of the best breakfasts to help beat that post-workout soreness, support muscle building, and encourage fat loss.

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13
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7 Plant-Derived Supplements to Help Lower Blood Sugar
7 Plant-Derived Supplements to Help Lower Blood Sugar

When it comes to lowering blood sugar levels, not all supplements are created equal. From ginseng to aloe vera, here are some of the best supplements to help avoid high blood sugar and encourage blood sugar control.

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8
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Is Bloating After Surgery Normal?
Is Bloating After Surgery Normal?

Bloating that results from a surgery can sometimes be an unexpected part of the recovery process. Is there anything you can do to reduce bloating or prevent it from happening? And what causes this bloating anyway? Read on to find the answer to these questions and much more to help you combat your post-surgery swelling. 

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9
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Is Fiber a Carb? 
Is Fiber a Carb? 

Learn why fiber is classified as a carb and how to increase your intake of this health promoting nutrient.

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9
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Living with Autoimmune Conditions: Parkinson’s Disease 
Living with Autoimmune Conditions: Parkinson’s Disease 

Did you know Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease? Read on to learn what it's like living with PD plus discover treatment options.

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10
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An Expert Breaks Down 11 Viral Health Trends
An Expert Breaks Down 11 Viral Health Trends

From rosemary water to dry scooping, should you be trying every new trend that hits TikTok? How can you tell which ones may help and which ones to steer clear of?

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8
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Does Eating Too Much Sugar Affect Your Skin?
Does Eating Too Much Sugar Affect Your Skin?

As great as sugar tastes, including too much of it in your diet can lead to certain health problems. Read on to learn more about the role sugar plays in keeping your skin healthy.

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14 Health and Nutrition Podcasts Recommended by Dietitians
14 Health and Nutrition Podcasts Recommended by Dietitians

Read on to see which podcasts our dietitians recommend if you’re interested in learning more about nutrition and health.

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Does Nicotine Affect Blood Glucose?
Does Nicotine Affect Blood Glucose?

Nicotine is a chemical in tobacco that can affect your health in various ways. Read our article to learn how it impacts blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity.

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9
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Why Everyone, Including Healthy People Should Use CGMs
Why Everyone, Including Healthy People Should Use CGMs

CGMs are now an excellent tool for anyone who wants to optimize their metabolic health. Read on to find out more about the benefits CGMs can have for healthy people!

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10
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Why Do People Need to Lose Weight Before Bariatric Surgery?
Why Do People Need to Lose Weight Before Bariatric Surgery?

Although bariatric surgery can be an effective way to lose weight and improve health for people who are obese, it’s a major decision. Find out what lifestyle changes you need to make before going under the knife.

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NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Favorite Grilling Recipes
NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Favorite Grilling Recipes

Excited to fire up the grill this summer? Read on to learn if grilling is healthy for you plus check out the NutriSense Nutrition Team's favorite grilling recipes for the season.

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How a Healthy Gut Improves Blood Sugar
How a Healthy Gut Improves Blood Sugar

Did you know that your gut health can impact your blood glucose levels? Explore ways to improve your gut health for optimal glucose levels.

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Living With Autoimmune Conditions: Rheumatoid Arthritis
Living With Autoimmune Conditions: Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease that can cause swelling and joint pain. Learn more about how it develops and how other health conditions affect its onset.

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10
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13 Best Weight Loss Apps to Consider
13 Best Weight Loss Apps to Consider

We’ve hand-picked the best weight loss apps available. Here are the thirteen best weight loss apps.

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8
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What is Red Light Therapy?
What is Red Light Therapy?

An emerging treatment, red light therapy promises to prevent and treat the signs of aging and other skin issues. Read on to find out more.

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9
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Diets People are Most Likely to Give Up On [+Tips to Stick with Them]
Diets People are Most Likely to Give Up On [+Tips to Stick with Them]

Struggling to stick with a health-promoting diet? Here’s how to make it enjoyable so you can reap the benefits.

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Kara Collier on Optimal Health Through Blood Sugar Regulation
Kara Collier on Optimal Health Through Blood Sugar Regulation

VP of Health and co-founder of NutriSense Kara Collier discusses reaching optimal health through blood sugar regulation, what a continuous glucose monitor is, and who might benefit from using it.

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16
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How to Turn Your Idea into a 120 Person Team with Dan Zavorotny
How to Turn Your Idea into a 120 Person Team with Dan Zavorotny

In this episode of Zero to CEO, Jason Sherman talks to Dan Zavorotny about how to turn your idea into a 120 person team in 2.5 years.

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A Breakdown of Body Mass Index (BMI)
A Breakdown of Body Mass Index (BMI)

Body mass index is a term you may have seen tossed around quite a bit in the health world. You may know that it’s a way to measure body fat, but with so many new tests for measuring overall fitness and health, is BMI still reliable?

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Glucose-Friendly Recipes to Enjoy This Memorial Day
Glucose-Friendly Recipes to Enjoy This Memorial Day

If you're watching your glucose levels, traditional BBQ staples may not be the best choice. Here are some recipes that will help you enjoy a Memorial Day meal without a blood sugar spike.

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Taking Mental Health Online: Tips & Tools for Self-Care
Taking Mental Health Online: Tips & Tools for Self-Care

Mental health has a significant impact on your overall health; here are tips, tools, and apps to improve your mental wellbeing.

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8
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Can You Check Your Blood Sugar at Home Without a Meter
Can You Check Your Blood Sugar at Home Without a Meter

Living with diabetes can be a challenge, especially when it comes to keeping your blood sugar levels regulated. Learn if you can check your blood sugar at home without a meter.

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NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Best Sunscreen for all Skin Types
NutriSense Dietitians Recommend: Best Sunscreen for all Skin Types

With summer right around the corner, it’s time to make sure you have the tools you need to protect yourself from sunburn and sun damage. But how do you choose the right one for adequate sun protection?

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8
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Japanese Water Therapy & Weight Loss: What’s the Deal? 
Japanese Water Therapy & Weight Loss: What’s the Deal? 

Learn how Japanese water therapy can help with weight loss, energy levels, and detoxification.