blood pressure cuff on arm

How Exercise Can Impact Your Blood Pressure

One of the most effective methods to lower your blood pressure is to incorporate regular exercise into your daily routine. 

Nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure, according to The American Heart Association. When left untreated, the damage that high blood pressure does to your circulatory system is a significant contributing factor to heart attack, stroke, and other health threats.

While hypertension may appear to be a frightening condition, minor changes to your regular routine might help you decrease and maintain healthy blood pressure. One of the most effective methods to achieve this is to incorporate regular exercise into your daily routine. 

Can Exercise Help Lower Your Blood Pressure? 

While exercise might cause your blood pressure to rise, this is only a temporary effect. To properly decrease your blood pressure, it may take up to three months of constant increased exercise. Of course, you’ll want to consult with your doctor before starting an exercise program.

According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise generally accounts for a reduction of 4 to 12 mmHg in diastolic and 3 to 6 mmHg in systolic blood pressure. It does this by strengthening your heart and allowing it to work more effectively and able to pump more blood with less effort. Exercise also helps you maintain a healthy weight and lower stress levels, which are both leading causes of high blood pressure. 

What Exercises Lower Blood Pressure? 

For reducing blood pressure, a mix of aerobic activity and strength training is usually suggested. Aerobic exercise (often known as ‘cardio’) is defined by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) as “any activity that engages large muscle groups, can be performed continuously, and is rhythmic in character.” Resistance training, on the other hand, is described as any exercise in which your muscles are forced to operate against an opposing force. 

These two types of activities, when combined, help to reduce your total blood pressure. 

Not everyone enjoys running on a treadmill or pumping iron in the gym. You can find other types of exercise like yoga, walking, playing sports, biking, and using resistance bands to fulfill your exercise needs. No matter which exercises you choose, it’s important to find something you enjoy. 

Aerobic Exercise  

The American Heart Association recommends you aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intense aerobic exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise each week. This can either be split as 30 minutes per day on at least 5 days each week or in shorter sessions of 10 minutes several times per day throughout the week.  

Resistance Training 

Newer research suggests that resistance training with bands or weight lifting can be used to supplement aerobic exercise to further reduce blood pressure. You should aim to complete 2 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions for each of the major muscle groups during your training sessions. Resistance training sessions should be somewhat spaced out throughout the week, to limit the potential muscle soreness. 

Get to Exercising

If you’re new to exercise, remember to take things at your own pace, don’t make it a chore or you won’t stick with it. Once you’ve become used to your new regimen, you can raise the intensity or number of repetitions. 

Blood pressure does naturally increase as we age, so it’s vital to stay active throughout every stage of life. 

Read “5 Benefits of Weight Training

By Leslie Radford
couple working out outdoors

Get Ripped Outdoors This Spring

Key Points

With nicer weather on the horizon, it’s time to take your workouts outdoors.


Don’t stay cooped up in the gym this spring, get outside and spruce up your workout. No equipment is needed, just your body weight.

Using Bodyweight

Your body weight can be used to generate any number of training stimuli. Instead of using heavier weights and higher reps, you can:

Use explosive, jumping movements to recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers. 

Slow down the tempo you move at, forcing your muscles to stabilize you for an endurance challenge (called “time under tension”). 

Do a circuit of bodyweight moves just as easily as you can do the machine circuit in your gym to burn more calories.

Circuit Training

Nutrition Nation Circuit Workout Chart

Other Exercises to do Outdoors

Medicine balls, park benches, stairs – these are all the “extras” you could incorporate into your outdoor workout. For instance, you could:

Stairs Workout

Intensity will vary depending on the size of the staircase. Try these routines from Johnson Fitness and Wellness:

Sprint or Walk every other step for 10 reps (20 total stairs)

Walk back down for recovery and repeat for a total of 4 rounds

Sprint every step for 20 total steps

Walk back down for recovery and repeat for a total of 4 rounds

Bunny Hop (feet about shoulder-width apart) every step for 10 steps

Walk back down for recovery and repeat for a total of 4 rounds

Rest 1 minute and repeat the above


Bench Push-Ups

10-12 reps

Place hands on bench in an incline position or, to increase the difficulty, place feet on bench and perform decline push-ups.


Bench Jump

10-12 reps


Cradle Squats

12-15 Reps

Hug the med ball into the chest and perform a deep squat


Kettlebell Swings & Squats

10 swings

1 goblet squat

15 swings

2 goblet squats

25 swings

3 goblet squats

50 swings

Rest 1 minute and repeat for a total of 3-4 rounds

Start Working Out Outdoors

This is a great list to get you started and adds variety to your workout on the days you want to get out of the gym and into some fresh air.

