The Complete Bodybuilding Diet and Nutrition Guide

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Everything you need to know about bodybuilding diet and nutrition is right here. Find out how to fuel your body and build maximum muscle whilst reducing body fat successfully.

Introduction to Diet and Nutrition

When bodybuilders think about building muscle, they are often focused on weight training – which workouts to do, which type of weights and machines to use, and what kind of intensity to train with. Of course, all of this is very important…but it’s only half the story. Your body is a machine, and like any machine it needs high-quality fuel to operate at maximum efficiency. In the same way that a jet plan needs high-octane jet fuel to fly fast, your body needs high-quality fuel to build muscle. So if you want to build a body to be proud of, you must pay just as much attention to your diet and nutrition as you do to your workouts.

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Let’s take a look at the diet and nutritional needs of bodybuilders, and see making the right food choices can dramatically enhance the rate at which you increase muscle. You can achieve amazing things with the right bodybuilding diet plan.

The Main Food Types

Scientists have divided foods into several major groups known as the macronutrients. The most important of these are protein, carbohydrates and fats – but we also need to pay close attention to the way we consume minerals, vitamins and water. When creating your bodybuilding nutrition plan, it is important to understand the role that each of these plays in fueling our bodies.

Protein: The Bodybuilder

It’s no accident that every bodybuilding supplement store is packed to the rafters with giant packs of protein powders. After all, protein is the material that muscles are made of, so it makes sense that we must eat a lot of it in our bodybuilder’s diet to grow muscle mass.

Meat is a great source of protein, seeing as it is made from the muscle of other animals. But there are many other ways to get protein into your diet through regular meals, including fish, cheese, tofu, soy, beans, lentils, yogurt, nuts, and seeds. Surprisingly, the foods with the highest percentage of protein in their composition are not necessarily the ones that deliver the most protein. This is because the bioavailability (the percentage of protein absorbed by the body) varies from food to food. This table shows how bioavailability varies between various foods:

As this index shows, consuming eggs and whey protein can deliver a lot more protein to your body that a comparable volume of beef or chicken. However, that does not mean you should aim for a diet that consists exclusively of proteins with the highest bioavailability. For one thing, you would soon get bored of eating the same meals over and over again. More importantly, your body needs a good mix of proteins to get all the amino acids it needs. Some amino acids are present in certain foods but absent in others. Eating a varied and balanced diet helps you get all the compounds you need to build maximum muscle.

While it is good to get most of your protein from normal meals, whey protein shakes are an excellent way to boost your protein levels. Whey is a concentrated source of protein that delivers plenty of muscle-building  power without loading you up with excess calories. So whey shakes are a great way of topping up with protein at critical times – such as before and after a strenuous workout. A high protein diet is the foundation of a muscle-building nutrition program.

Carbohydrates: Jet Fuel for Your Body

Carbohydrates – or carbs for short – have been given something of a bad rap that they most certainly do not deserve. In a world of obese people obsessed (quite rightly!) with losing weight, carbohydrates are often seen as the enemy. In fact, carbohydrates are essential foods that fuel all of our key body processes. Carbohydrates not only provide the energy for the muscle contractions that allow us to move, they also keep our lungs breathing, our hearts beating, and so much more.

But that’s not all. Carbohydrates are also essential to the chemical reactions that build muscle. So if you are looking to build bigger muscles, you need to consume enough carbohydrates not just to fuel your normal metabolism, but also to facilitate the building of new muscle tissue.

We get our carbohydrates in the form of the sugars, starches and cellulose found in foods such as fruits, cereals, vegetables, pulses and potatoes.

Fats: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

If carbohydrates have been the victims of bad press, fats have had it even worse. This is because fats are designed to store energy, and therefore pack the biggest calorie punch – nine calories per gram, compared to only four calories per gram in carbohydrates.

But like carbohydrates, fats are essential to our metabolism, and we must consume the right amount of fat of the right type in order to stay healthy. Generally speaking, you want to reduce the volume of ‘bad’ fats you eat, whilst maintaining the right intake of ‘good’ fats.

The bad fats include saturated fats, which are found most often in animal and dairy products. Excess consumption of these can lead to higher cholesterol levels and clogged arteries. Trans fat are another problem fat. These are often found in processed foods, where they help to improve the shelf life of products.

The good fats that we need to eat in moderation are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These work to lower our cholesterol levels, and are often found in natural foods such as nuts, avocados, olive oil, grapeseed oil and olive oil.

The most beneficial fats of all are the Omega 3 fatty acids, which are found naturally in cold-water fish such as mackerel, salmon and herring, as well as in walnuts, flax seeds and soybeans.

Bodybuilders need good fats and carbs as well as protein.

Getting the Right Carbs and Fats

Hmmm…it’s easy to see why bodybuilders are often confused when it comes to figuring out how to get the right carbs and fats. On the one hand, we definitely need these macronutrients in the right quantities to fuel both our metabolisms and our muscle growth. On the other hand, we don’t want to pack on excess calories that get turned into body fat. So what’s the solution?

