The bodybuilding diet is designed to build muscle and reduce body fat. It emphasizes foods high in protein and complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain bread, pasta, and cereal. There are many variations of the bodybuilding diet but an essential component remains the same throughout, a regular strength-building exercise building program.
Many scholars believe bodybuilding diets began with the ancient Greeks, whose gods, like Hercules and Apollo, were often portrayed as quite muscular. This influenced ancient Greek society to emulate the concept of a perfect physique. The same desire for physical perfection is found in ancient Rome and Egypt. The modern era of bodybuilding began in the late 1800s in England; German strongman Eugen Sandow is credited with being the first professional bodybuilder of the modern era. He was a featured attraction at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago for his feats of strength. He opened a chain of 20 weight training studios in England and published a magazine that included tips on diet. Sandow’s own diet was high in calories, protein, carbohydrates, and fats .
A bodybuilding diet generally contains 2,500– 5,500 calories per day for men and 1,500–3,000 calories daily for women, depending on the types and levels of exercise. The diet’s ratio of protein, carbohydrates, and fat can differ. Some programs recommend 40% carbohydrates, 40% protein, and 20% fats. Others suggest a ratio of 40% protein, 30% carbohydrates, and 30% fat. There are many variations of this diet where the calorie intake and ratios are different. Most bodybuilding diets include nutritional supplements as well as protein powders. The focus of bodybuilding has shifted away from an emphasis on health toward an emphasis on appearance at all costs. To achieve a bigger, better body, many bodybuilders have placed a huge emphasis on nutritional and other types of supplements, including the illegal use of steroids.
All diets require an exercise routine of three to seven days a week, usually with weightlifting and cardiovascular exercises. The body burns up to 50 calories per day for every pound of muscle. So adding 10 pounds of muscle can burn up to 500 extra calories each day. The exact diet and exercise routine can vary greatly and can be confusing, especially to people new to bodybuilding. When it comes to either diet or exercise, no two people follow the same routine.
Basic nutrition of bodybuilding
The three main components of a bodybuilding diet are the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat
CARBOHYDRATES. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the body. They are especially important in aerobic exercise and high-volume weight training, including aiding in muscle recovery. Eating carbohydrates causes the pancreas to release the hormone insulin, which helps regulate blood glucose
Amino acids— A group of organic acids that are constituents of protein.
Carbohydrates— An organic compound that is an important source of food and energy.
Cardiovascular— Pertaining to the heart and blood vessels.
Cholesterol— A solid compound found in blood and a number of foods, including eggs and fats.
Epidemiologist— A scientist or medical specialist who studies the origins and spread of diseases in populations.
Glycemic index (GI)— A method of ranking of carbohydrates by the way they affect blood glucose levels.
Glycemic load (GL)— A more practical ranking of how an amount of a particular food will affect blood glucose levels. The glycemic index (GI) is part of the equation for determining ranking.
Glycogen— A compound stored in the liver and muscles that is easily converted to glucose as an energy source.
Insulin— A hormone that regulates the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood.
Monounsaturated fat— A type of fat found in vegetable oils such as olive, peanut, and canola.
Pancreas— A digestive gland of the endocrine system that regulates several hormones, including insulin.
Polyunsaturated fat— A type of fat found in some vegetable oils, such as sunflower, safflower, and corn.
Saturated fat— A type of fat generally found in meat products with visible fat and dairy products.
Trans fat— A type of fat generally found in butter, whole milk products, fried foods, shortening, and coconut, palm, and other tropical oils.
(sugar) levels. Insulin takes carbohydrates and stores them as fat, in muscle, or in the liver as glycogen. Insulin also takes amino acids from protein and stores them in muscle cells that aid in recovery and repair following strength-building exercise. All carbohydrates are broken down into glucose by the body and released into the blood; the speed at which this process occurs varies depending on the type of carbohydrate and the presence of fat and protein in the stomach. This rate of absorption is a critical factor in maintaining energy levels, reducing body fat, and maintaining overall health.