By Leslie Radford

anatomical view of the heart

The Muscle That Matters The Most

Key Points

You might be fit, but are you protecting your heart health? 


Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death worldwide. It can even happen to someone as fit as a bodybuilder. 

In sports where the muscle mass of the large muscles of the body must contract at maximum capacity such as, for example, in bodybuilding, weightlifting, powerlifting, and strongman, the intensity of effort is the master and the heart muscle undergoes concentric hypertrophy. This is especially true of the left ventricle, which determines the ejection capacity. Therefore, it is possible to have a hypertrophic heart (thickening of the left ventricle). Dirty bulking can increase cholesterol and lead to heart problems. Over-dosing on certain supplements can even put your heart at risk.

It’s important to check in with your doctor, monitor your heart rate, eat clean, keep stress low, get plenty of sleep, and supplement appropriately. Let’s take a closer look at what that looks like. 


How to Keep Your Heart Healthy

February is Heart Health Month. Here are some tips to keep your heart healthy.

1 Know Your Numbers

According to the Group Health Research Foundation, healthy men and women should have their cholesterol checked every five years and their blood pressure checked every two years. Men should begin wellness visits at age 35 and women at 45.

Purchase a home blood-pressure monitoring unit. Adult blood pressure is considered normal at 120/80.

Get a physical with full blood work in your twenties to help determine if you have any risk factors. Ask about your family history as well. Your risk of heart disease and stroke greatly increases if a parent has suffered from either before age 55.

2 Go to Sleep

Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to a multitude of health issues, including well-known contributors to heart disease like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and impaired glucose tolerance. The more active you are during the day, the easier it will be for you to sleep at night.

You can set up your sleeping environment to promote deeper sleep by removing all artificial light, installing blackout curtains, or downloading some relaxation sounds for extra sleep aids.

3 Get it On

Sex can increase your heart rate and blood pressure as much as climbing a flight of stairs would. One study suggests that men who orgasm three or more times per week reduce the risk of heart attack by as much as 50 percent—which may be caused by the release of the hormone DHEA. Sex also releases beneficial hormones that reduce stress, cause relaxation, and improve sleep.

4 Don’t Exercise Excessively

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, it’s recommended that you log about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise per week to keep your heart healthy. Some of you probably accomplish this in a few days! 

A review study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that some endurance athletes who exercised at very high intensities over a long duration were at a greater risk of developing heart problems than those who exercised more moderately.

As the saying goes, too much of any one thing is not always a good thing. Different exercises stress the heart in different ways, and too much of any one form can push you into the higher-risk spectrum.

Lifting 3-5 times per week is not going to increase cardiac risk for most people, and the same goes for those who run less than 30 miles per week.

woman exercising

Tips for Women’s Health: National Women’s Health & Fitness Day

Tips for Women’s Health: National Women’s Health & Fitness Day

Key Points

Eat healthily



Women’s Health & Fitness Day is the nation’s largest annual health promotion event for women of all ages and is celebrated the last Wednesday in September. It focuses attention on the importance of regular physical activity and health awareness for women.

Here are a few simple things that women can do regularly to ensure good health:

Health Tip #1: Eat healthily

woman eating healthy food

Eat more natural foods like a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods. Whole grains and high-fiber foods are great to add to your diet. Choose leaner cuts of meat, fish, and poultry. Avoid foods and beverages that are high in calories, sugar, salt, and fat.

If you’re not getting enough vitamins and nutrients in your diet, you might want to take a multivitamin and a calcium supplement to make sure you’re maintaining good health.

Additional diet tips:

  • Limit foods that are high in sugar
  • Eat smaller portions spread out over the day
  • Watch your carbohydrate intake
  • Eat a variety of whole-grain foods, fruits, and vegetables every day
  • Consume less fat
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Use less salt

Health Tip #2: Exercise 

woman exercising


Exercise at least 30 minutes per day. This will lessen your risk for heart disease, the leading cause of death among women in America. Aerobic exercises (walking, swimming, jogging, bicycling, dancing) are good for women’s health in general and especially for your heart. Adding weights will increase not only the strength of your muscles but your bones. You don’t have to lift heavy and you shouldn’t be concerned with bulking up unless that is your ultimate goal.

