Myths about carbohydrates have swamped the diet industry since healthy eating became mainstream in the 2000s. The age-old stigma that “carbs are bad” poses a threat to the crucial role that they serve for your body’s functions.
A healthy diet balances macronutrients, including protein, fats, and of course, carbs. But not all carbs are built equal. Some carry more health benefits than others, like whole grains over sugars.
So, if you have a physique or fitness goal in mind, will carbs hinder or aid your results? Also, can the time that you consume your carbs affect how your body uses them? Keep reading to find out.
How Do Carbs Help Muscle Growth?
Right off the bat, I can tell you that carbohydrates do aid with muscle growth. After all, this is one of the essential food groups. Below, I’ll discuss just exactly how this nutrient can be so stigmatized yet so undeserving of the disrespect.
What Is the Main Purpose of Carbs?
Carbohydrates are the most important source of energy for your body. Different carbohydrates have different jobs, but as a food group, they fuel your organs, nervous system, and brain.
Most of the carbs that you consume are broken down by your body into a sugar called glucose. This goes to your body’s cells as their main source of fuel, and any unused glucose is stored in your liver and muscles as glycogen.
As I’ve stated, not all carbs have the same effects on the body. For example, dietary fiber is hard to digest. But this means that fibrous foods keep you fuller for longer and also aid the digestion of other foods. This contributes to good bowel health.
Whereas simple carbs, like white bread, rice, and refined sugars are broken down quickly to be used as energy straight away. This makes them good to consume before or even during exercise for a fast boost in energy levels that won’t leave you feeling stuffed.
Carbs for Muscle Growth
Carbs are beneficial for muscle growth because without energy to fuel your body, you wouldn’t have enough power to smash a great workout with the most power to start with. But there’s more to it.
Carbohydrates affect how your body responds to protein. Protein is crucial for building muscle as it breaks down into amino acids that repair muscle tissue and prompt the growth of new tissue. Carbs are what we call protein sparing. When your body requires energy during a workout or even during a day-to-day activity, it will look for glycogen to break down. In a diet with sufficient carbs, stored glycogen will provide the fuel your body needs. This means that muscle tissue isn’t depleted for energy instead.
Carbs don’t build muscle, as protein is the only macro with the amino acid content to do this. But carbs are necessary for ensuring you can perform to the best of your abilities, and also help you to bulk out your diet and stay in a calorie surplus.
Debunking the Myths
Some diets recommend avoiding carbs altogether, or just really decreasing your intake, both for fat loss and muscle growth. This is because carbs that aren’t burnt for energy can be stored as fat, and carbs don’t actually build muscle tissue themselves.
But cutting carbs can actually seriously impact muscle growth, as a lack of energy will negatively affect your power in training sessions. Fatigue also contributes to hunger, sometimes triggering binge eating and weight gain, which will hide muscle definition.
If you’re eating within your recommended calories, all the carbs you consume will be used for fuel and won’t contribute to fat gain. Rather than demonizing any food group, you should focus on the number of calories that you consume if you’re working toward a specific physique goal.
Aim to get up to two-thirds of your daily calories from carbs. This will mean that at least 20 percent of your calories can be made up of protein, or even more if you have serious gaining goals. To prevent your body from breaking down your hard-earned protein stores, a high-carb diet will ensure the best muscle gains.
When is the Best Time to Eat Carbs?
Scheduled eating seems to be a go-to weight loss tip constantly projected by the fitness industry. From intermittent fasting that tells you not to eat before 1 pm to Keto diets that say “don’t eat carbs after 12” and “don’t eat carbs and fats on the same plate”. We’ve heard it all, and it seems that each tip is undermined by the next.
But do these rules crossover to muscle growth? And is there any truth to them in the first place? Well, the research into this is extensive, but there seems to be a lot of misinformation out there.
In the Morning
While studies suggest that your body is better at burning carbs in the morning, this information can be misleading. We know that with the ideal muscular physique comes low body fat so that sculpt and definition aren’t concealed. But these findings don’t imply that carbs have to be consumed in the morning to not be stored as fat.
If you don’t eat carbs in the morning, your body will burn your fat stores for fuel, or the carbs that were consumed the night before. But this also doesn’t mean you should avoid carbs if you want to burn fat. Reducing your calories from any macro will have the same effect. Even if carbs are burnt faster in the early hours, you’ll still burn the same overall calories in a day regardless of when you eat them.
And when your goal is muscle growth, reducing carbs and calories is a risky game. Without enough fuel, your body will break down your protein stores before burning fat. This is why it’s impossible to achieve maximum muscle growth in a calorie deficit.
