paleo vs keto for bodybuilders

by Jason Stallworth

June 14, 2017

If you’re a bodybuilder, you know that your diet is the most important aspect of whether your goal is to build muscle mass or get ripped. 

In this post, we’re going compare the 2 most popular diets: Paleo vs Keto. In the end, you’ll be able to determine which one is best for bodybuilding, for you. 

You’ll also learn…

  • What Paleo and Keto really mean
  • Pros and cons of each
  • Sample meal plans for both Paleo and Keto

There’s No One-Size-Fits-All

The truth is there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ meal plan that works for everyone. One diet may work for one person, yet may have different effects on someone else.

There are so many factors involved in how our bodies respond to certain foods and nutrients. It also depends on your personal fitness goals. For example, a bodybuilder going for muscle mass requires a different type of meal plan than getting lean and conditioned.

With that said, I’ll breakdown both Paleo and Keto style diets and give you the pros and cons of each. This way you’ll hopefully be able to make a more educated decision on which plan to try.

**I also think you may appreciate my personal thoughts at the end!

About the Paleo Diet

paleo meal for bodybuilding

I’ve always heard the Paleo diet called ‘The Caveman Diet.’ In other words, if a caveman didn’t eat it, neither should you. Paleo basically eliminates processed foods and foods with any additives or preservatives.

The Paleo diet is more so what your early ancestors lived on, without the modern fillers and junk. This is based on that our ancestors had to hunt for their food, and have their own farms, which they controlled the farming practices (most of us rely on whatever our grocery store has).  

Is Paleo Good for Bodybuilding?

Eliminating processed foods is actually preferred for bodybuilding. In theory, we want to eat as organic as possible. This ensures we’re getting pure macronutrients that our bodies and muscles can use for energy and recovery.

The Paleo diet also have you ditching foods with refined or artificial sugars. The only sugar that you will get is from natural sources, such as the list of vegetables and specific fruits that you’re allowed to eat on Paleo.

This is another benefit to bodybuilders, as a Paleo diet will lessen the glycemic load on your body, thus not spiking your blood sugar.

Foods such as grains, legumes, and peanuts like you’d find in a plant-based meal plan are not part of the Paleo meal plan either. The reasons revolve around inflammation and phytic acid (thought there’s controversy on the impact of these foods).

There are other arguments on how whole grains affect insulin sensitivity. Either way, reducing these types of foods and reducing inflammation is something that bodybuilders and weight lifters can benefit from. 

Some research has shown that many of the diseases and ailments we experience today are caused by processed foods.

The Paleo diet is said to bring us back to a healthier status by merging towards the natural foods that our bodies can process and use for energy, brain functions, tissue growth, and repair, etc.

Paleo Meal Plan (Sample)

Here are a couple of Paleo-style meals. Keep in mind that your seasonings will be limited and no sauces allowed here. If it’s not 100% natural, you can’t have it. 

Meal 1

  • Chicken breast
  • Sweet potato
  • Spinach or broccoli 

Meal 2

  • Sirloin beef tips
  • Red potatoes
  • Carrots

Paleo: Pros and Cons

Paleo Diet Pros:

  • Pure, unadulterated food sources
  • Low sugar foods
  • Eliminates processed food and foods with additives 
  • Can possibly help reduce the risk of diseases caused by processed foods and food with added hormones

Paleo Diet Pros:

  • Eating only what our ancestors ate may not be the answer due to the difference in environmental conditions
  • Eliminating dairy and grains may not be feasible for some, and may cause you to lack certain vitamins and nutrients

There are other philosophies built around the Paleo diet such as stating our ancestors did not eat grains or cereals.

However, some recent studies suggest grains and cereals were eaten prior to the Paleolithic times. Considering the arguments, Paleo is said by some to be exaggerated.

About the Keto Diet

Keto meal for bodybuilders

The goal of the Keto (or Ketogenic) diet is to promote ketosis in the body. This is done with high fat intake, moderate protein, and extremely low carbohydrates.

Limiting carbs allows your body to burn fat cells into ketones, which are said to be a high octane source of energy.

Since carbs are cut to a minimal daily amount in the Keto diet, insulin spikes are minimized (as there’s nothing to be converted to glucose). Through this, blood sugar is controlled and remains stable.

