People ask me all the time what their diet should consist of in order to build muscle. Most people seem to think it’s best to cut out carbs almost entirely and to eat huge amounts of protein and that will somehow help them build muscle. The reality is that your body needs BOTH to facilitate muscle growth. To build muscle, you need to do 3 things: First, rip and tear the muscle. Second, eat enough amino acids to facilitate the growth. And third, regardless of gender, you have to have testosterone to complete the process. Here are three reasons why carbs are critical to this process:
1- As sugars (both simple and complex) enter your digestive system, your pancreas begins to release insulin. One of the functions of insulin is to cause your body to store macronutrients so that they’re readily available when you need them. In fact, having something sugary with your post-workout protein shake will help you to absorb more of the protein than not having any sugars with it at all.
2- Energy in your body is derived mostly from the compounds your body gets from carbohydrates. When you’re not eating enough carbs, your body synthesizes a carb-like compound from the protein you’re eating and from the stored energy in your adipose tissue (fat cells.) Muscles prefer carbohydrates for energy over protein 100% of the time. Yes, it’s good to decrease carbs and increase protein to burn more fat, but that’s not the goal of this post. But when it comes to muscle building, protein is an inferior form of energy. Without the carbs for energy, you won’t be able to have the energy necessary to lift heavy enough to build muscle. Also, without enough carbs, your body will use extra protein for energy instead of using it as a building block.
3- Did you know it’s possible to get enough amino acids without even eating ‘protein?’ Complimentary amino acids are in many carb-foods and when paired with other complimentary amino acids, give you a complete amino acid profile. This is how vegetarians get their daily protein intake, and if done properly a vegetarian can even be a bodybuilder- even without eating ‘traditional’ sources of protein. So despite popular belief, you can actually eat protein from high-carb sources, and still get necessary amino acids, when eaten in the right amounts.
Moral of the story: You need both carbohydrates AND protein to build muscle. Your body can’t function with just protein, and if you’re looking to build muscle, your body will not function properly without carbohydrates. After your body has the carbohydrates necessary for the energy it takes to build muscle THEN you can worry about the protein to help the muscle grow. You can’t build muscle without even just a little bit of carbs.
Rules of thumb:
For Muscle Growth:
50-60% of kilocalories should come from carbs
20-30% of kilocaries should come from proteins
and 15-20% of kilocalories should come from lipids and fats.
Once you’re ready to start trimming:
50-60% of kilocalories should come from proteins
20-30% of kilocalories should come from carbs (to put your body into a state of ketosis)
and 15-20% of your kilocalories should come from lipids and fats.