Which Carbs Are Better for Building Muscle Mass?

by 1213 · September 10, 2013 at 8:47 PM

I'm a 6', 32 year old male eating LC paleo for 5 months now. Last year before I went paleo, I weighed 187lbs while bodybuilding 5 days a week. My triglycerides were just over 200. I was strong, but also fat. I also had blood pressure over 140/90. After I went LC Paleo, I dropped down to 163 lbs, dropped my triglycerides to around 85-100, and dropped my blood pressure to around 110/70. Pretty amazing, huh?

Right now, I can see my abs for the first time in my life. I also have great muscle tone. However, I WANT MORE MUSCLE! I want to gain muscle weight! I know I need to increase my carbs, but I don't want to get fat or increase my blood pressure or triglycerides again. So what should I eat? 10 bowls of salad a day? Fruits? Potatoes? Rice? What type of carbs should I focus on? Also, should I only eat these carbs post workout? I'm already taking UPSlabs unflavored BCAAs which seemed to help with the definition a bit but I feel stuck on a plateau.

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17 Replies

596 · May 17, 2012 at 7:04 PM

It largely depends on the activity level. Of course some crossfit scheme would enter the glicolytic pathway more then-lets assume- a 5x5 or some powerlifitng schemes.

Actually, i'm on the same boat. I've been following the 5-3-1 programme by the great Jim Wendler, followed by some assistance work. As my rep range usally falls between 3-6 reps, i do not need so many carbs to get allong. Actually on lower body days( squats and deads) i bum up my carb content.

I follow an IF regime, so basically i have two meals a day: the post-workout usually consists of 100-130gr of protein, 200gr of fat and 140-200gr of Carbs. It is perfect to lean bulking, and not rush things up.

regarding your question, my favourites sources of carbs are peeled and boiled cassava, sweet potato, plantains or far less usual white rice. To replenish some liver glycogen i may go with a banana or a small size apple.

I would avoid thought higher carb load from sweet potato, due to the fructose content.

So: WO Days: carb back loading, in the 20-25% range only. Wide array of vegetables in the other meals.

Non workout days: minimal carb, in the range of 50gr, coming from some fruit and vegetables.

1019 · May 17, 2012 at 6:41 PM

Glucose is going to be your best carbohydrate source for building muscle, and this means starch post-workout.

First of all glucose will stimulate insulin, which is one our most potent growth hormones. Typically insulin makes people's fat cells grow, which Americans can attest to. However, in the context of adding starches post-workout you will be stimulating muscle cells to grow with insulin, since weight training increases muscle's insulin sensitivity.

Half of the carbohydrates you'll be getting from fruit will be fructose, and fructose will not raise insulin, and it will have to be processed by the liver. Given that fructose is a major cause of chronically high serum triglycerides, you will want to avoid consuming mass quantities of fruit. Stick with starches.

Secondly, insulin causes serum leptin to rise, and leptin causes muscle growth, so you want a sharp increase in insulin post-workout.

Leptin, the mTOR Pathway

mTOR and muscle growth

mTOR and muscle growth

Leucine and muscle growth via the mTOR pathway

I don't think it gets anymore clear than that.

[Leptin and Adrogens]5

Leptin Causes Muscle Growth

What are you best (most Paleo) sources of starch? Sweet Potatoes, and yes white potatoes. White rice, since it is free of the bran, is another alternative option because it is virtually free of gut-irritating lectins.

Try to get most of starchy carbs in post-workout. I would advise something like 400 grams on workout days while keeping fat on the lower side, and keep rest day lower in carbs, like 200 grams from fruits and veggies.

If you have found my answer informative, then please visit my website, for more insightful, Paleo-related information.

I also offer nutrition and strength training advice online as a consultant and a NSCA - Certified Personal Trainer.

4620 · May 17, 2012 at 11:38 PM

peas- but I found that the best single muscle builder out there is drinking raw milk - not pure paleo but paleo never TRIED to build mass either. Raw Milk is topps!

5763 · May 17, 2012 at 6:11 PM

Eat blueberries (preferrably one that you gather yourself) its ridicously healthy compared to most cultivated fruits.

2394 · May 17, 2012 at 5:32 PM

If you're talking about a mass gain, then you're going to have to eat A LOT. I'm in the same boat, trying to get to 225 from 185 (I'm at 204 currently, at a height of 6'2"). I've been lifting heavy three to four times a week, and eating everything I possibly can. Lots of yams and sweet potatoes as well as some white rice. LOTS of meat and eggs, coconut oil, butter, you just really have to always be full. It can honestly be uncomfortable at times, and you have to realize that you're probably going to lose that 6-pack, at least for a while. You're going to gain fat along with muscle. If you can't deal with that, then you're going to have to just go slow.

Keep in mind that you can't have everything unless you're a genetic freak. You can't optimally perform at 3% bodyfat, and you won't have rippling abs if you're optimized for performance. But as far as your question goes, just EAT. The weight will come.

