Of the years there have been a few different ways that bodybuilders approach nutrition. Often there is a learning curve that directly relates to the amount of time and energy a person puts into research and analysis. Really that is how it works for any complex sport.
You start with the basic concepts and then after practical application you explore new ideas and methods to help in your advancement. Typically a lot of focus starts in the gym with learning the right way to workout and learning various routines and exercises. Next, time is put into learning about optimum nutrition to get the most of out of those workouts.
Old School Theory
It used to be that you had two phases for bodybuilding; there was a bulking phase and a cutting phase. A lot of novice lifters start with a bulking mentality. That involves pretty much cramming as much food in as you can to fuel your workouts. A premium is placed on protein, but otherwise the idea is any bulk is good.
There are plenty of stories from younger bodybuilders about all the crazy things they ate to gain size like peanut butter and banana sandwiches. To an extent people got away with this because most novice bodybuilders are younger with faster metabolisms (compared to a slower metabolism as you age).
Then after bulk was attained you worked on dieting and cardio to trim the fat. The net result was usually about 5 to 10 pounds of pure muscle for each cycle, sometimes more and sometimes less depending on the existing state of your physique.
However, as more was learned about optimum nutrition there was a shift to a better way.
Optimum Nutrition Method
Ideally bodybuilders would learn the importance of proper nutrition from the outset. There wouldn’t be years wasted with sub-optimal eating habits or lack of supplementation that instead could have been used for maximum gain when the body is primed for growth and higher levels of testosterone.
So what is the best method? Let’s review the key points:
- Calorie Intake – First you need to determine you average needs from calories. Take your bodyweight x 15 for what the normal expectations are (not counting workouts). To that number you should start by adding 500 calories. Then you want to monitor your progress on both the scale and visually to see if you are gaining solid muscle at a good rate (1 pound per week is excellent). If you aren’t then increase calories by about 300 per day until you get where you need to be. Keep in mind this will change as you grow.
- Protein Intake – Of your calories you should be taking in about 30% protein, 15-20% fat, and the rest carbohydrates. The proper amount of protein is about 1 gram per pound of bodyweight for muscle growth.
- Food Intake – This is critical, and a lot of novice lifters mess this up, you need QUALITY intake. That means good fruits and vegetables to go along with lean meats like chicken and fish along with protein shakes. Far too many guys rely on bulk shakes only and still eat lots of processed foods and junk carbs instead of going for a clean diet. A clean diet means you need to focus less time on cardio which means more time spent on muscle building which is the primary goal. Basically by gaining lean muscle the cutting phase is only needed before a competition.
- Supplements – A great diet is critical to success and a solid supplement program only enhances that. Invest time to understanding how supplements can help the overall growth and development of your body.
The Bottom Line
Optimum nutrition is usually figured out by bodybuilders years after they start lifting. That is why many people seem to hit their ‘prime’ in their late 20’s and early 30’s. However that doesn’t mean you can’t jump the curve by learning the right way to use nutrition and getting on board with it sooner.
Plenty of lifters wish they would have known more about nutrition earlier because there is a limited window to maximize the opportunity of a higher metabolism and a body geared towards growth. As you get older it becomes harder (and thus why people learn more about optimum nutrition) so you need every edge possible, but think of the possibilities of utilizing every edge from the beginning.