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Can You Build Muscle On A Low Carbohydrate Diet?

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Meet my brother Zach Greenfield.

He’s been following my Superhuman Food Pyramid for the past 6 months.

For anyone who doubts that you can build muscle on a low carbohydrate diet because you don’t have enough “fuel”, my brother is living proof that you can.

And no, it 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 0.7 grams per pound of protein).

In a moment, I’m going to show you some more pictures of Zach, and give you a sample daily diet of what he’s been eating.

But first, I want to give you a few additional resources, since I haven’t been shy lately about the fact that I also eat a low carbohydrate diet, as do many of the clients I advise and athletes I coach.

For example, a few weeks ago, I released the podcast: Is It Possible To Be Extremely Active and Eat A Low Carbohydrate Diet?

I’ve also written the book Low Carbohydrate Diet For Triathletes, and produced these articles about how to avoid typical recommended carbohydrates dosages and instead eat a higher fat diet:

-Should You Eat Carbohydrates Before Exercise?

-How I Ate A High Fat Diet, Pooped 8 Pounds, And Then Won A Sprint Triathlon.

-The Hidden Dangers Of A Low Carbohydrate Diet

-10 Ways To Do A Low Carbohydrate Diet The Right Way

Want more proof that you can build muscle on a low carbohydrate diet? Here’s a few more pictures of my brother:

 

Zach Greenfield

Zach Greenfield

Zach Greenfield

So what kind of low carbohydrate diet has this beefcake been eating?

Here’s a sample daily meal plan (Zach is 6’5″, about 230 lbs):

Breakfast: 4 eggs cooked in coconut oil with side of spinach and a piece of fruit

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

Snack: 16oz coconut water with handful of raw almonds

Dinner: 6-8oz grass-fed beef with big side of steamed vegetables and a boiled, salted sweet potato

There you have it.

Moderating carbohydrate intake is not only effective for fat burning efficiency and fueling long endurance events, but is also good for building muscle.

Questions, comments or feedback? Leave them below.

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112 Responses to “Can You Build Muscle On A Low Carbohydrate Diet?”

  1. TM Bell says:

    Daaammm, where you been hiding him at Ben?

  2. Rob says:

    What does he do during weight lifting sessions?

  3. Becky H says:

    You’d probably make a lot of $$. I was impressed before with the low carb plan, now I really like it ;-)

  4. Sherri says:

    Can women eat that much fat and get lean?

    • Yes. My wife eats like me and is at 9% body fat. She's on top of post here: http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com/2012/05/how-t

      • Sherri says:

        You all seem to be endurance athletes. I used to be however now I enjoy training with weights, 3 sprint workouts a week and moderate jogging with my dog 7 days a week for 30-40 min. Is this enough training or can someone even do less and still eat high fat, moderate protein, low carb and still lose fat?

        • Hi Sherri…definitely not all endurance athletes! My brother (above) is a Crossfitter, for example. I train several folks who are not endurance athletes, and just want improved aesthetics or more strength/power/speed. What you have described sounds like enough (although I don't have details)…

          • Sherri says:

            Do you or can you train someone who wants to get ready for competing in Bikini? It seems when it comes to weight training for Bikini or Figure, they keep the fats very low and carbs pretty low. If yes, how do I get a hold of you for more info? Thanks!

          • Yes Sherri. Go to http://www.pacificfit.net and click on Coaching to see consulting and coaching prices! I'd be happy to help.

          • Viktor says:

            Hi Ben.

            Amazing stuff you put out there..

            I’m a prof. badminton player, practicing two times a day with badminton and strength training combined..
            Do you think a High fat diet would fit an athlete in a sport like badminton?

  5. MKGH says:

    yea, let's see a pic of your sister…. or, just the meal plan for a 120-130 pound female

    Love your podcasts!

  6. Isaiah says:

    Damn, that IS IMPRESSIVE! My question is, How do you satisfy a screaming metabolism? Like, what kinds of foods do you then eat?

  7. How many grams of carbs would you estimate your brother is eating? Low enough in comparison to fat to be ketogenic? Or getting the benefits of non-ketogenic low carb?

