Manipulating Carbohydrate Intake to Build Muscle and Burn Fat

Get results faster by manipulating your carb intake. Learn how by checking out this article from STACK expert Mitch Calvert.


In a perfect world, it would be easy to simultaneously build muscle and lose fat, but can we really "have our cake and eat it too?" Depending on our individual goals, we might be asked by a coach to either bulk up or cut back. So where is the middle ground?

Bodybuilders seem to have no problem dropping ten percent of their body fat during the 12- to 16-week period leading up to a competition. Is this an illusion? To a degree, perhaps, but these athletes dial in on every component of fitness, from quantity of food to cardio and weight training, to achieve their goals.

What does this mean for the average person? With smart dieting, it is possible both to build muscle and burn fat. To build muscle, you need to time your carbohydrate intake around workouts; and to burn fat, you need to limit your insulin response during the rest of the day. There are a number of ways to do this,  including limiting carbs to pre- and post-workout meals. (Read Building a Healthy Low-Carb Diet for Athletes.)

If you don't supply your body with the nutrients needed to fuel your workouts, your cardio and weight training can become catabolic, meaning it breaks down muscle. For example, say you lift weights at 4:00 p.m. Your first two meals of the day would be carb-free; then, an hour or so before your workout, you'd eat a complete meal of protein, fat and carbs. Following the workout, your meal would include more carbs; but any meals thereafter would consist of protein and healthy fats, with no carbs. (Learn about a different variation: Carb Back-Loading: A Nutrition Hack for Supercharged Performance.)

This isn't an easy system to stick with, but if you're serious about getting fast results, it's worth a shot. Here is what a sample day would look like if you follow my suggestions:

  • Breakfast: omelet with three whole eggs, one cup egg whites and spinach
  • Lunch: extra lean beef, one tbsp. olive oil and serving of vegetables
  • Pre-workout: whey protein powder, oatmeal with one tbsp. almond butter
  • Post-workout: chicken with white rice
  • Dinner: cottage cheese with peanut butter

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