If there’s one thing about building muscle that’s both the most important and most misunderstood piece of the puzzle, it’s bodybuilding nutrition. As you might know, what you eat basically determines how good your gains will be – you can train your heart out in the weight room, but without the proper building blocks, you won’t gain an ounce of muscle. However, most people that lift weights, whether they want to be huge or just gain a few extra pounds, have NO CLUE how to actually eat for optimal muscle gains and minimal body fat.
The real “secrets” to eating for muscular gains are actually pretty simple. For some reason, though, nobody is actually following good advice and optimizing their nutrition. Read on to find out how the big guys actually ate to gain their size and strength.
1. Protein First
From fat loss to muscle building to general fitness and health, protein is all the rage these days. That’s really a good trend to see, since just a decade ago most nutritionists were telling people to load up on carbs and avoid high amounts of protein or fats (even olive oil)! However, most people that try to build muscle still just don’t seem to get it when it comes to eating large amounts of quality protein.
The first thing you need to do in your quest for optimal bodybuilding nutrition is to figure out about how much protein you should be eating every day. The advice you see in magazines and hear from trainers tends to be on the low size, very low at times. I’ve heard trainers recommending as low as a half a gram per pound of bodyweight to decent-size guys trying to get big! That’s not enough!
The rule of thumb I like to follow is to multiply your bodyweight by 2 to find the number of protein grams you should be eating per day. For instance, a 150 pound guy would need 300 grams of protein to grow optimally. And no, this does NOT include the incidental amounts in bread, pasta, and the like. You need to focus on getting quality, complete proteins, the kinds that come from meat, eggs, a limited amount of dairy, and any other animal products. Sorry, vegans, but you’re not going to be getting huge any time soon.
The one objection to this recommendation I most often hear is “you can’t digest that much protein!” I don’t care how many studies have been done on this, that advice is just plain wrong. I know from personal experience, as well as from talking to other big guys, that muscular gains come MUCH more quickly with this high protein intake. If the body isn’t digesting and USING that protein for muscle growth, where is it going?
2. Time your Carbs
After protein, carbohydrates are probably the biggest source of debate in the world of bodybuilding nutrition. You can find opinions ranging from “never eat them!” to “eat them every meal!” As is often the case, neither extreme is the right approach. However, “moderation” might not exactly be the right approach, either. You have to find out what works best for you and your body and energy levels.
First of all, you should obviously be getting your carbs from quality sources. No white bread or other processed flour products should be a regular part of your diet unless you’re very skinny and pretty much never put on body fat. You should get your carbs mainly from whole grains, starchy vegetables like potatoes, and some fruits. Obviously you can eat all the green veggies you want – they’re just fiber and water!
Once you have your actual food choices square away, you need to determine how often you should eat carbs. I think it’s best to choose which meals you eat carbs at rather than a certain number of grams per day. This way, you don’t have to get anal and waste time with measuring everything. Besides, the important thing is eating carbs when your body is best suited to using them as energy and not storing them as body fat.
If you are particularly prone to fat gain (or are already a bit chunky), then keep your carbs ONLY at breakfast and at the meal you eat after your workout. These are times at which your body is starved for nutrients and you are almost guaranteed to put the carbs to good use. If you are not so prone to gaining fat, you can also eat some carbs in the meal before your workout if you want, to give a good boost of energy. Finally, if you’re very skinny and don’t need to worry about gaining fat from eating carbs at the wrong times, eat them pretty much whenever you want. The one exception to this allowance might be the meal you eat closest to bedtime.
3. Eat PLENTY of Fats!
In case you haven’t heard, eating dietary fat does not MAKE you fat. The same goes for cholesterol, a nutrient often found in fatty foods – eating dietary cholesterol does not cause your BLOOD cholesterol to raise. This is important to know because both of these nutrients are very important in bodybuilding nutrition, especially when it comes to optimizing testosterone levels and getting enough quality calories to grow.
