By John Parrillo

When exercisers, athletes, and bodybuilders think about their diets, they often obsess about protein, especially at the expense of carbohydrates. Over my decades of being in the fitness industry, I’ve seen carbohydrates go in and out of style more times than bell bottoms.

There are some important things to know about carbohydrate intake – and why you shouldn’t neglect them.

The Glycogen Factor

For one thing, carbohydrates from food are used to create glycogen. This is the body’s storage shed for energy and located in your muscles and liver. When you eat carbs during the day, these sheds fill up and trigger your body to hold on to protein and create new muscle. But if you cut back on carbs too much, the shed is emptied out fast, causing protein (muscles) to be burned for fuel rather than being used to build muscle.

The Insulin Factor

Carbs also trigger the natural release of insulin, a hormone touted as the body’s most potent anabolic or tissue-building hormone. Insulin funnels both amino acids and glucose, the most basic unit of carbohydrate foods, into muscles to facilitate repair and recovery. The downside of insulin, however, is that it can be fat-forming if you over-consume carbs. Too many carbs produces an insulin glut in the body, and insulin then turns into a fat-forming hormone.

The Creatine Factor

If you’re supplementing with Parrillo Creatine Monohydrate™ (if not, where have you been?), carbs are a must. Here’s a news flash: Research don't-forget-the-carbs-creatinepublished in the Journal of Sports Science showed that that triggering an insulin response by taking carbohydrates with creatine boosted muscle creatine in all volunteers, and also retained levels of muscle creatine more than just taking creatine supplements alone. In those volunteers who didn’t show an increase in muscle creatine from creatine supplements, adding carbs greatly improved the uptake of creatine into muscles. (1) What does this mean to you? Taking carbohydrates with creatine makes creatine work more efficiently. Remember: creatine is a potent way to help enhance muscle growth.

As an important aside: The standard protocol for using creatine is to “load” the muscles for 5-7 days with 20 grams per day, taken as four servings of 5 grams each. This saturates the muscles with as much creatine as they can hold. This is followed by the “maintenance” phase, which usually consists of 5 grams per day, although some of our larger bodybuilders use 10 grams per day.

The BCAA Factor

You need carbs if you are going to supplement with branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are found in our Muscle Amino Formula™. Here’s why: BCAAs require insulin for absorption into muscle cells, and insulin is elevated with the consumption of carbs, as I noted above.

The time to use this product is immediately before and after training. Hard dieting is also a great time to supplement with branch-chain amino acids. During times of energy insufficiency (dieting), your body will actually break down its own muscle to use as fuel if no other is available. Catabolism is a dreadful metabolic state that occurs when glycogen stores have been depleted and fat oxidation has maximized. Under adverse conditions, carbohydrates are exhausted and your body breaks down protein stores (muscle tissue) to convert into carbohydrate to supply energy.

Branched chain amino acids are effective because they form a substrate for growth and are metabolized as fuel directly within muscle cells. A handful of Muscle Amino Formula™ capsules will help prevent the onset of catabolism and has both anabolic and anti-catabolic properties. Our Hi-Protein™ and Optimized Whey™ are fortified with extra BCAAs for just this reason. I suggest two or more with every meal. Just remember so take them with food (carbs) rather than on an empty stomach.

The Recovery Factor

For years, I have advised that you consume both protein and carbs immediately after workouts. This powerful one-two combo creates an inner hormonal environment for muscle growth much more aggressively and efficiently than protein taken alone.

don't-forget-the-carbs-pro-carb-chocolateOne of the best ways to accomplish this is to consume Parrillo Pro-Carb™ or 50/50 Plus™ after your workout. It contains just the right proportion of carbs and protein to support muscle recovery and growth. The main carb in this supplement is low DE maltodextrin, which is basically a chain of glucose molecules derived from vegetable starch. It is a fast-digesting carbohydrate, meaning it can enter the bloodstream quickly to raise insulin levels, drives amino acids into muscle, and jump-starts the muscle repair and growth processes. Taking Pro-Carb™ or 50/50 Plus™ right after workouts is one of the single most effective moves you can make to maximize your training efforts.

The Best Food Carbs

The Parrillo Nutrition Program recommends natural, whole carbohydrate foods such as brown rice, sweet potatoes, yams, regular potatoes, oatmeal, and any whole grain. These should be eaten with lean proteins and fibrous carbs such as salad vegetables, greens, broccoli, cauliflower, and so forth.

The one carb not recommended is fruit. Fruit contains fructose, a simple sugar that can cause digestive problems, poor performance, and fat gain. Fructose takes a longer time than other carbs to metabolize, and muscles can’t use it properly. Fructose must first be converted to glycogen in the liver. And when liver glycogen is already adequate, fructose comes along and gets converted to body fat – which is counterproductive to anyone’s physique goals. Therefore, fructose must be avoided.

Bottom line: Carbs are critical for muscle growth, and the more muscle you can produce, the leaner you’ll stay. Don’t forget the carbs!


Pittas, G., et al. 2010. Optimization of insulin-mediated creatine retention during creatine feeding in humans. Journal of Sports Science 28: 67-74.