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Sources of Good Carbs for Muscle Gain

author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
Sources of Good Carbs for Muscle Gain
A bowl of oatmeal topped with banana slices on a table. Photo Credit: OksanaKiian/iStock/Getty Images

Make all your work in the gym payoff by optimizing your nutrition. You may think of protein as the key nutrient when you're trying to gain muscle, but carbohydrates are equally important. Eating the right types at the right times maximizes your muscle gain and energy levels for workouts.

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Consuming carbohydrates before a workout gives you the energy to work at your maximum effort. Having carbohydrates after a workout spurs a release of insulin, which helps prevent muscle breakdown. This muscle-building effect of insulin only occurs when amino acids are present, though -- so you must have protein along with the carbohydrates. When you consume carbs post workout, you also help restore the glycogen stores in your muscles. Glycogen is what gives you energy for your workouts. Fail to restore and you'll delay your recovery and readiness for your next workout.

Quality Carbs for Daily Intake

For muscle-building athletes, carbohydrates should make up 55 to 60 percent of total calories daily, according to a paper published in "Sports Medicine" in 2004. The majority of carbs you eat daily when trying to build muscle should be complex and unprocessed, such as oatmeal, brown rice and whole wheat bread. These promote stable blood-sugar levels and provide fiber, which keeps you regular. Complex carbohydrates also contribute to glycogen stores, which you need maxed out to train hard.

Exceptions Post Workout

In the 30 minutes after a heavy lifting session, high-glycemic carbs that hit your blood stream quickly stimulate a rise in insulin to inhibit muscle breakdown. They also help refill your energy stores expediently. Try white rice with a handful of raisins, mashed potatoes or cream of rice cereal cooked with water and a banana.

Combine Carbs with Protein

Each time you consume carbs, have a serving of protein too. Protein blunts the digestion of the carbs, which moderates the release of insulin so you are less likely to store the calories as fat. Add whey protein and milk to whole-grain cereal. Combine a large egg omelet made mostly with egg whites and two yolks with fresh vegetables, oatmeal and orange juice. Blend whey protein with milk and a banana. At lunch, have a stir fry of chicken and vegetables over brown rice. Toss whole wheat pasta with lean ground beef and fresh vegetables.

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