How many carbs should i eat to gain muscle? The answer is: it depends. It depends on your current body fat percentage, your daily protein intake and your individual body chemistry (just like anything in life). Carbohydrates are a must for anyone who exercises regularly. Your body requires them to build muscle mass or for you to recover from a workout. Carbohydrates are the most important macronutrients in our diet. This is especially true for athletes. Let’s look at some of the most important facts related to this nutrient.
“How many carbs do I need to build muscle?” This is one of the most common questions bodybuilders have. If you are interested in finding out, please keep reading.
How Many Carbs Should I Eat To Gain Muscle
There are three macronutrients: protein, carbs, and fat. All of them contain energy, and so all of them can help us gain weight. That doesn’t mean they’re all the same, though.
- Protein helps our immune systems, and is used to build our hair, nails, bones, and muscle. If we lift weights and eat enough calories, eating enough protein will help us build muscle. Extra protein is almost never stored as body fat.
- Carbs are used as a fast source of energy. They’re broken down into simple sugar and stored in our livers and muscles as glycogen. This glycogen makes our muscles fuller and harder, and it gives us more energy. Having more glycogen also speeds up our rate of muscle growth. Extra carbs are almost never stored as body fat.
- Fat is used to help us aborb some vitamins, regulate our hormones, and is easily stored as body fat. We use this body fat as a longterm source of energy. It’s important to eat enough dietary fat and have enough body fat. It’s just that many people have too much body fat.
WILL CARBS MAKE YOU GAIN FAT?
No, carbs don’t cause fat gain. They taste good, though, and processed carbs can be an easy way to pack in calories. If you eat too many calories, you’ll gain weight. If you gain too much weight too quickly, or if you aren’t following a good workout program, you might gain more fat than muscle. But you aren’t gaining that fat because of the carbs, it’s because of the calories.
In fact, carbs and protein are almost never stored as body fat. The conversion process is too costly. They’re more likely to be burned off as body heat, invested in tissue repair/growth, or stored as glycogen. It’s the fat we eat that we store as body fat. Here’s where it gets confusing, though. It sounds like we get fat by eating fat, and that’s true, but it’s not the whole story.
Let’s imagine that you got 90% of your calories from protein and carbs and only 10% from dietary fat. If you eat too many calories overall, your body won’t convert the protein and carbs into body fat, but it will still store some of the fat you’re eating. And it’s not like you can completely remove fat from your diet. You need that fat to help you absorb vitamins and regulate your hormones. Plus, some of the most nutritious foods out there, such as eggs, seafood, nuts, and avocados, are packed full of fat.
So carbs don’t make us gain fat, calories make us fat. And when we eat too many calories, it’s the fat we’re eating that’s most likely to be stored as body fat.
Carbs do help us build muscle, though. And if we eat enough of them, they’re often packed into our muscles as glycogen, making us look and feel stronger.
IF YOU LIFT, CARBS WILL HELP YOU GAIN MUSCLE
There are three main fields of research concerned with muscle growth: bodybuilding research, strength research, and sports research. In all three fields, virtually all experts recommend that we get around half of our calories from carbohydrates.
- Bodybuilding: we’re told to get 40–60% of our calories from carbohydrates to increase our rate of muscle growth.
- Strength training: The National Strength & Conditioning association recommends that we get 45–65% of our calories from carbohydrates to help us gain more muscle mass and strength.
- Sports performance: The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends eating enough protein to build muscle, enough fat to absorb vitamins and reglate our hormones, and then getting the rest of our calories from carbohydrates to speed up muscle growth, give us more energy, and improve athletic performance. Usually that works out to getting around 20–30% of our calories from protein, 20–30% from fat, and 50–60% from carbs.
So, to summarize, if you’re trying to gain muscle mass, strength, or improve your athletic performance, then you should get around half of your calories from carbohydrates.
How Many Carbs Do I Need To Build Muscle
1. How many grams of carbs should be consumed in a day? Is there a ratio or math equation to determine how much is needed?
“The amount of carbs to eat in a day depends on several variables including your
1) body size,
2) activity level,
3) fitness goals, and
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest around 55% of your calories each day should come from carbohydrates. Most bodybuilders consume around 50% of total calories from carbs whereas low carb advocates can consume as low as 10-15%.
Technically, carbs are not an essential nutrient so we don’t need to eat them to survive. With that said, going very low carb is simply unnecessary to reach your health and fitness goals.
The best way to arrive at your desired carb intake is to first establish how many grams of protein and fat you want to eat first, then the balance will be your carb intake. For example, if you are looking to cut some fat for the summer without losing muscle, you can intake 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, 0.5 grams of fat per pound, and the balance will be carbs. For a 180lb man, that means 180 grams of protein and 90 grams of fat. Assuming a 2,000 calorie diet, that leaves 200 grams of carbs left over (1 gram of protein/carbs has 4 calories, and 1 gram of fat has 9 calories). The percentage breakdown in this example is roughly 35% protein, 45% carbs, and 20% fat.