Regular physical activity helps:

  • Keep bones strong
  • Prevent hip fracture (breaking your hip)
  • Decrease pain from arthritis
  • Prevent dementia
  • Maintain the independence to do basic everyday activities, like getting dressed, going to the bathroom, bathing, and eating

Health Tip #3: Self-Care

woman meditating

Self-care is something that many women struggle with. It’s their nature to take care of others first. But taking care of yourself is vital to your health. When you practice self-care techniques, you can manage stress more easily, boost your confidence and your immune system, and lower your risk for many diseases. 

Ways to practice self-care:

  • Meditate
  • Exercise
  • Eat healthily
  • Get plenty of sound sleep
  • Sit in the sun
  • Read for pleasure
  • Journaling
  • Getting recommended screenings

Recommended Screenings: 

  • Cholesterol and Blood Pressure: Women ages 20 and up 
  • Pelvic Exams and Pap Smears: Women ages 21-65 should have annual pelvic exams and a Pap smear at least every three years. 
  • Breast Exams and Mammograms: All women should receive a breast exam every year beginning at age 20, even if it’s just a self-exam. Get mammograms from age 40-50, and every other-year mammograms after that. 
  • Osteoporosis Screenings: Women 65 and older 
  • Colorectal Screenings: Start at age 50
  • Skin Cancer: Women of all ages should develop the habit of paying attention to changes in the skin or changes in moles and birthmarks
  • Diabetes: Get regular screenings from age 40 onward
By Leslie Radford

10 Things to Consider Before Choosing a Personal Trainer

10 Things to Consider Before
Choosing a Personal Trainer

Criteria for Choosing a Personal Trainer

  • Credentials

  • Experience

  • Personality

  • Philosophy

  • Specialties

  • Reputation

A Few More Things to Consider:

Having the support of a personal trainer keeps you motivated and accountable when it comes to your workouts. A trainer can also play a role in helping you maximize your time at the gym, prevent injury and get consistent results. Know how to choose the right person to help you in your fitness journey and who will help you set the correct goals to achieve your desired results.

Criteria for Choosing a Personal Trainer

Take into consideration the following criteria when selecting a personal trainer:


A trainer needs to be able to show you a fitness certification in their particular area of expertise. To become certified, personal trainers must pass an exam through accredited organizations.


A trainer who has been around the block a few times has likely tested and perfected his process for providing the best cues to help you get the most out of every single rep. Experienced trainers are not cheap, but you do get what you pay for.


Do you need someone who is going to give you constant positive reinforcement and cheerleading or will you fare better with someone who is more like a drill sergeant? Talk to the trainer and get a feel for her style to see if it jives with you.


How does the personal trainer develop his program? What beliefs is it based on? For example, is it gym-based workouts or meant to be done outside? Machines or free weights? Ask about philosophy and see if it makes sense for your goals and preferences.


Some trainers have specialties; others are Jacks of all trades. If you’re looking for something specific (i.e.: competing in a 5K or Olympic weightlifting), you’ll want to work with a trainer who specializes in those fields. Chances are that trainer will be more passionate about it if she is personally vested in the sport.


Good trainers will happy to share success stories, testimonials, and references. Ask around and see if others are getting results with a particular trainer.

A Few More Things to Consider

Cost, availability, location – these are a few more things you’ll want to consider when hiring a trainer. Can you afford them, are they available when you need them and are they close enough to you that you will actually utilize them?

Above all else, trust your gut. Look for a knowledgeable and experienced personal trainer who feels like the most natural fit. That’s the one to hire because she’ll not only help you reach your goals.

5 Benefits of Weight Training

5 Benefits of Weight Training

Blast Body Fat
Increase Overall Health
Strengthen Bones and Joints
Build Your Brain
Improve Confidence

Experts will tell you if you want to blast fat, gain muscle, and get in shape, you gotta lift weights. Here are 5 benefits of lifting weights that’ll convince you to pick up the iron.

1. Blast Body Fat

By building more muscle you can burn body fat all day long. Lifting weights can increase your lean body mass, therefore increasing the number of overall calories you burn during the day. The more muscle you have, the more calories your burn, the more fat you blast. And while it is true that you can’t spot reduce, a study found that women who lifted weights lost more deep belly fat than those who just did cardio. Lean muscle mass decreases with age, so it’s important to keep up a strength training regimen well past our prime to keep fat at bay.

2. Increases Overall Health

By increasing your muscle and decreasing body fat, you are also lessening your risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and some cancers. One study showed women who engaged in weight lifting had a 17% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease than those who didn’t and men reduced their risk for heart attack or stroke by 40-70%. You’ll also be reducing anxiety, easing depression, and increasing your happiness with lifting. The more fat that is stored in your body opens you up to all sorts of diseases and health issues.

