You know that you’ll never build muscle if you don’t eat properly.
You’ve set your calorie intake.
You’ve set your protein intake.
Now it’s time to set your carbohydrate intake.
If you don’t eat enough carbohydrate to fuel your training, you won’t build as much muscle. Basically, some of your time in the gym will be wasted.
If you eat too many carbs (calories), you’ll put on more fat than you should. You’ll have to diet for longer to get lean, and it will take longer to get the body you want.
Setting your carbohydrate intake will only take a few minutes, yet it could save you weeks or months of effort.
Here’s why carbs improve your performance in the gym.
If You Lift Weights, You Should Eat More Carbs
Intense exercise like heavy strength training uses almost entirely carbohydrate for fuel.(1,2)
If you don’t eat enough carbs, you’ll fatigue sooner. You won’t be able to push as much weight, and as a result you won’t gain as much muscle.
You can gain muscle without eating any carbohydrate, especially if you’re a beginner. However, you’ll probably gain more muscle in less time if you eat more carbs.
We know carbs are important for strength training, but there isn’t much evidence on what an “optimal” carb intake is for strength athletes. Most of the research has focused on endurance athletes, who are generally going to need more carbs.
Most bodybuilders eat about 2-6 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram, or 1-3 grams per pound. That’s a good place to start.
Endurance athletes generally need about 5-7 grams of carbs per kilogram if they’re training moderately.(3-5) It makes sense that most bodybuilders would need slightly less than that.
Your carbohydrate needs depend on how much you’re training. The more volume you do, the more carbs you need, and vice versa.
Here’s how to choose the right amount for you.
Here’s How to Set Your Carbohydrate Intake for Building Muscle
**1. [Set your total calorie intake](https://evidencemag.com/how-to-build-muscle-with-food/) for muscle gain.**
**2. Set your protein and fat intake.**
**3. Add how many calories you’re eating from protein and fat, and then subtract that number from your total calorie allotment.**
**4. Fill in the rest of your calories with carbohydrate.**
The most practical way to set your carbohydrate intake is to fill in your remaining calories with carbs. Then you can check your carb intake to make sure it’s roughly in line with the recommendations from the research.
**5. Adjust your carb intake to support your training.**
After setting your tentative macros, see how many carbs you need based on the above research we just covered. The more you train, generally the more carbs you need.
If you’re less insulin sensitive or active in other parts of your life, shoot for the lower end. If you’re more active and tend to be enjoy carbs more, shoot for the higher end.
Instead of changing your protein intake, lower your fat intake to get more carbs.
Here’s an Example of How to Set Your Carbohydrate Intake
Let’s use a guy named “Markus.”
Markus weighs 180 pounds (82 kilograms), and trains about 4 times per week for about 60-90 minutes per workout. He’s training a lot.
Markus needs 3,000 calories per day because he’s trying to build muscle.
He needs around 170 grams of protein per day, or 680 calories.
Initially, Markus sets his fat intake at 40% of his total calories, which is 133 grams or 1200 calories. (He has a thing for peanut butter).
At this point he has 1,120 calories left, which gives him room for 280 grams of carbohydrate.
Based on his training, Markus estimates that he needs around 300-350 grams of carbs per day. Since he knows how important protein is, he lowers his fat intake to 30% of his total calories, or 100 grams per day. Then he adds about 70 more grams of carbs.
At this point, here’s what his macros look like:
(680 calories of protein) + (900 calories of fat) = 1,580
3,000 – 1,580 = 1,420
1,420 / 4 = 355 grams of carbs*
Protein: 170 grams.
Fat: 100 grams.
Carbohydrate: 355 grams.
* Every gram of carbohydrate has four calories.
Serious Bodybuilders Get Enough Carbs
If you want to gain muscle, you need to eat enough carbohydrate.
Low-carb diets don’t work as well for high intensity sports like bodybuilding.
However, eating too many carbs can also keep you from eating enough protein or fat without gaining excess fat. Checking your carb intake doesn’t take long, and the rewards are worth it.
Have a question about setting your carb intake for muscle gain? Leave them in the comments section below.
Carbs Are Important, But You Don’t Need to Count Them
Setting your carb intake is the best way to ensure you’re eating enough to make optimal gains.
However, [calorie and diet tracking](https://evidencemag.com/self-monitoring-weight-loss) is annoying, and for many people, [unnecessary](https://evidencemag.com/weight-loss-habits).
In general, if you feel weak in your workouts and you aren’t getting stronger, and there isn’t another obvious explanation like lack of sleep, eat more carbs.
1. Coyle EF. Substrate utilization during exercise in active people. Am J Clin Nutr. 1995;61(4 Suppl):968S–979S. Available at: https://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/61/4/968S.full.pdf.
2. van Loon LJ, Greenhaff PL, Constantin-Teodosiu D, Saris WH, Wagenmakers AJ. The effects of increasing exercise intensity on muscle fuel utilisation in humans. J Physiol. 2001;536(Pt 1):295–304. Available at: https://jp.physoc.org/content/536/1/295.full.
3. Burke LM, Kiens B, Ivy JL. Carbohydrates and fat for training and recovery. J Sports Sci. 2004;22(1):15–30. doi:10.1080/0264041031000140527.
4. Burke LM, Hawley JA, Wong SHS, Jeukendrup AE. Carbohydrates for training and competition. J Sports Sci. 2011;29 Suppl 1:S17–27. doi:10.1080/02640414.2011.585473.
5. Burke LM, Cox GR, Culmmings NK, Desbrow B. Guidelines for daily carbohydrate intake: do athletes achieve them? Sports Med. 2001;31(4):267–299.