The Carbs You Need to Gain Muscle

Most people focus on their protein intake when they are trying to gain muscle, but carbs are important too. The amount of carbs and type of carbs can affect your muscle gain.

Athletes with consistent and intense training should get 55-65% of their calories from carbohydrates. Complex carbs from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are best. Carbohydrates are necessary for muscle growth because they provide energy and contribute to muscle glycogen.

Understanding your body’s needs and the nature of carbohydrates will help you reach your muscle and fitness goals.

How many carbs to eat while gaining muscle

In general, gaining muscle requires eating a large volume of food. It is normal to gain weight as you gain muscle. Eating additional calories while working out will help build muscle, rather than just burning fat.

The exact amount of carbohydrates an athlete should eat depends on their weight, gender, and workout regimen. The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends that you get 55 to 65% of your daily calories from carbohydrates. This is the recommendation for people who are engaged in moderate or intense exercise. Lower activity levels do not need as many carbohydrates.

The additional exercise required to build muscle also necessitates that you have extra fuel. Carbs are the body’s main source of short-term energy.

For a more precise number of carbohydrates, you can calculate the ideal number of grams using your body weight. First, find your weight in Kilograms. Multiply your weight in kg by any number from 5 to 8 to find the number of grams of carbohydrates you should eat each day.

The range from 5 to 8 accounts for different activity levels and bodies. Men often need more carbohydrates than women and should use 7 or 8 rather than 5 or 6. However, intense training for multiple hours each day of the week will also require a higher amount of carbs no matter your gender. You can also take into account any previous experience with macros to help guide you as you find your ideal carbohydrate intake.

What type of carbs to eat while gaining muscle

Just as important as the amount of carbs you eat is the type of carbs you eat. Cookies and fruit are both classified as carbohydrates, but the fruit will help you reach your muscle goals faster than baked goods.

When choosing carbohydrate sources, focus on high-fiber and low-fat options. This includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Dairy can be a great option in moderation or in low-fat varieties.

Choosing whole grains is important because they are complex carbs. Complex carbs take longer for your body to break down, meaning you will stay full and fueled for longer. Bread, pasta, and cereals all have whole-grain options readily available. Oats, quinoa, buckwheat, rice, and couscous make a great base for your meal. You can add a protein source, some vegetables, and a sauce for flavor and you have a balanced meal.

Some high-fat, low-fiber carbs to limit are things like juice, sugary cereal, baked goods, and many granola-style bars. The overly processed super sweet foods do not keep you full as long and do not give you as much fuel for your workouts.

Here are some awesome sources of carbohydrates that are readily accessible and easy to fit into your diet:

  • Potatoes
  • Bananas
  • Carrots
  • Apples
  • Oats
  • Rice
  • Black beans

When choosing your carbohydrate sources, pick things that you already eat and enjoy. When you like your diet, you will be more likely to achieve your goals.

Many carbohydrates can also help you reach your other macro goals because they are high in both carbohydrates and protein. Quinoa, legumes, and protein shakes are popular options for combining carbs and protein. Whenever possible, you should pair carbs and protein together in the same meal because it helps the production of muscle glycogen.

Why do you need carbs to build muscle?

When you think about building muscle, you probably think about getting enough protein. Protein is definitely necessary for good muscle mass, but many people don’t realize how important carbohydrates are too.

Carbohydrates are an important source of energy, crucial for intense workouts. Your body needs carbs to function. The carbohydrates you eat are your body’s first and main source of energy to do your daily activities and your workout.

If you do not have enough carbs to fuel your body through your weights and workout routine, it will look to other sources for energy and you will lose muscle mass. Not eating enough carbs defeats your goal of building muscle.

The breakdown of muscle is caused by a lack of glycogen in the muscles. A portion of your carbohydrate intake is converted to glycogen to be stored in your muscles. The glycogen is the energy stored specifically for the use of your muscles. When you have plenty of glycogen, the muscles are able to function well and increase over time. When you lack muscle glycogen, more of the protein fibers in the muscle are breaking down than are being created.

Yes, muscles are made of protein, but glycogen from carbohydrates is what allows the proteins to grow.

How to count carbs

Specific macro goals can be hard to keep track of. There are a few different strategies that you can use to make sure your tracking is easy and accurate.

Packaged foods will have the macro information listed on the nutrition label, including carbohydrates. Whole food without a label can be a little more time-consuming, but not difficult. You can find macro information on the internet, or in a fitness tracking app. Most macro-tracking apps will be able to tell you exactly how many carbs are in your food.

The most accurate tracking method is using weight rather than volume measurements. A food scale measures in grams, the same unit your macro goals are in. Weighing your food saves you from doing any conversions. This food scale is durable, affordable, and can pair with your phone for easy tracking.

Counting carbs does not have to be stressful or strict. Give yourself a goal, but do not stress if you are off by a few grams. Consistently coming close to your goal each day will be effective. Obsessing the difference of a few grams adds a lot of stress and makes it difficult to feel excited and encouraged about your goals.


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