T Nation

Why Cant a Person Gain Muscle on a Low Carb Diet?

I read a lot of criticism regarding low carb diets and their ability to put on muscle.
What I don’t understand is that if a person was to eat 4000-4500 calories a day of which say 75gms of that is carbs in the form of a post workout shake. (and maybe some preworkout carbs) Then why wouldn’t this work?

It seems much of the criticism leveled at low carb diets for gaining muscle is due to the fact that the trainee cannot eat the required amount of food.

However if you can stomach the calories, and you feel better on a low carb diet, then wouldn’t this be a more viable plan?

You can…you will not put on as much merely because carbs help the muscle building process as well as give you energy. You may think you are working out as hard on a low carb diet, but most of the time you are a little more fatigued.

I gained a sick amount of muscle (and fat too!) while on a low carb diet… of course, I was coming off a severe hypocaloric diet that was carried on for far too long. It’s definitely possible. The important thing is to be sure that you can train on such a small amount of carbs. I found that not carbing up actually helped me because I wasn’t bouncing back and forth metabolically. I made the best gains of my life simply because I was taking in more than sufficient calories for the second time. Could I have made better gains with carbs? I don’t know, but when I was doing high carb (yes, adequate protein) and hypercaloric as a newbie, I didn’t make gains nearly this good. Maybe it was because I was young, but I think I just respond better to a low carb diet. I’m gonna cut for a while and then try a moderate carb diet with a lot of calories and see how that goes.

Low carb diets are not for everyone. I tried it T-Dawg style and I felt like shit. I did loose fat and I maintained most of my muscle mass, but I felt like shit for the 2 months I followed it. My nuts shrunk, and I had no sex drive at all.

The only reason I’m not going to try a low carb diet is John Berardi has said that going on a low carb diet causes insulin resistance. Because of this, you’re setting yourself up for failure in the future because future consumption of carbs will be a a state of higher insulin resistance, meaning it will more likely be stored as fat. Refer to his article about ways to increase your insulin sensitivity. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong… higher insulin sensitivity means more of the carbs will be stored in muscle, rather than fat).
There is a man named Clarence Bass that is 65 years old and has been under 5% body fat for the last thirty years. He eats a high carb diet. He is certainly proving that low carb diets are overrated. My point is that I think low carb diets tend to be overrated because they produce short term progress.

What I’m doing is following John Berardi’s massive eating plan. Pyramid your carbs… eat them heavily in the mornings and very sparingly in the evenings. Also, carbo load after you get a workout. It will all go to your muscle for growth and for performance for the next workout.
Anyway, if you think my recommendations are a bunch of crock, or if someone has some to add, feel free to speak up.

Unless you are coming off a layoff or drastic calories or if you are a newbie, you’re not likely to pack on much muscle low-carbing. I love it for dieting, but you need insulemic responses (it’s the “storage hormone”) during the day to grow. Furthermore, you can not sustain or work out with the ideal intensity without sufficient glycogen stores - I’m pretty sure that was Lyle McDonald’s and Dan Duchaine’s view in their respective keto books. Simply enough, in the presence of insulin, your body is going to ramjet macro and micro nutrients into your muscle cells. That’s why it is advisable to alternate periods of dieting and massing. An absence of insulin is not well-suited for anabolism…of course there are always exceptions and I’m usually wrong as it is :slight_smile:

Low carb dieting is good for dieting - I used it, although I never dropped to the really low levels (had at least 100 carbs a day). For gaining mass, no way - You need carbs!

R.W.: Focusing on the issue of feeling better on a low carb plan, I’m with you on that one. I won’t go into the long list of chronic medical problems that a lower-carb diet (and I don’t mean that in a weight-reduction sense) eliminated for me, but I will say that both my wife and I are healthier when we keep our diet between 30-35% carbs. You don’t need to get psychotic with the carb reduction, and even Lyle McDonald will tell you that it’s ultimately the caloric balance that matters in any diet. The important thing is that you follow an eating plan that makes you feel better, because if you don’t, you won’t be putting your best efforts into either your weightlifting or, more importantly, your life in general.

Greetings RW! Even ketogenic guru Lyle McDonald thinks that low carb is the wrong way to go for gaining mass. Here’s a quote from the man himself.

