Serious Advice on Diet and Bodybuilding

If you want some serious advice, here it is:

Although philosophies are changing, bodybuilding has traditionally consisted of two parts, 1) building muscle; and 2) losing fat. Generally, bodybuilders try to build muscle when they are not in shows, or competing. They try to lose fat just before a competition or show. If your goal is to look good and be healthy, then you can reach that goal without the fat loss portion of the regime, which, especially to someone with some extra body fat, may seem counter to the desired goal (more on this later).

To build muscle you need a diet that has plenty of fuel (calories) and protein. In general, if you just try to consume some extra protein, and then eat as much of whatever you like as you like, your diet will be fine for building muscle. My philosophy is to forget about all supplements, except for one that I will talk about later, and if you feel you need more of something, eat food that contains that something.

How to get more protein in your diet

To get more protein in your diet, eat more foods rich in protein. Eat eggs (yes eggs), skinless chicken breasts (Nutritional Information), tuna, turkey, and fish. These are all good sources of low fat protein. Other sources of protein that typically have higher fat content are beef, pork, lamb, and cheese, you can eat them too.

Eggs contain complete protein. That is, they contain protein that has all the essential amino acids for growing muscles, not much else by itself does. Eggs are probably the most inexpensive source of protein, and almost the highest quality of protein. The fat in eggs is mostly mono- and poly-unsaturated fat, the good stuff which helps reduce cholesterol. Egg yolks also contain lecithin, which is beneficial for reducing cholesterol. In addition, when you exercise, as you might do if you are lifting weights, your HDL (High Density Lipoprotein or ďgood cholesterolĒ) goes up. I would not recommend eating eggs raw, or drinking raw egg whites, as appealing as that may sound... The protein is more easily assimilated when cooked, and you certainly don't have to worry about salmonella or other bacteria when the eggs have been cooked, although I've never worried about that anyway. The main reasons for not eating eggs raw are:

  1. You assimilate more protein from a cooked egg than a raw egg (article). 
  2. The taste and texture of cooked eggs is better.  I suppose some people may enjoy the taste and texture of drinking raw egg whites. I prefer the taste and texture of cooked eggs. If you enjoy slimy fluids going down your throat, then go ahead, drink raw eggs.

Chicken breasts can be very convenient. I like to buy individually flash frozen skinless, boneless chicken breast halves.  BJís carries Tyson brand frozen chicken breasts in ten-pound bags at a reasonable price.   You can fix them in a large variety of ways. I like them grilled and then served with lots of red-hot sauce.  To increase your protein intake, just eat a chicken breast half before each meal, then eat what you would normally eat.

Since you are increasing your protein intake, it is also a good idea to increase your intake of fluids, so that you can get rid of the nitrogenous wastes which come from the breakdown of proteins, and which are excreted in your urine. So drink plenty of water, take a big bottle to the gym with you, and finish it before you leave.

Calories

If you are lifting weights for a couple hours a day, three to five days a week, then you need calories to fuel your muscles. If you take in too few calories, as many dieters who wish to get rid of fat often do, then your body thinks it may starve and gets rid of the unnecessary parts that burn lots of calories, and tries to save any stored fat that it can. So, what happens when you diet? Your body metabolizes the excess muscles. Any muscle that is not used to its fullest potential every week will start to atrophy, and no new muscle will be built if you are not taking in enough calories. If you eat when you are hungry, then you will probably take in enough calories, although the (few) people who have trouble gaining any kind of weight will need to take in more than they usually would. In my opinion, the best calories to take in are in the form of complex carbohydrates: beans and whole grains.  Simple carbohydrates include any form of sugar, processed flours and products made from it like most spaghetti, pizza shells, and breads. Simple carbohydrates, fat, and protein also contain calories, so they can be consumed too, but for various reasons having to do with blood sugar and fat storage, it is probably best to stay away from simple carbohydrates and stick to complex carbs, to get calories, most of the time. 

By the way, this is why dieters go into dieting cycles. When you diet, you lose muscle.  When you go off your diet, your body does not burn as many calories as it used to (muscles burn calories even when they are at rest) so it stores any unburned calories as fat (after all you might starve again). Therefore, you start dieting again to lose the fat, and you lose more muscle.  And the cycle continues.

