Do You Need Carbs to Build Muscle?

Let’s be honest: we all love carbs.

Unfortunately, these essential sugar molecules have been demonized in the fitness world, and many people believe that they simply cannot get fit (or keep fit) while eating them. Spoiler alert: that’s a lie. 

Carbohydrates are an essential part of our diet.

Although there’s such a thing as good and bad carbs (and you should eat these all in moderation), carbohydrates DO have health benefits, and they can even help you build muscle mass. 

So, before you fall into the trap of blaming all of your undesirable fitness results on your carb intake, take a minute to read through this post, and learn more about the benefits of eating carbs to build muscle.

The answers might surprise you… 

Are Carbs Needed To Build Muscle? 

Before we look at the answer, we need to understand the science of muscle mass. There’s one simple fact at the heart of building muscle: to get ripped, you need to do strength training.

Strength training is the best way to increase your muscle-to-fat ratio, and it’ll help build the strength between your muscles and connective tissues. 

Surprisingly, carbohydrates play a pretty important role in building muscle. Here’s why carbs can help you kickstart your muscle-building journey, and yield promising results: 

They’re a Source of Fuel 

Carbs are a prime source of macronutrients. These translate into calories that help give your body the energy it needs to perform daily tasks and more vigorous exercise.

Although daily carb requirements vary, you may need anywhere between 225-325g of carbohydrates per day. 

This leads us to one irrefutable truth: you NEED carbs to reach your fitness goals. If you’re exercising regularly, you may even need more carbs to get there.

Doing high-intensity workouts requires more carbs than light exercise.

For example, exercising for more than 60 minutes a day will require 6-8g of carbs for your weight. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, you’ll need between 408-680 g of carbs. 

Prevent Tiredness 

Carbs can also prevent fatigue during workouts and give you a well-needed boost of glycogen, which makes them a necessary addition to your diet if you’re trying to build muscle.

Carbs fire up and replace the glycogen stores in your liver and muscles, which gives you more energy to keep pushing through your workout.

Just remember to stick within the recommended daily amount of carbs for your sex and activity level. 

How Do Carbs Help With Muscle Building? 

One of the main features of carbohydrates is that they can spike your insulin levels. When your insulin increases, your cortisol levels decrease because the two cancel each other out.

Although you’ll want reasonably high levels of cortisol during your workout (to increase energy and performance), you’ll want to bring your levels down post-workout so you can unwind and recover. This is where carbs come in. 

Consuming carbs after your workout can get your body into a parasympathetic state.

When we work out, our nervous system enters a sympathetic state (aka high adrenaline, or fight or flight), but the parasympathetic state promotes rest and digestion.

Carbs (and plenty of protein) in your workout meal will help you replenish muscle glycogen and promote recovery, which is essential for building muscle. 

What Carbs Help With Muscle Building? 

Although carbs aren’t the big bad wolf they’re often portrayed to be, it’s true that some sources are better than others. There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. 

Simple carbs are small and easily digested, however, they usually come in the form of processed foods.

On the other hand, complex carbs have more fiber and bigger molecules, so your body will take longer to digest them. 

When you’re building muscle, it’s wise to limit your consumption of simple carbohydrates.

These foods give you almost no nutritional benefits, which means you’re consuming empty calories, and not nourishing your body. Instead, you should increase your intake of complex carbohydrates.

Foods high in complex carbs can include: 

  • Whole Wheat bread
  • Brown rice 
  • Whole Wheat pasta 
  • Quinoa 
  • Chickpeas 
  • Oats

Can You Cut Carbs For Muscle Development? 

Many people who try to build muscle often attempt to limit their carbohydrate intake to promote muscle growth.

Do You Need Carbs to Build Muscle (1)

Some even argue that cutting out carbs can lead to fat loss because stored fat will break itself down for energy.

Although cutting carbs is good for weight loss, it’s not necessarily going to help you build muscle. 

When you consider your carb intake, remember: carbs FUEL your workouts, give you glycogen, and prevent tiredness.

So, if you eliminate carbs when you’re doing strength workouts, you’re probably going to experience weakness, fatigue, dizziness, and more.

This can have fatal consequences for both your health and your fitness goals. You also run the risk of experiencing nutritional deficiencies, which will hinder your progress.

To establish the right amount of carbs for your diet and exercise routine, consult your dietician for more information. 

Don’t forget: protein is still important for building muscle. Protein can help with muscle recovery, by allowing you to repair and build muscles that have been strained or damaged during workouts.

To develop your muscle mass, you’ll need at least 1.4-2g of protein per kg of body weight.

If you’re doing high-intensity workouts, you may need to up your protein intake a little more to promote recovery and keep your body functioning. 

Some of the best foods to eat to build muscle include: 

  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Lean Beef
  • Greek Yoghurt
  • Tuna 

Final Thoughts 

Carbs may not be essential for muscle building, but they certainly help and if you’re thinking of eliminating them from your diet, we’d advise against it.

Carbs can not only help you build muscle, but they also give your body essential nutrients including glycogen, which is essential for extra energy. 

Remember: not all carbs are made equal.

If you’re trying to build muscle, avoid simple carbohydrates from processed foods, and up your intake of complex carbohydrates to give your body the nutrients it needs to workout.

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