No matter your genetics or the goals you’ve set for yourself, you need to follow the rules of bodybuilding nutrition if your hard training is going to pay off.
Granted, nutrition can be a complicated subject – carbs, proteins, vitamins and minerals, not to mention meal timing, creatine and shelves and shelves of other exotic supplements can make your head spin.
Stop spinning. FLEX has compiled 70 rules of nutrition to help guide you through the minefield of all things related to food and supplements. This comprehensive compendium of commandments gives you 70 easy-to-follow basic to advanced dictums that have passed the Team FLEX test for accuracy and efficiency. Whether you want to add mass, get ripped or simply maintain your weight, you’ll find the answers here.
Over each of the next seven weeks we’ll provide you with ten new nutritional tips for making the most out of that other important component to bodybuilding: your training. Check back each Tuesday for the next installment.
1 TAKE IN PLENTY OF PROTEIN
FLEX recommends that bodybuilders take in at least one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight each day. Protein needs for individual bodybuilders may vary, but this minimum ensures sufficient amounts with which to build muscle. If your bodyweight is low or if your caloric needs for bodyweight maintenance are high, then you may need even more protein than bodybuilders of comparable size.
2 DON’T OVERDOSE ON PROTEIN
Some bodybuilders develop a mentality that if some is good, then excessive amounts are better. If you’re eating more than 2 g of protein per pound of bodyweight each day, then you’re probably consuming more protein than your body can use for muscle building. Excess protein will simply be broken down and burned as energy (or stored as bodyfat). Protein is difficult for your body to break down because it’s a complex molecule, so it’s an inefficient source of energy. Keep protein consumption high, but don’t go overboard. Rely on other good bodybuilding foods, including carbs, to keep weight up during growth phases and watch the mirror for signs of excess.
3 TAKE IN PLENTY OF CARBS FOR ENERGY
Your body can use protein, carbs or fats for energy, but when you’re training hard, it preferentially uses carbs. Essentially, carbs are chains of glucose molecules, and the body can easily absorb sugar for energy. Taking in ample carbs makes it easy for your body to fuel itself, sparing protein and fats for their more specific nutritional uses.
4 EMPHASIZE COMPLEX CARBS
Complex carbs are constructed of long chains of sugars. These types of carbs are easily digested, yet they’re slow burning because the body has to break them down to use them. Since complex carbs are a longer-lasting fuel than simple carbs, there’s less chance they’ll be stored as bodyfat. During a mass-building phase, strive to take in 3 g of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight per day, drawn mainly from complex sources such as vegetables, pasta, potatoes, rice, yams and oatmeal. During cutting phases, reduce total carbohydrate consumption, relying more heavily on slow-burning complex carbs, including brown rice, yams and oatmeal.
5 DE-EMPHASIZE SIMPLE CARBS
Except after workouts, a bodybuilder should minimize calorie consumption from simple carbohydrates (sugar). Simple carbs can be rapidly absorbed, especially in liquids with little or no fats or solid foods to slow down their passage through the gastrointestinal tract. Significant quantities of simple carbs provide the release of insulin, which is desired after a workout but not at other times, because it can encourage the body to store these sugars as bodyfat. Foods that are high in sugar are among the worst for bodybuilders seeking to keep bodyfat low.
6 LIMIT SATURATED FAT AND AVOID TRANS FATS
Excesses of these two types of fat increase the risk of heart and other health problems, and they can also undermine bodybuilding efforts. Trans fats are commonly found in processed foods such as crackers, cookies and other baked goods. Saturated fats are prevalent in lower-quality (fattier) cuts of meats.
7 CONSUME HEALTHY FATS
Foods containing unsaturated fats, particularly monounsaturates, are excellent for bodybuilders. Don’t buy into the notion that a bodybuilding diet should be low fat — it should only be low in saturated and trans fats. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish and flaxseed oils, are important for creating a favorable hormonal environment for building muscle tissue. Other unsaturated fats, such as those found in olives, avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive and canola oils, also provide bodybuilders with numerous muscle-building advantages. Except when cutting up, fats should represent 15-20% of your daily diet.
8 COUNT CALORIES
When breaking down a bodybuilding diet, macronutrients are often split into percentages. For instance, an offseason dietary recommendation might be to get 50% of calories from carbs, 30% from protein and 20% from fats. To do this accurately, you have to have this valuable information: Every gram of carbs has approximately four calories; every gram of protein has four calories; and every gram of fat has nine calories. This calorie differential explains why bodybuilders, even those who are not on a low-fat diet, need to pay attention to fat calories, as well as to carbs and protein.
9 DRINK AT LEAST A GALLON OF WATER EVERY DAY
Steady water intake keeps nutrients moving in your bloodstream and into muscle cells. Water is also a critical source of many minerals. But don’t drink that gallon-plus in one sitting — gulp it during the course of the day. This is especially important for bodybuilders on high-protein diets, as well as those using creatine, fat burners or other supplements that affect hydration. Water is the essence of life, and its importance to bodybuilders can’t be overstressed. Drink a pint of water with main meals and try to exceed the daily one-gallon recommendation.
Water is essential for overall health as well as for muscle growth. Keeping your body well hydrated benefits everything from protein synthesis to digestion.
10 FIRE UP YOUR FIBER
Most bodybuilding foods are notoriously low in fiber yet, bodybuilders need plenty of fiber to make ideal gains. Bodybuilders must get most of their dietary fiber from complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables. Strive to take in 30 g of fiber a day, and even more when you’re on a high-calorie diet. If your diet doesn’t provide this amount, then consider daily supplementation with a fiber product.