Carbohydrates are often referred to as either simple or complex. A bodybuilding diet contains both simple and complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates have a chemical structure composed of three or more sugars. They provide energy that is sustained over time. Simple carbohydrates have a chemical structure composed of one or two sugars and provide quick but short-lasting energy. A bodybuilding diet contains mostly complex carbohydrates eaten throughout the day. Simple carbohydrates are eaten immediately after working out to aid in faster recuperation and repair of muscles. Complex carbohydrates are found in whole-grain bread, pasta, cereal, beans, and most vegetables. Simple carbohydrates are found in fruit and sugary foods such as candy, juice, and sport drinks.
There are two other ways bodybuilding diets classify carbohydrates besides the simple and complex designations: glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load. The GI measures the quality rather than the quantity of carbohydrates found in food. Quality refers to how quickly blood sugar levels are raised following eating. The standard for GI is white bread, which is assigned an index value of 100. Other foods are compared to the standard to arrive at their ratings. The higher the GI number, the faster blood sugar increases when that particular food is consumed. A high GI is 70 and greater, a medium GI is 56–69, and a low GI value is 55 or less. The GI is not a straightforward formula when it comes to reducing blood sugar levels. Various factors affect the GI value of a specific food, such as how the food is prepared (boiled, baked, sautëed, or fried, for example) and what other foods are consumed with it. Foods that are readily broken down and absorbed by the body are typically high on the GI Foods that are digested slower, such as hose high in fiber, have a lower GI value.
In 1997, epidemiologist and nutritionist Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health developed the glycemic load as a more useful way of rating carbohydrates compared to the glycemic index. The glycemic load factors in the amount of a food eaten whereas the glycemic index does not. The glycemic load of a particular food or meal is determined by multiplying the amount of net carbohydrates in a serving by the glycemic index and dividing that number by 100. Net carbohydrates are determined by taking the amount of total carbohydrates and subtracting the amount of dietary fiber. For example, popcorn has a glycemic index of 72, which is considered high, but a serving of two cups has 10 net carbs for a glycemic load of seven, which is considered low.
PROTEIN. Muscle is composed primarily of protein and water. Protein builds muscle mass but not all protein consumed in the diet goes directly to muscle. Adequate consumption of protein helps preserve muscle tissue and enhance recovery from strenuous weight-bearing workouts. Since weight-bearing exercises cause significant damage to muscle tissue, the subsequent repair and growth of muscle requires a recovery period of at least 24 hours. If an inadequate amount of protein is consumed, muscle mass will suffer along with a decrease in metabolism. Most bodybuilding diets recommend 1–1.5 grams of protein per day for each pound of lean body mass (body weight minus body fat). Daily consumption of more than 3g per kilogram body mass can lead to serious health problems, especially kidney damage. Protein is found in lean meat, poultry, and fish, eggs, tofu, and soy products
FATS. Fat in a diet is needed to maintain a healthy metabolism. There are four types of fat: saturated, trans, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated. Saturated and trans fats are limited because high consumption is a risk factor for heart disease, obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, and some cancers. Sources of saturated and trans fats are butter, whole milk products, fried foods, shortening, and coconut, palm, and other tropical oils. Meat with visible fat is also a source of saturated fat. Monounsaturated and polyunsatu-rated fats are good fats because they lower the risks of heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity. These fats are derived from avocados, most nuts, fish, flax, and olive, canola, peanut, safflower, corn, sunflower, soybean, and cottonseed oils.
Two other important factors in the bodybuilding diet are water and the number and timing of meals. Bodybuilding diets suggest drinking at least eight eight-ounce glasses of water a day. In addition, bodybuilders drink about a quarter cup of water every fifteen minutes during their workout. Water helps control appetite and drinking cold water increases metabolism.
