Carbohydrates are essential for life. They are one of the three important macronutrients needed for survival, the others being fat and protein.
Carbohydrates provide energy to the muscles- and well, your whole body. And with that, it is one of the most important nutrients for actual muscle growth.
- Thus, an important question arises- can you build muscle without carbs?
Well, no. You CANNOT build muscle without carbs. This has been a big problem with the famous keto diet, you can’t really gain muscle on it. Furthermore, we need carbs to live- despite what some fad diet enthusiasts may say. Ultimately, when your fat is broken down, there is glycerol- which in simple terms is basically carbs. The only problem is, your body is breaking down fat- but will refuse to build any muscle because of the catabolic – breaking down cells – state of your body.
Also, it’s important to note: this is strictly talking about the ‘no-carb’ diets. There’s nothing wrong with lowering your general carbohydrate intake, as sometimes that’s even healthy. But, if you want to do keto and bodybuild, you’re going to have to up the carbs or find a different diet.
Let’s cover this more in-depth, and explain it all so you understand. And guys, if you like the keto diet- that’s fine. Just remember, most people are doing it to LOSE weight, not gain weight!
What Are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates or carbs are used for energy by the body. They are a type of sugar molecule. The body acquires carbohydrates through food and regular eating.
On a molecular level carbohydrates contain molecules of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The term carbohydrate may also be used as a synonym for saccharide.
What Do Carbohydrates Do?
When ingested, the body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which is also known as blood sugar. Glucose goes straight to the bloodstream and into the cells to react with oxygen and produce energy.
This is how our body mainly meets its energy resource. Note that not all glucose has to be used up immediately, it can be stored in the liver in the form of glycogen- body fat- to be used later when needed.
Work or no work?
Now that we know what carbohydrates are and what they do, we are better able to answer our original question. Carbohydrates provide us energy for work and for different activities. Without them we would just feel very weak and not be able to do anything!
On the other hand carbohydrates are important for life itself. It is so because carbs aren’t just an energy resource for what work or action you want to take, they also function as an energy supply to the cells and all the major organs of the body.
Without enough carbohydrates the cells would literally energy-starve to death.
Can you Build Muscles Without Carbs?
The answer is a simple and straight no. You simply cannot build muscles without carbs. This is what makes the keto diet very unappealing for those trying to gain muscle. (Generally speaking, most people hop on Keto to LOSE weight, not gain weight)
You see carbs provide the much needed energy to make that lift at the gym. You eat food. The food contains carbs. After digestion your body converts it into glucose. Some of this glucose is roaming around in the bloodstream.
This is where the action happens. As you want to lift your arm to do a curl, the glucose rushes into your cells and reacts with the oxygen to release a lot of energy. This energy is used up in contracting the muscle to make that lift.
Furthermore, if you want to go down the route that body fat is converted into muscle- we need to take a step back. That body fat that is stored is actually just glucose too.
This is kind of where the whole ‘keto’ diet gets muddy. Because, ultimately, people on keto say you can live life without carbohydrates. That’s simply not true, your body is just breaking it down from the fat in your body. (Lipolysis is the process of breaking down body fat into glycerol and fattty acids)
However, that’s where the problem comes in. If your body needs to break down fat to even just fuel your body, it will NEVER build any muscle as the body thinks it is actively losing weight. Your body will be in a “catabolic state”- a state where you BREAK DOWN cells. Not a state where it is building those muscle cells.
What Happens If I Workout Without Carbs?
First of all we do not recommend it at all. Working out without carbs is an unhealthy activity that nobody should be engaging in. In case you do try it out, there are following symptoms that may be seen.
- Dry mouth: A constant urge to drink lots of water again and again is commonly seen with this scenario. Drinking tons of water in between a workout is not actually recommended. So this is not a good position overall.
- Perspiration: Because your muscles are struggling to make ends meet (in terms of energy), they will be pumping their hardest. This naturally leads to visible perspiration on the forehead without doing much workout- further resulting in dehydration.
- Feeling of intense hunger: Naturally, your body would want to do those things that the brain is commanding it to do. But since there is not enough energy, the body needs new food to digest. This leads to a feeling of hunger. And we all know feeling of hunger in the middle of a workout is not a good thing.
- Nausea: In some cases nausea has also been noted where the subject wanted puke in the middle of the workout.
Eating The RIGHT Carbohydrates
When it comes to consuming carbs, the thing is that there are many different varieties of it. We will look at the basic three types of carbohydrates:
- Sugars: These are the simplest type of carbohydrates. They are the easiest to digest by the body and give you a sugar rush the fastest.
- Starch: In structure, they are a bit more complex than sugars. The body actually needs to convert starch into sugars to use.
- Fiber: These are special types of carbohydrates that cannot be broken down by our body. Eating fibers makes you feel full but will not actually give you any nutrients. Yet, fibers are important for complete waste removal from the body.
When it comes to finding carbohydrates to eat, you should stick with natural sugars as much as possible. Such natural sugars can be found in fruits, vegetables and milk.
Starch, like we mentioned, is a slightly complex carb, but if you’d like to add it to your palette, it can be found in bread, cereal and pasta. It also naturally occurs in certain vegetables like potatoes and corn. Fiber is found in a variety of items like different plants and veggies.
Eating carbohydrates is a must for everybody and eating carbs right is just for everybody. Functioning without carbs is like a car without any fuel, the car simply won’t run because it isn’t getting any energy at all.
Similarly, a body that is without carbs won’t have any energy and won’t be able to do work because it has no fuel. When it comes to bodybuilding, the same principles apply. We need the carbs to make that lift.
Sure, one could go by and make little muscle with a low-carb diet but any serious muscle will require proper carbohydrates.
Just remember, it’s important you stick with the natural sugars and avoid the refined stuff they stuff in processed food nowadays. It’s a lot better for your appetite, health, and muscle gains.