6 Best High Carb Foods For Muscle Gain

Muscle growth is a lengthy, time-consuming process that requires a combination of hard training with adequate rest and recovery. While you create the stimulus for muscle growth in the gym, the actual process of growth occurs during rest. This process of growth requires a well-balanced diet, rich in carbohydrates, fats and protein.

While most gym-goers are aware of the anabolic effects of a high protein diet, many myths and fads surround the two other macronutrients. Adequate fat intake is essential for testosterone production and bodily functions, which directly affects muscle hypertrophy and strength gain.

Importance of Carbohydrates in Muscle Gain

1) Primary Source of Energy

Carbohydrates are even more important for muscle gain, being the primary source of fuel for the brain and body.

They’re broken down into glucose, which are later converted into adenosine triphosphate(ATP), which is also known as the energy currency of the cell. ATP provides the energy that drives a variety of metabolic processes, including muscle contraction, intracellular signalling, DNA and protein synthesis.

More importantly, carbs are stored as glycogen. When the body requires a sudden burst of energy, glycogen is broken down to release glucose into the bloodstream. If glycogen stores are depleted, it can drastically affect workouts by reducing your work capacity and strength output. That’s why bodybuilders and powerlifters consume a small pre-workout meal before their training sessions to fuel their workouts.

2) Impacts Muscle Recovery and Protein Metabolism

Although low-carb diets have gained popularity over the years, they may be detrimental to people who’re interested in building muscle.

Not only do they affect muscle recovery, they also negatively impact protein metabolism and sleep. Studies also show that simultaneous ingestion of carbohydrates along with protein stimulates muscle protein anabolism by increasing muscle protein synthesis.

Simple v/s Complex Carbohydrates

It’s important to consume complex carbohydrates rather than simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates such as sugary drinks and snacks may provide a short-term boost in energy but also activate the insulin pathway, leading to an eventual crash and burn in energy levels.

However, complex carbohydrates are high in fiber and slow digesting. They do not spike blood insulin like simple carbohydrates; instead they keep blood glucose levels stable and release energy over a larger period. Therefore, complex carbohydrates are better for increased muscle gain, endurance, strength and optimal body composition.

Top High Carb Sources for Muscle Gain

Here’s a look at six such sources:

1) Sweet Potato (Best High Carb Source)

Foods high in carbs to build muscle
Sweet potatoes are an excellent high carb source.

Sweet potatoes are a staple in most bodybuilders’ diets. They contain naturally occurring sugars and are filled with micronutrients and dietary fiber. They have a lower Glycemic Index (GI), which is a measurement of how rapidly a food will elevate your blood sugar levels.

One cup serving of sweet potatoes contains about eight grams of fiber, which helps in feeling fuller, controlling hunger and maintaining healthy digestion. It’s also a rich source of potassium, vitamin B6, beta carotene, vitamin C and anti-oxidants.

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3.5 ounces (100 grams) of raw sweet potatoes contains 86 calories, which includes 20 grams of carbs, 1.6 grams of protein and 0.1 grams of fat.

2) Brown Rice

Foods high in carbs to build muscle
Brown rice is a better high carb alternative to white rice for muscle gain.

Although brown and white rice are both popular bodybuilding foods, brown rice boasts of a more complete nutritional profile. While white rice causes a bigger insulin spike due to its low fiber and fat content, consuming brown rice results in a sustained, slow insulin release.

Brown rice contains 3.5 times the dietary fiber compared to white rice and contains more protein and fat. One cup of brown rice contains 216 calories, including 44 grams of carbs, five grams of protein and 1.8 grams of fat.

It’s exceptionally high in managanese, with just one cup of rice fulfilling 88% of Recommended Daily Intake (RDI). Brown rice is also a rich source of folate, riboflavin (Vitamin B2), potassium, selenium, calcium and anti-oxidants.

3) Oat

Foods high in carbs to build muscle
Oats are a versatile, high-carb breakfast option.

Oats are a popular and versatile high carb source that have been used as a breakfast food by athletes and bodybuilders since the ’70s. They are an amazing source of complex carbohydrates and soluble fiber.

