Building muscle requires a diligent effort of strength training (such as weightlifting) and dialling in your diet. And while eating plenty of protein is important — protein is the building block of muscle and helps build and repair tissue — there's a macronutrient that's often overlooked when it comes to making muscle gains: carbohydrates.
Many fitness enthusiasts think you have to eliminate carbs altogether or eat a super low-carb diet to put on muscle, but the opposite is true. In fact, carbs are super important to fuel not just your mind and energy levels, but also the building up of muscle tissue in your body. Here's why.
Why You Need Carbs to Build Muscle
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how carbs impact muscle growth, it's important to note that carbs are the preferred source of energy in your body. So when your body needs energy, say, for an intense workout, it taps into its glycogen stores (carbs/sugar are converted to glucose, and your body burns it first as an energy source). All that being said, eating carbs keeps you energized and will fuel your rigorous workouts. If you're spending more time in the gym to build muscle, you'll want this energy.
"Having low levels of muscle glycogen, which would arise from a diet that is low in carbohydrates, would negatively affect performance for high-intensity exercise," registered dietitian and personal trainer Jim White, RDN, ACSM, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios, told POPSUGAR.
But there's also a biological element at play when you eat carbs for muscle. Jim recommends a high-carbohydrate diet for muscle growth since carbs help your body process protein for muscle growth. "Carbohydrates have a sparing effect for protein," Jim explained, which means your body processes protein better if carbs are available. He went on to explain that when you eat in an extreme carb restriction over an extended period of time, your muscles don't reap the benefits of the protein you're eating. Especially after you exercise, carbs are important for muscle repair and renewal in a process called "muscle glycogen resynthesis."
How Many Carbs You Should Eat to Build Muscle
Jim recommends a high-carb diet for people looking to build muscle. If you're counting macros, he said to start at about 55 percent carbs, 25 percent protein, and 20 percent fat. Of course, these amounts may need to be adjusted based on your goals and how your body responds. To find your exact target to build muscle, meet with a sports dietitian who can put together an exact macro plan for you.