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The Bodybuilding Diet: What Should You Be Eating? (Complete Guide)

Updated: Sep 28, 2021

Bodybuilding is primarily concerned with increasing the size of your body's muscles via resistance training and your diet.


Bodybuilding is frequently referred to as a lifestyle, whether it is done for leisure or competitive reasons, since it encompasses both the time spent in and out of the gym.


Focusing on your diet is essential if you want to achieve your bodybuilding objectives to their full potential.


Eating the wrong meals and the wrong foods may be harmful to your bodybuilding ambitions.



Table of Contents:


bodybuilding diet

Bodybuilding Diet

Unlike powerlifting or other competitive sports, bodybuilding is evaluated on a competitor's physical appearance rather than their strength or other physical attributes.


Bodybuilders strive to achieve and maintain a symmetrical, low body fat, and muscular physique.


Many bodybuilders begin their bodybuilding focused diet with an "off-season" followed by an "in-season" diet, these phases are also referred to as the "bulking" and "cutting" phases.


Bulking is the period of time during which bodybuilders consume a high-calorie, protein-rich diet with the aim of gaining as much muscle as possible.


Some bodybuilders may be in their bulking phase for many months or even years.



The subsequent cutting phase is all about shedding as much body fat as possible while preserving the muscle mass you gained throughout the bulking phase.


The cutting phase is accomplished via precise dietary and physical activity modifications made over weeks to months, usually.


Bodybuilding training and diets are usually split into two phases called bulking and cutting.


In the bulking phase, the objective is to gain as much muscle mass as possible, while in the cutting phase, the goal is to maintain muscle mass while reducing body fat as much as possible.


counting calories

Calories & Macronutrients

The aim of professional bodybuilders during the bulking phase is to grow as much muscle mass as possible while in the cutting phase, reduced caloric intake and more activity is used to reduce body fat.


Therefore, you would consume more calories during the bulking phase than you would during the cutting phase of the bodybuilding diet.



Calories

You should boost your calorie intake by around 15% throughout your bulking period. (1)


If you consume 2,500 calories per day to maintain your weight, you should consume 2,875 calories per day (15% of 2,500 is 2,500 x 0.15 = 375) during your bulking phase.


Further Reading: You can work out your total daily energy expenditure using this calculator.


When moving from the bulking phase to the cutting phase, you would reduce your maintenance calories by 15%, which would be 2,125 calories per day instead of 2,875 calories used in the bulking phase.


You can reduce your caloric intake further to cut down on fat more quickly at the risk of losing more muscle mass.


However, it is still possible to maintain or even gain muscle mass during the cutting phase.


As you gain weight during the bulking phase or lose weight during the cutting phase, you will need to make adjustments to your calorie intake at least once a month to account for the changes in your body composition.


Increasing your caloric intake as you gain weight during the bulking phase and decreasing your calories as you lose weight during the cutting phase will help you maintain your progress throughout the process of bodybuilding.


During either phase, it is advised that you do not lose or gain more than 0.5-1% of your body weight each week. (2)


This is so you don't lose too much muscle during the cutting phase or acquire too much body fat during the bulking phase of your training programme.



Macronutrients

You may calculate your macronutrient ratio (the ratio between the amount of protein, carbohydrates, and fat you consume) after you have determined the number of calories that you need to consume.


In contrast to the variation in calorie requirements between the bulking and reducing phases, your macronutrient ratio does not necessarily vary throughout either phase.


Protein and carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram, whereas fat contains 9 calories per gram.


  • Protein should account for 30-35% of your calorie intake

  • Carbohydrates should account for 55-60% of your calorie intake

  • Fats should account for 15-20% of your calorie intake


The above is the recommended macronutrient ratios. (2, 3)


According to a more recent study, the following distribution of macros is recommended. (2)


  • Protein intake should be 2.3-3.1 g/kg of lean body mass per day.

  • Fat should account for 15-30% of total calories.

  • Carbohydrates should make up the rest of the caloric intake.


