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From the low-fat, high carb bodybuilding diets of the 1980s, through to the ultra-low carb and high fat Anabolic diet, bodybuilding experts have argued what the optimal ratio of carbs to fat is for muscle gain. It’s time to clear up the confusion.

You’re interested in building muscle, so chances are you’re serious about training. Muscle gain is a whole different ballgame to fat loss. Everyone wants to lose a little fat, get leaner, see the scales drop and fit into their slim-waist jeans, but building muscle is another animal entirely.


If you’re serious about your training and progress in the gym, you need to get serious about your nutrition too.

While anyone can out on weight, that’s not what it’s all about. Sure, you could probably gain 50-lbs in a year by stuffing your face with junk food and high-calorie snacks, but it’s highly unlikely that even a quarter of that 50-lbs would be muscle. What you need is a diet that helps you pack on the right type of weight – slabs of lean muscle, with minimal fat gain.

Too many people focused on bodybuilding treat every day like an eating competition or an all you can eat buffet, believing that they can force feed muscle growth by ramming calorie after calorie down their throat.

You must acknowledge though that unless you’re a rank beginner, building mass is a slow process – 20 to 30-lbs of pure muscle gain in a year is excellent progress, so strive for this.

This brings us to the first issue of calories, that we must address before tackling carbs and fat. To gain weight you need a small excess of calories. Find your maintenance calorie intake first, either by using an Online calorie needs calculator, or basing it off your current diet – if you’re maintaining weight at the moment, then you’re eating at maintenance level.

To gain lean mass with little to no fat gain, add 400 calories per day to your maintenance level. This is enough to lay down a solid foundation for building muscle, but isn’t so excessive that those extra calories will convert straight to blubber.

Make sure that you’re eating around one gram of protein per pound of body-weight each day too. This is absolutely imperative. Any less and you compromise your muscle-building progress, and much more will be wasted.

The next consideration is the all-important carb and fat intake.

Firstly – fats

Fats don’t immediately convert to body fat, despite what their name may imply, so don’t fear the fat. Doing so could impair your results. You need fat for hormone production. The main muscle-building hormone is testosterone, and to produce testosterone, you need an ample fat intake.

When starting your diet, aim for 0.4 grams of fat per pound of body-weight. So if you weigh 200-lbs, you’d shoot for 80 grams of fat.

Just like protein, any lower than this could mean you’re not making the most of fat’s hormone boosting properties, and not producing enough testosterone to successfully gain muscle, while any more is just overkill. Get your fat from a mixture of sources, and try to include all three types of fat;

- Monounsaturated from nuts, olive oil, avocado and peanut butter.
- Polyunsaturated from seeds, oily fish, fish oil supplements and flax seed oil.
- Saturated from full-fat dairy, red meat and coconut.

Next up, we’re on to carbs

While many dieters avoid carbs because of the potential negative impact on weight loss, when you’re gaining weight carbs are your new best friend.

Carbohydrate’s role is to shuttle nutrients to the muscle cells, aid with repair and recovery, and boost insulin and hormone levels to stimulate growth. Quite simply, you can’t build muscle optimally without carbs.

Add up the calories you’re consuming from protein and fat (protein has 4 calories per gram and fat has 9 calories per gram) and subtract these from your total calorie intake. Carbs have 4 calories per gram, so divide the number by 4 to get how many grams of carbs you should eat daily.

Manipulating Carb And Fat Rations For Body Types

No two people are alike when it comes to building muscle and creating the optimal diet.

While the above guidelines are a great place to start, and will work fantastically well for the vast majority of people, you may find you need to tweak them slightly to suit your body type, genetics and metabolism.


Naturally skinny folks, known as ectomorphs often have very high metabolisms. If this is you (and you’ll probably know if you are) then you’ll probably need more calories – your body should be able to cope with a surplus of around 600 to 700 per day without gaining fat. Not only that, but you can handle more carbs too. Try getting the majority of these extra calories from carbohydrates.

At the other end, you’ve got the endomorphs – those unlucky people who suffer with excess fat, and struggle to stay lean. If you’ve always been a little on the heavy side, your body may not like you going in on such a high carb intake to begin with. Take your fat intake up to 0.5 grams per pound and bump your protein up by 10 percent too, then recalculate your new lower carb intake.

The good news is that over time, your metabolism will adapt, and start using these carbs more wisely – putting them towards growth and recovery rather than storing them as fat, but you’ll have to build up slowly.

High and Low Carb Days

Incorporating high and low carb days – a technique known as carb cycling, is an ultra effective way to build muscle while staying lean.

Many carb cycling diets are ridiculously complicated, and you need a degree in advanced algebra to figure them out, but there’s no need to get quite so complex.

On the days you train, increase your carb intake and decrease fat intake slightly, and on rest days lower the carbs a touch and bump up fats to compensate.

To keep things basic, on workout days increase your carb intake by 20 percent and lower your fats to keep calories at the same level, and on days you don’t work out, take carbs down 20 percent and increase fats.

Carb and Fat Timings

With your carb and fat ratios sorted, you’re definitely on the right track, and will no doubt get fantastic results and build lean muscle, but to take your diet from great to perfect, the last consideration is macronutrient timing.

To get the most from your carbs, consume a higher proportion around your workout times. Ideally, take in around 30 percent one to two hours before training, another 30 percent in the hour or two after training, and have the remaining 40 percent spread throughout the day.

Ingesting carbs before training gives you energy and starts off shuttling protein to the muscle cells, while carbs afterwards replete your lower glycogen and blood sugar levels and kickstart the rebuilding of damaged muscle fibers.

With these key factors all in place, you’re already ahead of 99 percent of the other wannabe muscle-heads.

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