A bodybuilding diet: 4 rules you need to know

Bodybuilding Diet

When people think of bodybuilding the first thing they think of is what training program they need, then they think about the drug aspect, and lastly they think about diet.

Ask a successful bodybuilder though, and they will tell you that it is the diet that is crucial, everything else is important, but the diet needs to be perfect.

This article will go through the four most important rules for dieting in bodybuilding. It won’t go into bulking versus cutting discussion, but will be more general.

Bulking and cutting are over-analysed and over-complicated anyway, eat more to bulk, eat less to cut and keep protein high regardless.

So here are the four rules you need to know.

Rule 1. Protein is Key

When bodybuilding you will obviously be exercising more than the average gym-goer, and even more than a sedentary individual.

Each contraction of the muscle will cause micro-tears in the muscle fibres, which will need to be repaired (which leads to growth) via muscle-protein synthesis. This is the process of using protein to build and repair muscles.

For muscle protein synthesis to occur you need to have a positive muscle protein net balance (more protein being digested, then being used), and exercise can increase muscle protein net balance for up to 48 hours afterwards [1].

This is why athletes require twice as much protein as non-exercisers [2], which should come from the diet. Helms, Aragon, and Fitschen (2013) found that 2.3-3.1g of protein per kg of bodyweight is the ideal amount of protein for a bodybuilder

A study by Mamerow et al (2014) found that people who shared their protein out evenly across their meals saw improved muscle protein synthesis compared to those who had more protein at dinner than other meals [4].

If you decide to train early in the morning, taking a post-exercise protein shake can help jump start muscle protein synthesis [5]. Otherwise, daily protein intake will be more than sufficient and there will be no need for a pre or post-workout shake [6].

That does not mean that whey protein should be ignored, it is still a great way to hit your protein targets, and whey protein in particular has been shown to improve body composition when combined with weight training [7].

Rule 2. Pick the right Supplements

So obviously whey protein is a good choice, but so is Casein protein which has been found to aid recovery when taken late at night [8].

Creatine is also an excellent supplement to buy, and works very well when taken with whey protein [9][10]. Caffeine is also a very good supplement to take pre-workout. It increases metabolism [11][12] and fat-oxidation (fat burning) [13] and can improve performance [14].

These are the three main supplements to take, if you have money spare then omega 3, and multi-vitamins would also be good choices.

Rule 3. Keep your Diet Flexible

A lot of bodybuilders talk about ‘clean eating‘ which means only eating food they deem as ‘good‘ and then having a cheat day where they eat everything in sight.

This concept is very old fashioned and definitely not optimal.

The most effective way to diet is to be flexible, eat lots of healthy food and add in the occasional treat so long as it fits into your macronutrient and calorie targets. A lot of people seem to be of the impression that flexible-dieting means eating whatever you want, but this is ridiculous.

Flexible dieting just means not being too regimented in what you eat, and adjusting your diet to fit in some unhealthy food.

Psychologically this is a much easier way to eat, and it is a much better long-term option.

Rule 4. Measure Everything

You need to measure your weight, you need to get a tape measure and check your waist size, chest size, arms, and legs. You need to do this so that you can see your weekly progress.

You need to be measuring calories in and calories out. Ideally you want to be weighing your food too!

If you’re not doing this then you will not get the desired outcome. If this sounds like too much work, then congratulations on being sane! But you’ll never be a bodybuilder.

In all honesty, doing these measurements is crucial, but isn’t half as difficult as it will at first appear. Taking the measurements needs to be done once per week, and should be done first thing in the morning.

Tracking your food in a calorie counting app is also a relatively easy job, especially once you get used to doing so.

There are many ways to streamline this, and compared to the time spent training and the time you spend preparing and cooking your food, measuring is pretty minor.

Doing this, will really help put you in control of your diet. When you see that you’re not losing weight fast enough (if that’s your current goal) then you can alter your calories. Without measurement this would all be done by guess work, which is incredibly unreliable.

Taking photos of your weekly progress will also help you see how things are changing.

Doing all this will ensure you have the best bodybuilding diet that you could hope for.

References

[1] Phillips, S., Tipton, K., Aarsland, A., Wolf, S., Wolfe, R. 1997. Mixed muscle protein synthesis and breakdown after resistance exercise in humans. American Journal of Physiology 273(1 pt.1): E99-107
[2] Tarnopolsky, M., Atkinson, S., MacDougall, J., Chesley, A., Phillips, S., Schwarcz, H. 1992. Evaluation of protein requirements for trained strength athletes. Journal of Applied Physiology 73(5): 1986-95
[3] Helms, E., Aragon, A., Fitschen, P. 2013. Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 11(20)
[4] Mamerow, M., Mettler, J., English, K., Casperson, S., Arentson-Lantz, E., Sheffield-Moore, M., Layman, D., Paddon-Jones, D. 2014. Dietary Protein Distribution Positively Influences 24-h Muscle Protein Synthesis in Healthy Adults. The Journal of Nutrition 144(6): 876-880
[5] Kumar, V., Atherton, P., Smith, K., Rennie, M. 2009. Human Muscle Protein Synthesis and breakdown during and after exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology 106(6): 2026-2039
[6] Hoffman, J., Ratamess, N., Tranchina, C., Rashti, S., Kang, J., Faigenbaum, A. 2009. Effect of protein-supplement timing on strength, power, and body-composition changes in resistance-trained men. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 19: 172-185
[7] Hulmi, J., Laakso, M., Mero, A., Hakkinen, K., Ahtiainen, J., Peltonen, H. 2015. The effects of whey protein with or without carbohydrates on resistance training adaptations. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 16(12): 48
[8] Res, P., Groen, B., Pennings, B., Beelen, M., Wallis, G., Gijsen, A., Senden, J., Van loon, L. 2012. Protein ingestion before sleep improves post-exercise overnight recovery. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 44(8): 1560-9
[9] Cribb, P., Williams, A., Stathis, C., Carey, M., Hayes, A. 2007. Effects of Whey Isolate, Creatine, and Resistance Training on Muscle Hypertrophy. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 39(2): 298-307
[10] Kerksick, CM., Rasmussen, C., Lancaster, S., Starks, M., Smith, P., Melton, C., Greenwood, M., Almada, A., Krieder, R. 2007. Impact of differing protein sources and a creatine containing nutritional formula after 12 weeks of resistance training. Nutrition 23(9): 647-56
[11] Astrup, A., Toubro, S., Cannon, S., Hein, P., Breum, L., Madsen, J. 1990. Caffeine: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of its thermogenic, metabolic, and cardiovascular effects in healthy volunteers. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 51(5): 759-67
[12] Dulloo, A., Geissler, C., Horton, T., Collins, A., Miller, D. (1989) Normal caffeine consumption: influence on thermogenesis and daily energy expenditure in lean and post-obese human volunteers. The American Society for Clinical Nutrition 49(1): 44-50
[13] Rumpler, W., Seale, J., Clevidence, B., Judd, J., Wiley, E., Yamamoto, S., Komatsu, T., Sawaki, T., Ishikura, Y., Hosoda, K. (2001) Oolong Tea increases Metabolic Rate and Fat Oxidation in Men. The Journal of Nutrition 131(11): 2848-2852
[14] Wiles, J., Coleman, D., Tegerdine, M. Swaine, I. 2006. The effects of caffeine ingestion on performance time, speed and power during a laboratory-based 1 km cycling time trial. Journal of Sports Sciences 24(11): 1165-1171

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