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Link Between Carbohydrates & Muscle Growth

author image Kimberly Ancira
Kimberly Ancira has been a certified personal trainer since 2007. She holds a Master of Science in nutrition, a Bachelor of Arts in physical education and a Bachelor of Arts in nutrition and food.
Link Between Carbohydrates & Muscle Growth
A young man looking at his biceps in a mirror. Photo Credit: Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images

If you're looking to build muscle, you may want to re-evaluate your carbohydrate intake, as they are the key to building sculpted muscles. Protein is often over emphasized in muscle-building diets, and carbohydrates are given little attention. However, carbohydrates play an important role in building lean body mass and shouldn't be overlooked.

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Carbohydrates Provide Energy

During exercise your body converts carbohydrates that are stored in your muscles and liver into ATP molecules to use them as energy. Not eating enough or the right type of carbohydrates means your workouts may potentially suffer because you will have less energy to train at a higher intensity. Training at a higher intensity has a greater effect on building larger and stronger muscles. Muscle overload is the only stimulus for muscle growth, and exercising at a higher intensity will boost growth hormone levels.

Carbohydrates and the Post Workout Insulin Response

Simple carbohydrates should be consumed post workout.
Simple carbohydrates should be consumed post workout.

After your weight training workout, it is important to drive nutrients into your bloodstream and "feed" your muscles. This is best accomplished by "spiking" your insulin levels, and the best way to do so is by ingesting simple carbohydrates within one to two hours after your workout. During this time, your body is in the anabolic phase, which means your muscle cells are primed for muscle building. Carbohydrates stimulate the release of insulin, which pushes amino acids into muscle cells to begin the process of repair.

Carbohydrates Spare Protein

Since the body relies on carbohydrates for energy, the last thing you want is for your body to use an alternate source. If you don't provide your body with enough energy from carbohydrates, then it'll be forced to break down the valuable proteins in your body and convert them to a usable source of energy. This process is known as ketosis, and unfortunately your body can't distinguish the difference between the protein you eat and the protein in your muscle tissue. To save your lean body mass and continue on a muscle growing path, it is vital to maintain your carbohydrate stores.

Carbohydrates for Proper Nervous System Function

During weight training, your central nervous system works to tell your muscle fibers when and at what intensity to contract. So, how do carbohydrates fit in here? Carbohydrates are also the main source of fuel used by your central nervous system. Consuming complex carbohydrates will ensure that your nervous system remains functioning at its best. As your nervous system becomes more efficient, your strength will increase and you'll get more out of your weight training workouts.

How Many Carbohydrates Do I Need?

With adequate nutrition, you can repair and improve muscle size and/or quality. It is important to meet your energy demands and replenish glycogen stores when you are trying to build muscle. Aim to consume 1.5 to 2 g of carbohydrate per pound of body weight each day. If you are an athlete, your daily carbohydrate requirement is usually higher. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends for athletes to consume anywhere from 2.7 to 4.5 g of carbohydrate per pound of body weight, depending on the activity.

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