Many bodybuilders put a lot of focus into the details of their nutrition. Learn how these 10 principals can promote muscle growth and balance.
“Give me a 64-ounce steak, double-baked potato with extra sour cream and an apple pie for dessert. No, not a slice - give me the whole pie, please.”
If you have ever had the opportunity to go out with a bodybuilder for dinner, you would be familiar with that kind of order delivered to the distressed waitress. These high-carbohydrate, high-protein, and high-fat diet meals were the popular method for packing on muscle and climbing the scale. “I’ll pack on all the weight I can now, then melt off the fat later,” was the common motto.
Many bodybuilders put a lot of focus into the details of their nutritional strategy. A small food scale, calculator, note pad and pencil are common items found in their kitchen. Some competitive bodybuilders go to the extreme of weighing and measuring everything wherever they go and scribbling numbers into their notepad after every meal.
“GIVE ME A 64-OUNCE STEAK, DOUBLE-BAKED POTATO WITH EXTRA SOUR CREAM AND AN APPLE PIE FOR DESSERT. NO, NOT A SLICE - GIVE ME THE WHOLE PIE, PLEASE.” Obviously, not every skinny guy has the same aspirations, desire and determination to live the life of a bodybuilder. Skinny guys will be more successful today if they have a quick and convenient plan to follow that involves minimal measuring and minimal number crunching.
THE SEE FOOD DIET IS NOT THE ANSWER The reality is that many skinny guys’ nutritional level does not exceed the See Food Diet, that is, ‘see food’ and eat it. Not a bad option if you can avoid getting a potbelly in the process. If this is you, then consider yourself blessed with a Lamborghini-style metabolism. Go right ahead and eat whatever and whenever you want until you’re ready to audition for Rambo IV.
For the most part, the See Food Diet is typically not the most healthy meal plan since it puts zero restrictions on any food categories and is more a concept to shift a skinny guy’s mind-set than anything else.
These days, the majority of readers should know the fallacy of a See Food Diet. Sure, you can eat a super high calorie diet, like the See Food Diet, and add some muscle, but you’ll add even more fat. And from personal experience, and I’m sure many of you can personally testify, putting the fat on is much easier than taking it off!
Conveniently, bodybuilders now have an “off-season shape” card to flash year-round to excuse themselves of looking like a pregnant powerlifter.
MUSCLE-BUILDING NUTRITION PRINCIPLES Mastering the principles of nutrition should be like mastering the principles of training - simple. Master the basics and execute them consistently. Think about the 80/20 rule. 80% of your results will come from 20% of your knowledge. Taking what you already know and putting it into action consistently is the magic formula. Let’s go over the most important nutrition principles you’ll need to practice to get your body growing.
1 EAT OFTEN - EVERY 2.5 TO 3 HOURS Don’t expect to pack on quality mass - muscle without body fat - on three square meals a day. This would lead to massive quantities of both protein and carbs at each meal. Your body can only store so many calories per meal, so guess what this results in? Bloating, poor digestion and unwanted body fat.
Your first meal should be consumed within 15-30 minutes of waking up and consumed every 2.5 to 3 hours. Set your stopwatch to beep until you get something in your body. Don’t view these meals as burdensome but as opportunities to fuel and grow your muscles. Look at them as growth surges. Think of the next meal as a fuller chest, broader shoulders, bigger arms and rock-hard abs!
And if you miss a meal, visualize a sea of piranhas eating up your muscle tissue like it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet. And those deadly piranhas are eating up your CURRENT muscle that you are not even satisfied with. They are actually making your muscles smaller.
No, you will not lose an inch on your arms if you miss one meal, but once you start averaging 3-4 instead of 6-8 meals a day, don’t be upset when people look surprised when you tell them you work out with weights regularly!
So how many meals should you be eating? That’s easy - just divide the time you’re awake by 2 or 3. I would suggest mastering eating every 3 hours before you consider every 2 hours. So if you’re awake 18 hours a day, eat 6 meals.
What if one of those meals falls right before bedtime? Then eat up! Take the opportunity to eat. If we went to the extreme we would eat every 3 hours throughout the night as well. No matter what you have heard on this (never eat after 7 P.M.-garbage) ignore it. Trust me!
Also, don’t view these feeding opportunities as ‘snacks.’ This is a wimpy word mentality that should not be in your vocabulary if you are trying to build muscle. Do you think Ronnie Coleman says, ‘Hey, I think I’m going to go eat a snack?’ Every 3 hours you should be eating decent size meals that will make your body better.