3. Strengthen Bones and Joints

Weight lifting not only trains your muscles but also trains your bones. When you engage a weight, whatever muscle you are working essentially tugs on your bones. The cells within those bones react by creating new bone cells. Over time, your bones become stronger and denser. Research has shown that lifting heavy weights consistently over time maintains bone mass and can even build new bone – which is great news, especially for post-menopausal women. You can target strength training exercises to areas that are most likely to fracture, like the hips, spine, and wrists.

4. Build Your Brain

Lifting heavy increases the production of many hormones, including IGF-1. This specific hormone helps stimulate connection in the rain and enhance cognitive function. One study showed that leg strength was positively linked with stronger minds. Therefore, they are less susceptible to the negative effects of aging.

5. Attitude Adjustment

Training with heavy weights is shown to improve your self-confidence. When you improve your strength, you give yourself an esteem boost. Physical strength can bleed into your emotional strength. By constantly challenging yourself to do things you never thought possible, your confidence grows.

How to Calculate Macros

How To Calculate Marcos

So how do I calculate my macros?

You can figure out your macros in a few simple steps. First, you must figure out your goal whether it is losing weight, bulking up, toning your body, or even building muscle. Once you have figured out what your goal is, we can move on to the next step. Remember that a healthy active lifestyle incorporates both exercise and diet. Here you can find many exercise plans that also help you find your macros if you are confused on how to do it. In addition, they provide healthy meal plans and videos on how to exercise.

Find your calorie requirements

The number of calories you need per day is a product of your age, gender, weight, muscle mass, and activity level. Eating more than this will cause you to gain weight while eating less will cause you to lose weight. To figure out the exact number, you can use a calorie calculator but be careful to remember that these tend to be very rough estimates that don’t take into account a multitude of other factors. There are many online calorie calculators, so see which works best for you. The number given to you is the amount of calories needed for main.

How Alcohol Can Affect Your Body Composition

How Alcohol Can Affect Your Body Composition

Editor’s Note: This post was updated on September 10, 2018 for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on July 26, 2017

If you begin a conversation about alcohol, you’re likely to get a chorus of varied opinions.

Your one friend swears that her daily glass of red wine will ward off cardiovascular disease, even if it’s at the expense of her six pack abs. Meanwhile, your gym buddy has a zero alcohol consumption policy in an effort to remain as lean as possible and avoid the dreaded “beer belly”.

Is it really possible to enjoy your social drinking and still maintain a healthy body weight and composition?

The answer is somewhat complicated and likely depends on your ultimate goals. Let’s delve a little deeper into the relationship between alcohol and body composition.

How the body metabolizes food

In order to understand how the body metabolizes alcohol, we must first take a look at how the body breaks down different macronutrients. There are three major macronutrients: lipids, carbohydrates, and protein. For example, what happens inside your digestive system when a person consumes a typical mixed meal made up of carbohydrates and fat.

During digestion, carbohydrates are generally metabolized first in what we call the “substrate hierarchy.” As the body breaks down carbohydrates, insulin levels rise and cause fat oxidation to be suppressed.

When insulin levels drop, fat is released from the fat cells for metabolism. Dietary fat is stored temporarily in these fat cells, and fat storage is an ongoing process in the body with fatty acids constantly entering and exiting fat cells through the day.

The temporary delay in fat oxidation is not what causes fat gain; rather, it’s the caloric input and output that determines how many calories will be stored as body fat.

A body composition analysis is essential to completely understanding your health. It breaks down your body into four components: fat, lean body mass, minerals, and body water; and can provide insights into how to change your lifestyle, exercise plan, or healthcare practices.

With a body composition test, we can provide an individualized health plan that best fits your goals and personal needs. Not only will it help you become healthier, but it can reduce the risk of deadly diseases and health issues.


Alcohol is made through the process of fermentation of starch, and traditionally has been classified as having 7.1 calories per gram. But once we take into account its rather high thermogenic effect (the amount of energy it takes to metabolize it), we find that it actually has closer to 5.6 calories per gram. This clocks in at a close second to protein.

However, you’ll often hear that calories from alcohol are defined as “empty”, which mean you do not receive any nutritional value.

Once we add alcohol to our meal, the metabolism of alcohol will take immediate priority. Essentially, fat, carbohydrate and protein oxidation is suppressed.

