This article is part 5 of a 5 part series on carbohydrates. Part 1 covers what carbs are and how they affect the body, Part 2 covers glycemic index, Part 3 covers glycemic load, Part 4 covers how to burn fat with carb cycling, and Part 5 covers how to use carbohydrate intake and timing to gain size or muscle mass.
If building muscle or gaining weight is your primary goal, your carbohydrate intake should be quite different than someone who is trying to lose fat or slim down. The very same hormones that are responsible for increased fat storage and weight gain play a strong role in muscle growth and recovery. A high carbohydrate intake along with a scheduled weightlifting routine is recommended for anyone looking to gain weight or muscle.
Insulin is a powerful hormone that not only turns glucose into fat, but also turns it into glycogen (a complex form of sugar stored in your liver and muscles for energy). When your body produces insulin, it also produces a hormone called insulin like growth factor one (IGF-1); IGF-1 production is also increased by growth hormone secretion. Growth hormone and IGF-1 are powerful hormones that tell the body to build: they increase protein synthesis (muscle building), recovery, and sleep. All of these powerful hormones should be used together to create a positive environment for muscle growth. Combining a caloric excess with plenty of carbohydrates, high protein, and a high intensity exercise routine will enable you to add weight or muscle to your body with ease, even if you are a person who has trouble putting on weight.
When building muscle is your primary concern, you want to choose plenty of foods with a high GL especially after a workout. Foods like: pasta, white bread, fruit juices, white rice, and white potatoes are good choices as they lead to increased insulin, growth hormone, and IGF-1 levels. Insulin has the powerful capability to super saturate muscles with nutrients, amino acids, and glycogen after a workout making them able to recover more quickly and ultimately grow more quickly.
The most important times to eat high GL carbohydrates for muscle gain are: morning immediately after waking up, immediately post workout, and 1-2 hours post workout. I recommend a complex carbohydrate mixed with simple carbohydrate for breakfast (like oatmeal with honey) for an insulin spike with sustained energy; a high GI high GL carbohydrate like fruit juice, chocolate milk, sugar, white rice, or white bread immediately after your workout, and then a complex carbohydrate 1-2 hours after your workout. When adding mass is your primary goal you want to eat, eat a lot, and eat often. Many of the foods you usually want to limit during a weight loss phase become your best friend during a bulking phase.
There is a fine line between a “clean” mass building phase and a “dirty” mass building phase. You can gain a lot of muscle by lifting heavy and eating McDonald’s three times per day, but the proportion of fat to muscle that you will gain may be undesirable; however, if you keep your diet pretty clean (still include a lot of fruits and vegetables, slightly decrease your fat intake, increase healthy fats, and increase lean protein), you will be able to gain much leaner mass with a higher percentage of it being muscle as opposed to fat. You want to ensure you have a caloric excess each day, but carbohydrates will play the key role in your muscle gain, so still try to avoid the fast food line.