As a general guideline, somewhere around 40-50% carbs, 25-30% protein, and 20-30% fat is a solid benchmark during a cutting program. You can play around with increasing, or decreasing the carb/fat level to see what works best for you. ”
2. When should I consume the most about of carbs, and when should I cut them?
“After your workout is a great time to eat relatively more carbohydrates and even faster digesting carbohydrates. Carbs are anabolic because they raise your blood sugar level, which in turn stimulates the storage hormone insulin. Insulin gets a bad reputation because it can increase fat storage, but it can also be your friend by helping your muscles suck in more protein. After a workout, eating carbs with protein in a roughly 2:1 ratio can help your body utilize the protein most effectively. Eating more carbs when you have a endurance race, or competition can also be helpful. “Carb loading”, or consuming large amounts of carbs to saturate your sugar storage tanks (muscles and liver) leading up to an athletic event can help you perform better.
You don’t necessarily have to cut carbohydrates, but eating excessive carbs is not advisable. So if you are a 180lb guy who works out a few days per week and has a sedentary job, somewhere around 200 grams will help fuel your bodily functions and your workouts without any excess being wasted and converted to fat. For every extra full hour you spend exercising, you can add on 50-100 grams of carbs. For frame of reference, endurance athletes intake as much as 300-400+ grams of carbs per day. “
3. What is carb cycling—and how does it work?
“There are many carb cycling frameworks and each varies depending on whether you are trying to build muscle, or lose fat. One of the most popular is 3 days low, one day high. There are a lot of factors to consider (body size etc) to come up with your carb breakdown, but one method during a cutting program is to eat one gram of carbs per pound of Lean Body Mass [bodyweight x (1- body fat percentage)] and double that number on your higher carb day. The challenge with the 3 low, 1 high framework is that it doesn’t fit neatly within a week. I personally prefer choosing 2 high carb days each week, one of which is on your most intense lifting day (such as legs), and the rest are low carb.
Keep in mind that carbs are only part of the nutrition equation, because you still have to get the calories right, which is more important. In fact, the reason why carb cycling works is arguably not because you are varying carb intake, but because by decreasing carb intake you decrease calorie intake. A quick carb cycling tip is to follow a “carbohydrate tapering” approach where you eat more carbs in the morning and taper them throughout the day on your low carb days. There is no scientific proof this strategy helps you burn more fat, but it makes implementation much easier. “
PRE and POST-WORKOUT CARBOHYDRATES
4. How important is the timing of carbs in relation to your workout routine? Is it one hour before and after that’s safest for breakfast?
“Whether you are looking to build muscle, or lose fat, your prime objective is to have plenty of energy for your workouts. If you find that your energy levels are high without eating carbs before your morning workout, then you don’t need the carbs. If, however, you are looking to build some muscle and find your energy levels waning during your workout, then a protein shake and an apple before your workout can work well because they are easy to digest while fueling your body with ample protein and carbs. After your morning workout you can have a normal breakfast.”
THE 7 BEST CARBS FOR MUSCLE GROWTH
You’re never going to look the way you want if your diet isn’t in check. That’s just a fact, and the first step to mastering your nutrition is to figure out how many calories to eat. Then, you can start figuring out how much of each macronutrient (protein, carbs, and fats) to consume.
You know you need to eat a lot of protein and that high-calorie sources of fat should be kept to a minimum. But what about carbs? Is there such a thing as healthy carbs?
Carbohydrates often get a bad rap in the fitness world. But there’s an important place for carbs in your diet, especially if you’re looking to pack on serious mass.
Of the three main macronutrients, carbs are the most controversial. Some dieters think you should eat as few as possible, while others like to load up on them for more energy to train. We’ll make this easy for you — try starting with one gram of carbs per pound of bodyweight to lose fat and two grams per pound of bodyweight to gain. (Of course, you may have to play around with that number a bit depending on how fast you’re gaining or losing. Aim for a pound per week either way.)
The second key to carb control is to pick the right carbs. Ellio’s French bread pizza, as good as it may taste, won’t do much for your fat loss or muscle gain goals. We’re not telling you that you’ll never eat foods that taste good again. In fact, a lot of the carbs on the following list, such as mashed potatoes and pasta, are delicious. You’ll just have to be careful about loading up on the not-so-good extras such as pasta sauce, gravy, and cream cheese.
We have compiled this list of seven great high-carb foods that bodybuilders—especially hardgainers—can use to enhance muscle recovery and pack on muscle mass. Keep in mind, these foods are best for bulking and aren’t considered to be foundational carbohydrates for pre-contest bodybuilders or those trying to rip up, so time your carb intake wisely.