One study found that when participants were given four meals differing in carbohydrate, fat, protein and alcohol content, the alcohol-rich meal suppressed fat oxidation more than the carbohydrate-rich meal did. There was no difference in hunger or satiety sensations after the test meals.

So why does alcohol metabolism take priority?

The metabolic by-product of alcohol, a process known as microsomal ethanol-oxidizing system, is a compound known as acetate which is toxic to the body, thus your body prioritizes removing these toxins.

Once alcohol is converted into acetate in the liver, it enters circulation and only a very small portion can be converted to fatty acids. Basically, acetate is a poor precursor for fat synthesis. One study attempted to estimate fat synthesis after alcohol consumption and found that only ~3% of alcohol is converted into body fat. In this study what that found was that for every 24 grams of alcohol that was consumed, only 0.8 grams of fat was made in the liver.

It seems that alcohol and carbohydrates both suppress fat oxidation as the body works to first metabolize alcohol and remove it from the body and break down carbohydrate in the presence of elevated insulin. However, while carbohydrates eaten in excess of what the body can store as glycogen can be easily converted into fat, the same cannot be said for alcohol.

While alcohol is a toxin, it doesn’t seem that alcohol calories are converted at a higher rate to body fat than the calories from carbohydrates, fat or protein. Rather, excessive consumption of calories in ANY form is likely to cause fat gain.

Nutritional Differences between Different Types of Alcohol

We discussed the idea that alcohol calories are likely no different than calories from carbohydrates, fat or protein when it comes to weight gain. But what about when we look at different types of adult beverages. Are there nutritional differences between beer, wine, and spirits?

First, we need to take into account caloric content by volume but it’s also important to consider carbohydrate content as this will drastically influence the metabolism of your drink and whether it will be recognized by the body as “alcohol” or “carbohydrate”.


Light beers typically contain ~100 calories and 5 grams of carbs per 12 oz servingRegular beers typically contain ~150 calories and 10.5 grams of carbs per 12 oz servingIPA’s typically contain ~240 calories and 22 grams of carbs per serving


Dry red wines typically contain 150 calories and 4 grams of carbs per servingDry white wines typically contain 125 calories and 3 grams of carbs per servingDry Sparkling wine and champagne typically contains 110 calories and 2 grams of carbsFor sweeter wines, you can assume that the carbohydrate content will be slightly higher.


Spirits such as vodka, gin, whiskey, rum, and tequila will all contain close to 95 calories and 0 grams of carbs per fluid ounce

Keep in mind that when you mix alcohol with high calorie beverages and mixers, the caloric value and carbohydrate content changes. While 1.5 ounces of tequila may contain only 95 calories and 0 grams of carbohydrates, a margarita might contain somewhere closer to 400 calories and 65 grams of carbohydrates.

Aside from the potentially high number of empty calories alcohol can impair judgment and decrease inhibitions when it comes to making good food choices.

Indulging in alcohol prior to a meal (what is known as an aperitif) has been shown to increase caloric consumption. This is likely due to the increased activity in the brain’s pleasure centers, leading the drinker to over-consume appealing food.

Another factor is the restricted ability to monitor food intake and stay on your exercise routine when you have been under the influence the night prior. Calorie counting may very well fly out the window, and waking up with a hangover the day after a night of drinking is not always conducive to getting in an intense workout.

This all makes sense. But what about the drinker who consumes alcohol but does not then consume more calories from food and sticks with their regularly scheduled fitness routine?

One study of 19,220 women found that normal-weight women who consumed a light to moderate amount of alcohol actually gained less weight than non-drinkers and had a lower risk of becoming overweight or obese during 12.9 years of follow-up.

Moderate alcohol consumption can improve insulin sensitivity, although the mechanism behind this is still unclear. This would play a role in the way in which the body breaks down and stores carbohydrates.

Though this isn’t a reason to start drinking if you do not currently, it does seem to support the notion that alcohol calories might not be as bad as we once thought.

Side note: There is no strong research to suggest that excess alcohol is any more likely than excess protein, lipids or carbohydrates to cause weight gain independent of the fact that excessive alcohol consumption might also lead to increased food consumption.

Alcohol and Body Composition

It has been said that alcohol may decrease testosterone levels which may very well affect muscle growth, fitness performance and body composition, but research in this area is also not very strong.

A six-week study found that when men and women consumed 30-40 grams of alcohol per day, there was a mere 6.8% reduction in testosterone levels for the men and no change for the women. This means that even while drinking 3-4 adult beverages per day for three weeks, there was only a very small reduction in testosterone.

