Nutrition for Bodybuilding
Nutrition for body builders and others involved in a regular strength training program is a topic that doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves. The causal reasons are many but generally speaking, my sense is nutrition just isn’t as sexy to talk about as the bodybuilding exercises are. Plus, there is just a lot of misinformation out there about what body builders need to eat in order to pack on lean, strong muscle.
Bodybuilding Nutrition FAQs
This brief article will provide 10 common questions on the topic of nutrition and fat for body builders in the form of FAQs. Under each question, I have included a response. Almost all of the information you will see here comes from the scientific literature and is devoid of mumbo-jumbo that is designed to sell you a bunch of crap from the supplement industry.
Some of the material below will strike you as common sense while other aspects will cause you to pause and think. Read them all so you are able to absorb their deeper meaning. Are you ready to learn more about nutrition, fat and body building?
Let’s jump right in!
Q1: Can I target a part of my body for weight loss?
A: The answer is – no. Spot reduction is an old gym myth that has been around gyms for decades. When you exercise a specific body part, the muscles underneath that skin will become firm. Over the course of time, this can improve the appearance in the body part you are working out (example, chest, arms).
The fat that is layered on top of that muscle does not become reduced. Think about it for a moment. If you do 500 crunches each day but make no changes to your diet, you will develop fairly strong abs. The problem is they will be hidden under a bunch of body fat.
Q2: Are all dietary fats the same?
A: No. There are really only two types of body fat. One is called essential fat and the other is called storage fat. You need essential fat for your body to function normally. Here, we are talking about the immune and hormonal systems. Essential fat is in most all of your organs (heart, lungs, kidneys and liver). Women carry more of this type of fat than men. This makes sense when you consider females need this type of fat for child bearing purposes.
Storage fat is pretty much what the name sounds like. This is fat that your body holds on to and accumulates as a resource for the future. Men tend to hold storage fat in the belly where women see more of this fat around the thighs and hips. Storage fat is nature’s built in mechanism for housing nutritional resources. A little body fat is perfectly normal and healthy. The problem for many people occurs when they accumulate too much storage fat. Makes sense, huh?
Q3: Can I “sweat away” body fat in a sauna?
A: Sorry but the answer is – no. You may experience dehydration in a sauna because your body is sweating out H20 but fat, at least in its chemical form, isn’t going to magically disappear because you are chillaxing in a steam room.
FYI – the water you lose while sitting in that steam room will come right back to your body as soon as you start to rehydrate.
Q4: What is dietary fiber?
A: Many people call dietary fiber “roughage”. Here, we are talking about things that the body cannot fully digest and passes as waste. Examples include foods like vegetables, beans, fruits and whole grain cereals. Fiber is important because it helps to lower cholesterol and assist your intestinal system to move waste products (excrement) from your body.
If you are involved with body building and strength training, eating fiber is important because it helps your system to remain free of waste materials that can literally make you feel sluggish and “bound up”. Most Americans don’t get enough dietary fiber – and as a result, struggle with a host of gastro-intestinal issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). This problem becomes compounded if you are a caffeine junkie.
Q5: How many times should I eat a day?
A: There is not cut and dry answer to this question as many people involved in the nutrition and fitness business have different thoughts and ideas. The consensus of experts suggests 5-6 high protein, lower carb meals a day is the optimal. The keyword here is small. Foods with higher carbs should be consumed earlier in the day and become reduced as the day goes on. This way, your body has the opportunity to burn fuel at a steady pace and metabolize properly.
Body builder and trainer, Michael Matthews, has an excellent book that explores this entire topic entitled, Maximum Muscle. I highly encourage anyone who is interested in learning about the unique dietary requirements for body builders to pick up this resource as part of enhancing their knowledge on this topic.
Q6: What should I eat after a workout?
A: If you are involved with intense strength training with weights, there is a window of about 30 minutes after working out that you should try to replenish your glycogen stores. Glycogen is one of your body’s main fuel sources.
At its core, glycogen is the chemical substance that stores up carbohydrates for the future. The vast majority of glycogen is retained in the muscles and in the liver.
Q7: Will my muscle turn to fat once I stop lifting weights?
A: This too is an old gym myth. The answer is – no. Muscle and fat are made up of different chemical compounds. It is no more possible for your muscles to turn to fat than it is to make peanut butter turn into jelly.
The reason body builders and weight lifters put on a bunch of body fat after they stop working out for an extended period of time is usually because they haven’t made any changes to their diet. In other words, they keep eating like body builders but not burning energy (aka carbs, fat) like they did when they hit the weights regularly.
Q8: What does the term “portion” really mean?
A: The definition of this term is all over the map. As a general rule, it might be helpful to think of a portion as the amount of a closed fist. Another example might be a pack of poker cards. When you hear the word portion, think small. Remember, portion is not the amount of food you can fit on your plate.
Q9: Is it OK to work out a night after heavy drinking?
A: The answer to this question is – are you still drunk? That may sound funny but when you consider the fact that it takes your body time to metabolize alcohol and pass it as waste, it’s not a ridiculous thing to ask. If you were out drinking with your buddies until 2am and got totally smashed, you probably shouldn’t plan on lifting weights any time before 12-noon.
Here’s the real deal about body building and alcohol. When you drink beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages on a regular basis, you slow your body down and mess up your metabolism. I’m not saying you can’t have an occasional beer or wine. I am saying that if you are drinking on a daily basis, you are making it much more difficult to have a mindful workout and realize gains.
Q10: If I work out regularly, I can eat whatever I want
A: The simple answer is this – if you want to build lean, hard muscle – no. While it is true that regular engagement in strength training using weights does burn more fat than doing just cardio, adding muscle to your body will require that you eat a mostly clean diet. This is particularly true for body builders.
If your goal is to get a six pack, your dietary habits will need just as much focus as your workouts. Knowledge of your body type is also going to need to be factored into your total body fitness routine as part of the dynamic. This is why being aware of your somatotype is key.
Bodybuilding Nutrition Final Thoughts
Nutrition is an essential part of body building and strength training. If you want to grow your muscles in a meaningful way, you will need to focus on the foods you put into your body with the same intensity that you do when you are lifting.
I am going to recommend another book here entitled, Bigger, Leaner, Stronger by Matthews. This is an excellent resource to draw upon for better understanding the unique marriage between diet and muscle building.