That said, eating carbs in the morning can help you feel satiated and ready for the day. Many breakfast foods like cereals, whole grains, oats and avocados are high in fiber. Eating these early in the day will more likely have you feeling full until your next meal as your body will burn them slower.
A fibrous breakfast may be the ideal thing to consume a few hours before training. But fast burning carbs will actually be better at boosting energy right before a workout.
Simple carbs are the best to consume before explosive sessions involving short and high-intensity exercise. These include sugary foods, bread, and even sweets, which are sometimes used by athletes to boost sugar levels during exercise for instant energy that won’t fill them up. This is because glucose is the best source of energy and is broken down straight away. But for longer low-intensity exercise, fat is the primary fuel source used by your body.
So what does this mean for muscle growth? Without sufficient fuel for your session, your athletic performance could be hindered. Progressive overload is the best way to build muscle. Without carbs to burn and healthy body composition to aid strength, you won’t harbor the power to perform and progress in your sessions.
Thirty minutes to an hour before a workout, try to have a sugary snack to prevent tiredness. This doesn’t have to mean refined sugars if you are watching calories. Consider a cereal bar, a toasted bagel, or even a portion of fruit to increase blood sugar levels in a clean and healthy way.
A workout will burn the carbs that you consume before training, so refueling after a session is essential. This is called glycogen resynthesis and is needed to avoid fatigue and glycogen depletion.
It’s recommended that 0.5 to 0.7 grams of carbs per pound of body weight are consumed within 30 minutes of working out. While protein after training helps in repairing torn muscle tissues, a combination of carbs and proteins triggers insulin secretion. Insulin is an anabolic hormone, meaning it promotes nutrient storage and prevents the breakdown of cells and muscle tissue. This makes it valuable in bodybuilding.
The best carbs to eat after a workout differs from those before. This is because slow-releasing energy is what your body needs after an intense workout to keep you going throughout the rest of your day. Things like sweet potatoes, rice, whole grain pasta, and oats have high carb and fiber contents so you’ll remain satiated throughout the day.
Foods like quinoa and leafy greens will also help up your protein intake while getting your carbs in. More complex foods like these that combine macronutrients take longer to digest and so will have you feeling fuller for longer. This also includes carbs that have a high-fat content, like avocados and nuts. If you’re struggling with balancing your macros, protein powders are designed to provide your body with post-workout fuel. Consider a gainer for the maximum carb quantity, which is perfect for a bulking phase.
In the Evening
Reducing carbs in the evening is another long-standing myth deployed to help dieters reduce their overall calorie intake. But eating carbs for sustained hours after a workout, especially in your evening meal, is actually great for recovery and muscle tissue repair.
Eating carbs before bed also boosts serotonin levels, which converts into melatonin and can better your night’s sleep. Lack of sleep or poor-quality rest could cause fat gain as fatigue leads to excess calorie consumption. So eating carbs in the evening could actually help you stay on track.
Studies carried out between test groups of obese males found that those who consumed carbs for lunch and dinner saw the same weight loss results as those who only ate carbs at lunch. This was carried out over a six-month period and within similar low-calorie diets.
But another vital reason for evening carbs for muscle growth is that you’ll wake up with more energy. If you’re planning an early morning workout and don’t have time to digest a filling and fibrous breakfast, then try eating a high-carb meal before bed. A big bowl of pasta for dinner could give you the fuel you need to smash your session. Be sure to still get in a pre-workout, including simple carbs for an extra burst of morning energy.
Different Kinds of Carbs
So there are benefits for your body of eating carbs at all hours of the day. The same goes for your other macronutrients. And if you want serious gains, be sure not to slack on the protein. But you may ask, what other carbs should you be trying to get into your diet? And how do they differ?
As I’ve mentioned, simple carbs burn slower. White foods like bread, rice and sugar, dairy products, and soft drinks also come under this category.
Believe it or not, fruits are actually all types of simple carbs. See, I told you carbs aren’t bad. Fruits have high sugar content, but this doesn’t mean you should steer clear of them. Rather, this explains why they make great workout fuel and are a clean way to boost blood sugar levels.
Simple carbs provide energy like their complex counterparts, but they’re less nutritionally dense in other senses. This means they have lower contents of macronutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Complex carbs get their name from the long chains of sugar molecules that they are made up of. They are found in foods like beans, whole grains, vegetables, oats, barley, potatoes, and lots of other plant-based foods.
Both simple and complex carbs are turned into glucose for energy in our blood. But this process is much slower for the latter because their long, complex chains of sugar molecules are harder for our bodies to digest.
