Pasta is one of the most common carbs athletes usually add to their diets for carb loading. However, my bodybuilder clients are a little afraid of adding it since some think it might make them gain some fat.
So, is pasta good or bad for bodybuilding?
Pasta is an excellent choice for adding carbs to your diet if you are a bodybuilder. Adding carbs helps fuel your training, especially if eaten pre-workout. However, make sure to choose a high-fiber (more than 3 g) and high-protein pasta (more than 5 g) to have a more balanced carb source.
Not all pasta is good to have if you are a bodybuilder though depending on the portion sizes, time of day you eat it, and how it’s prepared.
In this article, you will learn everything related to pasta and bodybuilding. I will cover:
- The calories and macronutrient composition of pasta
- Pros and cons of adding pasta for bodybuilding
- Can you eat pasta before or after your workouts?
- Which type of pasta is better for bodybuilding?
- Is pasta good for muscle growth?
- Tips for incorporating pasta into a bodybuilding 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 cut down calories with a pasta dish, choose the tomato base option. Having the cream sauce can add another 200-300 kcal since it is generally made with heavy cream and butter.
Another way of cutting back down the calories is by choosing a leaner protein. Choose chicken, fish, or meat over pancetta or bacon.
Remember for you to have the best results, whether it is muscle gain or fat loss, you need to control your calorie intake thoroughly. You can include pasta into your daily lives, just make sure you measure everything and include portion sizes that fit our overall goal (bulking or cutting).
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 though, and this represents both an advantage and disadvantage.
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. However, fiber is important for a bowel movement and a healthy gut. Having a low fiber intake can increase the risk of constipation and colon cancer in the long run.
Depending on the ingredients that it is made from, pasta can be a high-protein food. It can range from 3-8 g of protein per serving. Pasta made with eggs, or if it uses a legume (beans, lentils, chickpeas, edamame, or quinoa) as a base, tend 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.
Finally, pasta is not very high in fats either. This might be a benefit for those that are in a cutting phase. However, be careful with the fats you add to cooked pasta since they can increase the overall calories or might not be the best source of fat. For example, choose healthy fats (olive oil) over not-so-healthy fats (butter).
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.
Pasta is on my list of cheap bulking carbs. Check out where it stands among 15 different carb sources
3 Pros Of Eating Pasta For Bodybuilding
There are several reasons why you should add pasta to your bodybuilding diet. Here are the top 3 reasons why you should add it to your next meal.
Pasta is one of the best options to add some carbs and calories to your diet. Since it is energy-dense, it is the best option for those that have a hard time adding on the calories and the carbs.
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. Let’s talk about each one.
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 complicated 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)
2 Cons of Eating Pasta For Bodybuilding
Although there are several benefits of adding pasta if you are a bodybuilder, some of those advantages can be considered disadvantages depending on your phase. Here are a couple of reasons why you should be careful the next time you add it if you are a bodybuilder.
High in Carbs and Calories
For bodybuilders in a cutting phase, having energy-dense food is not the way to go. It adds on the calories, and you could end up jeopardizing your progress.
If you want to add pasta to your diet, make sure that you control it thoroughly or have it when you are in a bulking phase when you have a wider range of calories and carbs.
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 the 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 Bodybuilding?
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 workout up, you can have it during the day, but make sure to add lots of veggies to increase the fiber intake.
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.
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
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 to 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 it 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)
Tips For Incorporating Pasta Into A Bodybuilding Diet
If you want to incorporate pasta into your bodybuilding life, here are a few tips and tricks that might help you out.
One of the most crucial aspects of a bodybuilder’s diet is to measure everything you eat.
Whether it is for muscle gain or fat loss, you need to count every gram of carbs, proteins, and fats that you eat to make sure you are eating the correct amount. Pasta is the same. Measure the portion size (either cooked or raw) and add it into your regular counting calorie app ( like MacroFactor).
Add a Protein
Like we saw, pasta is low in protein. Although some brands might have more, it is still not enough to reach a bodybuilder’s needs. You can add a meat sauce or a large piece of protein to the pasta dish.
Add Veggie Pasta
If you are in a tighter calorie intake but still want to add some pasta, you can add some veggie pasta. You can either have half the plate with traditional pasta and the other half with veggie pasta. Not only does this increase the volume, but it also adds fiber, satiety (the feeling of fullness), and the most important part with fewer calories.
Check Out Other Carb Sources For Bodybuilding
- Are Potatoes Good Or Bad For Bodybuilding?
- Are Yams Good Or Bad For Bodybuilding?
- Is Oatmeal Good or Bad 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.