Either macronutrient ratio works fine, below is an example of the macronutrient ratio for both the bulking and cutting phases.


Example Macronutrient Ratio

Bulking

Cutting

Calories

2,875

2,125

Protein (g)

216-252

159-186

Carbohydrates (g)

395-431

292-319

Fat (g)

48-64

35-47


If you are unsure how to optimise your diet, contacting a dietician or qualified personal trainer may be a good idea.


In both the bulking and cutting phases, your daily caloric intake will vary, your macronutrient ratio may vary slightly but you should aim to keep the ratio consistent.


Every month, you should make slight adjustments to your caloric intake to account for weight fluctuations.



Foods to Eat & Foods to Avoid

Diet is just as important as exercise when it comes to bodybuilding.


When you eat the correct meals in the right quantities, you give your muscles with the nutrition they need to recuperate from exercises while also becoming larger and stronger as well.


Consuming the incorrect meals or not enough of the appropriate foods, on the other hand, will result in poor outcomes.


Here are some good foods to eat, as well as foods to restrict or avoid.


Foods to Eat

Most of the time, it is the quantities of foods you consume that make the difference between the bulking and reducing phases of a diet.


Good foods to eat include the following. (2)


  • Meats & fish: Sirloin steak, ground beef, hog tenderloin, deer, chicken breast, salmon, tilapia, and cod are among the meats and seafood available.

  • Dairy: Yogurt, cottage cheese, low-fat milk, and cheese are examples of dairy products.

  • Grains: Bread, cereal, crackers, oats, quinoa, popcorn, and rice, among other foods are examples of grains.

  • Fruits: Oranges, apples, bananas, grapes, pears, peaches, melons, and berries are some of the fruits available.

  • Starchy vegetables: Potatoes, maize, green peas, green lima beans, and cassava are examples of starchy vegetables.

  • Vegetables: Broccoli, spinach, leafy salad greens, tomatoes, green beans, cucumber, zucchini, asparagus, peppers, and mushrooms are examples of vegetables.

  • Nuts & seeds: Almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, and flax seeds are examples of nuts and seeds.

  • Beans & legumes: Chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, black beans, and pinto beans are examples of beans and legumes.

  • Oils: Olive oil, flaxseed oil, and avocado oil are among the oils used.


foods to eat


Foods to Avoid

While it is important to incorporate a variety of foods in your diet, there are certain that should be avoided or restricted for bodybuilding.


The following are some food and drink items to avoid.


  • Sugars: Candy, cookies, doughnuts, ice cream, cake, and sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda and sports drinks, are examples of foods that contain a lot of added sugar. (4)

  • Deep-fried foods: Fried fish, french fries, onion rings, chicken strips, and cheese curds are some examples of fried foods. When eaten in large quantities, these foods may cause inflammation and, in some cases, illness. (5)

  • Alcohol: Drinking alcohol may have a detrimental impact on your capacity to gain muscle and reduce fat, particularly if you drink it in large quantities. (6)


foods to avoid for bodybuilding

In addition to restricting these, you may also want to avoid certain foods before heading to the gym since they may cause digestion to slow down and stomach discomfort and bloating during your exercise session.


The following are some examples of foods you may want to avoid pre-workout.


  • High-fat foods: Foods high in fat include fatty meats like beef, pork, and lamb, buttery dishes, and heavy sauces or creams.

  • High-fibre foods: Beans and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower are examples of high-fibre foods.

  • Carbonated drinks: Sparkling water or fizzy drinks like cola or lemonade are an example of a carbonated drink.


foods to avoid for bodybuilding

Number of Meals Per Day

Some bodybuilders eat many times a day, sometimes even up to 6 meals per day or more.


Among those involved in the bodybuilding industry, there is still disagreement about the amount of meals a person should consume each day.


According to one study, a person may eat anywhere between three and six meals each day on average.


It claims that the timing of meals and exercises has no effect on either the retention of muscle or the reduction of fat. (2)



Supplements for Bodybuilding

Supplements can be classed as part of the bodybuilding diet. Supplements and vitamins that may be beneficial to a bodybuilder, according to recent studies, include the following.