No matter how many carbs you are eating, you diet should include at least a moderate amount of monounsaturated fats from olive oil, avocados, nuts, and other such healthy sources. These provide a very easy way to get extra calories, they taste great, and they promote overall healthy. Surprisingly, you also want to get a moderate amount of saturated fat! Just make sure it’s coming from lean red meat, coconut oil, and other healthy foods. The bad fats are the polyunsaturated and hydrogenated fats found in corn oil, soybean oil, and other highly processed and packaged foods.
The amount of fat you eat should basically be inversely proportional to the amount of carbs you eat. If you’re only eating carbs at a couple of your meals per day, add some fats to the other meals. You might have oatmeal and egg whites in the morning, a high-carb protein shake after your workout, and then meals like steak, veggies, and olive oil the rest of the day. Likewise, if you’re one of the skinny guys who can eat lots of carbs without gaining body fat, you won’t need as much dietary fat. It’s been shown that naturally skinny people tend to gain muscle better on a higher-carb, lower-fat diet, anyway.
4. Keep the Calories HIGH
If there’s one thing about bodybuilding nutrition that almost everyone can agree upon, it’s that you need to eat a high number of calories to grow. It’s a simple matter of thermodynamics. To gain muscular weight, you have to give your body more calories per day than it burns. It uses this surplus to build new muscle tissue. I don’t care what any snake-oil salesman says, you cannot build any significant amount of muscle without eating this surplus.
The dangerous thing about eating this much is that the extra calories can sometimes “spill over” into fat gain once your body has used as much as possible for muscle building. Think about it this way – if you put a sedentary person on a bodybuilder’s diet, they would get fat because they are giving their body no reason to use the extra nutrients for muscle. The only “sensible” option for the body is to pile on body fat.
To get around the possibility of gaining fat, you can do two things. The first and most obvious is to simply train like an animal every time you are in the gym. The harder you train, and the stronger you get, the more of an impetus you are giving your body to use extra nutrients for muscle gains. The leanest AND most muscular bodybuilders are usually the ones whose training intensity is unmatched.
The other thing you can do is to eat less, though your gains will come more slowly. It’s a choice you’ll have to make – allow yourself to gain a bit more body fat and make fast muscle gains, or gain more slowly while staying leaner. If you’re disciplined, you can make near-optimal gains without gaining very much fat, but it requires strict adherence to your diet. You’ll have to make sure to eat tons of food, but it will have to be the right foods, at the right times to optimize your body’s ability to put on muscle mass.
5. A Sample Meal Plan
After all of this bodybuilding nutrition talk, you might be wondering what an actual good day of eating might look like. Here’s an example for an intermediate, moderate-sized bodybuilder:
Meal 1 – 2 cups oats, 10 egg whites, 2 whole eggs
Meal 2 – 12 oz. steak, vegetables, 2 tablespoons olive oil
Meal 3 – 1 cup rice, 12 oz. chicken breast
Meal 4 – 1 large sweet potato, 14 oz. steak
Meal 5 – 10 oz. salmon, vegetables, 1 tablespoon olive oil
Meal 6 – protein shake before bed
These are somewhat arbitrary examples, but you get the picture. Lots of protein, carbs at the right times, fats at other times. Also, the calories are tapered so as to have less food at the end of the day. Obviously, eating lots of calories before bed is a bad idea for most people.
Get Big and Strong with a Proven Muscle-Building Program
Now that you know the basics of bodybuilding nutrition, you need to know exactly how to apply them to your schedule and your lifestyle to make optimal progress. You’ll have to find a plan that includes a proper meal plan, as well as training, supplementation, and recovery.
Checkout the great information and expert advice over at IntelligentMuscleBuilding.com to get started on building muscle fast. Stop being frustrated with your lackluster results so far, and quit wasting your time and money on junk supplements and bad trainers who barely look like they lift weights themselves.