One cup (81 grams) of raw oats packs a whopping 37 calories, including 55 grams of carbs, 11 grams of protein, five grams of fat and eight grams of fiber. They’re rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals, including manganese, phosphorus, copper, iron, selenium, magnesium, and zinc.

Other health benefits of oats include:

4) Banana

Foods high in carbs to build muscle
Bananas are a high-carb food and excellent source of potassium.

Unlike most other fruits, bananas are comprised of a resistant starch that works similar to dietary fiber. That makes them a slow-digesting and filling food, whcih helps keep away hunger pangs and achieve calorie targets.

Bananas are among the best high carb pre-workout foods, with one medium-sized banana containing 90 calories, including 23 grams of carbs, 12.2 grams of sugar, 1.1 grams of protein and 0.3 grams of fat. The carbohydrate composition of bananas may change drastically during ripening.

They’re a rich source of potassium, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, and magnesium. It also contains many bioactive plant compounds, including dopamine and catechin.

5) Quinoa

Foods high in carbs to build muscle
Quinoa is a complete protein and high carb food.

Quinoa is one of the few plant-based complex carbohydrates that’s regarded as a complete protein, as it contains all the essential amino acids. It’s a pseudocereal grain, which means it’s essentially a seed that’s cooked and eaten like a grain.

One cup (185 grams) of cooked quinoa contains 222 calories, including 39 grams of carbs, eight grams of protein, 3.5 grams of fat and five grams of dietary fiber. Quinoa is naturally gluten-free and rich in antioxidants. They’re a good source of important nutrients, including folate, magnesium, zinc, iron, and phosphorus.

6) Whole-Grain Pasta

Foods high in carbs to build muscle
Pasta is a tasty, high carb source.

As long as you’re putting in hard work in the gym and staying close to your macros for the day, pasta can be a filling and tasty high carb meal for fitness enthusiasts.

One cup of cooked, whole-wheat pasta contains 174 calories, 37 grams of carbs, 7.5 grams of protein, six grams of fiber and 0.8 grams of fat. It’s abundant in managanese, with one serving providing 97% of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI). It’s also a rich source of selenium, copper, magnesium, thiamine, and folate.

Read more  6 Incredible Clean Carbs Sources That Build Muscle and Improve Performance


Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for various physical and mental activities. They are extremely crucial in muscle hypertrophy, endurance, and recovery. It’s important to judiciously use high carb foods with proper planning to increase muscle protein synthesis, and thereby increase muscle gain.

— Update: 20-03-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article 6 Incredible Clean Carbs Sources That Build Muscle and Improve Performance from the website www.bodybuilding.com for the keyword foods high in carbs to build muscle.

Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for your brain, body, and overall athletic performance, but not all carbs are created equal. Clean carbohydrate sources, aka complex carbohydrates, provide the long-lasting, sustained energy you need for prolonged workouts, such as running, cycling, and high-intensity functional training. They also help you build more muscle and optimize workout recovery. The question is, what carbohydrates are best for building mass, optimizing body composition, and improving performance?

The Problem with Simple Carbs

Chances are you’ve had a snack or chugged a sugary carb drink before a workout or run and found yourself gassed-out midway through your training. Simple carbohydrates and supplements such as maltodextrin, dextrose, and cyclic dextrin spike your insulin, which can lead to low blood sugar, leaving you feeling fatigued and lethargic.

Most people, athletes included, will have some kind of simple carbs an hour or two before their training session to get that midday pick-me-up. This stokes a vicious cycle that we call the blood sugar roller coaster.

After you finish your pre-workout snack, your body is flooded with carbohydrates, resulting in a short boost of energy, followed by a devastating crash and burn. Your body releases the hormone insulin to regulate the amount of sugar, or glucose, in your bloodstream. Insulin sends the sugar out of your blood into the liver and muscle and stores it as body fat, resulting in low blood sugar, which translates to low energy.

