This article was featured in Muscle & Fitness, December 1995 issue. This is a view on what are the
biggest mistakes that bodybuilders do in terms of nutrition.
Larry Scott, the first Mr. Olympia, remarked in 1965 'Bodybuilding is 90%
nutrition.' Shawn Ray in 1993 echoed the sentiment: 'The weights, the gym,
the training, I can do that part in my sleep; it's fun and relatively
easy. It's the other stuff, the dieting and supplementing, that demands
the discipline.' If success is any measure, Shawn knoweth that of which
he speaketh. Top professional bodybuilders weight, measure, quantify and
chart every bite they put into their mouths.
Does the grass roots trainer need to go to that level of dedication and
exactitude? To maximize gains, yes. Perhaps not to the degree the elite go
to, but nutrition is a key ingredient in bodybuilding success. So take a
hint. Without a scientific nutrition program, bodybuilding devolves into
plan weight training, which is a hell of a lot further down athletic evolution.
As Robby Robinson once observed 'Nutrition is everything'.
Taoist monks in search of spiritual enlightenment have a method for
obtaining nirvana called Wu Wei, the Negative Way. In the system of Wu Wei,
adherents obtain enlightenment through negation. Rather than try to define
the enlightened truth, they identify all that is false. After doing so, they
are left with that which is true. Hidden within the science that encapsulates
modern bodybuilding nutrition, we have the equivalent of Wu Wei. We can
acquire nutritional truth through the identification of that which is false.
Identifying the false sheds light on its opposite, the truth. Here
are the top 10 false moves of bodybuilding nutrition and their implied
1. Eating Too Much
We all know the biology. Excess calories are stored
as bodyfat. For overeating to be at the top of the nutritional false move list is
no mistake. Building muscle is the number one goal of bodybuilding and bodyfat
is the bodybuilder's number one enemy. What's the sense of working an impressive
set of muscles requiring much blood, sweat and tears, if it's obscured by a
layer of lard? May I suggest the obvious? If you are overweight, eat less.
The simple act on consuming less food will cause you to lose weight. Be aware,
however, that if you eat less but retain your current food profile, you will
just construct a miniature version of your old self. Less of the same will
shrink you, but your proportion of muscle to bodyfat will stay the same. The
end result? You look like your old self, just pounds lighter. Truly sensational
physical transformation lies in losing bodyfat while maintaining muscle. To
achieve true nutritional nirvana, building muscle while simultaneously
losing bodyfat, we need to practice nutrient based dieting.
To lose fat and retain muscle, besides doing aerobic exercise, you need to eat
precise amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fat. You need to become nutrient
conscious. Read the labels on the food you eat. What is the consensus on
achieving metabolic nirvana? To hang on to muscle, you need protein and lots
of it. To maintain energy and fuel growth you need quality cards. To shed the
fat blanket and keep the muscle, to effect the physical transformation you
seek, you need lots of quality nutrients, but not in excess. You tread the
razor's edge between enough and too much. Everyone is different. Experiment and
2. Eating Too Little
Undereating is as bad as overeating. Physiologically,
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.
3. Insufficient Protein
The fact remains: Protein is the single
most important nutrient for muscle regeneration and building. The trick is to
use only lean protein. Protein and fat usually coexist in food sources. Meat,
fish, fowl, dairy, these primary sources all can have much fat content.
In the old days, we did not worry about such inconveniences. As a result,
heavy protein consumers developed nasty clogged arteries and astronomical
cholesterol rates. The fault wasn't in the protein, but the fat attached to
Nowadays, we hardcore weight trainers confine our protein to nonfat or low
fat sources. Skim milk, egg whites, fish, skinless fowl, flank steak, and
of course that staple of weight training, protein powder. These foods
represent powerful, clean protein sources. Start by ingesting 1 - 1.5
grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. To stay anabolic, divide
the total intake into 4-8 equal portions and eat these low fat protein
sources at regular intervals throughout the day.
4. Failing to Cook for Yourself
Meal preparation is a critical skill.
To be truly successful as a bodybuilder, you should be able to prepare your
own food. Nutritionally sound foods eaten throughout the day are necessary
to obtain anabolism. Most male bodybuilders (and more than a few female ones)
do not cook. Big mistake. Why depend on mom, your spouse, restaurants or
fast food joints for the endless succession of small, nutritious feedings
required to mount a serious bodybuilder effort?
Not only do you have to come to grips with cooking, but you have to develop
a wide and inventive repertoire of dishes and meals. Otherwise you are locked
into the equivalent of prison chow. Jail house cuisine is bland, unimaginative,
tasteless. Kinda like the clean foods we bodybuilders choose to contend with
day in, day out.
You need a lot of imagination to deal with clean food. Tuna and egg white need
not be dull. How do the ignorant become enlightened? Comb the magazines.