If we workout straight after consuming large portions of complex carbs, it can lead to reflux and discomfort. But for these reasons, complex carbs are more likely to satiate our bodies for longer periods. Just allow your body enough time to digest them before doing strenuous exercise.
The majority of your carbohydrates should come from complex carbs for slower and more effective energy release as well as more nutrient consumption. Yet, naturally occurring sugars will always be better than refined and processed types so a high fruit intake is not a cause for concern.
How Many Carbs Should I Eat to Gain Muscle?
If you’re looking to gain muscle and bulk up, your carbohydrate intake should increase, just as your protein levels should. While protein is great for aiding muscle growth, a balance in macronutrients will help ensure the healthiest gaining period.
Under normal circumstances, individuals are advised to get 45 to 65 percent of their calories from carbs to maintain a healthy weight. If you consume around 2000 calories per day, that’s about 900 to 1,300 calories from carbs alone. But if you want to build muscle fast and efficiently, you’ll need to up your calories and so, up your carbs.
This may mean that your carbs consumption remains the same, while your protein intake goes up as the latter is the primary enabler of muscle synthesis. But if you put yourself in a 500 calorie surplus, this means eating anywhere from 1000 to 1700 calories of carbs a day of a 2500 calorie diet. For fast gaining, you may even want to increase this and readjust your fat intake accordingly.
So what do this many carbs look like? As carbs are filling, spreading them out across five or six meals instead of three may make them easier to consume in high volumes. Try serving yourself a fist or two-sized portion of grains, rice, pasta, or potatoes with every meal and guarantee good micronutrient levels by aiming for a colorful plate. Also, don’t hold back on green vegetables, which can be eaten in large quantities at the expense of minimal calories.
Why Athletes Consume a Large Amount of Carbs
If athletes don’t consume enough carbs, their performance is likely to suffer as a result. Without enough energy, athletes can’t perform to their maximum capacities.
Carbs are not just fuel for muscles. They also fuel the brain and aid in concentration. Athletes will eat high-carb meals during their training sessions, the night before big events, and also on the day of the sporting activity.
Some long-duration sports like marathons and CrossFit events require athletes to eat while they’re working out. This is where simple carbs come in handy as they can be digested quickly and broken down for quick energy outputs.
Athletes also have to train on consecutive days with little rest. Carbohydrates will help to replenish athletes’ bodies and allow them to train multiple days in a row without excessive soreness and fatigue.
Protein Vs Carbs for Muscle Growth
Protein is the only macro that actually aids muscle growth, but protein and carbs should be enjoyed alongside each other for the best results. Eating protein after your workout will provide the essential amino acids needed for building new muscle tissue. But sufficient carbs help insulin to be released in this process, which also repairs cells and helps create new ones.
Some studies suggest that carbs slow the breakdown of protein after a workout. This actually has a positive effect on muscle growth. But other studies imply that carbs have little impact on the growth of actual muscle tissue compared to when protein is consumed on its own after a workout.
Before a workout, carbs are great for energy levels and fuel, but protein will also provide more nutrients. Muscles are made from protein, so like carbs, they should be consumed with every meal, not just following a workout.
Still, eating healthy complex carbs and various nutritionally dense protein sources proves more important for muscle growth and recovery than any time-scheduled eating.
Frequently Asked Question about Best Time to Eat Carbs for Muscle Growth
To gain muscle, what are the best carbs to eat?
Carbs that will boost energy levels and improve training sessions will aid the formulation of muscle growth right at the source. But for building and sustaining muscle, the best carbs include those with high protein content like whole grains that you can find in pasta, or quinoa and brown rice that can be enjoyed on the side of any savory meal.
Can carbs help you bulk up?
Carbs themselves won’t make you bulk up. Rather, eating in a calorie surplus will prompt weight gain. If you’re trying to bulk, then go ahead and increase your carbs. They can be easier to eat in excess than other high-calorie foods like fatty ones, especially simple carbs that break down quickly. But be strategic and eat your carbs throughout the day to avoid filling up too quickly at each meal.
Can I eat four whole eggs a day?
There is no evidence to suggest that eating four eggs a day will harm the body. Eggs are a great vegetarian source of healthy fats, protein, and carbs as well. This makes them a filling and nutritious addition to any meal. That said, they pack about 80 calories each. Try separating your yolks from your whites to limit your macronutrient consumption. Egg whites carry a more concentrated protein content, making them best for muscle growth.
A Final Word From Energetic Lifestyle
As I hope I’ve made clear, there’s no limit to the time of day that you should consume carbs. Time-scheduled dieting will only lead to unhealthy habits that revolve around restriction and toxic diet culture. As long as you’re within your calories for your specific lifestyle goals, carbs should be enjoyed plentifully and with every single meal.