< Blog < Eat Well < Healthy Eating < 9 Good Carbs For Muscle Building (& When to Eat Them)

9 Good Carbs For Muscle Building (& When to Eat Them)

8 min read
a bunch of carb-rich foods like bread, grains, fruits, veggies, etc, good carbs for muscle building
David J. Sautter post Reviewer David J. Sautter post Reviewer
Verified by David J. Sautter
NASM Personal Trainer, NASM Fitness Nutrition Specialist, ACE Sports Conditioning Specialist, NASM Performance Enhancement Specialist

Table of Contents

Carbs are an essential part of a healthy diet, but they are especially important for those who want to build muscle mass. But are there good and bad carbs, and which ones are best for muscle building?

In this article, we will discuss the best carbs to eat for muscle gain, the best timing for eating carb-rich foods, and how much of this nutrient you should have daily to stimulate muscle growth.

Are Carbs Good For Building Muscle?

Despite carbs having a bad reputation among dieters, there is a very good reason why they are an essential nutrient for bodybuilders and anyone who wants to build lean muscle mass. 

Although protein is the main macronutrient for promoting muscle synthesis, carbs can significantly support this process. 

Here are some of the benefits of eating carbs for exercise:

Stable Secretion of Insulin

Insulin plays a key role in our body’s metabolism, specifically in the processing of carbohydrates and fats.

Beyond its basic function of lowering blood sugar levels, insulin is also known for its anabolic properties, promoting cell growth and proliferation. When combined with protein intake, insulin aids in the synthesis of new proteins, essentially building and repairing tissues, including muscle.

Maintaining a stable secretion of insulin throughout the day can contribute to balanced blood glucose levels, thus preventing sharp spikes and dips that can lead to energy crashes. Furthermore, its synergistic role with protein helps sustain muscle growth and repair, especially after a workout, enhancing overall fitness and physical performance. [1]

Maintaining Glycogen Stores

Glycogen is the stored form of glucose, primarily found in the liver and muscle tissues. During physical activity, glycogen is broken down into glucose, providing the body with a rapid source of energy. By keeping these glycogen stores topped up, you can ensure a consistent and efficient energy supply for your muscles during exercise.

Ensuring adequate glycogen stores is particularly crucial during long-duration or high-intensity workouts, where the body’s demand for energy is significantly increased. Inadequate glycogen stores may lead to fatigue, decreased performance, and a longer recovery time. 

Therefore, maintaining ample glycogen stores not only fuels your workouts but also improves overall endurance and performance. [2] 

Recovery Between Workouts

The period of recovery between workouts is just as important as the training itself. This is when your body repairs damaged muscle fibers, adapts to the stress of exercise and gets stronger. By promoting efficient recovery, you can ensure that you’re ready for the next training session, reducing the risk of injuries and overtraining.

Good nutrition, adequate hydration, quality sleep, and proper stretching or mobility exercises can all contribute to effective recovery.

Notably, consuming a balanced meal containing protein and carbohydrates post-workout can kick-start the recovery process by replenishing glycogen stores and aiding in muscle repair. Moreover, effective recovery can enhance both physical performance and mental sharpness, providing an overall boost to your training results. [2]

Should You Choose Simple or Complex Carbs For Muscle Building?

When it comes to carbs, you will probably hear about their categorization into complex and simple, which is based on how many units of glucose they are made up of. 

Usually, complex carbohydrates, such as pasta or rice, are believed to be generally healthier than simple carbs, which include table sugar or honey. This is because they are thought to be digested and absorbed at a slower rate and have a lower glycemic index, although this was later found not to be necessarily true. [3] 

In fact, what mainly impacts metabolic processes and body composition is the level of processing that carbohydrate-rich foods have undergone, the quantity consumed, and the glycemic load of a meal. [3] [4]

For instance, regular consumption of soda and candies can lead to poor metabolic adaptations, whilst daily consumption of fruit and starchy vegetables is essential to support your health and fitness performance. Yet, they both provide simple carbs. [5]

All in all, both complex and simple carbohydrates can be healthy and benefit muscle growth, as long as whole food sources are preferred and eaten within your dietary requirements, and the consumption of highly refined simple sugars is limited.

Best Time To Eat Carbs For Muscle Growth

The best time to eat complex carbs for building muscle is before a training session to boost performance, as well as immediately after a training session if you are planning on training again within less than 24 hours. [2] [6]

On the other hand, simple carbs sources that also contain little to no fiber, such as sports drinks or energy gels, can be consumed intra-workout if your training sessions are particularly long or intense so as to maintain your glycogen levels topped up and better sustain the physical efforts. [7]

9 Good Carbs For Muscle Building – Eat Them With Every Meal

Now that we’ve established the characteristics of healthy carbs, it is more important to know which ones are the best for supporting muscle gain.