Thus, for moderate drinkers, testosterone reduction does not seem to pose a significant threat.

But what about consuming alcohol as a post-workout drink? After all, marathoners have been throwing back a pint or two at the finish line for decades.

One study looked at the hormonal response to alcohol consumption post-workout. Researchers gave participants the equivalent of an alcoholic drink after their resistance exercise and found that despite the significant alcohol consumption, there was no effect on testosterone and only a modest prolonged cortisol effect compared to the exercise-only group.

Another study looked at the effects of alcohol consumption before, during, 24 hours after, and 48 hours after a workout and found no significant changes in muscular performance nor any accelerated muscular damage.

Granted, some studies have found the opposite. For example, one study found that a moderate dose of alcohol may impair normal muscle recovery after exercise. However, this effect was found after very strenuous eccentric exercise that the average gym-goer is less likely to engage in. Another study found that when given very high doses of alcohol (1.5 g/kg of body weight) post-exercise, the ethanol acted as a depressant and was linked with prolonged secretion of testosterone.

In an alcoholic population, research has found that chronic drinkers suffered from reduced rates of muscle protein synthesis but the same cannot be said for a light to moderate drinking population.

So can you enjoy your martini and still reap the benefits of your workout?

The answer is yes!

As long as you keep your drinking to a moderate level which may mean a few times per week for most exercisers. Serious athlete may want to think twice about regular bouts of heavy drinking, as alcohol consumption been linked to higher incidence of sports-related injury and even small drops in testosterone or increases in cortisol  which may pose a threat to their high-level fitness goals.

What’s the bottom line?

Can alcohol be included as part of a healthy diet without considerably deterring the drinker from achieving the body they want and work so hard for?

The answer is yes!

For optimizing weight and body composition, research shows that it is more important and beneficial to keep overall caloric intake under control. When consuming alcohol, try to remember the following:

The metabolism of alcohol DOES affect fat metabolism but likely not more than other macronutrients like carbohydrates. That said, try to avoid consuming excessive calories to avoid fat storage and if drinking regularly, be sure to account for alcohol in your usual caloric intake.If you’re trying to maximize your time spent in the gym and minimize the effects that a six-pack might have on your six pack, you might want to limit sugary mixers and cocktails and when choosing beer, stick to lighter versions.Keep calories in check by opting for these lower calorie spirits but also being sure to consume ample amounts of lean protein to promote satiety (remember, alcohol does not have a satiating effect so to avoid overeating while drinking, fill up on protein!) Stay hydrated and get to sleep on time. This way, you won’t have to skip your workout in the morning!And last but not least, always remember to drink responsibly! Excessive levels of alcohol is never healthy!


Alix Turoff MS, RD, CDN, CPT is a Registered Dietitian and NASM Certified Personal Trainer. She sees patients privately and also works as a freelance consultant and writer.

Why You Need Carbs to Build Muscle

Why You Need Carbs to Build Muscle

When it comes to health and fitness, there is a lot of bad advice out there. There are two common misconceptions about body composition and diet:

  1. Decrease carbohydrates for weight loss
  2. Only increase protein for muscle growth
However, these two rules of thumb are not absolute truths. Carbohydrates and protein are nutrients that both play important roles in body composition, yet they both have stereotypes that aren’t 100% accurate.

If you want to gain muscle mass, then yes, you will need a lot of protein. But you’ll also need a fair amount of carbohydrates, and that shouldn’t be shocking or scary.

Protein automatically gets the credit for building strong muscles, but let’s not forget about your carb intake.

Depending on your body composition goals, you’ll need to adjust the amount and type of carbohydrates you consume.

When someone wants to lose excess weight, the first thing they do—or the first thing they’re told to do by their friend who acts as their personal trainer —is to adopt a low-carb diet. This can definitely lead to fat loss, but cutting carbs shouldn’t be a hard and fast rule in body composition, especially when it comes to gaining muscle.

Carbs usually aren’t restricted if muscle growth is the goal. It seems like weightlifters and athletes know some things about carbohydrates that the general public doesn’t: carbs aren’t the enemy to achieving your body composition goals.

Like a lot of things in life, there are carbs that will help you reach those goals and carbs that will prevent you from reaching those goals. Out of the various types of carbs, complex carbohydrates play a largely important role in building muscle mass.

Carbohydrates and Building Muscle Mass

Think about it: building anything takes a lot of time, energy and resources. Building muscle is no different. The body requires a lot of energy to power through workouts that result in bigger, stronger muscles. Where does the body get most of that energy? Usually from carbs.

