If you want to build more lean muscle mass, you are going to have to make sure you are eating enough carbohydrates on a daily basis. And, for the vast majority of you that means plenty of carbohydrates.
One of the top mistakes that some people make in a world where low carb dieting is all the rage and low carb bulking has started to gain attention is removing their carbohydrates from their muscle building plan.
While this may work for a very select few who are incredibly insulin resistant, it is not going to be the ideal way for most people to go about their muscle building diet. In fact, if you’re eating enough carbohydrates you can actually make negative muscle building gains (getting weaker and smaller).
Carbohydrates play an extremely important role in the process of building muscle and must be consumed.
Let’s look at the many different roles carbohydrates have in the process so you can get straight why eating them is an absolute must – no negotiation.
The number one role that carbohydrates have is providing energy. Weight lifting is a very intense form of exercise and one that will rely exclusively on carbohydrates as a fuel source (along with ATP, which is why many of those building muscle supplements include creatine phosphate, the precursor to ATP).
If you are trying to weight lift on just dietary fat as a fuel source, the intensity of your workout session is going to plummet extremely rapidly. Less intensity with your workout session means a lower level of progress simply because you are not working as hard as you could be.
Less work (less intensity ) means less muscle output which means less damage. This of course means less rebuilding which ultimately leads to unsatisfactory muscle growth.
When it comes to rebuilding and growing stronger, carbohydrates are the number one star in this amazing process. When you take in a large amount of carbohydrates after an intense training session, you are giving your body the raw materials it needs to re-saturate muscle glycogen stores, which is the storage form of carbohydrates in the muscle tissues that will fuel your next workout session. It’s been noted in the European Journal of Sports Science that combing carbohydrates with protein after exhaustive exercise will enhance protein balance and optimize glycogen repletion in the body.
Why is this so important?
After an intense weight training session, the body is depleted of essential nutrients, in particular its glycogen stores. The body is essentially broken down and is in desperate need of energy to start the recovery and rebuilding process. The sooner you can get energy into your body the faster the recover process. The faster you can recover from your intense weight training sessions, the faster you can build muscle.
We all know glycogen is the by-product of carbohydrate consumption and since it’s the body’s number one fuel source it is important to understand that you need a lot of carbohydrates after a workout session.
We’ve all been told to have a protein drink after working out but when it comes to building muscle, it’s just as important, if not more so to immediately replenish glycogen stores. You simply cannot start the recovery process without the necessary energy.
So skip over these carbohydrates and your recovery will be prolonged and you won’t be feeling as strong and energized for your next workout as you could be.
Moving along, another thing that carbohydrates do in the process of building muscle is help to increase muscle fullness and keep your muscles hydrated.
Each gram of carbohydrates you store in the muscle will also store along with it 4 grams of water, so this is what can help give you that full and very muscular appearance as you continue on with your training.
This is also why if you’ve ever had a few days where you weren’t eating many carbohydrates; you started to notice you were looking smaller and relatively ‘flat’. Without the necessary carbohydrates, water will be excreted from your muscles giving your that “flat” look. This is why professional athletes “carb up” prior to major competitions.
While the degree of muscle fullness you experience doesn’t directly influence your muscle mass gains, having more water in the muscle can help to improve nutrient transport and assist with the repair and regeneration process.
That will have an impact on your results.
Moving along, the third reason why carbohydrates are critical to success is because they are the nutrient that will have the greatest impact on insulin release.
While you don’t want a sky high insulin release all day long as that could lead to body fat gain, when you are just coming out of a workout session, a good dose of insulin in your system is extremely beneficial as it’s one of the most powerful anabolic hormones in the body – next to testosterone. The only way you are going to get this insulin release is by eating a significant amount of carbohydrates. This is why it is so important that you ingest fast acting carbohydrates immediately after an intense workout session. Insulin will shuttle all necessary nutrients into the body in order to kick start the recovery process.
Those who are using lower carb diets are not going to release much insulin at all and in fact, may release more of the opposite hormone – cortisol, which impedes muscle growth as it causes tissue breakdown to occur.
Finally, the last role that carbohydrates will have in the process of muscle building is the fact that they supply your body with important nutrients that you need for optimal results.
Carbohydrates are rich in B vitamins for instance, which help your body effectively utilize all the nutrients you consume including proteins and dietary fats. Additionally, vitamin E, which is found in foods such as spinach, kiwifruit, mango, tomatoes, and broccoli is proven to help combat the oxidative impacts of exercise on the body, as noted in a study published by the American Journal of Physiology.
Carbohydrates are also going to supply you with a high amount of antioxidants if you eat the right ones (fruits and vegetables are especially good sources), which can combat the process of free radical damage to the body. Free radicals have a negative impact on your immune system and on your ability to quickly recover from your workouts.
Without carbohydrates in your diet, your health would begin to suffer and if you are in poor health, the goal of muscle building is just not going to be a priority for the body.
So there you have some of the many important reasons why carbohydrates must be consumed if your goal is to build lean muscle mass. Some individuals do find they do better eating a diet that’s fairly balanced in carbohydrates and dietary fats as they find they function very well on fat energy as well, but you should never completely remove carbohydrates.
Muscle building diets that contain fewer than 150 grams of carbohydrates per day will almost always be sub-optimal and most people will do better with 200-500 grams per day depending on their target calorie intake. Of course, this will depend on your current body weight and activity levels.
Building muscle requires a lot of energy. Without the necessary energy, your workouts are going to suffer and more importantly so will your muscle building gains. Remember, avoid negative muscle building gains and provide your body with the energy it needs to get strong and build.
All the best,
Blake has been weight lifting for about 28 years now. He's 45 years of age and started seriously training when he was 18 years old.
Blake is the founder of Building-Muscle101.com, a successful fitness website that has been around for more than 15 years.