    And in light of your recent book: could you say what his body type is?

  8. Max says:

    What supplements does he take? Great post.

  9. Wade says:

    Impressive…….so how many times a week does he workout for Ben?

  10. Keerthi says:

    It is pretty impressive. I'm also on a high fat, moderate protein, low carb diet following your pyramid for a couple of months now and getting some results. I'm curious as to what was your brother's body composition (fat % and weight) when he started 6 months ago vs now? We can probably use the results as benchmark :)

    • 13% down to 8% body fat, Keerthi. His weight was around mid 240's and he's about 230 now.

      • Keerthi says:

        Okay so the difference in the lean mass is really this: (I'm not sure if this equation is right way of calculating)

        (244 * .87) – (230 * .92) = 0.68 lbs

        Which means he eventually didn't gain extra lean mass but cut down the body fat by 5% which is actually an amazing thing to achieve.
        I'm still wondering if it is actually possible to gain a lot of muscle mass on a low carb diet or a traditional bulk up and lean down bodybuilder style is the only way to go about it.

  11. Willem says:

    Seriously ? Is that ALL that Zach eats ? That’s like 2100 Calories… I would drop weight like crazy with that intake (actually I am doing that right now 4 days a week and drop weight) and I’m nowhere near 250 (more like 185). Even someone who is not training needs at least 2500 Cal tot maintain his weight (and 250 lbs is hyoooge at that bodyfat% (I need at least 2750 to maintain my weight)

    I find it all totally unbelievable to be honest.

    • I'm not sure exactly how you got 2100, Willem, but he's at a minimum of 3500 calories per day.

      • Willem says:

        I just took a stab at what you said he ate:

        http://img2.uploadplaatjes.nl/20120601/613178.jpg

        I might be a little of, but not 1500 Cal.

        (3500 Cal does sound more reasonable for someone who’s 250 though Zach’s modelling page still states he’s 220 lbs btw http://www.modelmayhem.com/2464064 )

        • Breakfast: 4 eggs cooked in coconut oil with side of spinach and a piece of fruit – 650 calories

          Snack: Half a can of full fat coconut milk with 20-30g protein powder and tablespoon almond butter – 600 calories

          Lunch: Huge bed of greens and vegetables with sprouts, sardines, avocados, olives, olive oil/vinaigrette dressing – 800-1000 calories

          Snack: 16oz coconut water with handful of raw almonds – 200 calories

          Dinner: 6-8oz grass-fed beef with big side of steamed vegetables and a boiled, salted sweet potato – 800-1000 calories (he does use butter and coconut oil with dinner also)

          Talked to him earlier and sometimes he does do two of the coconut milk, protein powder type of snacks. Also has typically a higher cal refeed day 1-2x/week.

    • dr ck says:

      i agree willem unless he's eating about 6 avocados at lunch

    • michael hibbard says:

      why doubt the facts? it looks like its working for him

  12. Bill says:

    Dude has disturbing tight clothes on. Must be awful for the sperm count

  13. Wade says:

    I mean how many DAYS per week, would Zach work out?

  14. Natalie says:

    To follow up on MKHG's question, can you give some general guidelines of how many carbs/calories a smaller women should eat. I'm only 5 ft tall, 105 lbs but still 18% BF and would like to drop that a little for my summer tri's by trying a lower carb plan like yours.

  15. Eric says:

    Talented sister Ben…. Gifted / blessed family…!

  16. jimpattillo says:

    Nice job. I'm on coumadin (warfarin) so upping my greens intake will require an adjustment.

  17. Anon says:

    I'm a little sad that your brother's name isnt Jerry Greenfield

  18. Barbara says:

    Ben, this is amazing stuff. I have listened to your podcasts, and esp on low carb. I am using ucan super starch now on my rides and post ucan protein after. I have been paleo for 2+yrs, last few months lower carb and lower protein since listening to you. I did my first 100 mile ride last weekend on ucan and did okay till mi 75 when i used “chomps”. In july i do a monster 550 mile, over 7days through 4 states in new england. I want to stay low carb..and use ucan products without having to carb up or live on sugar on the bike…do you have suggestions? I used to use hammer gels..heed..on the bike but want to get away from that…i use race caps…have good suppliments..etc..what is your suggestion on how to manage day to day ..hard riding?

