How important are carbs for building muscle? Very important, but not as important as you would think. If you read my article about the importance of protein for muscle growth, you are going to find a similar sentiment here.
Carbs are only important if you are eating enough calories to build muscle. If you are not eating enough calories, you are therefore in a caloric deficit. And as we all know, you cannot build muscle in a caloric deficit.
The fitness industry is riddled with so much misinformation, that it can be dizzying trying to decipher what is real and what is false. Fortunately, muscle building is very straight forward, and all you have to do is understand some basic principles in order to build muscle.
In this article, we are going to explore the importance of carbs for building muscle, and learn tips that you can take home and apply to your life.
Before we get started, I urge you to download our app All Workouts: Personal Trainer (iOS | Google Play). We have FREE workout plans, the ability to create your own custom workout plans, HIIT workouts, and much more!
Carbs are not the enemy
The fitness industry is designed for weight loss. And the sooner that you realize that, the better off you will be. The majority of things that you hear about fitness is going to be from a perspective of losing weight.
Since we want to build muscle, of course we want to ignore all of the weight loss tips that we see. One of those common misconceptions is that carbs are the enemy. Quite the opposite. Carbs are an incredible fueling component to your muscle building journey.
In fact, what is the enemy is total calories. The reason that people do not lose weight is because they are eating at a caloric surplus. Which is just a fancy term for eating too much. People who struggle to put on muscle are most likely eating at a caloric deficit without knowing it. Caloric deficit just means that they aren’t eating enough food.
In my article titled best macronutrient ratio for muscle gain, I include a pie chart that shows your ideal macronutrient ratio for building muscle. Most are surprised to find out that the recommended allocation of carbs to your diet when building muscle is 50% of your total calories.
Most are surprised by this because they have had it drilled into their head for years that carbs are bad. No, carbs are good if used properly.
I remember one time before I learned how to build muscle, I caught wind that the keto diet was the best way to get shredded. For those that don’t know, the keto diet essentially just eliminates carbs and sugars.
I thought that the keto diet would get me jacked. I didn’t get jacked. In fact, I lost weight.
Overall calorie intake trumps carbs for building muscle
No, I am not talking about the former president Trump. I am talking about the fact that carbohydrate allocation in your diet means nothing if you are not eating enough calories.
Before you even think about gaining muscle or losing weight, you first must understand the concept of caloric deficits and caloric surpluses. The best place to start is by learning how to calculate your maintenance calories.
Once you calculate your maintenance calories, you can now determine where you stand and what you need to eat. One thing that I tell people all the time is that every single person has a different maintenance calorie number. This is why there is no blanket solution for everyone and their fitness goals.
Personally, my maintenance calorie goal is around 3,100 calories per day. This is actually very high, and most people get jealous when they find out that I can eat a ton of calories with no repercussions.
This also means that I need to eat over that amount if I want to build muscle. This goes for anyone. When you determine your maintenance calorie number, you must eat OVER that number everyday in order to build muscle. To lose weight, you must stay under.
I prefer to stay at around 500 calories over my maintenance per day. This will ensure that I don’t overdo it, and gain muscle at a steady pace.
If you thought that my maintenance number of 3,100 calories per day was a lot, I have a cousin whose maintenance goal is 5,000 calories per day. This is what I mean when I say that every single person is different.
Just remember, it doesn’t matter if you are eating the most perfect macro ratio, if you aren’t eating enough calories, you won’t build muscle.
Bringing it together
We now know that carbs don’t really matter all that much UNLESS you are eating at a caloric surplus. So what does that mean for our question? How important are carbs for building muscle?
All in all, the best thing that you should focus on in total calories, and being in a caloric surplus. Then you can start worrying about your carb intake.
You will not gain any weight without being in a caloric surplus, so that should be the first thing that you focus on. Then you can start getting into your macros. I mentioned this briefly in the first section of this article.
Macros are your total distribution of calories in a given day. Macro is just a shortened term for the macronutrient ratio. There are 3 different macronutrients. Fats, Carbs, and Protein.
The absolute best ratio for building muscle is 50% carbs, 20% fats, and 30% protein. This is the ratio that helped me put on over 20 pounds of muscle in my first year of using it. Of course, this was after I started eating at a caloric surplus.
Use an app like MyFitnessPal to track your macros and overall calories. It will be way easier than counting manually.
Steps for making sure you are building muscle
By now, you are understanding the basics of muscle building, and how important carbs are for muscle building.
Before we go any farther, let me give you a step by step checklist that we can go over in order to make sure that we are on the path to building muscle:
- Make sure that you are eating at a caloric deficit
- Do weight training 3-4 times per week
- Dial in your macronutrient ratio
- Do all of this consistently over an extended period of time
This seems pretty simple right? I wish that somebody would have given me this information when I started. Because I spent entirely too much time messing around at the gym with no direction.
If you don’t know how to get started with the working out portion, I recommend checking out our beginner bodybuilding routine for mass. For better tracking and direction, our app might be a better option for you.
Main Point: How important are carbs for building muscle?
We have said it in more ways than one. How important are carbs for building muscle? They are important, but ONLY if you are eating at a caloric surplus. Remember that you will not build muscle while in a caloric deficit. It is that simple.
I wish that somebody had given me this simple blueprint in my youth. I was so scrawny that girls in high school would laugh at me when I expressed interest in them. A girl once said “ew, there is no way I would date him. He is way too skinny.”
Anyways, I am a lot more confident now with my body, and I am so happy that I discovered the secret to building muscle. The secret is that there is no secret. It takes dedication overtime in order to build the perfect body.
If you combine nutrition (caloric surplus) with weight training, and extend that over time, your body will have no choice but to build muscle.
Don’t fall for the quick fixes that the fitness industry is trying to sell you. Put in the work, learn about your body, and make the changes. It is that simple. Of course, it is not easy to stay dedicated. But if you can build powerful habits, you will come out on top.