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If you are in a bulking phase and trying to put on muscle mass, then you might be wondering if pasta is a good option to add to your diet.
Pasta is an excellent choice if you are bulking since the extra carbs will help fuel your training, especially if eaten pre-workout.
Pasta, especially refined wheat pasta, is also low in fiber, which means it won’t leave you feeling too full while bulking.
Eating foods that make you feel “too full” is often a problem when bulking because it prevents you from eating enough calories to be in a caloric surplus (a necessary component for bulking).
- While pasta contains some protein and a little fat, it is primarily a carbohydrate source. There are certain brands of pasta available (such as legume pasta) that contain a higher amount of protein.
- Pasta is quick to digest, easy to make, versatile, contains some protein (for muscle building), and is inexpensive.
- If you’re eating pasta on a clean bulk, be sure to measure out your portions to meet your specific calorie and carb targets, add in a protein source, and eat other sources of carbs in your diet.
Pasta For Bodybuilding: Overview
Nutritional Content of Pasta
There are several types of pasta. For this article, we will focus on traditional pasta made with wheat and eggs. One cup of cooked spaghetti (125 g) has the following nutritional information.
- Calories: 195 kcal
- Carbs: 37.9 g
- Fiber: 2.2 g
- Protein: 7.2 g
- Fats: 1.2 g
Pasta is relatively low in calories. However, it’s how you prepare and serve pasta with other ingredients that can make it a high-calorie meal.
If you’re not measuring the pasta and using portions, one pasta dish from a typical restaurant (which could be around 300-400g of pasta) can have a minimum of 500-600 kcal.
That is only counting the pasta.
Then you need to add some butter or oil to cook it. Then you’ll add the toppings, cheese, and sauce.
If you are trying to increase the calories of your pasta dish even further, having a creamier sauce can add another 200-300 kcal since it is generally made with heavy cream and butter.
Most of the macronutrients we get from pasta are carbs since one cup of pasta has 37 g of total carbs. For a bodybuilder, this is great, since in most cases, at least 50% of the total daily calories might come from carbs.
Pasta is not a very high-fiber food, which is an advantage to a bodybuilder in a bulking phase.
Since it is a low-fiber food, it means that it is easily digestible.
It provides fast-acting energy and won’t produce as much bloating as any other high-fiber food.
- Related: Is Pasta Fast Digesting?
Depending on the ingredients that it is made from, pasta can be a high-protein food, too.
It can range from 3-10 g of protein per serving.
Pasta made with eggs, or if it uses a legume (beans, lentils, chickpeas, edamame, or quinoa) as a base, tends to be higher on the protein side.
Nonetheless, it is still NOT a very high protein intake for a bodybuilder. Thus, whenever you are adding pasta to your menu, make sure to add a large piece of protein (like chicken) on the side.
Pasta is not very high in fats either. You can increase the calorie and fat content of your pasta dish if your goal is to add more calories simply by adding fats to your dish such as olive oil, butter, or cheese.
Pasta is not the highest in nutrients.
Since it is made with white wheat flour, most of the nutrients are lost during refinement.
However, nowadays, in most cases, pasta comes enriched. This means that vitamins and minerals are added to the mix to ensure you are getting nutritious food.
Here you can find a list of the most common nutrients found in pasta and how they can benefit a bodybuilder.
- Folate: It is an essential nutrient to form new healthy red blood cells. Having an increased production of red blood cells means that more nutrients and oxygen gets delivered to your muscles. In the end, this leads to more muscle gain.
- Niacin: It is one of the vitamins that help turn the food that you eat into usable energy. This is important for a bodybuilder since having enough energy for your workout is crucial.
- Thiamine: This essential vitamin helps turn the carbs we eat (from pasta) into usable energy in our bodies. Those that have a higher thiamine concentration have a better glucose metabolism. It also helps in muscle and heart contraction.