    Thanks—Barbara

  19. Mindy says:

    Ben, I am curious what modifications you would make to Shape 21 meal plan regarding going more low carb. Would you eliminate the oatmeal or some of the grains? Mindy

    • Yep. And I'd replace those with the fat-based foods off the "EAT" section of the Superhuman Food Pyramid. I'll eventually rewrite the meal plan in Shape21 to include a low carb option….

  20. Wade says:

    Last ques. Ben …..what quality protein powder & creatine supplement would u recommend?

  21. Jennifer says:

    What percentage of calories from fat do you recommend? Thank you.

  22. Bree says:

    Damn, there are some good genes in the Greenfield family.

  23. Kem Johnson says:

    Doesn't Zach have pudding after tea?

  24. Jen says:

    I also added up what he’s eating and came up
    With 2100 calories give or take. 3500 makes more sense. What else does he eat?

    • Breakfast: 4 eggs cooked in coconut oil with side of spinach and a piece of fruit – 650 calories

      Snack: Half a can of full fat coconut milk with 20-30g protein powder and tablespoon almond butter – 600 calories

      Lunch: Huge bed of greens and vegetables with sprouts, sardines, avocados, olives, olive oil/vinaigrette dressing – 800-1000 calories

      Snack: 16oz coconut water with handful of raw almonds – 200 calories

      Dinner: 6-8oz grass-fed beef with big side of steamed vegetables and a boiled, salted sweet potato – 800-1000 calories (he does use butter and coconut oil with dinner also)

      Talked to him earlier and sometimes he does do two of the coconut milk, protein powder type of snacks. Also has typically a higher cal refeed day 1-2x/week.

  25. musclegeek says:

    "… a bunch of acidic, ammonia-producing proteins …"

    I cringe when I see things like this. But I also enjoy doing the research to rip it apart…

    Protein doesn't change the ph of your body. Blood pH, you'll find, is very tightly regulated by the body (between 7.39 and 7.41)…so claims relating to “acidifying the blood”, including cancer and bone loss, are also bunk. The body maintains blood pH primarily via CO2<->carbonic acid. (See this article for a long biochemistry excursion: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/242975-over… and this article for more on the bicarbonate buffering system: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicarbonate_bufferi

    • This is dealt with very well in the book Perfect Health Diet…on p 25. At a protein intake of 230 g/day (920 calories), the body’s ability to convert ammonia to urea is saturated and this means the nitrogen from every additional gram of protein lingers in the body as ammonia, a toxin.

      [3] Rudman D et al. Maximal rates of excretion and synthesis of urea in normal and cirrhotic subjects. J Clin Invest. 1973 Sep;52(9):2241-9. http://pmid.us/4727456.

      • musclegeek says:

        The upper limits of protein intake are debated hotly amongst professionals. So far there really isn't much evidence to support the idea that there even is an upper limit.

  26. musclegeek says:

    And yes, protein causes ammonia to be produced. That's a normal healthy part of protein metabolism. Recent research suggests that people without prior or developing kidney or liver impairment do not experience any kidney or liver issues with a higher protein intake (1.3 g/kg/day). People most at risk for this kind of kidney stress include those who have a personal or family history of kidney or liver problems or those who have high blood pressure or diabetes.

    you saying high protein is bad? As far as the science is concerned, as long as you are a healthy individual, high protein does not cause problems.

  27. Kate says:

    Thanks for all your great podcasts and info, you are the best!! Which one of your books do you suggest for an endurance athlete trying to convert to ketogenic diet? I’m already grain free (except buckwheat).

  28. fury716 says:

    He's beautiful. On an unrelated note, who makes the leggings he's wearing?