  • Creatine monohydrate (3-5 grams per day)

  • Beta-alanine (3-5 grams per day)

  • Citrulline malate (8 grams per day)

  • Caffeine (maximum of 4-6 mg/kg of body weight per day, for a 150lb (68kg) person that's roughly 272-408mg)

  • Omega-3 fatty acids



On the subject of whether protein supplements are essential for bodybuilding, there is considerable disagreement and debate.


Protein powders and drinks may be beneficial for individuals who are unable to get all of the protein they need from their regular diet.


Unless it is compatible with their dietary requirements, a person may wish to avoid protein shakes that have an excessive amount of sugar in them.


When selecting a supplement, it is important to remember that dietary supplements are not regulated as thoroughly.


Supplements that have been tested by a third-party and from a trusted vendor are recommended.


Related: Read more supplement articles here.



Risks of Bodybuilding

There are risks associated with bodybuilding and the bodybuilding diet.


Overtraining is a potential danger, since it may result in injury or even illness.


In order to guarantee that muscles have a chance to heal completely, some specialists suggest having one rest day every 7-10 days.


It is also possible that a person may want to avoid overworking the same muscle groups on consecutive days, giving a specific muscle group at least 48-72 hours to recovery after a workout.



Another risk associated with bodybuilding is that some individuals may develop body dissatisfaction (also known as body dysmorphia) and eating problems as a result.


Among biologically male bodybuilders, researchers discovered a link between eating problems and body dissatisfaction as well as body dysmorphic disorders. (7)


More research and preventive measures are needed, according to the experts, in order to assist individuals who are impacted.



Conclusion

A bodybuilding diet plan should include a variety of nutritious foods matching the recommended fat, protein, and carbohydrate ratios.


It is recommended that a person eat between three and six times a day, and that they modify their total caloric intake according to whether they are in the bulking or cutting phase.


Before beginning a new bodybuilding diet plan for the first time, a person should consult with their qualified personal trainer or dietician for advice.


There are some supplements available which can be beneficial for bodybuilding.

 

Written by Billy White

billy white

Billy White is a qualified Kinesiologist and Personal Trainer. He is an aspiring bodybuilder, fitness enthusiast, and health and fitness researcher.

He has multiple years of experience within the fitness, bodybuilding and health space. He is committed to providing the highest-quality information.

 

References

This section contains links to research, studies, and sources of information for this article, as well as authors, contributors, etc. All sources, along with the article and facts, are subjected to a series of quality, reliability, and relevance checks.

Real Muscle primarily uses high-quality sources, such as peer-reviewed publications, to back up the information in our articles. To understand more about how we fact-check and keep our information accurate, dependable, and trustworthy, read more about us.

This evidence-based analysis on the bodybuilding diet features 7 references, listed below.

1. Lambert CP, Frank LL, Evans WJ. Macronutrient considerations for the sport of bodybuilding. Sports Med. (2004) (Review) ✔

2. Helms ER, Aragon AA, Fitschen PJ. Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. (2014, May) (Review) ✔

3. Lambert CP, Frank LL, Evans WJ. Macronutrient considerations for the sport of bodybuilding. Sports Med. (2004) (Review) ✔

4. Dietary guidelines. (2015, Dec) (Government Authority) ✔

5. Manzel A, Muller DN, Hafler DA, Erdman SE, Linker RA, Kleinewietfeld M. Role of "Western diet" in inflammatory autoimmune diseases. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. (2014, Jan) ✔

6. Parr EB, Camera DM, Areta JL, Burke LM, Phillips SM, Hawley JA, Coffey VG. Alcohol ingestion impairs maximal post-exercise rates of myofibrillar protein synthesis following a single bout of concurrent training. PLoS One. (2014, Feb 12) ✔

Citations with a tick indicate the information is from a trusted source.

 

The information provided in this article is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the guidance of a physician or other competent professional before following advice or taking any supplement. See our terms and conditions.



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