- Magnesium: It has several benefits for a bodybuilder. It helps in muscle contraction and is part of several enzymes (they help in several chemical processes like turning food into usable energy). Additionally, magnesium is key for sleep. People that supplement with magnesium before going to bed have a better sleep. This is an essential trait for a bodybuilder since sleep is where your muscles recover.
4 Pros Of Eating Pasta For Bulking
There are several reasons why you should add pasta to your bulking diet. Here are the top 4 reasons why you should add it to your next meal.
Pasta is one of the best options to add carbs and calories to your diet since it’s very “energy dense” (i.e. it contains a lot of calories per serving).
Finding the right foods that won’t add too much stomach bulk is essential for a bodybuilder that is starting in a bulking phase.
Pasta is one of the top choices for those that have a hard time eating (like myself).
When I am in muscle-gaining season, this is one of my lifesavers.
Quick, Easy, and Versatile
Another essential benefit of pasta is that it is easy to make and store, and versatile.
Pasta is very quick to make. You can make a batch of it and meal prep for the entire week. It usually doesn’t take more than 10-15 minutes to create a complete pasta dish. For those bodybuilders that have a stressful and busy life, pasta helps reduce cooking time.
It is also foolproof to make. Even if you are not that handy in the kitchen, a pasta dish only needs boiling water, salt, and pasta. There is not much science there.
Finally, pasta goes along with almost anything. You can have it hot or cold, and you can add several types of protein and several veggies. There are also different types of pasta that you can use to create different dishes.
Check out how bodybuilder Regan Grimes adds pasta to his lunch.
Some Pasta Brands Are Made With Legumes
There are some kinds of pasta (the ones made with legumes) that are high in protein.
Although they don’t offer the amount needed for a bodybuilder, they do offer some.
For someone trying to have more plant-based protein instead of animal sources, pasta gives a huge benefit.
- Related Article: 10 Best High-Calorie Low-Fiber Foods (Dietitian Approved)
Pasta is very affordable
Increasing our calories and eating more food during a bulking phase can get pricey. Luckily, pasta is a relatively cheap carb source if you are bulking on a budget.
In fact, wheat pasta only costs around 0.61 cents per gram of carbohydrate, which is quite inexpensive when compared with Basmati rice, which costs 1.16 cents per gram.
2 Cons of Eating Pasta For Bulking
Here are a couple of reasons why pasta might not be the best choice during a bulking phase:
Pasta Is Not Very Nutrient Dense
It is important to make sure that you are eating foods that are high in vitamins and minerals, even when you are bulking.
While pasta is an excellent source of carbohydrates, it is not particularly nutrient-dense, especially when compared to other whole-food carb sources such as potatoes, fruit, beans, and legumes.
While many pastas are fortified with some vitamins and minerals as mentioned earlier, it is important to note that it is generally better to get most of your nutrients from whole foods that are not synthetically fortified.
In order to avoid any nutrient deficiencies, make sure that you are consuming carbs from a variety of different whole food sources, and not just from pasta.
Most Pasta Brands Are Low in Protein
Traditional pasta is not very high in protein.
Although there are some that have a significant amount, pasta is still primarily a carb source. Thus, if you are a bodybuilder and have a high-protein diet you might want to add other protein sources to your dish.
- Related Article: Can I Eat Pasta While Cutting? (Yes, Here’s How)
Can You Eat Pasta Before Workouts?
Pasta is a great pre-workout meal as carbs are the primary macronutrient, which provides energy for your training sessions.
If you want a steadier energy release, have a whole-wheat pasta 2-3 hours before with a protein source. If you are looking for a more fast-acting energy release, you can have white pasta 30-60 minutes before.
A bodybuilder’s diet, in most cases, is based on carbs. In a bulking phase, it might be 50-60% of your total daily intake. On the other hand, it might be closer to 40% if you are in a cutting phase. This is still a very large percentage of your calories that come from pasta.
That is why pasta is a very good option to include as a pre-workout snack. White pasta is easily digestible, which means that you get energy straight away without having boating or gastric issues.
