Training to build muscle is fun. In fact the high light of my day is getting to the gym, getting out there amongst all that iron, getting a pump, challenging myself and my training partner for one more rep, 5 more lbs! Training gives me a buzz that is hard to beat - and I can get that buzz every training day. I find it the easy part of bodybuilding. In fact, within some general guidelines, just about any training program will help you on your way to building muscle. Nutrition on the other hand, is a whole different animal. Get this bit even mildly wrong, and kiss good gains goodbye. I've spent over 20 years in this business - training, competing, experimenting. I've developed a good sense of what works and what doesn't. Here are my 10 Commandments of Bodybuilding Nutrition.
1. You Must Eat Enough To Gain Muscle
This single biggest mistake I see amongst trainers who are trying to add size is not eating enough. It's impossible to build muscle if your diet lacks proper nutrients. Ample amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and yes, even fat are necessary to build muscle. The trick is balance, you need enough high quality food to grow muscle. Yet even the finest muscle fuel will be stored as fat if taken in excess. One key strategy is to confine your eating to 'clean fuel', nutritionally dense foods with little or no fat and sugar. And you need to eat plenty of them. A serious weight trainer who additionally performs regular cardiovascular work will need to the extra nutrients to cope with the additional metabolic demands. How much is enough? Well I generally recommend taking your bodyweight in kg, multiplying it by 60, and this will give you the minimum calories per day you need to consume. (example, if you are 70kg then 70 x 60 = 4200 calories) These calories should be about 25% protein, 10% fat, and 65% carbohydrate.
2. You Must Eat Enough Protein
Protein is the most important nutrient for building muscle. You can train as hard as you like and take as much creatine as you can stomach, but without enough protein you will get nowhere. Unfortunately many proteins usually contain quite a bit of fat. Meat, fish, chicken and dairy product can all have significant fat content. In past days, heavy protein consumers developed nasty clogged arteries and high cholesterol levels because of the high fat levels in their protein. The fault wasn't in the protein, but the fat attached to the protein.
Nowadays, hardcore weight trainers look for low fat sources of protein. Skim milk, egg whites, fish, skinless chicken, lean red meats, and of course that staple of weight training, protein powder. These foods represent powerful, clean protein sources. Start by ingesting 2 - 3 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight per day. To stay anabolic, divide the total intake into 4-6 equal portions and eat these low fat protein sources at regular intervals throughout the day.
3. Cut down on Fats and Sugars
Fat is the way your body stores most of it's excess energy. Fat, unfortunately, is relatively easy to accumulate, but much harder to get rid of. Fat, with nine calories per gram, is the densest calorifically of all nutrients. A diet with a high fat content will almost certainly lead to a build up of fat throughout all parts of your body, slowing your metabolism, lower your fitness, and adversely affecting your health. Fat is hard to digest and is the body's preferred storage material. Though a certain amount of fat is needed for brain and other bodily functions, the little that's required is easily acquired through regular low fat eating. Limit fat intake to roughly 10 - 15% of your total caloric consumption.
Sugar, especially refined sugar, is very counterproductive to general health an muscle building. Excess sugar is easily converted to fat once in the body. And in the process of metabolising sugar, your body suffers a number of metabolic swings that reduce energy and reduce overall athletic performance - bad for hard workouts. Quite a few a few of the sports drinks and nutritional sports bars are loaded with sugar. On the other had, the sugars found in fruits tend to have less damaging consequences to your metabolism, and the overall health benefits would suggest that fruit is and important food group for bodybuilders to consume.
4. Develop an Eating Routine
Your body will respond much better to a consistent eating routine than a haphazard approach of food intake. That means that you should stick to your eating plan at least 6 days of the week. The 7th , or rest day, can be used to just eat the way you want. You will be eating 5 - 6 meals a day, with each containing at least 30g of protein, and you will space them over your waking hours. A consistent eating plan will ensure you always get adequate nutrients and stay in positive nitrogen balance( the state where your body always has available nutrients to build muscle).
