Why You Need Carbs

Newsflash: insulin is the most anabolic hormone in the body. Anabolism is the process where smaller units are made into molecules. For our purposes in training, it means growth and recovery. You can not — repeat, NOT — get optimally strong without it.

When food is eaten, particularly carbohydrates, insulin will release to induce the cellular uptake of substances, particularly glucose (sugar) and amino acids (various effects on metabolism, but most importantly are building blocks of protein). The domino effect of insulin being released induces an anabolic state that is necessary for recovery. During training, muscles are damaged. The stress/adaptation process will not only repair the muscles, but repair them so that they have a higher threshold. The higher threshold culminates in increased strength (when on a proper program). Anabolism is an environment that is necessary for recovery to occur; if the body is wasting away in catabolism (the opposite of anabolism), it can’t help build the structures back up for recovery.

Neglecting carbohydrates dampens the anabolic effect of insulin. Since insulin is such a significant contributor to building the body, its volitional neglect is a decision that says, “I would prefer not to get big and strong right now.” And that’s just fucking weird, folks.

Carbohydrates aren’t the necessity for strength and muscular growth; protein and fat play significant roles in recovery. The point is that you need all three. Neglecting carbs has been a savvy thing to do lately. It’s a result of the demonizing on insulin. Well, guess what? If you aren’t lifting hard — training to get stronger and bigger muscles with compound movements like the squat, bench, press, and deadlift — then insulin is less critical. If you are sedentary or primarily do conditioning workouts — a training emphasis that induces adaptations in the cardiovascular/respiratory systems — then insulin probably should be avoided since it isn’t required for an environment of growth. Let me be clear: training only to get conditioned, by definition, isn’t stressing the body to grow and get stronger. However, someone who wants to get strong (with or without conditioning) will not only benefit from a growth environment, but will need it if they are going to be efficient with their time. It’s the intelligent thing to do.

Both Alice Cooper and Insulin are not actually evil

I’m not suggesting you have giant carb meals to create an insulin response. People forget that exercise, particularly exercise that induces a state of growth (like lifting) will increase insulin sensitivity. Fish oil also increases insulin sensitivity, and most people that read this site are taking it. You won’t need crazy amounts of carbohydrates to induce a solid insulin response — unless you’re a Skinny-pain-in-the-ass-Guy. I do want to point out that “crazy amounts of carbs” is a relative thing since a lot of people are eating melons, berries, and pine tree bark as their daily carb source (it’s what Lucy ate, after all). Unless you’re a fat person — and you know if you’re fat or not — aim for a similar amount of carbs and protein. You should be eating significant protein compared to your sedentary friends (at least 1g of protein per pound of body weight, and guys need much more than that). Some research would indicate that it really doesn’t matter when you have that protein during the day, but you’ll feel better if eat it throughout the day. However many protein grams you’re eating, eat an equal amount of carbs. For the hard training lifter, that really won’t be a lot. But it is a fuck-ton more than what most of you are eating because you’ve been told carbs and insulin are evil like the Alice Cooper.

Of course you’ll be adding on plentiful amounts of fat along with that diet. Glenn Pendlay told our chat room last Tuesday that he considered fat (with plenty of cholesterol) to be more important than protein (his lifters are obviously getting significant protein — I’d assume well over 1g of protein per pound of body weight). It’s the Grandma Principle in action. The Grandma Principle states that you should eat meals that your grandma would have cooked; whole meals with legit foods like cooked dead animal, vegetables, and potatoes. For more on Granda, go HERE.

On a similar note, I Socratically asked Pendlay, “Do any of your lifters eat paleo?” I knew what the answer was, and he said something like, “Are you fucking serious?” to which I replied, “Fuck no, but that’s the point.” Nobody is going to get strong — and I mean fucking above average strong, not deadlifting 400 — by eating tree bark.

Insulin is the most anabolic hormone. By choosing not to utilize it throughout the day in at least two or three meals is a decision that says, “I don’t want to be as strong as I could be.” It’s analogous to wearing Vibram Fucking Five Fingers in the gym or choosing to squat with the bar on top of your head — it isn’t fucking optimal. And folks, people who make a blatant decision to not be strong give me the willies.

64 thoughts on “Why You Need Carbs

  1. Amazing how complicated eating can be. Can you just not not experiment with yourselves and see what works best for you? If I eat a meal with a lot of saturated fat I can work longer and harder before I have to eat again. If I eat simple carbs I’ll have very little energy. Oh and antigen if you have time to lie in bed 12 hours a day you need to get busier. Seriously I’m not having a go but you’re sleeping your life away.

    I assure you, Antigen isn’t sleeping his life away. I’d argue he’s got more interesting and successful shit going on than the majority of readers here, thank you very much.