Without an adequate energy source, your training session won’t be as vigorous, which means that you wouldn’t stimulate your muscles as much.
Try to avoid eating whole-wheat high-fiber pasta before training. Having high-fiber food before working out might cause stomach problems in some people.
Can You Eat Pasta After Workouts?
Pasta makes an excellent carb source to add after training. After your exercise, you need to replenish the energy lost to ensure your muscles recover properly.
Having a carb source (along with protein) helps build muscle mass. Pasta doesn’t have the protein intake a bodybuilder needs, thus add a protein source.
After training, you need to replenish the glucose lost during your training sessions. If you don’t add a carb source after, you risk that the protein you eat is used as energy, not for muscle building.
Pasta makes a great carb to add. Due to its versatility, you can have a complete meal with pasta as the base. Add a protein source (chicken, cheese, meat, or fish) and a healthy fat source (olive oil or avocado) to make it a complete meal. Add some veggies to increase the nutrient and fiber intake, and you have an amazing one-pot meal.
Which Type of Pasta Is Better For Bulking?
The best type of pasta depends on your preferences, your protein intake, and if you are having it pre or post-workout.
White pasta is a great option if you are using it before training.
Since it is a simple carb, it doesn’t need digestion and gives you fast-acting energy.
If you are not using it before a workout, you can have it during the day, but make sure to add lots of veggies to increase the fiber intake.
Whole Wheat Pasta
Whole wheat pasta is an excellent choice to consume during the day.
It provides a steadier energy release than white pasta.
To ensure you are getting whole wheat pasta, choose one with more than 3 g of fiber per serving size.
Legume pasta is the best option for those that want to include more plant-based protein in their diets.
They are made with edamame, quinoa, lentils, chickpeas, or beans.
In most cases, they offer 5-8g of protein per serving size (which can be almost two or three times the amount as traditional pasta).
Legumes might cause some gastric discomfort in some people. Thus avoid using them before training.
Best Pasta For Bulking
1. Barilla Pasta – Highest Protein Pasta
If you’re looking for pasta that is high in protein I recommend Barilla Pasta.
In 2 oz of product, you can find 10 g of protein.
The problem with some kinds of pasta made with legumes is that the texture is changed a little.
Barilla still uses wheat as its first ingredient, but it adds chickpea and pea flour.
- Looking for a high-protein pasta recipe? Check out our Baked Protein Mac & Cheese
2. Explore Cuisine Organic Chickpea Fusilli Pasta
This pasta is another great high protein pasta that is also gluten-free.
While this chickpea pasta has around 13 grams of protein in a 2 oz serving, it still contains a significant amount of carbs (35 grams). This makes it the perfect muscle-building food during your bulking phase.
This pasta is also an excellent option if you are plant-based and do not plan on adding any animal protein sources to your dish.
This particular legume pasta is also slightly lower in fiber compared to others on the market, making it the perfect pasta for bulking.
3. Rao’s Homemade Linguine
If legumes aren’t your thing and you are looking for a traditional wheat pasta to add to your bulking diet, Rao’s pasta is a great option.
Rao’s pasta contains only 2 ingredients (flour and water) and does not have any unnecessary additives that other pasta brands on the market can have.
While it may not contain as much protein per serving as legume pasta, this wheat pasta still boasts around 7 grams of protein per 2 oz serving.
Is Pasta Good For Muscle Growth?
Although pasta on its own won’t help you with your muscle growth (since it lacks protein), it provides you with the necessary carbs to fuel your muscles and helps you have hard training sessions to stimulate your muscles.
Pasta brings carbs into the equation. Without an adequate carb intake, you can potentially use protein (muscles) as an energy source. Thus, pasta is essential for muscle growth.
Additionally, for muscle gain, you need to have more calories than your body needs (caloric surplus). Since pasta is very energy-dense, it helps achieve that caloric surplus.
Remember that pasta alone doesn’t have enough protein to help you bulk. Thus when adding pasta, make sure to add a protein source to provide muscles with their main building blocks.