2 EAT A VARIETY OF FOODS It is easy to get into a robotic state of nutrition where we eat the exact same foods every day, ingesting the same breakfast, lunch and dinner and the only time we eat differently is when we go out for dinner or someone else cooks for us. It is easier to choose convenience over variety.
Just like our training that we rotate around to prevent boredom, you should rotate your food selection. Normally, you will eat whatever is in your house, so the best strategy to eating a healthy variety is to shop for different foods each week. This will help balance out your diet and help you measure the response a variety of foods. Don’t go for the boring and easy route.
3 EAT ENOUGH CALORIES Building muscle is an eating game because your muscles grow on calories. Not eating enough calories is like an attempt to buy a $50,000 car with only $25,000 in the bank. It’s not going to happen. If you are not gaining at least 1-2 pounds per week, then add some extra carbohydrates and proteins to your breakfast, pre-workout meal or post-workout meal.
THERE IS NO WAY AROUND THIS STEP. Even if you have the perfect training routine, you will never grow unless you provide your body with the proper amount of nutrients. It’s like saying you want to build a house but you do not have enough bricks, cement and wood.
It will be impossible to build that house. It’s like saying you want to race a car as fast as possible but you don’t have any gasoline or oil. It’s downright impossible.
If you wish to ensure that your muscles have enough fuel to support your workouts - lift heavy weights for high reps, recover from workout to workout and, let’s not forget, GROW NEW MUSCLE - then you have to keep track of what you are eating every day.
There is no way around it. This is the number one reason why skinny guys never gain weight or why anybody for that matter will not make quality gains that they so desperately strive for.
Keeping track of what you eat is a lot easier than it sounds - it’s probably why most people avoid it, because they perceive it to be difficult.
Sure, you’re going to have to take some extra time to read containers and labels, but if this method will promise another 20 pounds in a few months from now, is it not worth it? And the good news is that your brain will create a new file to store all your new nutrient calculations, and since you are eating from the majority of the same foods, your ‘memory food bank’ will expand quickly.
4 EAT 40-60 GRAMS OF PROTEIN PER MEAL Building muscle is not on your body’s ‘to do’ list - simple survival is. Not getting enough protein for your internal organs results in your body robbing it from your muscle tissue. Your body cannibalizes itself for the amino acids it needs! This is the polar opposite of what skinny guys want.
Proteins should make up at least 35% of your overall caloric intake. This translates to 40-60 grams of protein per meal for males less then 200 lbs and will be enough to maintain your appetite, increase your muscle mass, accelerate recovery and keep body fat levels low. Hit this level and you’re doing well.
It is better to get your protein from whole, complete, and lean protein. Remember that protein is a costly food and burns twice as much energy as carbs and three times as much energy as fat. You need protein to maximally turbo-charge your metabolism, improve your muscle mass and accelerate recovery.
Aim for lean meats such as ground beef, chicken, turkey, etc. Aim for fish such as salmon, tuna, orange roughy, etc. Aim for Omega 3 eggs and pasteurized egg whites. Aim for dairy from cottage cheese, yogurt and partly skimmed cheeses. And if you have to resort to supplement shakes, go for whey, casein or milk protein blends.
5 EAT 60-80 GRAMS OF CARBOHYDRATE PER MEAL Not getting enough carbohydrates will make you feel like you’re carrying a bear on your back throughout your workouts. Your body’s gas tank is comprised of carbohydrates. No carbs and don’t expect to get that car too far.
A lack of carbs in your diet can slow the muscle-building process because your muscle tissue can be used as energy if your body’s preferred source of energy, carbs, are not available.
It is best to get your carbohydrates from a variety of high-fiber, complex and low-glycemic carbohydrates as opposed to simple carbs (sugars) found in fast food, fried food, processed food and junk food. Complex carbs release a slower and longer lasting energy that is critical for your intense training workouts.
Complex carbs will rarely get converted to fat unless you are clearly eating too many of them. If you are gaining more fat around your midsection as opposed to muscle, then you know you should cut back on your complex carbs or add a few cardio workouts.
Aim for high-complex, muscle-building carbs such as bran, barley, buckwheat, beans, brown rice, cornmeal, oatmeal, pasta, potatoes and whole grains.
6 EAT 20-30 GRAMS OF FAT PER MEAL About 30% of your diet should consist of fat - this number should remain pretty consistent for everyone. And as a skinny guy or anybody who wants to maximize muscle growth, then eating 30% of your intake from fat is critical for supporting testosterone levels.
However, the key is to balance out your intake between saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. If you achieve 1/3 in each of these, then you will optimize your health and muscle gains. This is not as complicated as it looks.
