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What Carbs Do Bodybuilders Eat When Dieting?

By Ryan Haas

Nutrition is as important to a bodybuilder’s success as the bench press, deadlift and squat exercises are. While much of the bodybuilding nutrition industry focuses on muscle-building protein and similar supplements, carbohydrates should still be a majority of your diet if you want to increase your size and muscle definition. Whether your diet plan is to bulk up or lose fat, carbs are a necessary energy source for maximum performance in the gym.

Types of Carbs

Generally, carbs are available in slow-digesting and fast-digesting forms. Slow-digesting carbs include foods such as whole grain breads, vegetables, fruits and beans. These are the best kinds of carbs for you as a bodybuilder because they are low glycemic, meaning they provide a steady state of blood sugar over a long period of time. High glycemic carbs, such as white bread and sugary drinks, provide a quick, but short, boost of energy because it is easy for your body to break them down into sugars. Too many high glycemic carbs can lead to weight gain.

Role of Carbs

Glycogen is an energy source you store in your muscles, and is very critical to your performance in bodybuilding. According to registered dietitian Katy James of the University of Nebraska, eating low-glycemic-index carbs helps your muscles store glycogen for future use, and eating high-glycemic carbs before or during your workout will give you the energy you need to perform without depleting your glycogen stores. The American Dietetic Association recommends that you also consume 0.45 g to 0.7 g of carbs per pound of body weight within 30 minutes of physical activity to maintain your glycogen stores and prevent muscle loss to catabolism.

Bulking Up

When you are attempting to gain muscle in the off-season before a bodybuilding competition, you need to consume a lot of calories daily for continued gains. A majority of these calories need to come from carbs. A 2004 review article of bodybuilder macronutrient needs that appeared in the journal “Sports Medicine” says that on average, bodybuilders need between 2.25 g and 2.75 g of carbs per pound of body weight per day to have ample glycogen storage. This will account for roughly 55 to 60 percent of your daily diet.


Dieting for bodybuilding shifts from weight gain to fat loss as you enter the competition phase of your training. By losing fat, you help improve the definition of your muscles. While you still need to eat mostly low glycemic carbs during this phase, you should eat less of them. Exercise specialist Len Kravitz says you might need to reduce your carb intake to promote weight loss before a competition. However, as your carb intake drops, you should maintain a similar amount of calories by increasing your protein and healthy fat intakes appropriately. Speak to a registered dietitian before beginning the weight loss phase of your bodybuilding diet.

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