The macronutrient formula for reaching Ketosis is:

  • Fat: 60%
  • Protein: 35%
  • Carbs: 5%

There’s research that shows the Keto diet can actually weaken cancer cells. Part of this is sugar has been noted to be a primary source that fuels cancer cells. This is in conjunction with intermittent fasting.

The Ketogenic diet has been used for almost a century to prevent and treat certain diseases and ailments. A few of these are epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

Keto diets have also been used for patients who have suffered from strokes and brain trauma. It’s important to note that overall calorie restriction is typically adhered to.

Does Keto Work for Bodybuilders?

One of the most liked effects of the Ketogenic diet is it’s easier to consume fewer calories. Fats and proteins tend to make you feel full, faster.

So if you’re a bodybuilder looking to get ripped and cut, or if you’re prepping for a competition and need to drop weight, Keto may be a good choice. 

Why some gain fat on Keto

One thing to remember though…I’ve known guys who do Keto but they still gain weight. Why is this?

There are 2 commons reasons…

1. They’re eating a too much protein and not enough fat!

2. They’re not eating the right types of fats and eating way too many calories.

Keto does not exempt you from the impact of excessive calorie intake! It also does not give you a free pass to eating unhealthy fatty foods.

Keto Meal Plan (Sample)

Here are a couple of sample Keto meals. As you’ll notice, the meals are similar to Paleo-style meals. 

Meal 1

  • Steak
  • Avocado
  • Broccoli 

Meal 2

  • Salmon cooked with olive oil
  • Raw cashews
  • Spinach 

Keto Diet: Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Keeps blood sugar in check
  • One of the fastest ways to get lean and lose weight
  • Eliminates ‘bad carbs’ (and many other carbs)
  • Some research shows Keto can reduce the risk of certain ailments and diseases

Cons:

  • Some may not respond well to the lack of carbohydrates
  • May not be ideal for endurance athletes
  • Could hinder muscles gains in bodybuilders

Paleo vs Keto: My Personal Take

paleo vs keto diet for bodybuilders

I don’t know that I can responsibly provide a true Paleo vs. Keto argument for bodybuilding. They’re both healthy concepts, and it’s best to have some sort of nutrition plan to follow then no plan at all. And both eliminate, or at least reduce the amounts of ‘bad carbs’ so to speak. 

On the other hand, they both lack in some areas. With both Keto and Paleo, you’re probably going to need to take extra supplements to ensure you’re getting those nutrients that you’re missing from these diets.  

Of course, most of us gym rats take all kinds of supplements and vitamins anyway, so that’s covered. 

You know you need protein and healthy fats to build muscle. Paleo and Keto both support that. Some bodybuilders will argue the need for carbs and that’s where things get a bit shaky. 

Put Keto and Paleo to the Test

The only way to find out if these diets work for you is to put them to the test. And more importantly, get your blood work done before and after!

Here’s a schedule to try and see if one is better than the other, based on your own results:

  • Get initial blood work done
  • Do Paleo for 8 weeks
  • Get your blood work done and assess the results
  • Do Keto for 8 weeks and assess the results
  • Get your blood work done and assess the results

These are lengthy tests so you have to make sure you stick with each diet for that amount of time. Otherwise, you won’t know if it truly works for you. In fact, for a better test, you may want to expand this to 12 weeks each time. 

There is No Perfect Diet for Everyone

The most important thing you can do is compare the data of your blood work results before you start any new meal plan and after 6-8 weeks. Do not get emotional about any particular diet. The data will tell the truth.

And be honest with yourself about the results. Sometimes we have a cognitive bias on certain things based on media or what our friends are saying. Get all of that out of your head and just go through the process. 

Also, take measurements of your muscles. Track your body fat. Test your endurance. Do all of these things before and after each program.

Again, look at what the data tells you and of course, go by how you feel. Do you have more energy? Are you getting stronger? Then your meal is working.

Are you tired all the time, getting weaker, and not thinking clearly? Then you probably need to look into a different type of diet.

If you’re interested in more sensible and balanced meal plans, check these posts out:

Train (and eat) with Passion,

Jason

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