Carbohydrate is a macronutrient that’s essential for our bodies. They are the ‘fuel cells’ we utilise for energy, with carbs rapidly converted into glucose to feed muscles during exercise. Excess carbs, which are those not used in exercise, can be stored as glycogen that will kick in when you hit the gym.
For those who plan to build muscle, this knowledge is critical. You need to fuel your body with enough carbohydrates to power through a workout, as eating too few can lead to your body breaking down protein and amino acids to use as fuel instead. That means you’ll slow your muscle gain and sometimes make it completely counter-productive.
However, carbs aren’t all equal. Some carbs are more rapidly digested and converted by the body due to their sugar content. Wholegrain carbs tend to be more slowly absorbed due to the fibre present in them. This absorption rate affects your workouts - with the faster, higher GI carbs able to fuel your workouts quickly after eating them but the longer, slower carbs keeping your body’s stores packed for longer.
To summarise, carbs themselves don’t build muscle - but they do fuel your body so it can do the exercises that promote muscle growth. They also perform an essential role in preventing protein being used for energy by the body, which would lead to muscle protein breakdown (loss) instead of synthesis (growth).
Our protein-based snacks are a great way to add good carbohydrates to your routines whilst packing in protein. Millionaire’s Crunch, for example, offers 25g of carbs and 15g of protein to help fuel your workout and give your muscles the protein they crave afterwards.
Can you build muscle without carbs?
You don’t actually need carbs to build muscle, based on science. Lifting weights causes muscle protein synthesis, which means you need to increase your protein intake to ensure you don’t go back into muscle protein breakdown. As long as you have that balance right, your muscle fibres will increase.
However, that doesn’t really accommodate for the full picture. Without carbs, you’ll have less energy. With too few carbs, you’ll be in ketosis and your body can begin using protein to convert to glucose, which means you’ll have less protein available to stop your body from going back into muscle protein breakdown following a workout.
Carbohydrates also have a sparing effect on protein, meaning you can process protein intake better if you have carbs available in your body because the carbs spare protein from being utilised as a source of energy.
Remember: your body cannot store protein like it does carbs or fat - so if it is used as energy it’s not fulfilling its purpose to repair muscle cells.
The ketogenic diet is pretty popular for weight loss. It’s a diet that reduces carbohydrate intake so much that your body begins to utilise fat cells as fuel rather than blood sugar. While you can build muscle on a ketogenic diet, you need to be careful about your protein intake and ensure you’re consuming more of it than your body may be using as an energy source.
Can you build muscle without protein?
Okay, forgive us for being a bit glib. But it’s the truth: you can’t really build muscle without protein. Specifically, you can’t build it without the amino acids protein contains. Your body’s muscles need those acids to facilitate muscle protein synthesis and without it, the muscle will instead break down.
You can, however, build muscle without an excess of protein. Like we’ve said in other articles, the exact amount of protein you need to eat is still not universally agreed upon and can range heavily.
But realistically, as long as you are eating enough calories to keep your body fuelled for exercise, are doing resistance-based training (such as weight lifting) and giving your body enough protein to fuel MPS, you will build muscle - though it may take longer than someone eating more protein.