Here are some of the best carbs to eat for muscle growth.

a male model is holding a dumbbell; list of nine good carbs for muscle building

1. Rice

Carbs/100g of cooked product: 28.5g

White rice has been classed as one of the best sources of carbs for bodybuilding, as it has a neutral flavor and is easily digested. 

If you want to also boost your fiber and micronutrient intake, then you can opt for brown rice. 

The same applies to products derived from this ingredient, such as cream of rice or rice cakes. 

2. Pasta

Carbs/100g of cooked product: 31g

Despite providing a similar amount of calories and carbs to rice, pasta is one of the best sources of carbs for bulking, thanks to its high palatability. 

Opting for brown pasta or pasta made using different types of flour, as it will significantly increase your fiber and nutrient intake.

3. Oats

Carbs/100g of cooked product: 12g

Oats are a great energy source as they’re not only packed with carbohydrates, but they also provide you with protein, fiber, and plenty of micronutrients. 

4. Potatoes

Carbs/100g of cooked product: 20.1g

Both regular and sweet potatoes are a fantastic source of carbs, as they are easily digested and absorbed. If eaten with the skin on, they are also a great source of potassium and folate.

5. Bran Flakes

Carbs/100g: 65g

Bran flakes can be a source of energy to fuel your gym session, but they also provide insoluble fiber, which can support gut health.

6. Bread

Carbs/100g: 35g (it can vary depending on bread type)

Bread comes in many forms and can be prepared with different ingredients, which means it can serve several purposes besides providing you with energy. 

For example, you can opt for granary or whole-meal bread if you also want to increase your fiber intake, or consume white bread if you need to prepare a pre-workout snack. 

7. Ripe Bananas

Carbs/100g: 23.1g

Unripe bananas contain resistant starch, which cannot be digested by the body. 

However, when this fruit ripens, it has plenty of readily available carbohydrates that can be absorbed and used to produce energy quickly. 

That’s why bananas are a great pre-workout snack that gives a boost of energy. 

8. Lentils

Carbs/100g of cooked product: 20g

Lentils are one of the best carbs for both weight loss and muscle gain, as they provide fair amounts of protein and carbohydrates, as well as fiber and a wide range of micronutrients.

9. Polenta

Carbs/100g of cooked product: 18.1g

Polenta is a porridge-style dish made from cornmeal, which has several applications in cooking thanks to its neutral taste. Besides being rich in carbohydrates, polenta is also a source of fiber and protein, making it one of the best carbs for bulking.

How Many Carbs to Eat to Build Muscle?

Some sports nutrition guidelines suggest consuming between 4 to 7 grams of carbs per kilo of body weight per day associated with resistance training to support fitness performance and muscle synthesis. 

This is then dropped to 2 to 5 grams of carbs per kilo of body weight a day when aiming to shed body fat and maintain muscle mass. [6]

For example, if you weigh 70kg, you should eat between 280 to 490g of carbohydrates a day when bulking and around 140 to 350g of carbohydrates a day when cutting. 

Alternatively, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that carbohydrate intake should cover 45 to 65% of your daily calorie requirements. [8]

Below, you can see how to calculate the number of carbs you would need to eat based on a standard 2000-calorie diet:

  • Calorie Intake: 2000
  • Carbs intake: 65%
  • Kcal/kg of carbohydrate: 4
  • 65×2000/100= 1300 calories a day from carbohydrates
  • 1300/4= 325g of carbohydrates per day

Wrapping Up

Carbs are a very important nutrient when it comes to fitness, and they are a bodybuilding staple for very good reasons. Below, you can find the key points about carbs and muscle gain:

  • High-carb foods complement protein for muscle building, as they support muscle synthesis, glycogen repletion, and recovery between training sessions.
  • Both simple and complex carbs can help you build muscle. Ideally, favor unprocessed or lightly processed carbs coming from wholefood sources, and limit the intake of ultra-processed sugary foods.
  • Intake of complex carbs before and after training can support muscle gain. Ideally, consume easily digestible carbohydrates around 2 hours prior to your training session. If you are aiming to train again within 24 hours, include carbohydrates in your post-workout meal too.
  • If you want to build muscle, you can either calculate your carbohydrate intake based on your body weight or as a percentage of your total daily calories.
  • Intake of simple carbs from sports drinks or sports gels can help maintain high energy levels and support performance during long and intense training sessions.
Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

We recommend reading