There’s no easy answer to this, but a great way to start is by cutting nearly all processed food out of your diet. Food manufacturers know that we love the taste of sugars and fats, so they pack excess volumes of both into all kinds of products. But that’s not all. In order to maximize their profits, they add additional products – such as trans fats – to ensure that products can stay on the shelf for longer. Remember that food manufacturers care much more about their bottom line than your waistline. Buy natural foods and cook your own means from the raw ingredients. Your food will not only be much healthier, it will probably taste a whole lot better, too.


Minerals and Vitamins

If you have any doubts about the importance of vitamins and minerals, take a moment to Google the history of scurvy. For centuries, this disease was responsible for the agonizing deaths of hundreds of thousands of sailors and other marine travelers. Eventually, it was shown that the disease was caused by the lack of a vital nutrient in the diet of sailors. We now know the missing ingredient to be Vitamin C.

There are many such essential nutrients that we need to include in our diet. As well as the full range of vitamins, these include minerals such as calcium, chloride, iodine, manganese, potassium, phosphorous, sodium and zinc. In theory, eating a balanced diet with a broad selection of different foods should ensure that you get all the extra nutrients you need. In practice, modern intensive farming practices often reduce the nutritional value of foods considerably. Therefore it is a good idea to take a multi-vitamin supplement daily to ensure that you are not missing out on vital trace elements.

Water: The Fountain of Life

Any good bodybuilding nutrition guide should include a reference to water. This is because water makes up around 60% of the body weight of the average person, while muscle is no less than 80% water. So it is not hard to conclude that bodybuilders need to drink plenty of water every day. This is especially important while you are working out, of course, but it is also vital to keep topping up with water throughout the day. Although your body can extract water from all kinds of fluids, drinking plain water is the best way to keep your body hydrated.

When To Eat

The traditional advice for bodybuilders is to eat a protein-based meal every two to three hours, to keep your body fueled with the right mix of nutrients throughout the day. However, this is not always convenient. Bodybuilders often end up taking containers of food everywhere they go, and they often end up eating at different times to their partners and families – which is not always good for social harmony!

Fortunately, current research shows this approach is not quite as critical as many trainers suggest. The body is pretty good at managing food and digestion, and getting the right nutrients to the right parts of the body at the right times. So if you can conveniently eat five or six smaller meals a day, that is still a sound approach. But if it is better for you to eat three larger meals a day, with small snacks in between, that strategy can work very well, too.

However, there are some times when getting the right nutrients in your diet at the right time can be especially important. The first of these is at breakfast time – they don’t call it the most important meal of the day for nothing. When you wake up in the morning, you will probably have eaten nothing for 8-12 hours. This means that your body has fully digested your last meal and used up all the energy it provided. Because your body needs energy to fuel your metabolism, it then does the very last thing you want it to do – it starts breaking down muscle to convert into energy.

Hmmm…that’s not what we want at all! So a great way to start your day is to make up a whey protein shake in your blender. Add in a banana or similar food, to get some fast carbs into your system. Oatmeal is another great breakfast food, as it has complex carbs that break down more slowly to drip feed energy into your body through the day.

The other critical times are pre and post workouts. Clearly, if you are going to hit the gym hard for an hour or more, your body is going to need protein to build new muscle with, and carbs to make it all possible.

Counting Calories

While counting calories may not sound exactly cool to a macho bodybuilder, this process is an essential part of building a body of lean muscle. To get the balance of muscle to body fat exactly right, you need to know how much food is going into your body every day. If you try to guess, you are likely to guess wrong. Even a small error per day adds up to a huge number of calories under or over in the long run. So get used to weighing your food and calculating your calorie intake accurately.

Protein shakes are a fundamental part of the typical bodybuilding diet.

Everything you need to know about bodybuilding diet and nutrition is right here. Find out how to fuel your body and build maximum muscle whilst reducing body fat successfully.

Keep Up with Current Research

The science of nutrition is advancing rapidly, and if you want your body to reach peak performance, you need to understand the latest advances. So read the major bodybuilding blogs regularly, and get up to date advice from the experts. However, you should be very way of the ‘bro science’ you often read on bodybuilding forums – uninformed opinion by bodybuilders who don’t really know what they are talking about. Get your information from qualified sources, and make nutrition a top priority in your bodybuilding life. When it comes to building maximum muscle, getting your diet and nutrition right is at least half the battle.

Whether you are trying to create a bodybuilding diet for cutting, or a bodybuilding diet for mass, understanding the basics of good nutrition is vital to achieve the muscular physique you want.

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About the author

Joe Bensam

I am an experienced bodybuilder and qualified personal trainer who specializes in strength training, conditioning and building muscle. I am committed to helping others improve their health, fitness and build through good advice on workouts and nutrition.