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The Weight Trainer's Bodybuilding Diet

How to Maximize Your Muscle with the Right Diet


Updated June 16, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Bodybuilding Diet
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So much advice about bodybuilding diets is off the mark. There’s no point being diplomatic: much of what you read on weight training and bodybuilding sites about how much protein you need, what supplements you need, how you should eat and why, are just plain wrong. Weight training and bodybuilding nutrition is a science like anything else in the fitness sciences: it’s biology and biochemistry and physiology and it has rules and a base of evidence.

What’s worse is that selling supplements, most of which are not needed, has become such huge business in the commercial weight training and bodybuilding ‘industry’ that it is almost impossible to know if you are getting an objective evaluation of bodybuilding diet and nutrition.

Here's what you need to know about diet and nutrition for weight training and bodybuilding. In fact it’s not all that different from a normal healthy athlete’s diet, except for some emphasis on quantity and meal timing in various training phases. This however, is where the detail becomes very important.

Start with a Healthy Diet

Although various diets like Atkins and South Beach and Ornish have become popular, the general consensus among dietitians and nutritionists is that a healthy diet is somewhat different -- less stringent in requirements and more balanced across the major nutrients. You can see the key recommendations for the general population in Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Guidelines from other western countries like the UK and Australia are similar.

In summary the recommendations are:

  • Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds; some lean meats, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy products; and mono and polyunsaturated oils
  • Limit intake of saturated fat, cholesterol, salt, alcohol and an excess of added sugars and sugary foods
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Maintain a normal weight
  • Exercise regularly.

Recommended dietary intakes or allowances (RDI or RDA) are set by authorities for all essential nutrients – protein, fat, carbohydrate and vitamins and minerals.

Guidelines and RDIs usually include slightly modified recommendations for men and women, including pregnant women, and adolescents and children. Older adults may also have special requirements and recommended intakes.

Weight Training Nutrition

People who exercise have different requirements to sedentary people because the greater expenditure of energy usually requires a greater intake of food. The more you exercise the more you have to eat to sustain that level of activity to the point where some elite athletes such as Tour de France cyclists need to eat huge quantities of food to sustain their activity. Simple enough, and this also applies to casual exercisers, but it may not apply to you if fat loss is one of the reasons you took up weight training.

Nutrition for weight loss. In this case you need to create an energy deficit; which means that the energy you consume in food is less than the energy you expend in exercise and daily living. Creating a 15 to 20 percent deficit in energy balance should ensure weight loss occurs over time. Your weight training in this case is to assist with fat loss while attempting to maintain muscle.

Yet weight losers need to do the very tricky thing of holding onto muscle and bone while shedding fat. It’s tricky because the body is not used to breaking down tissue like fat and building up muscle at the same time. Breaking down is called catabolism and building up is called anabolism, as in anabolic steroids. This is a contradictory process. See my article How to Burn More Fat for an in-depth look at losing fat.

That’s why weight training is so important in any weight loss regimen: it helps to maintain muscle while you lose fat.

Nutrition for bodybuilding. If you weight train for sports, weight lifting competition, bodybuilding or even as a way to maintain fitness or appearance now that you’ve reached ideal weight, you will probably be more interested in gaining muscle and maintaining low body fat.

The dietary specifics will be different in each case. In this article we’re emphasizing bodybuilding diet and nutrition so let’s take a look at what’s required.

Muscle Building, Bodybuilding Diet

To build extra muscle you need to eat in excess of what you currently eat and to work out with weights on a regular basis. How much muscle you can gain, how quickly and with what definition is largely determined by your genetics and age. But everyone at almost any age should be able to gain some muscle and strength with weight training. Proper nutrition is a crucial element in the muscle building process.

That overeating is not a good idea if you are already overweight is surely something you already know. Get fit first.

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