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Do You Need Carbs to Build Muscle?

Carbs have grown a reputation recently of being unnecessary and sometimes even evil. Eat too much carbs and your body easily turns them into fat (once your glycogen stores are filled). But carbs are also the body’s go-to for quick energy, when they are available. The trick is to get enough carbs to fuel your body, but not overdo it to the point that these carbs are stored as fat. So what is the ideal amount of carbs to eat? And do we NEED carbs to put on muscle.

There is certainly a substratum of highly out of shape, overweight people that can put on muscle without the use of any carbs. Their body’s can obtain energy so easily from excess fat stores, and their muscles are so underdeveloped that simply by working out and eating some protein, they will be able to put on muscle. This, however, is not true for 99% of people reading this article. Most of us, particularly those reading diet and fitness articles, have a certain level of fitness and muscular development that make carb-free muscle gain nearly impossible. Why is this? Carbs are protein sparing. That is, when our muscles are supplied with glycogen from carbs, this is where our body easily pulls energy from. If we have empty glycogen stores, we are forced to pull from bodyfat and muscle, and this doesn’t come in any particular order. We will pull from both to meet our energy demands. This is a good way to lose fat, but it comes at the cost of losing some muscle as well. Luckily, we can achieve a happy medium by adding in an adequate amount of carbs with the goal that we will pull from both glycogen (carb) stores as well as fat stores.

So what’s the ideal amount of carbs to eat and when? Well, as you guessed, this varies from person to person, depending on age, metabolism, fitness level, amount of muscle currently, as well as energy expenditure. If you are going to run a marathon, its best you eat as much carbs as possible before you run as you are going to burn through it all on your run. For typical workouts though, ie weight training, normal cardio exercises etc, a decent but not overwhelming amount of carbs an hour or two preworkout will suffice. That is in the range of 50-150 grams per person. His will give you energy to perform well on your workout, while still getting the benefits of some fat loss and high performance workout, which we need to put on muscle and achieve a high level of fitness.

With that said, we don’t need carbs nearly as much as more sedentary times, like night time and times when we are sitting around the office or house. For these times, our body has a much lower energy demand and can pull energy more easily from bodyfat. A small amount of carbs is ideal for a lean muscular body at this point in the range of 30-80 grams every 3-4 hours. To lose even more body fat at the slight risk of pulling a small amount from muscle, you could also go lower on carbs depending what your goals are.

Overall, carbs are one of our best tools for building muscle. They go hand in hand with protein as they allow the body to use the protein to build muscle as opposed to using it to fuel our body, Ultimately, we need a calorie surplus to put on muscle, but with a large surplus we will certainly add fat. Add carbs preworkout in larger amounts and keep carbs low but available at other times of the day.


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