When you're trying to build muscle, or you have specific goals like growing bigger, stronger glutes then your main priority should be strength training and nutrition. Nailing your hip thrusts and squatting heavy will set you on the right path to better lower body gains, but if you don't prioritize your nutrition then you're going to be missing out on better results! The foods you eat provide you with energy while also playing a major role in muscle recovery and muscle building. Despite popular belief, protein isn't the only macronutrient that is necessary for muscle building and recovery, carbohydrates also play an important role...
Here's the good news – you don't need to go on a low-carb diet to lose fat. In fact, you're better off incorporating enough healthy carbs to sustain better muscle building and fat loss results. The bad news is that not many people understand what carbs are good and which are bad for muscle-building and weight loss results. But don't worry, we're going to tell you all about what healthy carbs are, which ones to avoid, and which ones are the best for muscle growth!
Good vs Bad Carbs
There are two types of carbohydrates – simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are broken down and digested easily to be used as a quick source of energy. These carbs aren't all bad, but most are processed, don't contain fiber, and lack other essential micronutrients. So, it's best to keep them to a minimum. Complex carbohydrates on the other hand take longer to break down in the body due to being high in fiber, starch, and other nutrients. Complex carbs result in consistent glucose release, and they are rich in fiber which keeps you satiated and energized through the day.
Complex carbohydrates are clearly the healthier of the two, but there are a few healthy simple carbs (fruits, leafy greens) that could be beneficial for your training and health. Knowing what good carbs to eat will help take your training to the next level – just like our UPPPER Gear 😉
Best Carbs for Muscle Growth
Not eating enough carbs can lead to your glycogen stores being depleted thus leading to your body breaking down protein for fuel, less efficient workouts due to lower energy levels, and less muscle-building gains! Overconsuming the wrong carbs can lead to the same result, so prioritize the following healthy carbs in your diet to help maximize your hard, sweaty training sessions!
Bananas are an interesting fruit... Most, if not all, fruits are simple carbs that are digested quickly. Bananas, on the other hand, are made of a complex structure (water, fat, protein, fiber) and simple sugars and starches. They are technically classified as resistant starch which works similarly to dietary fiber. This gives bananas their digestive health benefits, and with the added benefits of being rich in potassium and other vitamins, your body needs for better overall health. And in case you didn't know, potassium is an essential macromineral that is good for muscle recovery, making banana one of the best muscle recovery foods to eat.
A medium banana contains 27 grams of carbs, 3 grams of fiber, and 14 grams of naturally occurring sugar. A good way to incorporate this food into your diet is by eating them an hour or so before your workout! They are still an easily digestible carb, so they'll help give you a boost of energy. You can also add it into your post-workout whey protein shake to help replenish your glycogen stores after high-intensity training.
Although white rice shares a similar carb count as brown rice (45 grams of carbs per cup), they are vastly different when it comes to their nutrients. White rice, a simple carbohydrate, is heavily processed thus stripping out most of its nutrients and triggering a blood sugar spike. However, brown rice is a complex carb that contains fiber and other nutrients that allow for a low insulin release giving you longer-lasting energy. This is ideal for exercise performance, and also for anyone trying to achieve weight loss.
A good way to incorporate brown rice into your meals is by having it during lunch. Keep things simple and use it as a carb-loaded side next to your choice of high-protein, and green vegetables. Or get creative and create your own stir-fry, make it vegan by using tofu! Our body's metabolisms seem to work better during the daytime making it an optimal time to eat a complex carb like brown rice. Plus, it's extra beneficial for those who work out in the evenings!
This is a must-have in your pantry! Legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) are a good source of two essential macros for muscle-building – carbs and protein. A cup of beans can run anywhere between 12-15 grams of protein, plus they have the added benefit of being complex. This means that legumes are rich in fiber, while also being high in other important nutrients like magnesium, phosphorus, and iron.
Like with brown rice, legumes are best during the daytime! Spruce up your lunch by adding cooked chickpeas to your salad, or having split peas as your veggie side, or making a lentil soup. There are so many different ways to incorporate legumes into your diet, figure out which you like best because you definitely don't want to miss out on the high-carb and high-protein content that is optimal for muscle gain.
Oats are a whole-grain and complex carb that is an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and soluble fiber. Plus, 100 grams of raw oats can contain up to 16 grams of protein! Essentially, oats can help with weight loss due to the high soluble fiber which helps to suppress appetite and slow digestion, but it can also promote better muscle growth due to it containing a good amount of protein.
Unfortunately, not all oats are created equal. Avoid processed oats, meaning any instant packet oatmeals, and stick to raw whole-grain oats. If you want a breakfast that will keep you full, satisfied, and energized, then make whole-grain oatmeal using dairy-free milk or water, and using natural sweeteners you like. You can try cinnamon, honey, bananas, strawberries, coconut shavings, and so much more! If oatmeals are not your thing, make overnight oats or baked oat bars paired with healthy ingredients.
Quinoa was once a trendy superfood, but for good reason. This is one of the only plant-based complex carbs that is considered a complete protein. Meaning it has all the essential amino acids needed to help with your bulking goals! It also contains other micronutrients like manganese, magnesium, and iron, and a high-fiber content that is ideal for fat loss. It truly is a powerhouse!
Incorporate quinoa into your lunch or dinner by adding it to your salads, or cooking it and using it as a replacement for rice. You can even use it for breakfast and make a sweet, healthy porridge if you really want to shake things up!
Potatoes of any kind are great, but most actually have a high glycemic index (GI) which means our bodies digest it rapidly thus leading to an increase in blood sugar levels. On the other hand, sweet potatoes are complex carbohydrates that contain naturally-occurring sugars and are full of dietary fiber and vitamin B6 which is known for improving mood and energy levels.
Sweet potatoes are great to eat pre or post-workout! They serve as a great form of sustainable energy, or as a way to refuel glycogen stores. With that being said, you can incorporate them into your breakfast by making a healthy breakfast hash and replacing regular potatoes with sweet potatoes. Or you can bake it as a side for lunch, or pop them in the air fryer with some extra-virgin olive oil for a quick, crunchy, and nutritious snack!
A high-carb intake is ideal for those trying to increase serious muscle mass, but instead of indulging in unhealthy carbs, use a better alternative! Pasta dishes are common comfort food, so why not make it healthy by using whole-grain pasta instead? You'll go from using a simple to a complex carb that is high in fiber, micronutrients, and helps promote fullness! Plus, eating your favorite dishes (even when tweaking them to be healthy) is a great way to reduce your appetite and cravings which leads to better, healthier choices.
Pasta is still considered to be high in carbs, so be mindful about when you choose to eat it. We suggest eating a whole-grain pasta dish for lunch or dinner on days that you plan to take part in high-intensity resistance training. That way you're giving your body the optimal nutrients for muscle building and recovery.
In summary, you can achieve your muscle and strength-building goals and eat carbs while doing it! All of these delicious high-carb foods can be a part of a healthy, balanced diet that will help promote better muscle gain and fat loss. Just remember, eat any food (healthy or not) in moderation. Yes, these foods can help you achieve your fitness goals, but you have to include them in your diet in a way that fits your style of training and goals. So, if you're not sure how many carbs you need to eat for your goals then calculate your macros using the Fit With Iulia Macro Calculator – designed to get you the best target macronutrients for your lifestyle and fitness goals.