  29. Kem Johnson says:

    I just clicked…. just multiply .7 times 2.2 and one can make sense of this concoction of units of protien to weight recommendation. So its about one and a half grams of protien to kg of body weight. Got it.

  30. [...] weight, but can this diet program also help you build muscle? Here’s what you need to know about low-carb diets and their effects on muscle building. Tags: Diet, low carb, [...]

  31. Richard says:

    I don't think the question in your title has been answered. It seems like your brother lost a good bit of body fat during the past six months (from reading Keerthi's comment and your reply), but wasn't his muscle already there? Wouldn't you need muscle percentages before and after and before and after pictures to make the case you want to make according to your title? Just because your brother is a good-looking guy with nice muscles and has been on a high fat diet for the past six months doesn't mean that he gained that muscle during the past six months. Do you have more information to offer? Might your brother have gained more muscle on another diet? With regard to aesthetics and performance, the Rich Roll vegan approach is more appealing to me, especially after seeing the before and after pictures.

    Also, the Dr. you had on discussing his ketogenic diet and the sample menu of your brother's diet (which are similar) both have one thing in common: a lack of variety. I'll die a year or two early for a regular calzone.

  32. Hi Richard – this certainly wasn't mean to be a peer-reviewed journal article – just an example of a guy who maintains beast mode, keeps body fat low, does intense Crossfit workouts and at least maintains muscle (although I do think he has built some lean muscle mass) in the relative absence of what many say is necessary for muscle building: carbohydrate.

    Ultimately the goal here is to point out that you DON'T have to be a potato and whole wheat guzzling fiend to get strong and muscular.

  33. Kate says:

    Ben do you have a sample diet anywhere on the site of your wife or a 125-130 lb endurance athlete? Im trying to go keto and curious how many carbs I can safely consume. Just ordered UCAN and can't wait to try it instead of glucose during runs. Thanks for all your knowledge!

  34. [...] A: Good luck with that. If you aren’t 100% sure and I wasn’t convincing enough check out what a high-fat diet could do you for you here! [...]

  35. [...] A: Звучи добре! В случай, че не си на 100% сигурен, виж какво ВМ диетата ще направи за [...]

  36. [...] A: Звучи добре! В случай, че не си на 100% сигурен, виж какво ВМ диетата ще направи за [...]

  37. Jojo says:

    oh my!! Can I just eat him and be healthy lol!

    Seriously, I've gone lo/no carb and eating more healthy fats, my new favorite is Macadamia oil and I'm finding I'm less hungry, have less carb cravings and keeping weight off. About every 4th day I have some sweet potato.

    Still trying to wrap my head around overdoing protein…..high protein has been working for me…

  38. Amy says:

    who cares about the diet – dang…haha…Thanks for the info – I just started back on low carb and people hound me but it is how I lose weight but I need to make sure I build some muscle…

  39. [...] -Can You Build Muscle On A Low Carbohydrate Diet? [...]

  40. [...] A few weeks ago, I told you about my little brother Zach Greenfield and how we’re combining Crossfit and a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet to get him ripped for [...]

  41. Julien says:

    Thanks for this nice article Ben.

    I think that it's easy to build a daily Low Carb diet but for a whole week I find it more difficult because it's hard to put variety on this kind of diet.

    Do you brother eat each day the same thing ?
    Or can he share with us a variant of this day ?

  42. Evan says:

    o come on. That dude does not have that much muscle, it's obvious he is lean and naturally has great genes, what we are seeing is a human with low body fat that has great aesthetics; so I am not convinced that this diet builds muscle on a guy like this with his results, you put this guy on any low cal diet with high protein and he is going to look like this. Now, if he had some obvious muscle on that frame then I would buy it a lot easier. But again, good genetics on a dude that is athletic and eats sensible, whatever sensible thing he eats, he is going to look this good.

    • Evan says:

      Same thing with you Ben. You're a guy with good genetics, naturally aesthetic, who is skinny. A skinny guy with good genetics, mesomorph, is always going to look good skinny, even without muscle. Case in point: Brad Pitt fight club. No muscle, just skinny and everyone wanted to look like him; trouble is, few have those kind of genetics to just naturally look athletic and in such good proportion. Not that you're not probably giving good information though, just don't sell your bro or yourself as "you can look like this" if you do this diet.

