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There are several things that need to be addressed when you are trying to be a bodybuilder. Your training program, your nutrition, your recovery, and your supplements all need to be considered.
The same holds true for a natural bodybuilder, but these athletes need to pay special attention to their diet. A proper diet will allow for optimal muscle growth with limited amount of body fat.
Muscle grows during recovery but during exercise, muscle is broken down. This broken down muscle needs nutrients and rest to repair, grow, and build strength. Natural bodybuilder need to focus on food quality, food quantity, and food timing to optimise results.
Food quality refers to how many nutrients a particular food has in comparison to how many calories it contains. Food quality also refers to how the food was grown, how many chemicals were applied, and whether or not it has been processed.
Your body functions better when it is given high quality foods. Instead of working to digest low quality food from which it takes little nutrients, your body can use high quality foods for muscle growth.
When it comes to quality, a calories is not just a calorie. A chocolate chip cookie may give you 100 calories while an apple will also contain the same amount of calories.
Choose minimally processed foods that contain as few ingredients as possible. Look for ingredients that you can pronounce. Limit food that comes in a package. If it is in a package, you should already be worried.
Before you buy an item, consider this test: Would your great-great grandmother recognise it as food? If yes, then you get to buy the product, if not, put it back and search for a higher quality alternative.
The term organic was originally used to tell consumers that a food was grown without chemicals or genetically modified strains. Food manufacturers have been able to water down this label yet there is a consensus that organic foods are typically better for your body, the environment, and for those who work in the fields around these foods.
Grass fed and hormone free labels have seen a decline in definition clarity as is the case with organic. Some studies show that grass fed animals have higher amounts of healthy fat. Hormones given to animals can be found in the humans that consume them so it is best to decrease these hormone exposures.
Whenever possible grow your food. Shop at farmer's markets, and only buy seasonal foods. Get to know where your food comes from and how it was grown.
When it comes to food…quality matters, so shop wisely.
Food quantity refers to how much you are eating. As discussed previously, when eating foods of higher quality you find your body not wanting to eat as much.
Hunger can be a response to low blood sugar or lack of nutrients. Foods with higher quality keep these stories high without the need for excess caloric consumption.
A natural bodybuilder following a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle needs to ensure they have a very well balanced diet consisting of a wide variety of food types.
Eating a range of lentils, pulses, grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts will help ensure adequate nutrient delivery. Unlike their omnivore counterpart who may sustain on oatmeal, chicken, rice, and broccoli, a veg/vegan athlete will need to have great diversity, and often greater number of calories, in each meal.
Food quantity is dependent on your goals, your activity level, and your current body fat composition. Athletes looking to lose weight will need to burn 3500 excess calories in order to lose 1 pound (or .45 kg) of fat and consume roughly 2500 extra calories for a gain in muscle mass.
- Protein recommendations: 1.0-1.7 grams per kg for athletes and those looking to put on size. Veg athletes may increase this to 1.8-2.0 grams per kg.
- Carbohydrate requirements: Aim to make carbs between 45%-60% of your calories. While you are in the building phase, skew closer to 60% and then move down towards 45% as you begin the cutting phase.
- Fats: Fats will make up the remaining calories of your nutrition program. These fats are essential for muscle growth and recovery. Opt for healthy fats found in meat, fish, nuts, and sources such as avocado.
The most important meals of the day are: breakfast, pre-workout, and post workout.
Breakfast, as the name implies, breaks the fast your body endured without food while you slept. By consuming a meal within 20 minutes of waking, you increase metabolism, replenish energy stores, and prime your body for the day to come. Breakfast helps ensure mental acuity, and provides your body with a base of nutrients for the rest of the day.
Your pre-workout meal needs to prepare you for your training effort. It should be consumed 20-50 minutes before your training session to allow your body to digest the food and begin releasing the nutrients into your working muscles.
Pre-work meals allow your body to have enough fuel to work hard. Think of the pre-work meal as stopping to fuel up before a road trip. Like a full tank, a filled belly, creates a better experience.
After a workout session, your muscles are primed for recovery. They are in a state of dehydration, and have had to release their stored sugars to assist getting you through the training program.
Within half hour after completing your training, consume a meal with fast acting carbohydrates (i.e. banana or white rice) and a source of protein. Ideally the post-workout meal is in liquid form since liquids are absorbed quickly by your body.
Follow this post workout drink with a meal within 2-3 hours. Try to make this a meal with “real food” composed of protein, a slower acting carb, and a fat.
What is Natural?
This question is tricky to answer because it depends on who you ask. For some, natural means only putting food in their body. For others, it may mean only consuming food but also allowing substances that naturally occur in the body (such as insulin) to be used.
Some athletes will avoid all supplements, while some will allow a few supplements in their diet. Usually hormone boosters, growth enhancers, and steroids are avoided by natural athletes.
Below we will highlight 5 supplements that you may consider in your quest for natural bodybuilding:
May increase metabolism, heart rate, blood vessel dilation, and energy. Fat burners could be beneficial during a training session to help you push a little harder.
They may encourage cells to release fatty acids for your body to use as energy and have been shown to allow your body to maintain higher metabolism post workout.
One of the most well researched supplements. This supplement helps your body replenish ATP stores that drive muscle activation thus allowing for harder/longer workouts.
Creatine has been shown to be beneficial for increasing strength, power and recovery.
Glutamine and Amino Acids
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Your body uses various amino acids as ingredients when it is building and repairing muscle.
Amino acids are used by the body for a wide range of actions ranging from dilating blood vessels, to releasing natural muscle gaining hormones.
These days, many companies sell protein powder with ‘clean’ ingredients. These products allow natural bodybuilders to attain the health benefits of protein in a convenient way without having to worry about putting unnatural substances in their body.
Protein powders are readily absorbed, and are convenient to carry. They can be used as a snack during the day or they can be the main source of protein during one of your meals.
Soy was the primary veg-friendly protein powder for many years. Natural bodybuilders now have options that include rice, hemp, and cranberry protein powders.
Multi-vitamins can be thought of as an insurance policy against nutrient deficiency. Just because you have fire insurance for your home does not mean you can leave the stove on and candles lit. In a similar fashion, a multivitamin cannot be taken to replace bad food choices. Multivitamins can help fill any gaps to help ensure increases in muscle function and size.