20 · December 01, 2012 at 12:16 AM

There are so many factors to weigh in it is not funny. As we get older many things are against us being lean AND muscular. 1.) Diabetes - our pancreas function decreases as we age and depending on how we abused it growing up (eating lots of processed foods, sugar etc) it can be pretty well shot for the rest of your life. So this means you have to play the game smart. Carb cycling is pretty affective since it allows the pancreas to build up insulin. 2.) Digestive capacity - our bodies digestive enzymes not quite as strong and our liver is also less able to handle fats as we age. This causes foods to digest much slower. When you were younger you could eat a whole thanksgiving meal and be running like a rocket. If you eat like that in your 40+ years you will be sleeping the rest of the day. Solution - take digestive enzymes to speed digestion and eat plenty of green vegetables. This allows you to eat AND utilize more which means more muscle and less fat. 3.) Stress - as we age the stresses we face are greater than that of a young person. Mortgages, marriage(s), etc. We must find ways to reduce, eliminate and/or offset stress events. Meditation is a great tool. Ideally you should look at every moment of your day and make adjustments to EVERYTHING you do. Stress = cortisol = more fat storage = muscle eaten away. When you eat lots of carbs it reduces cortisol however the excess glucose is more likely stored as fat because of not enough insulin. 4.) Water - got to drink more water BUT in the right quantity at the right times. Always drink your water before your large meat meal. Too little water causes complete failure of all functions including kidneys. Key is to constantly sip on water. Warm water is ideal. About 15 minutes before a large meal drink 1-2 cups of water however as this will flush through quickly. 5.) Liver & Gall Bladder are also essential to understand. From my experience simply cutting all visible animal fats and egg yolks, milk fats etc helps. Flax/chia/hemp/sunflower/pumpkin and other seeds better sprouted are incredible sources of fats. I even have issues with fish oils. You still get animal fats from lean meats anyway which are more than enough for health functions combined with other healthy fats. 6.) Allergies - Gluten, grain, lactose etc Once again as we age our bodies are less and less able to handle the acids, allergens etc. I can't eat any wheat or dairy (except for ion exchange whey which is hell of expensive). You must reduce the acids as much as you can. Grain is very acidic and causes all kinds of glucose overdoses. 7.) Right carb/right time/right quantity - this is the pivotal hinge pin to success or absolute disaster. No carbs = no muscle, too much carb = obesity. For me blueberries are the only fruit I can really eat. Sucks once again they are expensive. It doesn't take much though to be affective just a small handful before every meal. Key here is to not wait too long before eating meat so the blood sugar doesn't spike too high. Fruit by itself will through you into blood sugar hell. 8.) Workout time & intensity - when you were eating lots of carbs you could workout much longer. Now that you eat less to no carbs you have a very short time to workout without tearing down more muscle than you can restore. Never workout in a session more than about 30-40 minutes EVER. Limit the cardio to 1-2x week max for 20 minutes only. Remember that since you have very little reserve glycogen you are merely running on muscle...literally! Now if you are using a small amount of carbs this can be tweaked a bit but you still have to weigh ALL of the other factors above. Sorry to say it is quite complex. My workout consists of 2 20-30 minute sessions per day. I do about 5-10 minute warmup then slam something, then run my ass out of the gym. The minute you feel any slight drop in intensity run the hell out. This means your going catabolic and ripping apart muscle in a bad way ie burning muscle for fuel. Post workout the body is in a state that is unique and you can consume carbs without much fear and you MUST in order to restore and build. MUST.

So it is a different game when you are older and still want to build mass and be lean. If you take in less carbs then you MUST focus on quick and intense workouts no more than 30-40 minutes max. Your carb reserves are much less and you will tear down more muscle during a workout than you can ever rebuild with a deficit of carbs. However with a deficit of carbs you can stay pretty lean. However again there is an exception to all this. Post-workout window of about 3-6 hours you can slide in some carbs and be just fine. The key is to cut the carbs AFTER this window. If you don't get the right amount of carbs, proteins and fats during the post workout you can never expect to gain..period. Basically post workout your body is screaming for nutrients and your body is primed to handle the carbs but you will have to experiment with how many grams in that critical window. You also need to plan on a crash and sleep. Don't worry though this is actually good and you must work with it. The post workout crash and sleep is due to the blood sugar but you must do it to gain muscle. There is no way around this. I am rattling a lot off and I hope it helps. I am going to go over my current re-re-revised plan. It's still being tweaked but the basic strategy works based on what is said above. Wakeup, drink some water & glutamine. Lay back down. Get up drink scoop whey with some blended seeds and baby kale. Lay down. Get up make romaine chicken tacos with about 1 breast. I eat a handful of blueberries while preparing. I spread humus/sesame with green and red onions on the lettuce (fats and some carbs). I cook the chicken with ginger, paprika and turmeric. I eat a digestive enzyme tablet. I drink some more water then eat about 3-4 romaine chicken tacos. The carbs here are mostly from the chickpeas which is small but enough. The key here is to have enough energy to digest the meat. Eating meat with veggies alone will create an energy deficit which means your body will break down muscle to digest the meat which is pointless. My goal is to have enough energy to digest the meat and store a little glycogen. Gonna get a small amount of fat storage from this but it will burn off later. After eating it I eat another handful of blue berries and sip a little warm water to wash down then 1 more digestive enzyme tablet. Floss and brush then wait 3 hours. Repeat. After the 2nd meal has digested I do my first workout. I use a protein shake of 4 scoops of ion exchange whey with handfuls of various seeds, pumpkin, chia, hemp, sunflower, etc. I have a much easier time with seeds over nuts. I also use a green juice with all kinds of juiced green veggies to help alkalize which reduces storage of toxins in fat. I have stopped using creatine but use glut-amine, multivitamin, pancreas herbs, etc. I am always trying different things. I keep sipping on the 2 mixtures during warmup and sipping on water. I may walk to a machine and do a 1 rep low weight slowly just to stimulate muscle blood flow. People look at this funny but they don't understand I am just priming. See it take more time to prime on less carbs. At about 5-10 minutes if I ate, slept etc right I will feel a click in my body and mind. That is when I walk up to whatever I am going to do and I do 1 set at about 60%, then 100% then 80%. I may do one more like this on another muscle group then I run out the door drinking the rest of my liquids. About 30 minutes later I am eating my romaine chicken tacos then sleep for about 30-45 minutes. Once I wake up I am good to go. So far I am finding this works because I never have too many carbs to get too fat. However I have enough carbs to have strength. Strength and stamina is what I want over anything else. Don't rely on the mirror to determine your strength. Chimpanzees don't look strong but they can rip your face off. Bottom line is you must get carbs to have strength. Knowing how to use them is the absolute key.