Benefit: Convenient high-calorie food
Breakfast cereals with at least two grams (g) of fiber per serving can be converted into good offseason bodybuilding foods. Fiber slows digestion, making cereal a good source of energy that can be eaten at any time.
For the best results, double the serving size, mix in one rounded scoop of whey protein and enough milk to bring the carb content to about 60 g and the protein content to 30 g.
Bagels are a concentrated source of carbohydrates (a medium-sized bagel has 40-50 g). They also make offseason mass nutrition easy—no cooking or serious food-prep time needed.
For added benefits, choose varieties with more whole grains, such as pumpernickel and rye.
Benefit: A mass builder with fiber
You can determine a quality bran muffin by reading the label, but your best bet may be to make your own. Purchase any high-fiber cereal that has a muffin recipe on the side of the box. Substitute honey for sugar, add two or three scoops of whey protein to the mix, and you have a high-carb, protein-rich snack.
Fiber in the cereal makes the end product low glycemic or “slow burning,” which is ideal for bodybuilders who struggle to stay relatively lean while bulking up
Benefit: Extremely easy to digest
Cream of Rice is easily digested and makes an excellent offseason food. Two-thirds of a cup mixed with water yields 65 g of easy-to-digest carbs. After cooking, add a banana, a cup of cottage cheese and some Equal or a few pinches of cinnamon, and you have a well-rounded meal with 30 g of protein and 90 g of carbohydrates.
Benefit: Strong insulinogenic carb
When you’re trying to grow, you need fast-acting carbs in your postworkout meal because they generate a greater insulin surge and are great for rapidly restoring glycogen levels. At 42 g of carbs per cup, you can eat two or three cups of mashed potatoes without feeling overly stuffed or bloated.
White Rice with Raisins
Benefit: Nonfilling high-glycemic carbs
Two cups of white rice mixed with a handful of raisins provide 115 g of carbohydrates—an ideal postworkout combo to help resynthesize muscle glycogen. As with mashed potatoes, you can use white rice with raisins as a side dish with meals.
The combo can also be added to a meat-vegetable-nut stir-fry for a tasty meal that’s perfect for muscle building.
Benefit: Condensed source of carbs
For bumping up carb intake, pasta has always been a great choice. Four ounces (dry measure) yield 90 g of carbs that are easy to eat and won’t fill you up, so you’ll be ready to eat again within three hours.
Adding meat and vegetables to pasta makes a complete meal that is high in carbohydrates, protein and calories.
Importance Of Carbohydrates
1. More Energy
Carbs do a lot for the body.
Part of the importance of carbs is that they are your body’s preferred energy source.
Once the sugars and starches in carbohydrates are broken down and absorbed, they enter your bloodstream, which is then called blood glucose, per the Mayo Clinic. This glucose in the blood stimulates the pancreas to secrete insulin. Insulin tells the body to either absorb the glucose to use as energy or to store it.
This process, as explained in the November 2014 issue of Advances in Nutrition, is significant because this glucose is used as the main energy source for the brain, red blood cells and the central nervous system. Your body needs glucose to have the energy to do everything from breathing to weight training.
In addition, your brain needs glucose to function properly. If you don’t take in enough carbohydrates, you can become weak, lethargic and unable to focus on even simple tasks.
2. Weight Control
Carbs are often blamed for weight gain, but the truth is that they are crucial for healthy weight control.
You should eat 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories that you consume each day, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). The only sources of fiber are foods rich in carbohydrates, so it’s nearly impossible to get enough dietary fiber on a low-carb diet.
Fiber-rich foods add bulk to your diet, making you feel full more quickly and satisfying your appetite for longer. High-fiber foods are generally low in calories as well, so getting enough fiber can help you lose weight.
3. Heart Health
Dietary fiber prevents cholesterol from accumulating in your arteries and creating dangerous blockages that can lead to a heart attack or stroke, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Eating whole-grain foods, such as fresh fruit, vegetables, whole wheat, oats, bran and quinoa, gives you valuable fiber that can protect your heart and keep you feeling your best.
Avoid simple carbohydrates, such as cakes, cookies, products made with white flour and processed foods, which are generally low in fiber and often high in fat and added sugar.
4. Improved Digestion
Getting enough fiber-rich carbohydrates can help prevent digestive problems, such as constipation and indigestion, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Insoluble fiber, the type of fiber that doesn’t break down during digestion, is also known as roughage. It pushes other food along your digestive tract, speeding up the digestive process. It also adds bulk to your stool, making it easier to pass bowel movements. Without a sufficient intake of carbohydrates, you may not get enough fiber to keep your digestive system regula