Vitamins and Minerals

If you are eating normally, then you are probably getting plenty of vitamins and minerals. You should eat plenty of vegetables, dark green, dark red or orange, and cruciferous vegetables. These will help you get all the vitamins and minerals that you need, so when youíre fixing that five-egg omelet, add some chopped green and red sweet peppers, and some broccoli florets. If you donít like vegetables, then force yourself to eat a half-cup of two different vegetables before you eat the rest of your meal.  They can be fixed in a variety of ways so they appeal to you. Hell, put plenty of real butter on them. Put hollandaise sauce on them. Personally, I really like vegetables, so this is not a problem for me.  If you are worried about taking in enough vitamins and minerals, then take a daily supplement of your choice, it wonít hurt, but will probably just be a way to lighten your wallet.

The pre-competition fat loss part of the diet

This is the part of the diet that you get into about a month before a competition, and is the most difficult part.  Your workout has to change, your carbohydrate intake has to decrease substantially, and your fat intake should be as low as you can get it, negligible. So, quit eating those egg yolks, but eat three times the number of egg whites.  If youíre hungry, eat three boiled chicken breast halves before you even think about eating anything else.  Eat your vegetables, but mainly the low carbohydrate ones, no corn, no potatoes, nothing starchy, nothing made with flour. You can eat as many egg whites and chicken breast halves as you want, as long as you do not put anything on them that has fat or carbs. Youíll also want to cut down on salt, because that causes you to retain water which keeps you from looking as cut (seeing muscle striations) and vascular. By the way, fruit juices, have many simple carbohydrates (sugars) in them, so theyíre out too.  You need to be careful though, as too few carbohydrates combined with a difficult workout can cause your blood sugar to go to dangerously low levels.  If you start to feel sick or dizzy during your workout, then stop and get some quick sugar into your system, drink some fruit juice and rest, and perhaps increase your carbohydrate intake for future workouts.  Brown rice is a good carbohydrate, but you need to take in just what you are going to burn off.  You do want to run lots of water through your system. I have not given all the details here, because this portion of the diet really is not necessary for most people.  If you arenít competing, then this part of the diet isnít for you! Trying this just to lose fat will backfire if you are not a competing bodybuilder with lots of muscle mass.

The workouts that you do during this part of the regime should be designed to burn off calories while retaining muscle.  High repetitions, less rest between sets and exercises, light weights, but still to failure, are called for.

What if my goal is just to lose fat?

Then try to build big muscles. Muscle tissue burns calories, even when it is inactive, even when youíre asleep.  The more muscle you have, the more calories youíll burn, even if you are just doing the same stuff that you did before you started to try to build muscle.  If you build enough muscle, you wonít be able to eat enough to keep up with the calories needed by the muscle, and youíll lose fat and be able to eat whatever you want anyway, just keep lifting weights. 

Don't gage fat loss by tracking your weight. Muscle is denser than fat, and so it weighs more. If you build muscle and lose fat, your weight may go up. This is what invalidates the Body Mass Index (BMI) measurement, as very muscular individuals that have very low fat to muscle ratios, very little fat, will still be considered "obese" on the BMI scale.

Iím a woman and I donít want to bulk up

If youíre a woman, then lifting weights and trying your hardest to build muscle wonít make you ďbulk upĒ. Many men, who want to bulk up, canít, or have a lot of difficulty doing so.  Without lots of testosterone, or steroids, getting to be one of those giant bulky people you see in the bodybuilding magazines is not going to occur. Women do not produce enough testosterone to bulk up. When a woman builds muscle, she loses body fat, but gets curvier and more attractive, not bulky. In addition, if you think youíre getting too bulky, then just go on a reduced calorie diet and those muscles will go away fast.

Supplements

In general, you do not want supplements. They are just a way of separating you from your money. The only supplement that I have ever found to be truly useful is Creatine.  Itís only useful if youíre really working hard to build muscle, lifting heavy weights to failure with low repetitions, working with a spotter and doing that extra repetition beyond failure.  Creatine helps you get one or two extra repetitions out of your set, stressing your muscles more, and helping you build more. Creatine is a naturally occurring substance, it is in beef and other meats, but to get enough through diet, you have to eat something like 10 to 20 pounds of meat a day. In general, a daily creatine supplement is beneficial to the bodybuilder.

Book Recommendation

If you are truly interested in bodybuilding, then I highly recommend Bodybuilding: A Scientific Approach by Frederick C. Hatfield.

Other

Here are some pictures of me and a couple of my buddies at the gym  back in 1998, when I was in a bit better shape than I am now.

And here I am:

Me clowning around at the beach back in the 90s
Me clowning around at the beach back in the 90s.
(That's my daughter's finger in the lower left)