If you happen to be actively involved in bodybuilding, or even simply involved in working out regularly in order to try and bulk up slightly, you’ll know that building muscle is about far, far more than simply just lifting weights in the gym.
In reality, building muscle is very much dependent upon the foods you consume on a daily basis.
Even going into further detail, however, not only is it dependent upon what you eat, it’s also dependent upon the times you eat and the frequency of your meals.
When we think of foods that help build muscle, we think of protein, and for good reason as protein is indeed essential for muscle growth.
Another macronutrient however, which is often overlooked and sometimes gets a pretty unfair negative reputation, is the humble carb, in the form of carbohydrates.
When it comes to the consumption of carbohydrates, they can also play a crucial role in the formation of lean muscle mass, for a variety of different reasons.
Here are a few benefits of carbohydrates, plus a look at why we need them to build muscle.
Post-workout Insulin Spikes
When we think of carbohydrates, there are actually two different forms: simple carbs, and complex carbs. Simple carbs are considered far unhealthier because they’re molecularly different in structure to complex carbs as they’re found in more sugary foods, which can affect blood sugar levels and insulin secretion.
Complex carbohydrates take longer to break down and are found unhealthier sources such as breads, rice, pasta, and potatoes.
However, simple carbs when consumed with a post-workout shake are absolutely essential for muscle growth, because they do cause a spike in insulin.
After we work out, or muscles are depleted of energy and nutrients, which are essential for growth and repair.
We drink post-workout protein shakes to help get nutrients back into the muscles.
Insulin, however, acts as a transportation system for these nutrients and basically shuttles more nutrients into the muscles as quickly as possible, when they are most anabolically primed to absorb more of them.
Many bodybuilders will add a scoop of dextrose, sugar powder to their protein shakes to assist with absorption, which then leads to that essential post-workout insulin spike.
Carbohydrates can Improve your Mood
If you’ve ever been carb depleted or have followed a low-carb diet, you’ll know immediately just how awful it makes you feel, both physically and mentally.
Recent studies, however, have revealed that carbohydrates are able to promote the secretion of serotonin, a hormone which plays a key role in mood.
Put simply, the more serotonin we have in our systems, happier, more relaxed, and more focussed we feel as a result.
They Increase Energy Production
One of the main key benefits of carbohydrates, however, is the fact that they play such an essential role in energy production within the body.
That is actually the primary purpose of carbohydrates, which is why glucose sugar is the body’s primary energy source.
The main thing to remember, however, is that complex carbohydrates, are generally speaking the much better sources, because they’re digested, broken down, and absorbed far slower, so they release a slow and steady release of energy into your body.
Simple carbs such as sugar and sugary foods, are absorbed and digested much quicker and so the energy is quickly used up and can result in a “sugar crash” which makes you feel tired and lethargic.
From a bodybuilding standpoint, carbohydrates are essential as without them you simply wouldn’t have the energy to power your way through your workouts, and as you know, many bodybuilding/muscle building workout programs are extremely physically taxing so having enough energy to get through them is vital for so many different reasons.
They can help with Weight Control
Carbohydrates are naturally high in calories, because they’re so rich in energy, so obviously if we consume too many we will gain weight.
If, however, we track our calories and ensure they fit our daily macros, carbohydrates, well, complex carbohydrates, can help us to not only maintain our weight, but to also lose weight as well.
One of the main reasons for this is that pretty much all complex carbohydrate sources, oatmeal for example, are rich in dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble.
The soluble fiber is especially beneficial because once consumed, it breaks down slowly in natural waters within the stomach and forms a thick paste, similar in consistency to wallpaper paste.
This paste coats the lining of the stomach and digestive tract and swells slightly, expanding and fooling the stomach into thinking it’s fuller than it is.
This means that we feel full for much longer and so our appetites are suppressed and so we consume less calories as a result.
