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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.

When you overeat for the purposes of gaining muscle you also gain some fat. Let’s say you are a slender guy of six feet (180 centimeters) and 154 pounds (70 kilograms) and you want to bulk up with extra muscle and eventually stabilize at a low percentage of body fat.

Here is how you would do it:

  1. Overeat. Increase your daily intake of energy (calories) by about 15 percent. You could do this with guesswork or you could work out your normal requirements using various formulae on the net and then increase food intake accordingly. Try Joanne Larsen's terrific Healthy Body Calculator. It should not be all protein but the extra protein you consume, either in supplements or protein foods, should be low in fat. More on this later in the article, but you should stay close to the current guidelines for protein requirements for weight trainers. Hiring a sports dietitian with some experience in weight training is also an option.
  2. Train with weights. Commence a solid weight training program targeting all the main large muscle groups such as the arms, legs, shoulders, chest, back and abdominals. The extra energy you consume will fuel muscle growth as the exercise stimulates growth.
  3. Cut, lose, and shed. This mean that you are now bulked up with extra muscle and fat, and you need to lose much of that fat while maintaining the muscle. Gaining fat is somewhat inevitable during this process but you should be especially careful to eat healthy food at this time. Fast foods should be kept to a minimum. Eat healthy but big.

Energy deficit revisited
Remember what I said about catabolism and anabolism previously in relation to weight loss? You are now going to attempt to do just that: shed fat and hold onto the lovely muscle you gained. Your energy intake should now be cut back by the 15 percent you added with the objective of losing fat and maintaining that muscle. Because you're now not the lean guy you once were, you may have to eventually eat slightly more to maintain that extra muscle, but not right now.

This is a slightly different scenario to someone who is obese, unfit and trying to lose weight and hold muscle. Our young and fit male weight trainer has a more normal hormonal metabolism but he still has to do this correctly. In fact, bodybuilders do this sort of thing regularly to prepare themselves for competition: they put on muscle and some fat by eating up, then they strip off the fat leaving the muscle to show through. It’s called ‘cutting’.

Fat and sugar down, protein up.
In this cutting phase, the diet should be low in fat, around 20 percent, and protein intake should be maintained, which can help protect muscle. For example, if your protein intake was 1 gram/pound of your body weight per day (2.2 grams/kilogram) when you were bulking up and overeating, you would now keep that protein intake constant while cutting excess fat and carbohydrates, particularly added sugar and sweets and white flour products, all the while keeping up the supply of those antioxidants in fruit, veges and whole grains.

Such a nutrition plan could look like this for the macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrate):

Bulking phase
Protein: 15-20%
Fat: 20-30%
Carbohydrate: 50-60%

Cutting phase
Protein: 20-25%
Fat 15-20%
Carbohydrate 55-60%

In either phase, you really don’t want to exceed 1 gram per pound of body weight of protein (2.2 grams/kilogram). A little more probably won’t hurt a healthy person but chances are, based on the science of protein requirements for athletes, it won’t help either – only cost you in expensive supplements or food. Any hint of kidney disease and you would need to be cautious about excessive protein intake. Consult your doctor for advice if this applies.

I emphasize protein intake because the tendency of some male weight trainers is to shovel in the protein in the form of shakes and supplements and the occasional whole turkey without figuring out how much is useful or even how much they are ingesting. The numbers above are actually at the top of the range of possible requirements. The American College of Sports Medicine estimates the requirements for strength trainers at 1.6 to 1.7 grams per kilogram body weight per day (about 0.8 grams per pound). If you don't do high intensity or long sessions, and only a few days a week, this is likely to be in excess of requirements as well.

Meal Timing for Bodybuilding Diets

Now that you’ve muscled up and got ripped to low body fat levels you'll want to know the best way to eat and train to stay that way. Eating for elite athletes is taken very seriously by sports nutritionists and coaches – or it should be -- because a few fractions of a second in a sprint or a few seconds in longer races can mean the difference between a gold medal and a “thank you for coming”. Even in the amateur ranks it’s just nice to know that you are maximizing your workout by eating in a way that makes the most of your hard work. Meal timing and constitution before and after exercise is an important part of this.

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