- Pasta is on our list of high calorie, low sugar foods (click to read more food choices that fit this category)
How To Eat Pasta on A Clean Bulk: 3 Tips
If you want to incorporate pasta into your bodybuilding life, here are a few tips and tricks that might help you out.
When you are in a lean bulk, it is important to make sure that you are accurate in your measurements and portion sizes of your food since only a slight calorie surplus (around 250-500 calories) is necessary.
Not only that, but the only way to ensure that you are being accurate with your macronutrient intake is if you are measuring out your foods, including your pasta.
In order to determine how many calories you need for a lean bulk, I recommend calculating your Total Daily Energy Expenditure, and then start out by adding around 250 calories to this number.
For example, if you normally eat around 2000 calories a day to maintain your weight, then your lean bulk calories would be roughly 2250-2500 calories per day.
After that, you can determine your daily macro targets by following a common bulking macro split of around 25% protein, 50% carbs, and 25% fat.
This would mean if you were eating in a calorie surplus of 2500 per day, you would be eating around 156 grams of protein, 312 grams of carbs, and 70 grams of fat.
One serving (around 2oz) of dry pasta contains around 40 grams of carbs (depending on the brand) meaning that you would have plenty of room for not only pasta but other whole-food carbs in your daily diet.
Add a Protein
While certain brands of pasta do contain a significant amount of protein, if you are bulking you will likely need to add an additional protein source to your dish in order to meet your daily macro targets.
Combining your carbohydrate-rich pasta with high-protein foods such as ground beef, ground bison, chicken, turkey, and even fish is a great way to balance out your meal.
If you are interested in learning more about eating pasta while on a high-protein diet, check out our article on this topic below:
Include Other Carb Sources in Your Diet
Pasta is a great addition to a bulking diet, but as mentioned earlier, it is important to ensure you are including a wide variety of whole food carbs into your diet in order to ensure you are obtaining a wide variety of nutrients.
Some other good carb sources you can eat on a bulking diet are:
- White rice
- Black beans
- White Potato
- Sweet Potato
- Whole wheat bread
The examples above are in line with good carb sources to include on a lean bulk.
You may also decide that you want to include other carbs in the form of more processed foods (such as baked goods, cereals, fries, candy, etc.).
However, it is important to keep in mind that the addition of too many processed food carbs can turn your lean bulk into a dirty bulk, and result in excess fat gain.
To learn more about dirty bulking, check out our article below:
Is Rice or Pasta Better For Bulking?
When it comes to bulking, both rice and pasta are exceptional carb sources to include in your diet.
Both are high in carbs while being lower in fiber, meaning that they will provide energy and calories without making you feel too full for long periods of time.
However, pasta does have a slightly higher protein content than rice, which can be a benefit when you are trying to build muscle.
There are around 5 grams of protein in 100 grams of cooked pasta, while 100 grams of cooked white rice only contains around 2.5 grams of protein.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Spaghetti Good For Bulking?
Spaghetti is a great food source to add to your bulking diet since it is high in carbohydrates and low in fiber, meaning it won’t make you too full on a high-calorie diet. You can also add a meat sauce to your spaghetti for a higher protein meal.
Is Lasagna Good For Bulking?
Lasagna can be a food that is enjoyed on a bulking diet since it is quite a high-calorie meal and contains a good amount of protein, carbs, and fat. In particular, the average serving of lasagna contains around 26 grams of protein, making it a great muscle building food.
Is Macaroni Good For Bulking?
Adding macaroni to your bulking diet will give you great results since this pasta is high in carbs, which will help to fuel your workouts and replenish your workouts. Adding a cheese sauce to your macaroni will increase the calories and protein of your dish, both of which are great additions to a bulking meal.
Check Out Other Carb Sources For Bodybuilding
About The Author
Brenda Peralta is a Registered Dietitian and certified sports nutritionist. In addition to being an author for FeastGood.com, she fact checks the hundreds of articles published across the website to ensure accuracy and consistency of information.