"One must remember that few dietary studies looking at LDL or HDL have examined subjects during weight maintenance (they tend to look at changes while the subject is actively or passively losing or gaining weight). This adds a confounding factor that has to be taken into account.

During weight loss, blood lipids tend to improve regardless of diet. This makes sense, the body is in an overall catabolic state so there tends to be decreased production of most substances including cholesterol in the liver. Both high and low fat studies are guilty of not looking at changes in blood lipids after weight loss has ceased and weight maintenance is attained.

Incidentally, the one or two studies of ketogenic diets which showed no weight loss or even weight gain did show fairly negative changes in lipid profile. This is especially important for those who want to use ketogenic diets as weight gains diet (something I absolutely don’t recommend by the way).

Basically, if you do a keto diet and don’t lose weight (or even gain weight), odds are things will get worse. I point this out in my book because it’s a known fact. That is, if you lose weight/fat on a keto diet, odds are your blood lipid profiles will improve, if you don’t, odds are they’ll go into the toilet which is bad.

Incidentally.2, when one considers the effects of dietary fat on blood lipids or risk factors, you have to take into account whether weight is being maintained, gained or lost. A recent study in cyclists showed that a fat intake of 50% caused no detriment in blood lipid profile AS LONG AS they were in caloric balance. That is to say, dietary fat has a differential effect on blood lipids and risk factors depending on whether you’re losing, gaining or maintaining weight. That’s even ignoring the difference impact of different types of fat on blood lipids."

Could some of the people below or others, state if they were doing a carb day at all, like every 4th to 7th day. Or were they going straight low carbs everyday. As well what were some of your protein per kg/pd.

My previous experience with low carb diets was with the T-Dawg diet. I achieved good fat loss with this diet whilst maintaining my muscle gains. The most important aspect of this diet was the way I felt. I had endless energy all the time, I could train more frequently, and I felt “pumped” most of the time despite the caloric deficit.

Browncy, when I came off the T-dawg diet I started to use John Berandi’s recommendations that were outlined in some of the previous threads. I noticed that when I combined just carbs with protein, I would feel like sleeping 30-45 mins later, and would feel fatigued. Who knows. Maybe the past 12 weeks of dieting made my body somewhat resistant to the effects of insulin. In Clarence Bass’ case, I think he is the exception rather than the rule. Some guys can just handle their carbs better than others.

Bob Kennedy, yes I agree, feeling better is the number one priority for me. Once that is achieved, muscle gains run a close second.

Midnight, thanks for that quote from Lyle. I've never heard of that before and it's quite interesting from a health standpoint.

From everything I have read on the subject, the general rule with bodybuilding is that one needs to keep their insulin levels stable for most of the day. The only time a trainee desires high insulin levels is post workout, so it seems to make sense that a low carb diet be followed throughout the day, and then after training say 60gms of carbs can be used to refill glycogen stores.

Any other comments on this plan are very much apprecitated.

Just a few comments, I believe it is possible to gain with Low Carbs. I cant say it is ideal, but I believe for some it is b/c of the ratio of muscle to fat put on is greater than a higher carb diet. I do know that Charles Poliquin maintains a high carb diet with his athletes when trying to gain mass with a carb day every fifth day, and knowing that he is very knowledgeable on muscle and strength gains, I would say that it is definitely possible. I’ve also heard a few success stories here and other sites about putting on superior muscle on the Anabolic Diet. Also a guy named Jerimai Forester (spelling?) at Bev. Internationals site managed to acquire a lot of muscle sticking to low carbs most of his dieting cycles. I know everyone is different, but it’s definitely possible. I think like mentioned carbs are necessary at some point, either post-workout or every few days like Poliquin and Dipasquale recommend. In terms of Lyle McDonalds comment, I think he brings up a good point. I’m no expert but I do my share of reading. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on paleolithic nutrition, how humans are really meant to eat and modern foods are aliens and lead to many of the auto-immune diseases we face today. I’m convinced some type of natural low-carb diet (not necessarily high fat) is necessary for max health, since it is the diet humans have lived on throughout our entire history, until a mere 10,000 years ago when agriculture began, which is nothing in the scope of time we’ve existed. Anyway, I’m rambling, but that’s my humble opinion on the subject.