It all starts with the first bite. Just as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s road to the Mr. Olympia title began with his first rep and Sir Edmund Hillary’s climbing of Mount Everest began with his first step, your bodybuilding diet will begin with a single chew. And like Schwarzenegger’s reps and Hillary’s steps, your first chew will be followed by thousands more, each one of equal importance as you feed your muscles the fuel they need to build the physique you want. The key, then, is to make every bite count.
“The No. 1 diet mistake that I see athletes and bodybuilders make when it comes to gaining muscle is that they immediately eliminate fats and overdose on protein,” Pete Bommarito says. Bommarito is the president and director of Bommarito Performance Systems in southern Florida (www.bommaritoperformance.com). He’s trained hundreds of top NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB players, including more than 50 NFL first-round picks and more than 50 NFL Pro Bowlers. “When you want to gain muscle,” Bommarito continues, “there are fats that are beneficial and fats that aren’t. And there’s only so much protein that your body can consume, process and utilize in one sitting.”
The reason this “cut fat, gorge on protein” mentality has taken hold is because at its core, this strategy holds some water. Yes, you are surrounded by foods containing fats that aren’t good for you, and yes, protein does build muscle, but eliminating the former while endlessly shoveling the latter down your throat is like taking a chain saw to your diet when all you need is a steak knife.
A Protein Primer
“The main factor in protein consumption is not necessarily how much protein you consume but when you consume it,” Bommarito says. “People think that if they lift weights, they need an influx of protein all day. That’s simply not true. The timing of the protein is what’s important.”
So when should you eat your protein? “Immediately after you’re done exercising,” Bommarito says. “When your workout is over, you want an infusion of proteins with some complex sugars. It’s all about getting the nutrients to your muscles at the right time.” He recommends a postworkout protein shake with at least 20 grams of good-quality whey protein isolate with branched-chain amino acids.
Of course, you also want a healthy portion of protein with each meal, which would include 6 to 8 ounces of fish, turkey or chicken, along with fruit or a sweet potato. When you’re training to gain muscle mass, you want to eat five to six smaller meals throughout the day as opposed to two or three larger meals. That way, your muscles are always getting the nourishment they need.
Because the foods most commonly associated with obesity are also heavy in fat (fast food, pizza, potato chips, ice cream, etc.), fat has earned a bad reputation. But saying that all fats are bad is grossly unfair to the fats that are essential for your muscle growth. So if you’re going to bad-mouth fat, at least slander the right ones: trans fats and saturated fats.
Trans fats are what you’ll usually find in fried, processed or packaged foods, while saturated fats are found in meat, dairy and eggs. These are the fats linked with high cholesterol, heart disease and weight gain. In short, these are “bad” fats.
Good fats, on the other hand, are called unsaturated fats. These fats are found in raw nuts, avocados, olive oil and salmon. They’re important because they help nutrient absorption, which is extremely beneficial to your muscles if you want them to grow.
“I’m constantly telling my athletes to increase their intake of good fats,” Bommarito says. “In just 1 ounce of raw almonds or cashews, you’re going to get well over 200 calories and around 15 grams of protein, which is what you need to build muscle.”
Other sources of “good” fats are pure virgin olive oil and organic, all-natural peanut butter. “I’d say the No. 1 thing I go through when I’m training my guys is getting them to have a constant influx of good fats,” Bommarito continues. “After that, it’s getting them to watch their high-glycemic carb index.”
While protein and good fats build muscle, you still need energy to burn while you work out. That’s where carbohydrates come in. Carbs are broken down into simple sugars, which your body then uses as its major source of energy. Just like there are “good” fats and “bad” fats, there are “good” carbs and “bad” carbs.
Bad carbs are the most common, and they’re what you want to stay away from when you’re trying to gain muscle. (One exception during the day: Postworkout, when you want quick-acting carbs along with your protein to kick-start recovery.) Enriched pasta, white potatoes, processed white rice, cereals, granola, white bread … these are considered “bad” carbs because they raise your blood-sugar level. “Basically, anything that’s processed or enriched, you should stay away from,” Bommarito advises.
Good carbs include foods like long-grain brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, sweet potatoes, red-skin potatoes and whole-wheat bread. “When you’re trying to gain muscle, you want to have a much higher percentage of good carbs in your diet,” Bommarito says. “These carbs will give you the long-lasting energy you need to exercise.”
Just as you’ll need a spotter to perform certain lifts, your diet will need a boost for you to gain muscle. In addition to eating the right kinds of fats, the right amount of carbs and protein at the right time, you should also add the right supplements to your diet.
Depending on your specific goals, you may not want to include all these, but this is a rundown of basic supplements you’ll hear about on your body-building journey.
A typical protein powder supplement contains about 20 grams of protein per scoop. The most popular version on the market is whey protein, which is derived from milk and can be used as a preworkout or post-workout drink. Many protein powders rightfully tout that they are fortified with additional levels of BCAAs, which are key for muscle growth.
Amino acids are literally the building blocks of muscle tissue. For an in-depth look at these key nutrients, including BCAAs and glutamine, be sure to check out the Supplement in Focus section in this issue of Muscle & Performance.
You can use meal-replacement bars when you are on the go and don’t have time to eat a full meal. Most bars are high in protein and carbs and contain a slew of vitamins and minerals.
Because you’re training to put on muscle, you should be eating five to six smaller meals throughout the day. Using a meal-replacement bar as one of those meals can save time and give you the nutrients, energy and protein you need to stick to your bodybuilding diet.
Creatine and Arginine:
For more on these key supplements, which can help boost your power and strength during workouts, among other benefits, see the “Industrial Strength Supplement Guide” in this issue.
One More Bite
In the end, getting bigger and stronger comes down to two things: feeding your muscles the optimal fuel to maintain high energy levels for better, more productive workouts, and the necessary building blocks for recovery after those training sessions.
With these nutrition and supplement guidelines, you have the information you need to succeed on both fronts. Are you ready to conquer your personal version of Everest?
5 Muscle-Building Rules
- Eat five to six smaller, balanced meals throughout the day.
- Drink plenty of water to keep your muscles hydrated.
- Swap “bad” fats for “good” fats and “bad” carbs for “good” carbs when possible.
- Limit or eliminate foods with the word “enriched” in the ingredients.
- Supplement with a protein shake after workouts and before bed.