Of all components necessary for crafting a lean, muscular physique, nutrition ranks as the most important. It is also the most difficult to address: countless nutritional failures bare testimony to the confusion that continues to mire many fitness devotees in a repetitive cycle of on-again, off-again ‘dieting’. Bodybuilding diets can be rather boring. Consistently consuming the same foods at the same times for months on end can prove mentally and emotionally draining. But provided such plans are developed based on the exact caloric and nutritional needs of the individual, success is usually assured. And this is why those with the dedication and iron will to persevere so often achieve their desired physique on what amounts to a few select nutrient-dense foods eaten at regular intervals over an 8-12 week period (also see Old Skool Mass Building for how a back-to-basics nutritional approach might just be the best plan for all serious trainees). So the first rule of optimum bodybuilding nutrition is to stick with a well-considered plan; we must consistently eat the rights foods at the right times. But is it possible to routinely consume select key nutrients while incorporating a broader selection of foods to satisfy our hunger for variety while, at the same time, providing the raw materials for steady fat loss? Yes - and this article will explain how. Several non-negotiable rules to maximize shredding via proper nutrition will also be given. Now is the time to achieve your leanest physique ever, once and for all. Let’s take a closer look.
Cut the cals
As bodybuilders we have been told over and over that we must consume enough calories to support lean muscle building and aid gradual fat loss. On such advice many arbitrarily include the best nutrient dense foods and never miss a meal. So far so good. However, while eating the same quantity of food every day could fit the view of a consistent nutritional approach we may risk converting some of it to excess fat. Though such foods may exclusively be comprised of clean calories all calories that are not burned – through daily metabolic demands or via strenuous training – are likely to be stored as unwanted weight. So the first rule when eating for fat loss is to consider our daily caloric intake. One need not spend excessive amounts of time drearily weighing each food item before each meal but it is nevertheless important to reduce, and increase, calories in line with our daily activity levels and training goals. Such an approach achieves two major fat-burning aims: less food on non-training days will mean fewer calories left over to be stored as unsightly adipose and any caloric deficit that does not compromise lean muscle gains may encourage our body to deplete its body fat reserves to generate energy.
The average active 200-pound bodybuilder requires around 3,600 calories a day to meet their metabolic needs (approximately 18 calories per pound of bodyweight per day). By dropping caloric intake to between 14-16 calories per pound of bodyweight per day (2,800 to 3,200 cals daily) on training days, fat loss can be encouraged. On non-training days, 12 calories per pound of bodyweight can be consumed (2,400 daily calories) to further deplete fat stores. Removing excess calories is surprisingly easy. By eliminating all condiments, including butter, dressings, high-fat and sugary sauces, and oils, and by removing skin from chicken and visible fat from red meat, hundreds of calories can be swiftly scythed with a modicum of effort. Needless to say, all junk foods must be relegated to the ‘forbidden food’ zone – forget ‘cheat days’ which often lead to unrestrained gluttony and many excess calories to be burned later: it’s always best to keep any diet plan nutritious and simple, not hit or miss, as the regular incorporation of progress-stifling cheat days so often encourages.
While the regular intake of enough clean water to detoxify our bodies and enhance nutrient assimilation is common knowledge, few bodybuilders achieve an adequate intake of this largely unheralded fat burner. With the many regular feedings they must ‘endure’ many are not wholly motivated to consume 3-4 liters of H20 per day. After all, water is filling and when we are full we are less inclined to eat excessively. The satiating effect of water is but one of its fat burning benefits. Mild dehydration can wreak all kinds of havoc on our fat burning machinery. It can also promote indiscriminant fluid replenishment: sodas, fruit juices and other high calorie substitutes are at such times more likely to be ingested. Problem is, not only are the so-called water substitutes likely to contribute to fat storage, those containing caffeine and excess sugars may also further dehydrate the system. When water starved, the many and varied systems of our bodies cannot do their jobs properly. The metabolic rate is slowed in order to compensate. A sluggish metabolism cannot efficiently burn stored body fat. Water also assists with the circulation of nutrients around the body and the removal of toxins. Optimal nutrient storage encourages greater metabolic efficiency while the elimination of toxins enhances the rate at which stored body fat is burned at rest.
Though no substitute for pure water, both coffee and tea do possess some pretty hefty fat loss benefits of their own. When included in addition to sound nutrition and optimal water intake, teas (especially green) and strong coffee (minus the sugar and cream) can promote metabolic increases, provide antioxidants to improve general health, increase lipolysis (the liberation of fat from fat cells), and stimulate both mentally and physically, thus encouraging greater training intensity to decrease stored body fat.
The carb dilemma
After having the notion that carbs will significantly destroy fat loss efforts drilled into our heads by many health educators over the last decade or so this primary energy nutrient is making a much needed resurgence. When judiciously consumed, carbs cannot be beaten for ensuring sustained workout energy and for providing essential nutrients including fiber and – when obtained through fruit and vegetables – valuable vitamins and minerals. So we must include enough carbs to reap their many benefits. However, the problem with carbs is that they are easy to eat. While choking down egg whites and chicken breasts gets old pretty fast, many high carb foods are appealingly palatable and can more easily be eaten in mass quantities. But carb intake is a double-edged sword. While an effective bodybuilding diet must contain between 40 to 50 percent ‘good’ carbs, exceeding this amount or eating too many of the wrong types can cause large amounts of the storage hormone insulin to be secreted. Aside from driving up blood sugar levels, which may ultimately leave us feeling lethargic and more likely to cheat on our diets, insulin also restricts the breakdown of fats for fuel and promotes fat storage. Moderating carbohydrate intake is often the first step to encouraging faster fat loss. By consuming no more than two grams per pound of bodyweight per day of slow digesting carbs – oatmeal, sweet potato and brown rice, for example – fat can be successfully countered and we are left with the power to perform.