Since North Americans are harshly deficient in mono (olive oil) and poly fats (from fish oils) and get enough of saturated fats as it is, your job is to simply include more olive oil and fish oil into your diet. This is something that can be recommended for every man and women and has no potential side effects. Again, don’t worry; the meal plans included have got you covered.
The only fats you MUST avoid at all costs - for so many reasons - are trans fats.
Trans fatty acids, also known as trans fat, is an artery-clogging fat that is formed when vegetable oils are hardened into margarine or shortening. It is found in many other foods besides margarine and shortening, including fried foods like French fries and fried chicken, doughnuts, cookies, pastries and crackers.
In the United States, typical French fries have about 40 percent trans fatty acids and many popular cookies and crackers range from 30 percent to 50 percent trans fatty acids. Doughnuts have about 35 percent to 40 percent trans fatty acids.
To determine the amount of trans fat in a food you must know what to look for on the food labels. Whenever you see shortening, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil higher up on the list of the ingredients, the more trans fat.
7 EAT VEGETABLES WITH EVERY MEAL How are vegetables supposed to promote muscle gain? Your mom was right when she told you to eat up all your vegetables if you wanted to grow big and strong. Finally, the ‘muscle-nerds’ are catching up. Not only are vegetables loaded with vitamins and minerals but they also contain important plant chemicals called phytochemicals that are essential for optimal physiological functioning.
The most neglected benefit of eating vegetables is their role in recovery. Sure, you need calories to grow, but you also need these veggies for their high antioxidant profile that will help reduce the amount of free radicals from heavy training, and they will accelerate recovery by healing damaged muscle cells.
Most people are unaware that proteins and grains create high levels of acid loads to the blood, and if this is not balanced out with alkaline rich vegetables and fruits, then too much acid can result in a loss of bone strength and muscle mass. So it is important to keep these acid levels balanced by ingesting vegetables (and fruits) for their alkalinity to the blood.
The best way to get your vegetables is to cut them all up at the start of the week. This will make life easier and make them more accessible. Aim for at least 2 servings, which is the equivalent of 1-2 cups per meal. Yes, every 2-3 hours you must be eating veggies.
8 EAT YOUR BIGGEST MEAL AT BREAKFAST, PRE-WORKOUT & POST-WORKOUT No matter what anyone says, I believe this is the safest and most effective way to maximize your muscle:fat gain ratio when bulking. In this article we will not discuss the topic of nutrient timing.
Shortly we will discuss the benefits of packing the bulk of your calories around the most catabolic and anabolic times of the day so you will have sufficient energy to train hard and heavy without any risk of muscle breakdown, not to mention enough calories to support muscle growth.
How much food you eat at a particular time of the day should be based on the NEEDS OF YOUR BODY AT THAT CURRENT MOMENT.
9 PLAN AHEAD This principle could easily be number one because oftentimes it is not a shortage of information that creates a roadblock but our lack of CONSISTENCY and CREATIVITY. I bet if you did not change anything about what you are currently eating but ensured food was there when it was time to eat, you would experience a growth surge.
I strongly agree with the famous cliché that states, ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail.’ It is so true. You must have a plan that will ensure you have the food prepared and cooked in the right selection and amounts every time you eat. This might require you to spend a few hours on Sunday evening cooking and storing all your food in Tupperware containers.
This might mean waking up half an hour early so that you can cook all your meals for the day. This might require you to carry a lunch bag wherever you go. This might mean packing a few shaker bottles if you know you will be on the road most of the day. Bottom line - be prepared.
10 EAT WHOLE FOODS 60% OF THE TIME & LIQUID MEALS 40% OF THE TIME I often have my clients use as few supplements as possible for the first few months of training. You will be amazed at the results achieved by simply putting all your efforts into following your meal plan, proper training and sleep. It’s a very eye-opening experience when they see almost immediate changes in body composition, health and energy levels.
Your food intake should come from high quality food at least 60% of the time, which means at least 4 of the 6 meals you are eating.
This will ensure more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber that supplements and pills lack. Whole food is loaded with digestive enzymes as well that help the absorption of food instead of eating too much ‘ground up’ food in the form of powder.
Power shakes will make your life much easier and will remove some of the inconveniences of having to cook and prepare food all day. Aim to use these at least 2 out of your 4 real meals a day and never more than three power shakes unless your life is extremely hectic and unmanageable.
CONCLUSION Dedicate the next 12 weeks to putting these muscle building nutrition principles into action. Building muscle is really quite simple and exciting because you get to indulge in large quantities of food, try new recipes and become a master chef since you’ll be spending more time in the kitchen. Taking these principles and applying them consistently over time and making them a part of your lifestyle is the secret.