Does the fitness buff or bodybuilder in you avoid carbs? If your answer is yes, know why you shouldn’t be making this nutritional mistake and how it affects your success with muscle building.

For most people on the muscle building route proteins and fats are the allies and carbohydrate is the enemy, the essential evil that has to be avoided at all cost. Little do such folks realize that by avoiding carbohydrates they have short-changed their muscle building goals? When broken down to basics carbohydrates are glucose, proteins are amino acids and fats are essential fatty acids. Whereas the body has to rely on foods to receive essential fatty acids and a couple of essential amino acids, it can break down proteins or fats in glucose, which is the preferred fuel for the brain and for muscles during a workout. Perhaps, the whole idea of avoiding carbohydrates stems from here, which is not right and for good reasons.


With 4 kcal per gram, carbohydrates sources such as cereals, fruits and vegetables are dense in vitamin and fiber. Moreover, starchy complex carbohydrates like potatoes and long-grain rice help to replenish muscle glycogen reserve, which is used as fuel during workouts, especially during prolonged continuous or high-intensity exercise.  When these carbohydrate stores are inadequate to meet the fuel needs of an athlete’s training program, the results include fatigue – reduced ability to train hard, impaired competition performance, and a reduction in immune system function. Humans can store approximately 350 g (1,400 kcal) in the form of muscle glycogen, an additional 90 g (360 kcal) in the liver, and a small amount of circulating glucose in the blood (~5 g, or about 20 kcal). To build bigger muscles, you need to work out hard, which will result in the breakdown of the existing muscles and then use dietary proteins to fuel muscle synthesis. If you don’t eat enough carbs you’ll lack the energy required for intense workouts. As a result, your muscle building suffers.  The American College of Sports Medicine agrees and recommends, “Adequate food and fluid should be consumed before, during, and after exercise to help maintain blood glucose concentration during exercise, maximize exercise performance, and improve recovery time.


It’s a no-brainer that glucose stored as glycogen in the muscle tissues and the liver is the body’s preferred source of fuel when you work out. In humans, the majority of glycogen is stored in skeletal muscles (500 g) and the liver (100 g).  When your body depletes the glycogen reserve of carbohydrates, it moves on to the other source of fuel, which is your lean muscle which itself is the reservoir for amino acids.  Thus, by restricting carbohydrates your body goes in a catabolic mode and attacks those lean muscles that you are trying hard to build.


Carbohydrates act as a cheaper substitute for creatine. Just like creatine, carbs give you more energy for workouts and contribute to the swell of the muscles. Next to water and protein carbohydrates is stored as glycogen in your muscles. This allows you to build bigger and firmer muscles because your muscles store 2.7g water per gram of glycogen.


Many everyday foods and fluids contain carbohydrates but have different features.  Earlier, carbohydrates were classified as either simple or complex, and more recently, the terms low and high glycemic index (GI) are being used. From a sports nutrition point of view, it is more helpful to classify carbohydrates as nutrient-dense, nutrient-poor or high-fat.

Category Description Examples Use for athletes
Nutrient-dense carbohydrate Foods and fluids that are rich sources of other nutrients including protein, vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants in addition to carbohydrate Breads and cereals, grains (e.g. pasta, rice), fruit, starchy vegetables (e.g. potato, corn), legumes and sweetened low-fat dairy products Everyday food that should form the base of an athlete’s diet. Helps to meet other nutrient targets
Nutrient-poor carbohydrate Foods and fluids that contain carbohydrate but minimal or no other nutrients Soft drink, energy drinks, lollies, carbohydrate gels, sports drink and cordial Shouldn’t be a major part of the everyday diet but may provide a compact carbohydrate source around training
High-fat carbohydrate Foods that contain carbohydrate but are high in fat Pastries, cakes, chips (hot and crisps) and chocolate ‘Sometimes’ foods best not consumed around training sessions


1.   Immediately after waking up: You need to eat carbohydrates in the morning because your body is in a fasted state and cortisol levels are high. Cortisol has a catabolic effect on the body and causes muscle breakdown.

2.   Pre workout: Eating carbohydrates before 1 to 1 ½ hours before exercise provides you the energy required for intense workouts.

3.  Intra-workout: For exercise lasting longer than 90 minutes, you need to consume carbohydrates 30 minutes into the workout to allow longer and intense exercise. Recommended sources of carbohydrate to eat or drink during exercise include easily digested carbs, such as fruits, energy gels and energy bars.

4.   Post workout: High glycemic carbohydrates after exercise cause insulin to spike which pulls amino acids from the blood and delivers them to the muscle tissue.

Your carb intake varies on your exercise intensity. Still, 30 to 60 percent of your diet should come from carbs. For survival, you need a bare minimum of 130 g or 520 kcal per day. The recommendation doubles in athletes, and endurance athletes like bikers, marathon runners, triathlon athletes etc.), may need to increase their carbohydrate consumption up to 70 percent of the daily caloric intake