Energy from Complex Carbohydrates

Out of all the energy sources for the human body, researchers have found that carbohydrates are the main source of energy in the human diet. This means that carbs aren’t just for athletes. Carbs are a great source of energy for anyone’s daily activities, including exercise.

You can think of carbohydrates as a source of fuel for the body, otherwise known as calories. As we’ve previously learned, there are two types of carbohydrates: simple carbs and complex carbs.  Simple carbs are a quick, sporadic source of energy, while complex carbs are a good source of steady energy. 

If you’ve ever heard of an athlete eat candy before a game or training session, that’s because simple carbs, like white sugar, are one of the fastest ways to spike energy. However, this energy kick cannot be maintained for long. Complex carbs may not be as readily available for immediate energy as simple carbs are, but they’re more efficient and healthier. Complex carbs provide sustainable energy, which means the energy is constant and there’s no “crash” like with simple carbs. 

One of the main reasons why complex carbs sustain energy throughout the day is because they take longer to digest. Simple carbs like fruit are easy for the body to break down and get rapidly digested, so they don’t provide energy for a long period of time. Complex carbs like starches are slow to digest and therefore slowly provide calories, giving you continuous energy for a longer period of time. 

Because of their slow-release properties, complex carbs should be the largest component of daily energy intake.

Isn’t Protein More Important Than Carbs for Building Muscle?

When you think of building muscle, you may think of a high-protein diet. Protein is extremely important in building muscle because the amino acids (the building blocks of protein) help repair and maintain muscle tissue. Essentially, protein helps you recover from workouts because muscles slightly tear during exercise.

If protein is so important, why put an emphasis on carbs? Well, complex carbohydrates don’t get enough credit when it comes to the important roles they play in muscle gains.

Some of the ways that complex carbs help to build muscle include:

1. Carbs help regulate muscle glycogen repletion

You may have heard of glycogen stores before. Glycogen is a form of glucose that is stored for later use. When the body needs energy, glycogen kicks into gear and acts as a ready fuel source. 

Carbohydrates and glycogen go hand in hand because carbs are stored as glycogen.

When carbs are low, glycogen stores are low. When carbs are consumed, glycogen stores are full.

Since glycogen is used for energy, it’s important to replenish those stores. This is why researchers recommend to consume carbohydrates immediately following exercise; it replenishes glycogen stores for future use.

2. Carbs prevent muscle degradation

One concern about low-carb diets is muscle loss.

A Netherlands study compared a low-carb diet to other diets and found that restricting carbs results in protein loss. This is because restricting carbs causes an increase in the amount of nitrogen that get excreted by the body. Nitrogen is a component of amino acids (the stuff that forms muscle proteins), therefore nitrogen loss indicates that the muscles are breaking down.

3. Carbs help muscles recover from exercise

The role that carbs play in recovery goes back to glycogen stores. Immediately after exercise, athletes need to replenish their glycogen stores in order to prevent glycogen depletion.

Glycogen depletion, when glycogen stores have run out, causes gluconeogenesis. This is when the body forms glucose from new sources to compensate for the lack of glucose from carbohydrates. When this happens, the body turns to sources like fat and protein to fill this need. Protein acts as the last line of defense when energy is required, meaning that energy accessibility is running very low. 

When the body breaks down protein to make more glucose, it takes from the muscle, causing them to waste away. 

Gluconeogenesis is more common in carbohydrate-free diets, so be sure to consume healthy carbs to prevent this. 

Replenishing glycogen stores with complex carbs is important to prevent protein breakdown and muscle wasting.

Why Athletes Consume a Lot of Carbs

There are many reasons why athletes don’t adopt low-carb or carb-free diets. They know those good carbs are a necessary nutrient to help them power through training sessions, resulting in muscle maintenance and growth.

Some of the reasons why athletes consume a fair amount of carbs include:

1. Carbs prevent muscle weakness

By now, you understand the importance of glycogen stores. Some glycogen is even stored in our muscles. 

When you use those muscles during exercise, you tap into the glycogen stores in that particular muscle. When you lift weights with your arms, for example, you’re accessing the glycogen in your biceps.

Some athletes take advantage of glycogen by loading up on carbohydrates (by consuming carbs a day or more before a workout) to maximize the muscle glycogen stores. This can delay fatigue and even improve athletic performance, making for a better workout and stronger muscles.

