10 NUTRITION TIPS FOR BODYBUILDING BEGINNERS
Live by these diet fundamentals to get your muscle-building off to a roaring start.
If we had to give the beginning bodybuilder one piece of advice when it comes to proper nutrition, it would be: Don’t overthink it. Keep it simple. You can go ahead and drive yourself insane trying to calculate every nutrient ratio at every meal, every day of the week and still end up with little to show for your efforts. You’re better off focusing on the fundamentals, which is why we’ve boiled your initiation into bodybuilding nutrition down to 10 simple guidelines.
Follow these rules habitually, and they’ll become second nature. Then, all of other diet minutiae will fall into place. You’ll undoubtedly learn more about nutrition in the coming months and years, but these basics will be more than sufficient in helping you build serious muscle.
- Positive Energy = Positive Results
Beginners often make the mistake of either following nutrition plans geared toward more advanced bodybuilders or incorporating pre-contest diet practices that simply don’t apply to them. Here’s one thing you should get straight: To build muscle, the body needs more energy (calories) than it burns each day. So skimping on carbohydrates, and even small amounts of dietary fat, is a big mistake. That said, you also need to understand that no one—not even Mr. Olympia—adds only muscle and no fat. So expect to gain some body fat. But as long as you’re gaining more muscle than fat, you’re heading in the right direction.
- Protein Is the Foundation
Protein requirements are higher for all bodybuilders, beginners included, than for the average Joe. Protein repairs damaged muscle fibers and manufactures important growth-supporting hormones in the body. If you hope to pack on serious muscle mass, you need to consume 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight each day. For a 180-pound individual, that means 180 grams a day is the floor, but this figure can rise depending on several factors. If you fail to grow on 1 gram per pound, or if you’re sore for more than a couple of days after training, bump that up to 1.3 grams—234 grams of protein per day for the 180-pounder. Most of that should come from whole-food sources (see No. 6), but it’s also a good idea to supplement with two or three protein shakes a day.
- Assimilation Rivals Total Protein Intake
You can’t expect to hit the protein markOpens a New Window.—1-1.3 grams per pound of bodyweight per day—and gain significant amounts of massOpens a New Window. if you neglect how much of the protein you eat actually makes its way into your muscles. That’s why eating six meals a day (as opposed to two or three) is a requirement. The more you spread out your protein intake each day, the easier it is to digest. A constant delivery of protein from eating every 2½-3 hours also helps keep levels of cortisol (a muscle-wasting hormone) in check, which can maintain adequate levels of testosterone, the powerful hormone that influences muscle repair.
- Carbs Drive the Process
Not to be overlooked, especially in a world where going low-carb is a mainstay for shedding body fat, are carbohydrates. If gaining mass is your goal, you need carbs, and plenty of them, to get your body growing. Carbs fuel your training, allowing you to push yourself harder and longer, and set off a hormonal mechanism in the body that drives amino acids from protein into muscle tissue to aid in repair and recovery. If you follow a low-carb diet, chances are you won’t be able to train as hard as you need to stimulate hypertrophy, your energy balance will fall (see No. 1), and you’ll fail to take advantage of carbohydrates’ ability to help force protein into muscles. Start by consuming 2g of carbohydrates per pound of body weight per day (360g for the 180-lb guy) and go up to as much as 3-3.3 grams per pound (close to 600 grams for the 180-lb guy). The majority of your carbs should be complex, coming from such sources as potatoes, whole-wheat breads and pastas, and oatmeal.
- Keep the Post-Workout Meal “Quick”
No more than 30 minutes after training, consume 20-30 grams of fast-digesting protein. This is where whey-based powders that can easily be mixed with water in a shaker cup reign supreme. Also eat 50-60 grams of fast-digesting carbs such as fat-free cookies, muffins, fruit, Gatorade or other carb-rich drink. The fast-digesting combo of whey and simple carbs almost immediately reverses muscle breakdown that results from intense training. It can also tilt your body’s hormonal state from one in which muscle is under attack to one that supports the rebuilding process.
- Make Meat A Staple
Talk to a dieting bodybuilder and he’ll tell you how difficult it can be to hold onto muscle mass when red meat is completely eliminated from his diet. Red meatOpens a New Window. such as steakOpens a New Window. and lean ground beef tend to build muscle better than white meat like chicken or turkey. Some say it’s the greater vitamin and mineral content, while others point out that red meat is dense in creatine (which boosts strength in the gym) and carnitine (which helps elevate testosterone levels). Or, it could be that a diet rich in red meat tends to provide adequate dietary fat, which also supports testosterone production in the body. Eating a lower-fat diet over a prolonged period—even if it’s abundant in protein, carbs, and total calories—may not support testosterone levels to the degree necessary for growth.
- Eat Big Before Training
Conventional wisdom says you shouldn’t train on a full stomach. But truth be told, eating a larger meal an hour or so pre-workout allows you to train harder and supplies the body with ample pre-workout carbsOpens a New Window. and protein that prevent muscle breakdownOpens a New Window.. Such a meal may cause the beginner to feel bloated, but in time your body will adapt by secreting the digestive juices required to deal with the hefty influx of food. To start, eat a medium chicken breast and medium baked potato about two hours before hitting the gym. You’ll protect your muscles from going catabolic and experience an energy boost, which should allow you to train harder and longer.
- Take a Break
Every bodybuilder has experienced this at one time or another: Your schedule is so tight that you miss a couple of workoutsOpens a New Window. in a row. To your great surprise, you don’t shrink but rather seem to grow. Why? Recovery. The days off, along with adequate nutrition, allow the body to overcompensate and recover more fully from recent training sessions. The same is true with eating. It’s a good idea to have a “cheat day” every 10-14 days and eat, in addition to what you normally do, a few things not on the typical bodybuilding menu: ice cream, cake, fatty cuts of steak, pizza, fried food. Should you overdo it? Absolutely not. Yet taking a single day and switching to a fattier cut of steakOpens a New Window., having a few rolls of white bread with dinner and ice cream for dessert, in addition to pizza earlier in the day, won’t hurt. Just the opposite: It’ll help in terms of muscle growth. Of course, the next day you’ll need to get right back on your cleaner diet.
- Don’t Over-supplement
SupplementsOpens a New Window. enhance your diet. What you eat is the foundation. A lot of beginners get it wrong and believe supplements are the basis of their nutrition regimens. They never see the results they hope for because they lack the ideal diet plan that would get them from point A to point B, from thin to bulked up. That said, aside from protein powders, beginners should stick with the basics: a multivitamin/mineral, creatine (3-5g pre- and post workout) and branched-chain amino acids (5-10g pre- and post workout) to help the body stay anabolic.
- Be Yourself
While the information bequeathed by pro bodybuilders is helpful, it’s not to be copied. When it comes to mass-building, the best thing to do is build your own diet: 1-1.3 grams of protein and 2-3.3 grams of carbs per pound of body weight per day split over six meals, with a larger meal before training and a whey shake with fast-acting carbs afterward. Adding mass is a process that takes time and consistency. Your best bet is to pay close attention to your own diet, weigh yourself every day and track that weight to make sure you’re gaining roughly 1lb every 5-10 days.