Muscle growth is a lengthy, time-consuming process that requires a combination of hard training with adequate rest and recovery. While you create the stimulus for muscle growth in the gym, the actual process of growth occurs during rest. This process of growth requires a well-balanced diet, rich in carbohydrates, fats and protein.
While most gym-goers are aware of the anabolic effects of a high protein diet, many myths and fads surround the two other macronutrients. Adequate fat intake is essential for testosterone production and bodily functions, which directly affects muscle hypertrophy and strength gain.
Importance of Carbohydrates in Muscle Gain
1) Primary Source of Energy
Carbohydrates are even more important for muscle gain, being the primary source of fuel for the brain and body.
They're broken down into glucose, which are later converted into adenosine triphosphate(ATP), which is also known as the energy currency of the cell. ATP provides the energy that drives a variety of metabolic processes, including muscle contraction, intracellular signalling, DNA and protein synthesis.
More importantly, carbs are stored as glycogen. When the body requires a sudden burst of energy, glycogen is broken down to release glucose into the bloodstream. If glycogen stores are depleted, it can drastically affect workouts by reducing your work capacity and strength output. That's why bodybuilders and powerlifters consume a small pre-workout meal before their training sessions to fuel their workouts.
2) Impacts Muscle Recovery and Protein Metabolism
Although low-carb diets have gained popularity over the years, they may be detrimental to people who're interested in building muscle.
Not only do they affect muscle recovery, they also negatively impact protein metabolism and sleep. Studies also show that simultaneous ingestion of carbohydrates along with protein stimulates muscle protein anabolism by increasing muscle protein synthesis.
Simple v/s Complex Carbohydrates
It's important to consume complex carbohydrates rather than simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates such as sugary drinks and snacks may provide a short-term boost in energy but also activate the insulin pathway, leading to an eventual crash and burn in energy levels.
However, complex carbohydrates are high in fiber and slow digesting. They do not spike blood insulin like simple carbohydrates; instead they keep blood glucose levels stable and release energy over a larger period. Therefore, complex carbohydrates are better for increased muscle gain, endurance, strength and optimal body composition.
Top High Carb Sources for Muscle Gain
Here's a look at six such sources:
1) Sweet Potato (Best High Carb Source)
Sweet potatoes are a staple in most bodybuilders' diets. They contain naturally occurring sugars and are filled with micronutrients and dietary fiber. They have a lower Glycemic Index (GI), which is a measurement of how rapidly a food will elevate your blood sugar levels.
One cup serving of sweet potatoes contains about eight grams of fiber, which helps in feeling fuller, controlling hunger and maintaining healthy digestion. It's also a rich source of potassium, vitamin B6, beta carotene, vitamin C and anti-oxidants.
3.5 ounces (100 grams) of raw sweet potatoes contains 86 calories, which includes 20 grams of carbs, 1.6 grams of protein and 0.1 grams of fat.
2) Brown Rice
Although brown and white rice are both popular bodybuilding foods, brown rice boasts of a more complete nutritional profile. While white rice causes a bigger insulin spike due to its low fiber and fat content, consuming brown rice results in a sustained, slow insulin release.
Brown rice contains 3.5 times the dietary fiber compared to white rice and contains more protein and fat. One cup of brown rice contains 216 calories, including 44 grams of carbs, five grams of protein and 1.8 grams of fat.
It's exceptionally high in managanese, with just one cup of rice fulfilling 88% of Recommended Daily Intake (RDI). Brown rice is also a rich source of folate, riboflavin (Vitamin B2), potassium, selenium, calcium and anti-oxidants.
Oats are a popular and versatile high carb source that have been used as a breakfast food by athletes and bodybuilders since the '70s. They are an amazing source of complex carbohydrates and soluble fiber.
One cup (81 grams) of raw oats packs a whopping 37 calories, including 55 grams of carbs, 11 grams of protein, five grams of fat and eight grams of fiber. They're rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals, including manganese, phosphorus, copper, iron, selenium, magnesium, and zinc.
Other health benefits of oats include:
- Lowering cholesterol levels
- Blood sugar control, preventing type 2 diabetes
- Boost fullness and satiety
- Largely gluten free, helpful in celiac disease
- Boost immunity
Unlike most other fruits, bananas are comprised of a resistant starch that works similar to dietary fiber. That makes them a slow-digesting and filling food, whcih helps keep away hunger pangs and achieve calorie targets.
Bananas are among the best high carb pre-workout foods, with one medium-sized banana containing 90 calories, including 23 grams of carbs, 12.2 grams of sugar, 1.1 grams of protein and 0.3 grams of fat. The carbohydrate composition of bananas may change drastically during ripening.
They're a rich source of potassium, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, and magnesium. It also contains many bioactive plant compounds, including dopamine and catechin.
Quinoa is one of the few plant-based complex carbohydrates that's regarded as a complete protein, as it contains all the essential amino acids. It's a pseudocereal grain, which means it's essentially a seed that's cooked and eaten like a grain.
One cup (185 grams) of cooked quinoa contains 222 calories, including 39 grams of carbs, eight grams of protein, 3.5 grams of fat and five grams of dietary fiber. Quinoa is naturally gluten-free and rich in antioxidants. They're a good source of important nutrients, including folate, magnesium, zinc, iron, and phosphorus.
6) Whole-Grain Pasta
As long as you're putting in hard work in the gym and staying close to your macros for the day, pasta can be a filling and tasty high carb meal for fitness enthusiasts.
One cup of cooked, whole-wheat pasta contains 174 calories, 37 grams of carbs, 7.5 grams of protein, six grams of fiber and 0.8 grams of fat. It's abundant in managanese, with one serving providing 97% of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI). It's also a rich source of selenium, copper, magnesium, thiamine, and folate.
Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for various physical and mental activities. They are extremely crucial in muscle hypertrophy, endurance, and recovery. It's important to judiciously use high carb foods with proper planning to increase muscle protein synthesis, and thereby increase muscle gain.