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Carbs: Your Best Friends Or Worst Enemies As A Bodybuilder?


Numero Uno
Staff member
Jun 16, 2012
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Las Vegas
Get Shredded!
You need them, you love them, but you need to use carbs right.

Bodybuilders and most other competitive athletes are always trying to get to the next level. Whether that be increased muscle mass, boosting athletic performance, or seeking a toned physique, faster gains are the common denominator. While pumping yourself full of protein is universally touted as the best way to get this done, another macronutrient is equally as important when used right.

Carbs can make or break your quest for fat burning and muscle growth depending on how you use them. That love-hate relationship that comes with carbs is always the battle when deciding on the best route for your diet.

The issues many people face is the amount of carbs and the type of good carbs to incorporate in their diet mixed with any great source of protein. Carbs are the body’s primary source of fuel and spare protein from being used up for energy (1).

As the most efficient energy source for intense workouts, carbs are a necessity for those looking to get to the next level. Simply put, protein needs carbs to work as efficiently as possible. But too many carbs, or too many of the wrong carbs, can really hurt your chances to get that fit, athletic physique we all strive for.

Since every day for us differs, it is important to understand how many carbs you need on a given day. Depending on the intensity of your workout or the physical stress of your daily life, carbs play an important role in providing you with energy needed to work at maximum capacity. To little, and you will feel sluggish and drained.

Carb cycling is a great way to stay on track and is used by athletes looking to change their body composition or overall performance. It is not for everyone so knowing your body and how it reacts to changes in your diet is key, but carb cycling allows your body to adapt to metabolic changes and helps manage fat more effectively.

For bodybuilders looking to bulk up and lean out, carbs are a necessity. Using them to your advantage is key for working hard in the gym and living a healthy life. Knowing when to trust them as your best friend or loathe them as your worst enemy is vital for growth and understanding just how to properly use carbs to your advantage.

What Are Carbs?
Carbs, along with protein and fats, are one of the three main macronutrients that your body uses for energy and are the main source of energy. Macronutrients are important because they allow for your body to properly function and must be obtained through your diet. Carbs specifically provide fuel for your central nervous system and offer working energy for your muscles, as well as saving protein from being used as energy and assisting fat metabolism. Vital for cognitive function, they help your brain with memory, mood, and a host of other things (2).

Simple carbs are found mainly in candy, soda, and the other sweet treats we all love. They are basically empty calories and don’t provide much help for your growth. Complex carbs are what you find in starchy food and are absorbed much slower and provide for sustained energy, making complex carbs the go to choice for your overall health and performance.

Pros: Your Best Friend
We all love to train hard and watch our bodybuilding transformation unfold. Intense training is key for quick gains and carbs provide for that much needed fuel to keep us going strong and for longer. Protein builds muscle and having enough carbs in your diet is huge for the preservation of that muscle so it doesn’t break down and get used for fuel instead (3).

Keep that muscle mass by saving your protein from being stolen away from your muscles. Since your body prefers carbs for fuel, give it what it wants and help light the metabolic fuse to keep your body burning fat and not muscle. Studies have been conducted around the idea that carbs help with the production of serotonin in the brain keeping you mentally healthy and away from anger and depression, thus improving cognitive health (4).

Cons: Your Worst Enemy
Eating the wrong types of carbs, or too any carbs, can actually prove to be a detriment in the long run. Carbs stimulate insulin secretion and while this may not be a bad thing for some people, for those struggling with metabolic competence, insulin levels may be elevated making it difficult for weight loss to occur (5).

Processed carbs will really be your enemy as they could contain fillers and chemicals that will make you gain weight as well as lead to potential problems in the future. Containing “anti-nutrients”, like phytic acid, it could lead to poor absorption of certain vitamins and minerals you need only hurting your progress (6). Carbs are easy to abuse, and while the benefits are more than important for your overall performance, knowing how to handle them in moderation is key for getting you to where you need to be.

Wrap Up
We all need carbs. Yet, they can come around and turn on us if we don’t manage them properly. Choosing slow-digesting carbs for most meals will help keep your insulin levels in check and will keep you full longer with less fatigue, leading to weight loss. Obtaining fast carbs, like a whey protein concentrate supplement, can help you recover faster during your post-workout regimen.

If you plan on cardio, skip the carbs and go for whey protein or amino acids to really kick start fat loss and consider carb cycling as an alternative method if fat loss is something you are considering. Carbs are delicious and great for you when used right, so have confidence in your discipline and use this macronutrient to your advantage as your best friend.

  1. Jequier, E. (1994). “Carbohydrates as a source of energy”.
  2. Hawkins, Misty A. W.; Keirns, Natalie G.; Helms, Zachary (2018). “Carbohydrates and cognitive function”.
  3. Pasiakos, Stefan M.; McLellan, Tom M.; Lieberman, Harris R. (2015). “The effects of protein supplements on muscle mass, strength, and aerobic and anaerobic power in healthy adults: a systematic review”.
  4. Brinkworth, Grant D.; Buckley, Jonathan D.; Noakes, Manny, et al. (2009). “Long-term Effects of a Very Low-Carbohydrate Diet and a Low-Fat Diet on Mood and Cognitive Function”.
  5. Ludwig, David S.; Ebbeling, Cara B. (2018). “The Carbohydrate-Insulin Model of Obesity”.
  6. Hurrell, R. F.; Juillerat, M. A.; Reddy, M. B.; Lynch, S. R.; Dassenko, S. A.; Cook, J. D. (1992). “Soy protein, phytate, and iron absorption in humans”.
Good read! I have battled with carb intake for years and never really think I found the "sweet spot". Simple carbs are def a problem and complex gives the sustained energy that we need throughout the day and during workouts. Carb load nightly Before sleep seems to be what my body likes best with small amounts with daily meals mostly comprised of proteins and vegetables. Tons of research on this and it gets confusing quick. Thanks for the read
This conversation has been going on for decades. Like most things it's not black or white but we have grey issues. Now I'm certainly no expert but here's my personal opinion I'm 54 now started lifting when I was 16. We're all different there in how our bodies respond to nutrition, supplements, etc. Finding what works for some can take 2 decades to tweak & fine tune. For me a low to no carb diet works best for staying lean. But also I change my diet up from time to time & allow myself to have carbs from time to time but to many carbs & I blow up & look puffy. Look at how many guys in the fitness industry stay low carb all year & are cut all year. John Anderson eats no starchy carbs except whe he's doing a photo shoot so the muscle cells will fill up. Unless your bulking I don't think carbs are a necessity but maybe I just haven't had someone to lay out a plan that works for me. I suspect I have insulin resistance & diabetes runs in my family. Like Stan Efferding says during off season bodybuilders eat carbs but when they start to cut they start from cutting starchy carbs first & fats. For my genetics it seems that I must eliminate starches in order to cut maybe it's because of insulin or maybe carbs taste good & it's easy to overeat....well that's my opinion & I'm no expert. Sometimes the oder I get the more I feel I don't know so many questions.