Is a high carb diet for bulking necessay? The article examines the benefits of high carb diets for weight gain and muscle building.
Key Points on High Carb Diets for Weight Gain
- A recent study examined if high carb diets for weight gain were similar to lower carb diets for weight gain.
- Resistance-trained athletes consuming a lower carb diet (i.e., 281 grams per day) gained similar muscle mass and strength compared to a higher carb diet (i.e., 381 grams per day).
- Bodybuilders need a certain threshold of carbs; consuming more does not further enhance muscle gain.
- The amount of carbs you need will vary depending on your exercise volume, an individualized approach is necessary.
For years, we’ve been taught that high-carbohydrate diets are necessary to gain weight and build muscle. Recent evidence has suggested that building muscle may occur on low-carb diets if calories are similar. While ketogenic diets may be better for weight loss short term, they may modestly reduce gains in muscle. This is likely due to lower total energy intake and some water weight loss from glycogen depletion.
It’s also worth noting that a low carb diet, such as the keto diet, may not be ideal for everyone. While some individuals may experience weight loss, improved insulin resistance, and improved blood glucose control on a low-carb diet, others may find that it negatively impacts their energy levels, glycogen stores, and overall athletic performance. In these cases, a more moderate carbohydrate intake may be preferable. Also, recent studies suggest certain people can have an increased risk of heart disease on a keto diet.(Burén et al., 2021)
A new study, however, challenges the notion that high-carb diets are better for weight gain, providing evidence that a more moderate carbohydrate intake. This article will examine this new study and the studies comparing high vs. low-carbohydrate diets for gaining muscle and provide practical recommendations for adjusting your own carbohydrate intake based on your training program, calorie intake, and metabolism.
Recommendation for High Carb Diets for Weight Gain
Regardless of whether an individual follows a high-carb or low-carb diet, achieving a caloric surplus is necessary for weight gain. This can be accomplished through the consumption of nutrient-dense healthy foods such as legumes, starchy vegetables, and whole cereals like brown rice and oats. These foods provide not only carbohydrates but also important nutrients like potassium, calcium, and dietary fiber.
In contrast, a diet consisting primarily of refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and white rice, may lead to an excess of calories and an increased risk of obesity and heart disease. Consuming whole foods and including healthy fats, like olive oil and avocado, as well as lean proteins from sources like Greek yogurt and legumes, can help prevent these negative health outcomes while still promoting muscle growth and weight gain
Adequate carbohydrates (CHO) are needed for optimal performance during resistance exercise. A single resistance training session can reduce muscle glycogen content by about 25-40%, which may negatively impact training performance by limiting energy regeneration and the ability to sustain high force production throughout the session. (Robergs et al., 1991) Some studies have reported that low-carbohydrate diets can impair performance and reduce muscle growth. (Kephart et al., 2018; LEVERITT & ABERNETHY, 1999; Paoli et al., 2021; Vargas et al., 2018). However, it is worth noting that the low-carb groups in these studies were likely in a caloric deficit, which could impair anabolic responses to resistance exercise.
Current CHO guidelines
Current CHO guidelines for resistance exercise are scarce in the literature and do not provide specific recommendations for increasing lean mass. More precise recommendations are needed to inform practitioners seeking muscular adaptations, such as increased lean mass and strength.
For example, the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine recommends CHO intake of:
- 3-5 g/kg/day (1.4- 2.3 grams per pound) for low-intensity or skill-based activities,
- 5-7 g/kg/day (2.3-3.2 grams per pound) for moderate exercise programs (e.g., ~1 hour per day),
- 6-10 g/kg/day (2.7-4.5 grams per pound) for endurance programs lasting 1-3 hours, and
- 8-12 g/kg/day (3.6- 5.5 grams per pound) for extreme commitment activities (e.g., >4-5 hours/day).
However, no specific recommendations exist for improvements in muscular strength and lean mass. There has been a recommendation that experienced lifters’ CHO intake be in the range of 3-7 g/kg/day (1.4- 3.18 grams per day) may optimize weight lifting performance and gains in muscle. (Lambert et al., 2004; Slater & Phillips, 2011)
Benefits of a High Carb Diet for Weight Gain
A high-carb diet can offer several benefits for individuals looking to maintain a healthy body weight and build muscle. Carbohydrate availability is increased by consuming carbohydrates in the hours or days before the session and intake during and after exercise. During high-intensity exercise, carbohydrate represents the main substrate source, and endogenous carbohydrate availability largely dictates endurance performance and capacity. (Cermak & van Loon, 2013) Ingesting carbohydrates before, during, and after exercise is critical for the performance of many sports and a key component of current sports nutrition guidelines. (Burke, 2010)