5. Drink Plenty of Water
Almost 70% of your bodyweight is made up by water. Your kidneys are constantly removing waste material from your blood stream and periodically you excrete these by-products via urine. In addition, you are constantly losing moisture from your breath, skin (sweat), eyes, etc. In hot weather, or while training, this loss is accelerated dramatically. You need to consume water constantly during the day for 2 main reasons. Firstly you must maintain your water balance. As soon as you start to lose more than you replace, you begin dehydrating. Even as little as a 1% imbalance impairs performance markedly. Many athletes suffer performance degradation, not because they run out of energy, but because they are dehydrated. It s extremely important to drink during the day, but drink much more while working out - for a better workout.
The second reason for drinking water is for general health. Keeping the system flushed with water not only improves kidney function, but improves general metabolism, leading to faster workout recovery and better gains. Drink 3 - 4 litres of good quality water a day.
6. Analyse What You Eat
OK, so you've read this article to this point and you're saying, 'Yeah, makes reasonable sense.' But are you going to adopt any of these principals. You are probably loosely practicing these principals already. But lets just back up a minute. When we say loosely, that probably also means inadequately. If you are really serious about building muscle, knowing that you are getting adequate nutrition is usually determined by recording everything that goes into your mouth each day to determine protein, carbohydrate and fat. (See last month Ironman for My meal Planning advice) You will need a diary, and a nutrition analysis guide that give protein, cabs, and fat. Once you know your nutritional state, it's much easier to 'tweak' your diet to get results.
7. Prepare Your Own Meals
Most true bodybuilders learn to become quite creative cooks. (1001 things to do with a skinless chicken breast!) Seriously, if you prepare your own food, you can ensure it is low fat, high protein, high in complex carbs and fibre, an ideal muscle building nutritional mix. Plan out your meals several days in advance, and buy the food you need accordingly. Cook your meals, store in plastic containers, refrigerate, and take to work, school, etc. This is generally what all competitive bodybuilders will do to ensure they are keeping well supplied with nutrients.
8. Use Fresh, Unprocessed, Low Fat Foods
Wherever possible, choose fresh vegetables and fruits, lean cuts of meat and fish, and get your carbs from rice, pasta, or baked potatoes. Also look for low fat sauces, toppings etc. Stay away from canned foods, processed foods, and foods with lots of additives and preservatives. I know it's almost impossible to avoid this stuff, but keep it as a minor part of your overall diet. If you consistently eat this way, not only will it help you with quality gains, but you will also be healthier, feel better, and have more energy.
9. Moderate Your Vices
You are not going to make great gains if you drink a six pack every night. In fact regular alcohol consumption can basically reverse any gains you make through good training and nutrition. Alcohol damages liver function, and if you know anything about biochemistry and physiology, your liver is the metabolic hub of your body, producing and regulating enzymes, processing nutrients, metabolising hormones, etc. It's ok to have an occasional drink, but if you are serious about your training - Moderation! Just a short word on 2 other relevant subjects - smoking and recreational drugs. Smoking is definitely bad metabolically, playing havoc with your enzyme systems as well as damaging cardiovascular capacity, and the wide range of recreational drugs available range from mildly damaging to your metabolism (which will slow gains) to downright deadly (they will kill you!) My recommendation is don't go near them.
10. Use Supplements
A good protein supplement should be the mainstay of your bodybuilding diet. It is a proven fact that the extra low fat protein you can get from a good protein supplement will stimulate more muscle growth. I recommend you look for the best quality protein, Whey Protein Isolate. I would also recommend you consider Creatine, as I have personally tried it an found an almost immediate effect (2 - 3 kg gain in 4 weeks!) Other supplements - well I recommend you read as much as you can, get opinions from people you respect, and perhaps give them a try. Generally, if it sounds to good to be true it probably is!