What do you know about carbs for muscle growth? It turns out, they're rather important. You might even say they're as important as protein for muscle synthesis. So if you're looking for a meal plan for muscle gain for a female or male, then the most important thing to focus on is your carbohydrates.
How Do Carbs Build Muscles?
The best way to build muscle mass is through weight resistance exercises, according to a small study of seven women and 12 men featured in the April 2016 issue of the International Journal of Exercise Science.
To gain muscle mass, you have to push yourself to your limits. Muscle mass isn't all about workouts, though; you need to provide your muscles with the nutrients they need to grow. Your muscles bulk when they have a build-up of protein, which is dependent on how many carbs you are getting.
Carbs increase the rate of transportation of amino acids to tissue, according to a review from the March 2016 issue of Nutrients. Furthermore, carbs increase protein synthesis while decreasing protein breakdown.
Since you need to do resistance workouts to build muscle, you're going to require energy to do your exercises — that's where glycogen comes in. It gives you the power to work out. Meanwhile, your muscles need a build-up of protein to increase in size; carbs increase your protein synthesis while decreasing your protein breakdown. Carbs are the perfect nutrient for building muscles.
Read more: The 6 Rules of Gaining Muscle
Eating Carbs for Muscle Growth
Carbs are a must for any muscle-building diet. This is because carbohydrates create glycogen, which is required for resistance training, according to a study in the May 2014 issue of the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN). So, if you want to have the energy you need to do the intense workouts that will build muscle, you need carbohydrates. An athlete's diet needs to be full of carbs for this reason.
In addition to the energetic benefits, consuming carbohydrates and protein before exercise was found in the study from JISSN to increase muscle mass. You will get the same experience from eating carbs and protein post-workout as well. While the carbs and proteins are bulking your muscles up, they're also protecting your muscles from breaking down.
They work best when consumed together. The protein providing the building blocks for your muscle growth while the carbs provide the energy needed for the muscle growth.
What About Low-Carb Diets?
While you can gain muscle while on a low-carb diet, it's not a very effective muscle-building diet. Carbs create the glycogen needed for resistance workouts. The study from JISSN found if you don't eat enough carbs, you won't have the energy for an intense or long workout. This doesn't mean that you can't gain muscle; it just means that you won't be able to do it at the same pace as someone who is consuming carbs.
The study from JISSN pointed out that resistance exercises use less strength than mixed sports and endurance sports. Muscle builders need fewer carbs, but the problem begins when your carbohydrate intake gets too low. Low-carb diets are effective for weight loss. And if you eat too few carbs, you're not just likely to lose weight — you can lose lean body mass, according to JISSN.
The reason carbs are king is because they're the only energy source that breaks down quickly enough to be used during high-intensity workouts. While fats and protein provide you with energy, they don't provide you with enough power at a rapid enough rate, according to a study in the January 2018 issue of Nutrition Today.
In fact, even athletes who aren't on low-carb diets have had problems with not eating enough carbs to refill the glycogen levels. When these levels aren't regularly refilled, performance issues begin to arise.
Do Carbs Increase Muscle Size?
Carbs are essential for building muscles but do they actually increase muscle size? In the long term they provide the energy and help stimulate the building blocks from protein for muscle growth. For the short term — while additional studies are needed, there is some evidence that eating carbohydrates at the end of your training can improve the appearance of your muscles.
Carbohydrate loading is a trick sometimes used by bodybuilders, mixed with the manipulation of dehydration and electrolytes, according to the study from JISSN. The study notes some success from eating large quantities of carbohydrates but warns against any type of training that involves dehydrating and then rehydrating muscles in hopes of bulking them up.
If you do plan to carbohydrate load to bulk up, it's best to do so before your competition. But understand there's a lack of consistent evidence that eating carbs will increase your muscle size in the short term. Those carbs will, however, give you what you need to bulk up your muscles.
Read more: How to Build Muscle in a Matter of Weeks
Carbs and Protein Daily Portions
The study from the JISSN notes that there isn't a set amount of carbs or protein needed to gain muscle. Research on the diets of successful bodybuilders has shown that the right balance, however, improves muscle gain. They found that a high protein diet with about 40 to 60 percent carbohydrates is the best way to gain muscle mass. The study recommended eating between three to six meals a day and consuming high protein food before and after resistance training.
The important thing is to tailor the diet to what is right for you. You want to make sure that you're getting enough carbohydrates to provide the glycogen needed for the workout. If you're participating in regular high-resistance exercises, you'll need to consume a much more substantial amount of carbs post-workout to maintain glycogen levels. Nutrition Today suggests that a 160-pound athlete consume at least 150 calories of carbs post-workout.
The data from the study found that athletes were not getting enough of the carbohydrates that they need. These carbs are imperative to restoring you glycogen levels in your muscles needed to build those muscles.
Bad Food for Muscle Building
Building muscles isn't just about the foods that help you bulk up. You have to know which types of foods are going to impair muscle growth as well. Foods filled with saturated fats are the best foods to avoid when building muscle. That means that not all meats are made equal, for example red meat isn't the ideal protein for beefing up your muscles.
Speaking of protein, another thing to watch out for is eating too much protein. The recommendation is that even when muscle building, you eat no more than 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight. That's because too much protein can raise cholesterol, increase the risk for kidney disease and cause weight gain.
If you're trying to bulk up your muscles it's important to keep your body in good health. You'll need all the energy you can get for the regular intense workouts and optimum cardiovascular health.
- International Journal of Exercise Science: “Increasing Lean Mass and Strength: A Comparison of High Frequency Strength Training to Lower Frequency Strength Training”
- Nutrients: “Protein Considerations for Optimising Skeletal Muscle Mass in Healthy Young and Older Adults”
- Journal of the International Society of Sport Nutrition: “Evidence-Based Recommendations for Natural Bodybuilding Contest Preparation: Nutrition and Supplementation”
- Nutrition Today: “High-Quality Carbohydrates and Physical Performance”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Preserve Your Muscle Mass”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “When it comes to protein, how much is too much?”