As a result, you have mood swings, feel hungry all the time, and/or become fatigued and have low energy. Maintaining steady insulin and blood sugar levels depends on the type of carbohydrates you consume. When you hear that certain carbs are “high on the glycemic index,” it means that they will spike blood sugar and insulin more quickly than other types of carbohydrates.

You Need Complex Carbs

Complex carbs digest much more slowly than simple carbs, due to their longer-chain molecular structure. Complex carbs are also made of sugars, but they do not spike blood insulin; they keep your blood glucose stable and provide a sustained energy release. These types of carbohydrates work best for prolonged training, improving endurance, building more muscle, and optimizing body composition. Complex carbs slow the absorption of sugar, slowing digestion, which keeps you feeling fuller for longer. There’s no blood sugar roller coaster with complex carbs.

What are the best clean carbs for building more muscle and performance?

1. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes have naturally occurring sugars and are full of dietary fiber and micronutrients. They are chock-full of vitamin B6, which can help maintain brain health, improving mood and energy levels. Sweet potatoes are also a great source of beta-carotene. Your body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which can help with immune health and eye health.

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2. Yams

Nutritionally, yams resemble sweet potatoes. Both are low on the glycemic index, making them good choices for long-lasting, sustained energy without spiking blood sugar. Yams, however, have a higher vitamin C content than sweet potatoes but not nearly as much vitamin A.

3. Oats

Oats are an amazing source of complex carbohydrates and protein that can help build more muscle and optimize body composition. Oats are classified as a soluble fiber, which can help suppress appetite and slow digestion. Several studies have shown that oats can also protect against heart disease, reduce chronic inflammation, improve gut flora, help with inflammatory bowel disease, and provide sustained energy.[1-4]

4. Clean Carbs

Swolverine’s Clean Carbs is different from other carbohydrate supplements. Other products use maltodextrin, dextrose, and simple carbohydrates that spike blood sugar, creating more body fat and giving you an energy crash.[5] Clean Carbs is made with 100 percent natural whole foods from pure complex carbohydrates, including sweet potatoes, yams, and oats. Research indicates that your body burns rapidly through glycogen stores during high-intensity functional training, resistance training, and endurance workouts. Replacing glycogen after strenuous exercise is vital for optimal performance and faster recovery.[5]

5. Brown Rice

Brown rice is another great clean carb for mass building and weight management. Whether you’re shredding down or looking to increase size, brown rice is a great source of complex carbohydrates and will sustain a low insulin release for longer-lasting energy. Although similar, white rice is stripped of most of its nutrients and will trigger a blood sugar spike, as opposed to stable glucose levels.

6. Quinoa

Quinoa is one of the only plant-based carbs that is considered a complete protein. With all the essential amino acids present, in addition to micronutrients such as manganese, magnesium, and iron, quinoa is a great clean carb source for athletes.

  1. Chappell, A. J., Simper, T., & Barker, M. E. (2018). Nutritional strategies of high level natural bodybuilders during competition preparation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 15(1), 4.
  2. Rebello, C.J., Johnson, W.D., Martin, C.K., Xie, W., O’Shea, M., Kurilich, A., Bordenave, N., Andler, S., Klinken, B.J.W.V., Chu, Y.F. and Greenway, F.L. (2013). Acute effect of oatmeal on subjective measures of appetite and satiety compared to a ready-to-eat breakfast cereal: a randomized crossover trial. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 32(4), 272-9.
  3. Valeur, J., Puaschitz, N. G., Midtvedt, T., & Berstad, A. (2016). Oatmeal porridge: impact on microflora-associated characteristics in healthy subjects. British Journal of Nutrition, 115(1), 62-67.
  4. Rasane, P., Jha, A., Sabikhi, L., Kumar, A., & Unnikrishnan, V. S. (2015). Nutritional advantages of oats and opportunities for its processing as value added foods-a review. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 52(2), 662-675.
  5. Alghannam, A. F., Gonzalez, J. T., & Betts, J. A., (2018). Restoration of muscle glycogen and functional capacity: role of post-exercise carbohydrate and protein co-ingestion. Nutrients, 10(2), 253.


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