Read low fat cook books. Assemble your ingredients, set aside some time and have
at it. Plus, you'll impress the heck out of your mom when you serve her a
low fat gourmet feast some fine Sunday.
5. Not keeping a Nutrition Log
As cumbersome as it might sound, the muscle elite keep daily records of what
they consume and when they consume it. They write it all down in a log. This
allows them to keep a running tally of their nutritional progress. They
establish a long term game plan and keep daily tabs on food and supplement
consumption. Tracking results, identifying trends, finding what works,
discarding what doesn't, a log becomes your nutritional report card. You can
make truly accurate assessments and implement intelligent corrective action
when you base your adjustments on factual data and objective analysis.
Otherwise it degenerates into wishful thinking and self-delusion.
6. Too Much Fat & Sugar
So begin by assembling data. The truly complete nutritional log lists date,
time, food type, and carb, fat, sugar, sodium, protein and caloric content.
Body stats are notated along with short descriptive phrases on the athlete's
general condition. Drawn up in column format, the comprehensive notation
of a meal takes about two minutes. And you'll find that the purchases of
a food nutritional value book (available at any bookstore) will be of a
great help. Did I hear you say what a hassle? It could be worse.
Thomas Jefferson wrote down every financial transaction he made in his
adult life and he lived to be 83.
The twin demons of nutrition. Fat is calorically the densest of all nutrients,
with nine calories per gram. 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.
7. Not Drinking Enough Water
Excess sugar is easily converted to fat once in the body. Buyer beware: A food
may be advertised as low fat and still be loaded with sugar. Taken in excess,
this sugar can be quickly converted to fat. Quite a few a few of the sports
drinks and nutritional sports bars are loaded with sugar. Limit fat intake
to roughly 15% of your total caloric consumption.
As we know, the body is 67% water, and we should drink lots of water
throughout the day. Water courses throughout the body's plumbing;
downing copious amounts throughout the day keeps the pipes clean as chrome.
So flush the system continually and regularly, regenerating muscle cells
through water replenishment. Drink 10 eight ounce glasses of water a day.
8. Lacking Positive Nitrogen Balance
Positive nitrogen balance is the physiological state in which muscular
growth is possible. How to achieve it? Take in a fresh supply of muscle
building nutrients every 2-3 hours. The human body works most efficiently when
given small feedings at regular intervals throughout the day. These evenly
spaced feedings should be composed of high quality protein and carbohydrates.
9. Lacking Food Balance in Meals
How can you eat every 2-3 hours when faced with the rigors of a job,
family and real world responsibilities? A nutritious sports bar and a glass
of skim milk can supply 50 grams of protein and 50-100 grams of carbohydrates.
How long does it take to eat a sandwich? Or drink a protein shake? How about
a piece of fruit and a chicken breast? You get the idea. This ties into
food preparation; pack clean food snacks and graze throughout the day. When
an athlete is in positive nitrogen balance, the body is ready, willing and
able to grow.
Imbalance is rampant in this off kilter world. Food consumption is no
exception. Balanced eating as defined by some nutritionists is not quite the
same as balanced eating as defined by the muscle elite. The optimal feeding,
according to the elite, is a skillful blending of lean protein, starcvhy and
fibrous carbohydrates, minuscule amounts of fat and no sugar. The proportional
divisions vary depending upon individual characteristics. Some folks are carb
sensitive and need to keep starchy carbs to a minimum, otherwise they blow
up like cartoon characters who've swallowed an air hose. Others thrive on
a diet heavy on potatoes and rice with no ill effects.
10. Ignoring Supplementation
How you metabolize food is as individual as your hair color or height.
You need to determine how foods affect you. Rule of thumb for proportional
balance: 50% calories from carbs, 35% from protein and 15% from fat. This
is a good starting point, and careful monitoring once on this 50-35-15 regimen
will dictate any necessary adjustments. The goal is building muscle and
reducing bodyfat. How do you achieve a real world balance with traveling
around with a scale, calorie book, and calculator? At each meal, fill 50%
of your plate with carbohydrates. Half of these should be dense, starchy
carbs (rice, potatoes) and half should be fibrous carbs (broccoli, green
beans, lettuce, etc.). The other half of the dinner plate should consist of
lean protein (skinless chicken, turkey, fish, etc.). Don't worry about
the 15% fat... it's there!
We all have little holes and shortcomings in our diets, and supplements help
us round them out. All elite athletes use supplements. The expense, hassle
and confusion of diet supplementing scares off some trainers. Big mistake.
State with a prepackaged multipak. In addition, a quality protein powder,
a high grade carbohydrate powder, and a big supply if beef liver tabs
will do wonders for your recuperation, training, and physique.