Protein is the macronutrient of choice when it comes to building muscle, but don't overlook the importance of carbohydrates if you want stellar results. Carbs consumed on their own don't build muscle, but they provide the calories and stimulate hormone responses that optimize the muscle-building process. How many carbohydrates you need depends on your size and the number of calories you consume daily.
Role of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates give you the fuel you need to complete a challenging weight workout, the most important step in building muscle. After a workout, consuming carbohydrates as part of, or along with, your protein shake assists in replenishing your energy stores. This helps you recover faster so you can hit the weights again sooner. Carbohydrates also stimulate an insulin response in your body, which enhances the ability of protein's amino acids to affect muscle protein synthesis, a step in muscle building. Carbohydrates are also a source of calories, which you need more of when trying to build muscle.
Figuring the Amount You Need
Bodybuilders are the quintessential muscle builders. Their diets should consist of 55 to 60 percent carbohydrates in the off-season and precontest phases, according to a paper published in a 2004 issue of "Sports Medicine." If you consume 3,000 calories daily, this means you should aim for between 1,650 and 1,800 daily calories of carbohydrates -- equal to 412 to 450 grams. To determine how many carbs to eat at each meal, take the total carbs needed per day and divide by the number of meals you eat -- usually four or five. For example, if you need 450 grams of carbohydrates daily and have five meals, each meal should have about 90 grams of carbohydrates. Mealtimes include breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner and post-workout.
Best Times and Types to Consume
The majority of the carbohydrates you consume should consist of whole grains, starchy vegetables and fruits. Foods such as quinoa, oatmeal, 100 percent whole-wheat bread, apples, dried fruit and sweet potatoes are good options. The fiber in these foods blunts digestion to help you feel full for longer, and it prevents wild spikes in your blood sugar levels. The exception to this quality-carb rule happens right after your workout, when you need easily digested carbs to provide you with the insulin spike that facilitates amino acid uptake. The International Society of Sports Nutrition suggests maltodextrin or glucose be added to your post-workout protein shake. These ingredients are often found in sports drinks, gels and chews. Whole-food, quick-acting carbohydrates are also an option post-workout -- try cream of rice cereal, mashed potatoes, white rice with raisins or refined pasta.
Other Nutrient Considerations
Carbohydrates are only part of your complete nutrition plan to gain muscle. You'll still need to consume 25 to 30 percent of your calories from lean protein sources, such as lean ground beef, white fish, white-meat poultry, tofu and whey protein. Healthy fats make up the final 15 to 20 percent of daily muscle-building calories. Go for omega-3 sources such as flaxseed, walnuts and fatty fish or other unsaturated forms found in avocados, almonds and olive oil.