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Do you need carbohydrates to build muscle?

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  • Can you build muscle with carbohydrates?
  • Which carbohydrates are good for building muscle?
  • Carbohydrates before or after training?
  • More carbohydrates in the mass phase?
  • How many carbohydrates to build muscle?
  • Conclusion: Carbohydrate requirements are individual

Can you build muscle with carbohydrates?

No matter what! Many people think they only need protein to build muscle, but that’s only half the truth. Proteins ensure that the muscle fibers thicken and your muscles can “grow”. But if you don’t have the energy for training, a high protein intake alone won’t do you any good.

And that’s where carbohydrates come into play: Carbohydrates are the number 1 source of energy for your body and are therefore the ideal fuel for building muscle.

After eating, carbohydrates (in English = carbs) are first broken down into their components (simple sugars) and then stored in so-called glycogen stores, including in the muscle cells. When you exercise, your energy reserves are mobilized (as long as you have filled your stores with carbohydrates in advance) and you can go full throttle in the gym.

Which carbohydrates are good for building muscle?

When it comes to carbs, you first have to differentiate between short-chain and long-chain carbohydrates. According to studies, both have their advantages and disadvantages that you can take advantage of while building muscle. What you need to understand in advance: Carbohydrates, regardless of type, ultimately consist of individual sugar building blocks that are connected in “chains”. And the body breaks down these chains until the smallest building block (simple sugar such as glucose) is usable.

a) Short-chain carbohydrates

Short-chain carbohydrates provide quick energy because they have a simple structure (they consist of two simple sugars) and therefore enter the blood quickly. This also causes your blood sugar and insulin levels to rise rapidly. They are therefore generally considered the “bad carbs” because, in addition to the energy boost, you hardly feel any satiety effect and you quickly tend to have cravings again after eating. Table sugar, sweets and white flour products (rolls, cakes) are prime examples of the bad boys among carbs.

But fast carbohydrates are also available in natural form: bananas, rice cakes with honey or dried fruits make sense as a small pre-workout snack for 30 to 60 minutes for exactly this reason: they provide energy shortly before training without being heavy in the stomach.

And even after exercise, white rice or pasta is a top source of carbs to quickly replenish your empty glycogen stores.

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Perfect trio after training

Research shows that carbohydrate-rich foods that are easily digestible and quickly absorbed are best for glycogen resynthesis, i.e. replenishing your glycogen stores.

b) Long chain carbohydrates

Long-chain carbohydrates are much more complex in their structure (multiple sugars = chain of several simple sugars) and must first be broken down in the body so that they can enter the blood and provide energy. This in turn has its advantages, because blood sugar and insulin levels only rise slowly, you are supplied with energy over a longer period of time and also stay full longer.

This is also due to the higher fiber content of complex carbohydrate sources, such as legumes, brown rice, whole grain pasta – or bread or oatmeal.

Carbohydrates before or after training?

You should consume carbohydrates both before and after training. The last big meal before training should be 2 to 3 hours ago and contain a carb source of your choice that replenishes your glycogen stores well before training and ensures that you don’t become exhausted on the weight bench.

After the gym, you can first have a protein shake to supply your muscles with protein building blocks. Around 2 hours later it’s time for the post-workout meal to replenish your empty glycogen stores. This main meal should ideally consist of plenty of carbohydrates (pasta, rice, sweet potatoes or potatoes), a high-quality protein source (poultry, eggs or tofu), vegetables and of course a little fat.

According to studies, the timing of food intake and the ratio of protein and carbohydrates can promote regeneration, increase muscle protein synthesis (i.e. muscle building) and even improve mood. Around 60 percent of the energy you give your body after your workout should consist of carbs in order to quickly replenish your energy stores after training.

These are the best carbohydrate sources for your post-workout meal:

  • Potatoes & sweet potatoes
  • Reis
  • Quinoa
  • millet
  • Couscous
  • Orzo
  • Pasta and whole wheat pasta
  • Legumes, such as kidney beans or chickpeas

If you avoid carbs after exercise (or starve yourself completely), you activate what is known as gluconeogenesis. Through this metabolic process, your body tries to produce new glucose itself out of necessity, for example with the help of amino acids (smallest protein building blocks) from your muscles. This can lead to muscle loss in the long term because your muscles lack protein.

More carbohydrates in the mass phase?

If you want to build muscle, you can first do a mass phase followed by a definition phase (dirty bulk). The goal of a classic mass phase is to build as much mass as possible using a relatively large calorie surplus of 250 to 500 calories. So you can eat more than you consume for a while – and gain weight accordingly. This can be achieved easily with a diet rich in carbohydrates and protein with healthy sources of fat.

Rice, pasta or legumes provide lots of carbohydrates and should be your preferred source of calories and energy. In the whole-grain version as brown rice and whole-grain pasta, these foods also contain plenty of fiber, which, according to studies, keeps you full for a long time, regulates your blood sugar level and keeps your intestines healthy. This is how your intestines influence your athletic performance.

Brown rice provides plenty of carbs and filling fiber

Of course, you could – purely theoretically – eat a lot of fatty junk food to get your calories. But the mass phase shouldn’t be an excuse to hit hard without any inhibitions. In the subsequent definition phase, it will be all the more difficult for you to go back into a calorie deficit and reduce your fat deposits. With our food coaching for perfect muscle definition.

How many carbohydrates to build muscle?

Unfortunately, this cannot be said across the board and varies from person to person. The amount of carbs you should consume every day depends, for example, on age, gender and of course your training intensity.

But your metabolism also plays a crucial role: As a hard gainer who has difficulty gaining mass, you can usually consume a lot of carbohydrates without putting on fat. Softgainers, on the other hand, have a rather sluggish, slow metabolism and tend to put on fat quickly. You have to be a little more stingy with the carbohydrates.

Our recommendations for the daily amount of macros (carbohydrates, protein and fat) with the aim of building muscle are as follows:

  • Protein: 1.5 to 2 grams per kilogram of body weight
  • Fett: 0.8 fat per kilogram of body weight
  • Carbs: The rest of your calorie needs can be covered with carbohydrates
Macronutrients recommendations Example 85 kg (3000 kcal)
protein 1.5 – 2 g per kg/body weight 127 – 170 g protein per day
Fett 0.8 g per kg/body weight 68g fat per day
carbohydrates replenish remaining calories 425 g pro Tag

We first converted the protein and fat intake into the corresponding calorie content, then determined the remaining daily calories and converted them into carbohydrates: 425 grams of carbs are therefore allowed for our example athlete.

Conclusion: Carbohydrate requirements are individual

If you finally want to build muscle effectively, you should coordinate training and nutrition. Carbohydrates ensure that your energy stores are full before and after training. If your protein intake is also ensured, nothing stands in the way of impressive muscle growth.

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