Fat fighting fiber
One carbohydrate source to be prioritized when striving for the shredded look is fiber. A non-digestible complex carbohydrate, fiber is the F word that all dedicated bodybuilders must become familiar with. Sadly, fiber is associated more with general health improvements than fat loss. Thus bodybuilders not fully cognizant of correlation between sound health and muscle growth are often slow to prioritize its inclusion. However, some studies have shown that fiber can rev up fat burning by as much as 30%.
The parts of plant foods which cannot be digested, fiber comes in two types: soluble (eliminates fat, lowers glucose levels and reduces blood cholesterol) and insoluble (helps with the elimination of foods and prevents constipation). Soluble fiber dissolves in water and is found in oatmeal, nuts, beans, lentils, apples and blueberries among other foods. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and key foods in which it is contained include brown rice, wholemeal bread, wheat, carrots tomatoes and legumes. Both types are effective in keeping us well-satiated – fiber swells the stomach as it absorbs liquid – and less likely to transgress nutritionally. When we do not get enough fiber our blood sugar is liable to spike. Such rapid surging of sugar may lead to crashing energy levels and intense hunger which, in turn, may lead to overeating and excess fat storage. Moreover, soluble fiber encourages sugars and fats to enter the bloodstream at a slower rate, thereby keeping energy levels steady. Three servings of fruit and vegetables per day will provide the 25g needed for optimal health and weight reduction (bodybuilders may aim for up to 50g per day).
Mix it up
Maintaining a rigid, yet effective, diet is one of life’s more difficult tasks. Just ask any bodybuilder who, despite consuming double the calories of the average guy, feels they have entered starvation mode with weeks remaining until contest day. Achieving killer abs need not strictly revolve around regular servings of flavorless rice, chicken, egg whites, tuna and broccoli. Include chopped apples and cinnamon in your morning oats. Enjoy an egg white omelet with bell peppers, onions and garlic salt 3-4 times a week (even throw in a yolk or two; the added fats will give your testosterone a boost). Make a broccoli and chicken quiche. Whatever adds spice to your nutrition will encourage adherence and lessen the possibility of cheating. The bodybuilding staples, as outlined above, comprise the foundation of the most effective mass building, fat burning nutritional approaches. But other equally nutritious foods can, on occasion, be substituted to break the monotony. Switch salmon for steak; include quinoa as a quality carb source; incorporate a wide range of different fruits and vegetables.
The fast track to dietary failure often begins the moment boredom sets in. After the two-thousandth egg white and brown rice meal the race is on to the nearest fast food establishment to give the taste buds some flavorsome fare to savor. Any bodybuilder who has maintained a strict diet for any length of time will admit to either periodically cheating on it or being sorely tempted by off limits foods and suffering in silence. There is no need to suffer. By being creative in the kitchen and by following delicious recipes you may gradually lose fat while at the same time providing your body with a wider array of beneficial nutrients. The only dietary approach superior to the regular inclusion of the tried and tested bodybuilding staples (eggs, chicken, broccoli etc.) is one which varies how such items are prepared and consumed.
The command to ‘eat more protein’ has become a mass-building mantra that most bodybuilders will have heard countless times. Yes, protein builds muscle. Without enough of the amino-rich nutrient gym efforts are wasted and muscle wastage is more likely to be encountered. While providing four calories per gram (the same number as found in carbs and five fewer than fats) the caloric value of protein is not its major physique-shredding drawcard. Rather, the metabolic costs associated with protein assimilation are what make protein the desired fat burning nutrient. While fat is largely stored as fat – with small amounts of it used for vitamin absorption and the manufacturing of hormones – and carbohydrates are processed as energy – and stored as fat if eaten in excess – protein is used to build most of the tissues of our body, including muscle. Though all nutrients increase our metabolism in some way, protein is a superior metabolic enhancer. First, the body burns more calories digesting and assimilating protein than it does fats and carbs. Second, because protein is largely responsible for building muscle, it keeps the metabolic fires burning longer via the increased growth of metabolically active muscle tissue. At least one gram of clean protein per pound of bodyweight must be consumed daily to ensure damaged muscles are repaired and to encourage optimal metabolic efficiency.
Embracing the grind
Maintaining a diet centered on gradual and effective fat loss can be a grinding affair. Preparing nutritious foods, scheduling meals, consuming the ideal ratio of carbs, proteins and fats in the right quantities, all on a consistent basis, can cause many otherwise diligent trainees to abandon their healthy fare in favor of a large box of Dunkin Donuts. However, by following the rules listed above your nutrition endeavors need not be laid to waste and your waistline will thank you for your focus on nutritional variety. By upping the fiber, increasing water consumption, maintaining sufficient protein levels, staggering caloric intake, manipulating carbs and, most important, transforming your boring diet into a feast to be enjoyed, the process of dieting for fat loss will no longer rule your life and the dreaded hunger pangs will no longer sidetrack your efforts.
Aceto, C., & Stoppani, J. 12 Laws of Fat burning. Muscle & Fitness. [Online] http://www.muscleandfitness.com/nutrition/lose-fat/12-laws-fat-burning/slide/2 retrieved on 5.4.15
Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. Fiber. [Online] http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/fiber/ retrieved on 5.4.15
Lee, L. does Eating Sugar Dehydrate You? Livestrong.com. [Online] http://www.livestrong.com/article/485820-does-sugar-make-you-dehydrated/ retrieved on 5.4.15
Zelman, K. The Wonders of Water. WebMD. [Online] http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/features/wonders-of-water retrieved on 5.4.15