Carbohydrates are often overlooked when planning a muscle building diet. This is because a lot of people are not aware of the importance of carbohydrates and the role they play in muscle development. The truth is what type of carbohydrates you eat, when you eat them and how much you eat can have a great effect on the muscle building process.
Carbohydrates provide a “protein-sparing” effect. When your carbohydrate intake is too low your body will convert protein into glucose for energy. This process is called “glyconeogenesis”. Eating adequate carbohydrates is important because if your body doesn’t have enough, it has to metabolize more protein and this depletes the muscles.
Eating too few carbohydrates will also leave your muscles looking and feeling flat. Muscle fullness largely depends on the glycogen stores within the muscle cells. Your muscle glycogen stores also greatly impact your strength and energy levels in the gym and whether or not you get a “pump ” while working out.
If you have ever followed a low carbohydrate diet for any length of time you have also noticed a significant loss of strength in the gym during your workouts and your muscles feel flat as a pancake making it almost impossible to get any decent pump while working out.
A lack of carbs in your diet will:
- Slow your metabolism. Not only will this reduce energy levels, impact negatively on your workouts and leave you feeling washed out and lethargic, but your body will go into starvation mode.
- Cause muscle loss. Your body turns carbs to glucose; glucose is vital for protein synthesis. Cut your carbs too much and your body won’t be able to lay down muscle.
- Lower insulin levels. You need carbs in your diet to maintain insulin levels during your fat loss campaign. Insulin keeps catabolic (muscle eating) hormones at bay – namely cortisol. Bin the carbs and you’ll lower your protection against muscle loss.
- Compromise your immune system. Carbs are essential for keeping you fit and well. Eat too few and you could make yourself more susceptible to infection. Get sick and you won’t be able to train.
If your body can’t find sufficient glucose to satisfy its needs, it goes for amino acids, some of which are stored as fat – some as muscle. Muscle is raided for energy.
Daily Carbohydrate Requirements
Your carbohydrate intake will vary depending on your training goals. If your goal is to get bigger and gain muscular size then you’ll need to eat upwards of 3 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight per day and maybe much more depending on your individual metabolism. If your goal is to lose body fat and get leaner then you’ll need to eat around 1 to 1.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight daily.
Most Important Time to Consume Carbs
Your carbohydrate intake should be spaced out over the course of 5-6 meals per day. But, carbohydrate is crucial at two points in the muscle – building process: the pre- and post-exercises meals, when carbs and protein combine to stimulate insulin, the hormone that drives nutrients to your muscle. Until recently, this carb and protein infusion was considered most important after exercise. Since the latest research shows the significance of pre-exercise nutrition, many experts advise lifters to eat carbs and protein within an hour before exercise and again immediately after.
Using Carbs Wisely – The Carbohydrate Controversy
For men trying to build muscle, it’s hard to say whether carbohydrate matters at all at other times of the day (except as pre -exercises and post – exercises meals) , especially if three or four weekly weight workouts constitute all the exercise they get. Some experts recommend very low carbohydrate diets for strength trainers who are most interested in aesthetics—having the most muscle with the least fat. Other authorities recommend the modern bodybuilding diet: one that is high in carbohydrate, moderate to high in protein, and very low in fat.
If you’re struggling to gain weight, you may want to consider adding more carbohydrate to your diet. If you’re fighting to lose fat, it makes sense to cut carbs from your diet since they’re easily converted to fat when they aren’t needed for immediate energy and there’s no room in your muscles to store them. Plus, without carbohydrate for energy, your body shifts to using fat, which is the metabolic equivalent of a state of grace.
Types of Carbohydrates
Basically there are 3 kinds of carbohydrates:
- Starchy Complex Carbs – these include foods like oatmeal, cream of wheat, oat bran, brown rice, potatoes, yams, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, etc…
- Fibrous Carbs – these include foods like green veggies, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, sprouts, spinach, cauliflower, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, etc…
- Simple Carbs – these are generally referred to as the “bad carbs ” and include things like sweets, sugar, maple syrup, honey, candy, most processed and packaged foods like cookies, crisps, and other kinds of “junk-foods”.
Fruit technically goes into this category as well, but obviously it isn’t as unhealthy as the previously mentioned processed foods because it contains fiber, nutrients, in addition to the natural fruit sugar.
Your carbohydrate intake should be spaced out over the course of 5-6 meals per day. But you can eat larger portions with your breakfast and with your post workout meals. At these times your needs more carbs for muscle growth and recovery.
What Type of Carbohydrates Should We Be Consuming?
When to eat simple carbohydrates?
- We recommend eating at least one piece of fruit (simple carbohydrate) alongside of your breakfast, this is due to your body being starved over night which will cause your body to harvest amino acids from your muscles to get the nutrients it needs, this is known as catabolism which is far from what you want. Fructose contained in fruits heads straight for the liver which happens to control the catabolism process and instruct it to stop looking elsewhere (i.e. your muscles) for fuel. Bottom line, eat your breakfast as soon as possible after waking to prevent any muscle loss.
- There is another meal that can be extremely beneficial to take in simple carbs, this is of course, your post workout meal or shake. Along with your post workout protein shake or meal you should be consuming anywhere from 30 to a whopping 100 grams (for the bigger guys and girls) of simple carbs, as well as preventing catabolism as mentioned above, simple carbs straight after a workout can spike insulin levels forcing protein into your muscles, and after a hard workout, your muscles will need it!.
When to eat complex carbohydrates?
- The rest of the carbs in your meals should be mainly complex but adding fruit or veg will still be beneficial and healthy providing you with more vitamins and minerals along with antioxidants, just don’t go overboard with simple carbs. An example of a good meal is wholegrain rice with some chopped up veg mixed in (and don’t forget your protein). Limit you simple carbohydrates as much as you can (sugar, sweets, etc.) and eliminate refined carbs completely from your diet. Unrefined complex carbohydrates should makeup most of your diet.
The main things to remember are that complex carbs are always going to be the best choice of carbohydrates, but adding simple carbs with your breakfast and post workout meal/shake can be even more beneficial.
How To Avoid Storing Carbs as Fat
- Eat complex carbohydrates
- Eat carbohydrates directly after training
- Eat small amounts of carbohydrates more often
- Eat high fiber carbohydrates
- Avoid fruits
- Have carbohydrates and protein in the same meal
Follow these rules, and you can use carbohydrates to your advantage to build more muscle faster. If you find you’re gaining too much fat then you should cut out carbs after 7pm. Unless you have a fast metabolism, eating carbs late at night is generally not a good idea. Your body does not need the energy while you’re sleeping so it’s likely to store the carbs as fat.