I have found that it really doesn't matter as long as I am getting SOME carbs and good fats with meat EVERY 3 hours. Play with how much meat. Use red meat sparingly. Red meat screws your kidneys over. I had blood in my urine until I eliminated red meat.

233 · May 17, 2012 at 6:56 PM

If you truly want to put on mass, you HAVE to be willing to temporarily lose the six pack while you are doing it. Figure out if you are still a good candidate for the "novice effect". http://startingstrength.com/articles/novice_effect_rippetoe.pdf

Even if you have been training/bodybuilding for a while, if you haven't tried Mark Rippetoe's Starting Strength program, it's worth a shot for it's capability to produce muscle mass and strength gains. http://startingstrength.com/articles/incremental_increases_rippetoe.pdf

As for the eating, most Paleo bodybuilders aren't super strict Paleo. One of my coaches was drinking a gallon of milk/day during this growth phase. I would recommend checking out Primal Fitness http://www.facebook.com/#!/PrimalFitnessKC on Facebook. Mario Singelmann is a Paleo bodybuilder, all natural, and a Paleo Coach. Once you see his pics, you'll trust him for growth advice.

1458 · May 17, 2012 at 5:42 PM

I have no idea what I am talking about. However, I think glucose/dextrose reaches muscles the quickest but if you have depleted liver glycogen you want some fructose in the mix.

1370 · May 17, 2012 at 5:21 PM

I have heard that to gain muscle mass you should eat some carbs right after working out... I would eat some sweet potato, because that is a good Paleo source of carb.

edit: oh yea and fruit!

12804 · May 17, 2012 at 5:21 PM

Fruits probably the best imo with tubers being a close second. I would try to eat some carbs with each meal.

353 · September 10, 2013 at 8:47 PM

A couple of questions: What's your current (WOD) macronutrient intake? And what kind of protein are you currently eating? You might not (1) be eating enough overall food and/or (2) enough protein. It may be a carb issue, but without knowing your macros, we're whistling in the dark.

0 · March 15, 2013 at 7:23 AM

I dont know...i eat 1000 calories in starches (one bagel, couple of potatoes, 1-2 cups of oatmeal, carrots, corn) 300 cal in added fat, 2 svgs of milk/dairy, and 2 svgs of meat/protein...i have no issues with having to take digestive enzymes or gaining too much fat within my muscles...I am a 5"6' female, and it seems that I eat more carbs than the guys yet.am able to increase my muscle without being fat...aren't you people hungry?

14507 · May 17, 2012 at 11:31 PM

What are your current macro ratios? I'd first try replacing some of the fat with protein. If your fat is already low, then I'd add some carbs post workout- dextrose/pedialite works great.

3735 · May 17, 2012 at 8:52 PM

D.K.: Addings carbs will help refill glycogen stores, and it can reduce muscle protein breakdown, but as long as protein is adequate, it won't stimulate muscle protein synthesis any more than protein alone.


1213 · May 17, 2012 at 5:47 PM

Isn't eating fruit (fructose) going to spike my triglycerides though? Which carb is safer?

3735 · May 17, 2012 at 5:14 PM


Meaning no disrespect, but why do you think that you have to add carbs to your diet to increase muscle mass? Is it because of the insulin spike?

Anyway, my opinion is that if you otherwise appear to be doing everything right and have reached a plateau in strength, it's probably because you're not allowing sufficient recovery time between sessions. Sometimes less is more.

476 · May 17, 2012 at 5:33 PM

Potato is quality protein. Probably whichever type tastes good to you, I don't like sweet potato probably because my ancestors ate russets

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