Not only that, but we also get less cravings for unhealthy junk foods which not only means we’re less likely to cheat on our diets, but that we also don’t have to put ourselves through hell whilst dieting down, perhaps for a photo shoot or bodybuilding competition.
How Many Carbs Should You Eat In a Day To Build Muscle?
So when it comes on how many carbs should you eat in a day to build muscle?
You may as well be asking “how long is a piece of string” because everybody needs different amounts.
For example, a 300 pound bodybuilder is going to need significantly more carbs to build muscle mass, than a 170 pound bodybuilder, because as he will be bigger, he’ll obviously need more.
Generally speaking, however, the recommended daily intake for carbohydrates is around 1.1 grams of carbs, for every pound that you weigh.
Carbohydrates are used as a primary energy source by the body, meaning that they provide the energy required to fuel our workouts, so without them, we’d obviously have no energy, and would therefore not be able to have an effective workout.
The problem, however, is that eating them at the wrong times, or eating or drinking the wrong kinds, can actually hinder fat loss and can promote weight gain in the form of fat, which brings us onto our next section.
Which Types Of Carbs Is Good, Simple or Complex Carbs?
For those of us looking to get in shape, which many would define as burning fat whilst simultaneously building lean muscle, one of the most important things we need to consider is our diet and nutrition.
You can exercise as hard as you like, for as long as you like, but if your diet sucks and you aren’t taking it seriously, you simply can’t expect to grow or to make any real progress in the slightest.
When we think of bodybuilding, we often focus on protein because protein’s so important for muscle growth and repair.
Whilst this is true, carbohydrates should also be taken very seriously indeed, because they play a vital role in a number of our body’s internal processes as well.
The main mistake that people make with carbohydrates, however, is thinking that all carbs were created equally, when in fact that is not the case at all.
You have simple carbs and you have complex carbs, and knowing which ones to consume, and when, can be essential. Let’s take a look.
Simple carbohydrates are considered the unhealthy form of carbohydrates, because they’re often made up of foods rich in simple sugars – hence the name.
Simple carbohydrates are considered unhealthy because they’re absorbed much quicker than complex carbohydrates, and so they can immediately initiate spikes in blood sugar levels, and therefore spikes in insulin levels as well.
Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas to help regulate blood sugar levels and help convert carbohydrate sugars into glucose to be used as energy.
The problem with simple carbohydrates is that as these carbs cause spikes in insulin and blood sugar levels, this can cause weight gain, and can lead to insulin resistance which is a precursor for diabetes.
When are Simple Carbs Beneficial?
Generally speaking, we should stay away from simple carbohydrates for the reasons listed above. However, there is a time when these simple sugars can be used to our advantage.
Immediately after we lift weights, our muscles run out of glycogen energy and are anabolically primed to absorb more nutrients than usual.
To help flood our muscles with glycogen, protein, and other nutrients, by creating an insulin spike, the insulin then shuttles, all of these nutrients into our muscles and so we’re then able to absorb more and feed our muscles more in the process.
This is why many bodybuilders will add dextrose, sugar to their post-workout protein shake, or will eat some candy or sugary fruit as soon as they finish training.
Simple Carb Sources:
- White bread
- White rice
- White pasta
- Fresh fruit
- Fresh fruit juice
- Dextrose powder
Complex carbohydrates are much slower to be digested and broken down and so are considered to be much healthier.
For people who are looking for an ideal pre-workout meal, complex carbohydrates are ideal as they digest and break down much slower and so provide a steady stream of nutrients into the body for a number of hours.
On top of that, complex carbohydrates also have a much lower glycemic index and so don’t affect insulin levels or blood sugar levels.
For optimal results, primarily make sure 90% of your carbs are complex, and consume the remaining 10% as simple carbs immediately following your workout.
This will not only help regulate blood sugar, it will also improve post-workout recovery and will help control your weight as well.
Complex Carbs Sources:
- Whole grain bread
- Brown rice
- Whole grain pasta
- Sweet potatoes
- Starchy vegetables