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RPN #017: The Key Role of Carbohydrates in Physical Performance and Muscle Building

This week I’m going to be discussing carbohydrates and the essential role they play in performance, recovery and muscle development (hypertrophy).

Carbs have been labelled the devil’s food by some people.

But do they deserve all their recent bad press?

Spoiler alert.

The answer is no.

And I’ll explain why in this week’s newsletter.

In fact, if you want to perform at your best level, carbs are essential.

But first. Let’s start with the basics.

What Are Carbohydrates?

First things first, what are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates (or ‘carbs’ for short) are one of the three main types of food that your body uses for energy.

The other two are proteins and fats.

Carbohydrates come in different forms – sugars, starches, and fibres. And they’re found in an array of foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products.

Carbohydrates and Energy

Did you know that carbohydrates are your body’s preferred source of energy?

That’s right.

When you eat foods rich in carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into simple sugars.

These sugars enter your bloodstream and transported to your cells, where they’re converted into energy.

Now, why does this matter for your physical performance?


During high-intensity exercise, your body primarily relies on carbs for energy.

When you’re doing a heavy workout or sprinting, your body taps into the glucose (simple sugar) stored in your muscles and liver, known as glycogen.

If your body runs out of glycogen during exercise, you might ‘hit the wall’ or ‘bonk’, causing fatigue and a drop in performance.

This is often seen with inexperienced marathon runners around mile 20.

Carbohydrates and Muscle Building

When you think about building muscle, the first thing that comes to mind is most likely protein.

But what about carbs?

Do they play a role in muscle development?


Carbohydrates are crucial for muscle recovery and growth.

Post workout, your glycogen stores have been depleted.

Consuming carbs helps replenish these stores.

Which promotes recovery and preparing your body for your next exercise session.

Plus, when you consume carbohydrates, your blood sugar level rises.

This triggers your pancreas to release insulin to help your cells take in the sugar and covert it to energy.

Insulin also plays a key role in promoting the uptake of amino acids into the muscles.

Proteins that you eat get broken down into their building blocks known as amino acids.

When you consume protein after a workout, these amino acids are pushed in the bloodstream.

Insulin helps these amino acids to be taken up by the muscle cells, where they are used to repair and build new muscle tissue.

A process called muscle protein synthesis (MPS).

This is especially important after exercise, as MPS is elevated, and muscles are primed for recovery and growth.

Additionally, carbs have a ‘protein-sparing’ effect.

When you have enough carbs in your body, they’re used for energy.

Allowing proteins to do their primary job — building and repairing muscles.

Without enough carbs, your body may use protein for energy instead, hindering your muscle building efforts.

Actionable Tips

So, how can you apply this knowledge to improve your physical performance and muscle building? Here are some actionable tips:

1. Eat a balanced die: Include a good balance of carbs, proteins, and fats in your diet. Remember, each plays a unique role in your body, and they all work together to support your health and fitness goals.

2. Choose complex carbs: Choose complex carbohydrates over simple carbs (like sugary snacks). They provide sustained energy and are packed with other nutrients.

3. Time your carb intake: Consuming a meal rich in carbs about 2-3 hours before exercise can help optimise your performance. Post workout, have a meal or snack with both protein and carbs to promote recovery and muscle growth. Aim for a ratio of 4:1 carbs to protein to aid recovery from endurance activity.

4. Stay hydrated: Hydration is key for optimal performance and recovery. Don’t forget to drink enough water! Consuming carbohydrates during and after exercise can help replace lost fluids. For every gram of glycogen stored in the muscles, approximately 3-4 grams of water are stored with it.

5. Consult a professional: If you’re serious about your fitness goals, consider consulting a nutrition or a fitness coach. They can provide personalised advice based on your body composition, lifestyle, and goals.

Remember, there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to nutrition.

Everyone’s body responds differently, and what works best for you might not work for someone else.

So, stay curious, keep learning, and most importantly, listen to your body!

In a nutshell, carbohydrates play a vital role in boosting performance and recovery.

But choose wisely.

Whenever you’re ready, get in touch to find out more about how I can help you.

Click here to get in touch to discuss one-to-one coaching options to help you achieve your performance goals.

Move better, feel better and perform better.

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