Body building requires discipline in and out of the gym. Doing the correct exercises in the correct order, with the correct form are certainly the cornerstones of successful body building. However, without the proper nutritional composition and quantities of macronutrients (food), the chances of making the podium are low.
Most body builders are aware that muscles are essentially composed of protein, and few body builders neglect to eat enough protein. There are two key concerns regarding protein: eating complete proteins, those composed of the eight, essential amino acids, and consuming the proper amount of protein based on your weight and activity level.
There are eight essential amino acids required for building muscle, and our bodies cannot synthesize these without our ingesting all eight of them over the course of a day. Animal meats contain what are called, "complete proteins," meaning the meat alone contains everything necessary for muscle building. There are vegetarian options, also. Quinoa (pronounced "keen-wah") is a grain that also happens to be a complete protein. (The website quinoa.com has more information about quinoa and how to prepare it). Eating beans and rice in one sitting creates a complete protein. Certainly, it takes more sheer volume of the vegetarian options to amass the number of grams of protein required, but it certainly can be done.
As far as how much protein to eat, you can calculate this figure yourself based on your body weight. Ed Coyle, an exercise physiologist who studies human performance at the University of Texas, uses a rule of thumb based on body weight of 1.2 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram body weight. (You can convert your weight in pounds into kilograms by dividing by 2.2. E.g., 150 pounds, divided by 2.2 equals 68 kilograms). Therefore, this body builder would need to consume between 82 and 102 grams of protein per day.
As far as how much to eat, in terms of calories per day, both your body weight and activity level should be considered. The short answer is, a 150 pound man burns approximately 400 calories per hour while doing vigorous weight lifting. A more individualized answer may be found on a website densely packed with helpful nutritional information: mypyramid.gov, published by the USDA. You can easily track your calorie intake and nutritional composition by creating a free profile and entering your diet each day. Most foods are already listed in their directory, but you can add foods, also. Along with your diet, you can track your activity level. Again, most activities are already listed, including vigorous weight lifting. What other activities you do during the day may also be entered, and should be, particularly if you are very active at work. The net result, calculated on the website, provides feedback as to whether you are meeting demands of RDA’s for micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrients (food) relative to your activity level.
Beginning body builders may err on the side of eating too few carbohydrates. In order to synthesize (create) muscle, your body needs the insulin response facilitated by eating carbohydrate. Insulin is an anabolic hormone, (yes, the same anabolic as in steroids) but it is totally legal. Essentially, eating carbohydrates, along with complete proteins, catalyzes an optimal amount of protein synthesis. Eating too few carbohydrates tends to result in muscular catabolism (Eek! That means break-down). Muscles need fuel to contract, and the primary fuel they use is glucose in the bloodstream. Without enough carbohydrate, your weight-training performance (you will not be able to lift as much weight) will be suboptimal, and/or you may end up undoing some of your hard work that would normally result in muscular anabolism (building).
The amount of carbohydrate to consume is not as easily calculable as is the amount of protein. Most nutritionists would have you consuming 50-70% of your day’s total calories from carbohydrate. If you are already consuming 10-30% of your day’s total calories from protein, that leaves 10-30% of your calories from fat. We now know the composition of macronutrients does not determine body weight, caloric balance does. In other words, the number of calories in (what you eat) minus the number of calories out (what you do) should be zero if you want to remain weight stable. However, while eating a diet of 100% fat would make you feel pretty horrible, if you were in caloric balance, you would not gain weight.
In the early stages of bodybuilding, a caloric surplus is required to gain weight, hopefully, mostly, in the form of muscle. Adhering to your weight-training program, while eating the appropriate number of calories per day, comprised of the appropriate proportions of macronutrients will maximize your muscular gain. Additionally, if you are a man, you have an additional anabolic hormone in greater quantities than does a woman, testosterone! Testosterone, along with the insulin response and another few hormones (Insulin-like growth factor, IGF-1 and human growth hormone, HGH), facilitate your synthesizing muscle. Yes, women have testosterone, too, (it is the primary hormone responsible for our sex-drive, by the way) but women have less of it.
To answer the question how much carbohydrate to eat, it depends. For example, if you are very active during the day, you do an hour of vigorous weight-lifting every day, and you weigh 150 pounds, you would need approximately 2000-2500 calories from normal activity, plus 400 calories from weight-lifting, for a total of 2400-2900 calories. We already calculated that a 150 pound body builder should eat 82-102 grams of protein per day. Protein and carbohydrate each have 4 calories per gram. Fat has 9 calories per gram. Here’s the math using our macronutrient guidelines and calculated requirements:
4 calories x 100 grams protein = 400 calories per day from protein
(400/2400 = approximately 15% calories per day from protein)
4 calories x approximately 400 grams carbohydrate = 65% calories per day from carbohydrate
9 calories x approximately 50 grams fat = 20% calories from fat
There are many websites that will help you calculate your basal metabolic (BMR) and actual metabolic rates, including: caloriesperhour.com, tooelehealth.org, and the aforementioned mypyramid.gov. The most precise way to determine your BMR is indirect calorimetry, which uses expired air when you are fasted to determine your actual BMR. Most people do not have access to this tool, and using tables that list calories expended per time doing activity are perfectly adequate.
Body builders (and most Americans) dream of the magic food or supplement that will provide perfect results. But, just like your mother used to say, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” The main attribute of a protein supplement, if you do not want to simply get your protein from real food, is that it contain the 8 essential amino acids. Claims that medium chain or branch-chain amino acids are more "bio-available" than other forms of protein are unfounded. If you enjoy the convenience and lack of math required by using a protein supplement, and you do not mind the expense, protein supplements are an easy way to ensure you are getting the right amount. However, use caution regarding the other ingredients in the protein supplement. Some supplements have been found to contain banned substances in competition, or simply ingredients you do not want to be ingesting. A reputable health food store can steer you in the correct direction (wholefoods.com and traderjoes,com, among others).
In terms of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), you should check with your primary care physician, using your blood counts, but simply following the USRDA’s for your age and your sex is a good rule of thumb. You do not need mega-doses of anything for bodybuilding. In fact, mega-doses of some micronutrients might upset your stomach, which could hinder a workout on any given day.
The rest of the nutritional guidelines from the USDA food pyramid apply to bodybuilders, too. The current recommendation for servings of fruits and vegetables is 9 a day. The best sources of carbohydrate are complex, whole grains. Lean meats, fish, and beans lead the preference for sources of protein. Lastly, polyunsaturated fats, such as those contained in olive oil, avocado, and nuts, to name a few, with a minimal amount of saturated fats, are recommended sources.
Some experimentation early in the season (or in your career as a bodybuilder) in terms of what and how much to eat will provide valuable, individualized information. Near competitions, many body builders eat very few carbohydrates, fats, or salt, in order to optimize their appearances. These practices, while common, are not founded in scientific research. Additionally, you should always check with your primary care physician before beginning an exercise program.
Written in response to a solicitation for bodybuilding supplements. There are not any supplements required for body building.