Guest Post: Can You Build Muscle On A Low Carb Diet?

Ben Greenfield's Low-Carber brother, Zach Greenfield

Ben Greenfield’s Low-Carber brother, Zach Greenfield

Do you doubt that you can build muscle on a low carbohydrate diet because your muscles don’t have enough “fuel?” This is a common argument: that a low carb diet doesn’t give your muscles enough glycogen to produce a forceful contraction for muscle building and simultaneously robs you of precious protein-based amino acids for adequate repair and recovery.

I beg to differ.

First, it’s not just your waistline and hips that store fat. Your muscles actually store intramuscular fat and can call on this more immediate source of fat for energy if required. This fat is stored in the muscle tissue itself in the form of fat droplets. Because of its physical proximity to exercising muscles, it can be a very convenient source of fuel, especially for well-trained athletes who have higher levels of the fat burning enzyme lipoprotein lipase. They are able to utilize this fat source earlier and more efficiently than untrained individuals.

But that’s not all.

In trained individuals, fat is also channeled to a muscle more preferentially than being channeled to a fat cell (adipocyte) because it is tapped into as an energy store more regularly. So if you limit carbohydrate intake and step up healthy fat intake (as I’ll show you how to do shortly), you allow your muscles to tap into a natural energy store all day long.

Second, when it comes to building muscle on a low carb diet, this does not mean you need to eliminate carbs altogether. As a matter of fact, carbs are indeed important to generate high amounts of force during a “hypertrophic” exhausting set in the weight room. If you throw a bunch of weight on the barbell and perform squats to failure, you’re going to be relying on high amounts of creatine, blood glucose, and storage glycogen from your muscles and liver.

So if you chose to go extremely low carb (in very active individuals, this is typically under about 100g of carbs per day), you’d have no energy and you would suffer from excessive fatigue and muscle soreness. With that being said, your strategy should be to time your carbohydrate intake in conjunction with your workout (pre-post weight training) and fuel at the other times of the day with high fat and moderate protein.

Third, crucial anabolic and muscle building compounds, vitamins, steroids and hormones such as vitamin D, vitamin K, testosterone, growth hormone, essential fatty acids, and insulin-like growth factor are all present in high fat foods such as grass-fed beef, raw dairy, cold-water fish and fish oils, olive oils, butter, etc. Weight lifters, athletes, and people who are trying to put on size but tend to stray from these sources because they’re afraid they’re “going to get fat” are indeed going to wind up with “ripped” bodies, but with depleted hormone levels and high potential for protein toxicity and excessive ammonia strain on the liver and kidneys. For more on that, read the article How Much Protein Do I Need.

A Sample Low Carb Diet For Muscle Building

As I’ve just alluded to, a low carb diet for muscle building doesn’t require shoving a bunch of acidic, ammonia-producing proteins down the hatch. Instead, all you need is a high fat intake, and nothing over about 0.8 grams per pound of protein.

Here’s a sample daily diet for muscle building (with the assumption that you actually are hitting the weights to justify the higher calorie intake):

  • Breakfast: 4 pastured eggs cooked in coconut oil with side of spinach or kale and ½-1 avocado.
  • Mid-morning snack: Half a can of full fat coconut milk with 20-30g protein powder and tablespoon almond butter.
  • Lunch: Huge bed of greens and vegetables with sprouts, sardines, avocados, olives, olive oil/vinaigrette dressing.
  • Pre-workout snack: Sweet potato or yam with sea salt and honey
  • Dinner: 6-8 oz grass-fed beef with big side of steamed vegetables with olive oil and raw brazil nuts.


Want even more proof and resources on how to build muscle on a low carbohydrate diet?

I have a brother, Zach Greenfield. He’s been following my Superhuman Food Pyramid for the past 6 months (which is relatively low carb). You can click here to see some pictures of Zach. At 6’5” and about 230 pounds, he’s a true beefcake with lots of muscle.

You can also listen to my podcast: Is It Possible To Be Extremely Active and Eat A Low Carbohydrate Diet?, or read:

Finally, you can click here to download an entire fueling package I’ve created that gives you a Low Carbohydrate Diet For Athletes.

There you have it. As you can see, moderating carbohydrate intake is not only effective for fat burning efficiency and fueling long endurance events, effective for maintaining insulin sensitivity and stabilized blood sugar levels, it’s also good for building muscle.

ben greenfield greyBen Greenfield offers personalized coaching to clients around the world. Get Ben as your coach, access his books, handpicked supplements and wealth of fitness, endurance and overall wellness information at, or simply e-mail if you have any questions. You can also hire Ben for a one-on-one phone or Skype consult at

The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.