    P.S. Antigen drinks bacon grease, so right now antigen > dairyfarmer


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  3. I have to respectfully disagree with this post. I gain strength and muscle perfectly well using a ketogenic diet whilst suffering far less allergen type symptoms and maintaining single digit bodyfat. This is from someone who used to be constantly bloated and ill from large amounts of grains, fruit and milk. Because of biomechanical individuality some people may be able to handle these foods better than others but i personally do better on a high fat low carb diet.

    How much do you weigh and what do you squat/bench/deadlift/press/clean?


  4. I think Justin would agree that while his principles stated here are completely true and most people here are training hard and need to fuel up a bit better…… You should also question what you read and try it out for yourself and TRACK THE RESULTS for fuck sakes. If grains work for you and don’t fuck up your system, great. If they fuck with you, then eat tubers and fruit and drink your milk. I’ve found with the majority of my clients, replacing grains with tubers, fruit and milk calms down the chronic elevated cortisol and improves recovery and performance. Some refuse to try and do just as well. Paleo has helped a lot of people, but like anything, it does get taken a bit far and splinters off into factions that build tree houses and eat bar wearing sock shoes. Others get under the bar and lift the shit out of it every chance they get. If you aren’t willing to try things out and track results to make an educated decision…you deserve to be fat and weak….

  5. Overall I think Justin needs to tighten up his game and produce better articles than this one (which he has done in the past). For those interested in a deeper understanding of insulin, I encourage you to take a look at these articles:

    The last one might prove specially interesting since it deals with how dairy products are insulinemic yet don’t promote weight gain.

    I’ve never given anyone the impression that I’m going to be giving research in support of anything (mostly because research with training is shitty as it is). Not only do I not care to look it up, but it’s the conceptual understanding that I want readers to have. Feel free to start your own website.


  6. @Brent_W: Thank you! I have been trying to come up with an eloquent way to say that paleo isn’t the problem and that paleo is not “low carb”. I will continue to argue that grains are not good for anyone. They cause problems in everyone, whether you notice them or not. Get all the carbs you want, I don’t care (because like you said you need them to promote growth), but it wouldn’t kill you to make better choices for where you get them.

  7. Chris Walls

    “They cause problems in everyone, whether you notice them or not.”

    Can you prove that? And since grains a staple part of the diets of many countries and cultures with good life expectancies and low rates of diseases such as CVD I’m not sweating keeping them in my diet.

  8. I’m currently 5’8 and 195 my back squat is at 565, deadlift 578, my max clean i believe is 255 but i stopped doing them as i have a weird sternum making it hard to rack without smashing it constantly and i’ve pressed 250×2 but have never tested my 1RM. I haven’t benched in a couple years as i have no real use for the exercise and can’t afford a decent bench. Keep in mind these are ‘gym’ weights so could be a little lower under stricter ruling.

  9. I don’t see why people get so bent out of shape over this stuff.

    Athletic performance and health don’t always mix. Something that helps you perform better isn’t always better for your health, and something that makes you healthier doesn’t always help you perform better.

    It’s still in question because research regarding sport and diet has been pretty shitty and primarily limited to endurance athletes (which, by the way, there has been shown a correlation between heart disease and marathon runners, which may or may not mean anything, but is funny).

    So decide whether you care more about athletic ability (strength and size for most of us here) or trying to squeeze an extra 5+ years out of your life if you’re lucky enough to not die from one of a thousand other factors besides what you eat.

  10. Really interesting article, thanks for posting it Justin. Nutrition has always been a tough area for me, mainly because there is so much information out there on what to eat and how to eat. I’m fairly confident with my current diet, but I’m sure it could be better, though I continue to do well on 5/3/1, albeit slower than those of you who do 5×5, but 5/3/1 works best for me and my work/school/sleep schedule.

  11. @Justin – I respect your choice of not offering research supporting anything and that’s not what I’m asking of you. The problem here is that the conceptual understanding that you offered in this particular article is base upon a flawed argument: that you should eat carbs because of their insulinemic response.

    After reading your article as a whole I still don’t know why I should eat carbs (the bits of the Grandma and Grandpa principles are onto something tho, but they’re presented in the article more as an afterthought). And this is mainly because you provide as an argument the insulinemic response of the body to carbs. If the insulinemic response is the reason why I should eat carbs, then I’d be better off focusing on more protein since it provides a stronger insulinemic response. This totally breaks your argument.

    It’s kind of funny also how you are able to say something like “research with training is shitty as it is” just after saying that insulin means, for our purposes in training, growth and recovery; which is something that was proved through research.

    Okay, I admit it: I don’t give enough of a shit to be more thorough for you. People with above average strength and muscle mass will need to eat more carbs than someone who isn’t. Nobody seemed to give a shit when Glassman used to say “it’s the black box, we don’t know what happens except for the input/output”.


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