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  44. rob says:

    im 30 years old and have recently lost 120 lbs doing low carb high protien, i currently weigh 310. i have been off low carb for aproxx 30-45 days. i've gained about 6 lbs from my lowest weight. mostly from heavy weight lifting 5 days a week. being an endomorph how many calories should i eat to lose body fat and maintain as much muscle as possible. and if my goal is maintaining and building muscle how much protein should i eat. i was going to do try your approach but am wondering how many calories i should consume a day. thx

  45. Harold says:

    Ben,
    What source would you recommend is a smart guide to follow when wanting to start a ketosis diet?

  46. Andrew Lowe says:

    Hey you gave 0.7gram of protein per lb, but what about carbs and fats?

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  48. Tassotti says:

    He is skinny and doesn't train legs

  49. Vicki says:

    I'm female, 100 lbs 5'8", trying to gain 10 lbs without fat; would I see any improvement if I keep my hour of cardio to first thing in the morning with a protein shake to burn fat, and then eat carbs afterward, wait and do weights? – Or would it be better to eat carbs, and then have my workout be weights first and cardio after?
    Also, should my postworkout shake contain carbs? [16 grams from milk too much?]
    I just want to coordinate my cardio and strength training with food consumption in such a way that won't reduce muscle mass, but still keep fat at bay.
    Thanks.

  50. garrett says:

    I have been trying to gain muscle for years I tried different bodybuilding diets but they never worked. I ate alot of carbs and ended up gaining fat around my waist. This discouraged me from doing anything. Right now I take whey protein with creatine as a supplement. Do you think your high fat, moderate protein, low carb work for me? I also do p90x along with weight lifting.

  51. Presently my age is 25 and my weight is just 48. So let me know, how many calories do I need for increasing my weight?

  52. Wesley says:

    I'm happy to meet with your brother Zach. Indeed, he is looking incredibly fit on those pictures and completely convinced me that by following carbohydrate diet strong muscles building is possible. Thanks.

  53. We are confident We’ve read this same type of affirmation anywhere else, it needs to be gaining popularity with all the masses.

  54. Karen says:

    If starting low carb, what do I fuel with during long runs?

  55. NathanT says:

    Krav maga exercises are also another great way to get lean muscle mass.

  56. janjan2935 says:

    Very impressive… I bought your book "the lowcarb diet guide for triathlete" and I literately "eat it in a low carb style" !
    I would like to know which kind of fruit Zach eat in the morning and how many;
    More, when does Zach train : does he train in the morning or in the afternoon / evening : is there any impact or differences for the moment to take the snack of the morning (Coconut cream/Protein) and the snack of the afternoon (coco water) ?
    Last, what about the combo of sugar/carbs sweet potatatos and the fat of 8oz of beef at night ? any argue ?
    In even case congratulation, good job !

  57. Darran says:

    Hi, how many grams of fat do you recommend per kilo of body weight if trying to build some lean muscle?

    Also how many grams of protein, fat and carbs is Zach on each day? tks

    • We didn't really approach it exactly that way… but here is a sample of what he ate:
      -Breakfast: 4 eggs cooked in coconut oil with side of spinach and a piece of fruit – 650 calories
      -Snack: Half a can of full fat coconut milk with 20-30g protein powder and tablespoon almond butter – 600 calories
      -Lunch: Huge bed of greens and vegetables with sprouts, sardines, avocados, olives, olive oil/vinaigrette dressing – 800-1000 calories
      -Snack: 16oz coconut water with handful of raw almonds – 200 calories
      -Dinner: 6-8oz grass-fed beef with big side of steamed vegetables and a boiled, salted sweet potato – 800-1000 calories (he does use butter and coconut oil with dinner also)
      -Sometimes he did two of the coconut milk, protein powder type of snacks.
      - Also has typically a higher cal refeed day 1-2x/week.

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