The number and content of meals is important as is the timing and quality of foods, especially just before and just after workouts. An efficient way to burn fat is to elevate the body’s metabolism. The process of digesting meals burns calories in itself, so a concept of this diet is to eat more frequently to make the process more efficient. Most bodybuilding diets recommend consuming six to eight smaller meals a day, starting with breakfast. Carbohydrates are important right after a workout because the body’s supply of glycogen (a compound easily converted to glucose for energy) is depleted. Many bodybuilding nutritionists recommend that the post-workout meal contain twice the calories, protein, and carbohydrates as the other meals of the day. The pre-workout meal contains foods high in carbohydrates since they improve exercise performance and enhance muscle recovery.
The purpose of the bodybuilding diet is to gain muscle mass and lose fat. It is not a weight loss diet and most people will likely gain weight. Nutrition provides the body, especially muscles, with the raw materials needed for energy, recuperation, growth, and strength.
The benefits of the bodybuilding diet are health and appearance. The bodybuilding diet promotes increased muscle mass, which increases metabolism.
When monitored by a health professional, the bodybuilding diet can be healthy method for increasing strength and body mass. Caution should be used in regard to nutritional supplements, especially protein powders. Excess protein intake is known to cause serious health problems such as kidney damage and dehydration. Bodybuilders should discuss any supplements with their doctor, and steroids, such as human growth hormone and testosterone, should only be used for medical reasons and with a doctor’s prescription. Since exercise is a main component of the diet, people with arthritis or back, knee, or other joint problems should discuss the fitness regimen with their physicians before starting exercise. Making major changes to a person’s diet should be done in small incremental steps so the body can adapt to the changes. A sudden reduction or increase in calories can cause the body to store or hoard fat.
The rigorous and regular exercise component of this diet is a risk to people with heart disease or certain other health problems. Individuals with these conditions should consult their physician before starting the diet. A bodybuilding diet is not recommended for women who are pregnant or nursing.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR DOCTOR
- What health factors should I be concerned about if I were to increase my exercise regimen and begin a bodybuilding diet?
- Which dietary supplements should I consider if I adopt the bodybuilding diet?
- What are the health risks involved with this diet?
- What other diets should I consider following to accomplish my bodybuilding goals?
- Have you treated other patients who are on a bodybuilding diet? If so, what has their response to the diet been?
The bodybuilding diet is generally accepted by the medical and bodybuilding communities as being safe and effective in helping increase muscle mass and decrease fat. There is no general acceptance on the exact ratio of protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
Protein is considered the basic nutrient in repairing muscle that is broken down during weightlifting and for muscle maintenance and growth. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) per day for protein is 0.8 g/kg. However, research shows that a greater amount of protein is needed for weightlifters. Depending on a person’s level of activity, the amount of protein needed for a bodybuilder is greater than the RDA, but not more than 1.5-2 g/kg. Research indicates that muscles double the rate of protein synthesis following exercise and remains elevated for at least 24 hours.
The amount of carbohydrates in a bodybuilder’s diet can range from 40–60 percent, but such levels are not necessarily effective. An inadequate consumption of carbohydrates can have a negative effect of exercise performance and duration. Other studies have shown that the dominant factor in weight loss is a reduction of calorie intake. There has been a great deal of research on bodybuilding nutrition from the 1980s forward.
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American College of Nutrition. 300 South Duncan Ave., Suite 225, Clearwater, FL 33755. Telephone: (727) 446-6086. Website: <http://www.amcollnutr.org>.
American Dietetic Association. 120 South Riverside Plaza, Suite 2000, Chicago, IL 60606-6995. Telephone: (800) 877-1600. Website: <http://www.eatright.org>.
American Society for Nutrition. 9650 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20814. Telephone: (301) 634-7050. Website: <http://www.nutrition.org>.
Bodybuilding.com. 305 Steelhead Way, Boise, ID 83704. Telephone: (877) 991-3411. Website: <http://www.bodybuilding.com>.
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Ken R. Wells.
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