2. Carbs improve athletic performance

Out of the three macronutrients, carbs are the most efficiently metabolized

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports all share the position that high carbohydrate availability is associated with improving performance during high-intensity exercise

Why? Because carbohydrates are the only macronutrient that can be broken down quickly enough to provide sustained energy during high-intensity training. 

Both carbohydrates and protein will both provide 4 calories per gram. But it is much easier for your body to digest and use the calories from a gram of carbohydrate than it is a gram of protein. 

Research has shown the link between nutrition and athletic performance is greater than initially believed.

3. Carbs repair muscles

During exercise, muscles slightly tear. Muscles feel sore after intense exercise because of this minor damage that allowed the muscles to exert more force than during regular activity.

After exercise or during rest, the muscles need to be repaired and rebuilt. Just like for building muscle, protein and glycogen is needed for that muscle repair

The importance of glycogen for muscles can’t be over-emphasized, and in order to maintain glycogen stores, carbohydrates are needed.

What Happens to Muscle When Carbs are Low

With the popularity of low-carb diets, it’s important to discuss the major concern that muscle mass is at risk of deterioration when carbs are low. 

Now that we know how important carbs are to build muscle, let’s discuss some of the possibilities when carbs are restricted.

Muscle is Broken Down For Fuel

The body looks to complex carbs as its main energy source. When carbs aren’t available, the body breaks down protein, i.e muscle, for fuel. 

Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen, which is a readily available source of energy for when it’s needed. Dietary protein, however, isn’t really meant to be stored in the body specifically as an energy source.

When the body breaks down muscle tissue for energy, it does so to access the amino acids (the building blocks of protein). The amino acids are then broken down into glucose and used for energy.

Carbs help to prevent this process encouraging protein sparing, which means they conserve muscle tissue by providing energy instead. When carbs are present, the body will use carbs first and foremost for energy. When carbs aren’t available, muscle gains that you have worked so hard to achieve can be lost.

Replenishing glycogen stores by consuming complex carbs prevents this muscle loss.

Decreased Athletic Performance

Decreased energy due to low-carb consumption may affect athletic performance. When glycogen stores are low, athletic performance is decreased.

Muscle strength can be compromised and fatigue increases when glycogen stores are low.

It’s widely accepted that athletic performance is somewhat dependent on carbohydrate consumption. Therefore, consuming carbs before the workout for energy and after to replenish glycogen stores are important contributors to improved exercise performance.

Complex Carbs for Muscle Gains

Everyone knows that protein is important for building muscle, but without carbs, the gains just aren’t the same. Complex carbs are vital for sustained energy, athletic performance, and overall muscle building.

However, the type of carbs and when they’re consumed are also vital to experience these benefits.

When to Consume Complex Carbs for Muscle Building

The time of carb consumption also impacts athletic performance and muscle building. 

It’s important to consume complex carbs before an intense workout so that glycogen stores are full enough to fuel the training. Consuming complex carbs immediately before a workout could lead to digestive distress, so try to limit complex carb consumption to up to a few hours before an intense workout. If you’re short for energy before an event, lean towards simple carbs.

After exercise, it’s important to consume complex carbs to replenish those glycogen stores for later use.

Balancing Carb Consumption

The amount of complex carbs you eat depends on your body composition goals. Generally, very low carb consumption (<5%) is used for weight loss, while adequate carb consumption (55-60%) is used for muscle gain. 

Athletes may pile on the carbs as they are required to train day-in and day-out. So it makes sense that they should consume a higher carb diet than the average person because they have higher energy needs. For non-athletes, it’s generally suggested to adopt a more balanced diet. Even if you’re mostly sedentary, you should still consume some carbs to fuel your daily activities. 

If the goal is to build muscle, we now know to eat all three macronutrients, including a fair amount of carbs.

Take Away

Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for humans. The body uses this nutrient for energy and stores them as glycogen for later use.Athletes rely on carbs for sustained energy, preventing fatigue, and enhancing athletic performance.Carbs are important for muscle building because they’re protein sparing, which means the body looks to glycogen for energy instead of breaking down muscle tissue for energy.Consuming carbs post-workout can prevent muscle loss and help repair muscles.

The moral of this story is that carbs, just like every other macronutrient, have a place in improving your body composition. In the end, it takes a well-rounded diet and a smart routine to build muscle.


Lacey Bourassa is a health and wellness writer in Southern California. Her areas of expertise include weight loss, nutrition, and skin health. She attributes her passion for healthy living to her plant-based diet. You can find out more about Lacey at

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