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Your Guide to Winning Nutrition

How bodybuilders can eat to achieve peak performance.

How bodybuilders can eat to achieve peak performance.

Smart bodybuilders know that good nutrition is fully half of the equation -- training alone won't get you the physique you want. Yet improving your diet is easier said than done. Determining the right amount, combination and sources of the protein, carbohydrates and fat you consume, proper supplementation and how to successfully eat around your workouts could easily cloud even a scientist's mind. Marilyn S. Peterson, MS, RD, author of Eat to Compete, gives nutrition advice applicable to every athlete, especially those who want to increase muscle mass selectively.


Q: How many calories should a bodybuilder consume daily for weight maintenance?

A: A suggested range is 15 calories per pound of body-weight per day. If you lift weights 3-5 times a week, add 200-300 calories extra a day. If, combined with aerobics, you work out five times a week, you may need 500 calories extra a day, but start slowly. You don't want to gain fat.

Q: What do you recommend for the bodybuilder who wants to put on muscle weight?

A: You should probably eat about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day, or get approximately 15%-20% of your total daily calories from protein, to build additional muscle. The intricate combination is to have enough carbohydrate to spare dietary protein [from being used as energy]. Many bodybuilders make the mistake of cutting down on carbohydrate and fat and using protein only.

Q: U.S. dietary guidelines recommend getting 12% of your daily calories from protein. In your percentages, which macro nutrient would decrease, carbohydrate or fat?

A: Fat would need to go down; however, this is difficult if your protein sources are high in fat. It's easier to take in lean protein 3-4 times a day and concentrate on increasing carbohydrate at every opportunity.

Q: What about the trend toward higher-fat diets?

A: The American Heart Association and other population data assume that the average person gets 36%-40% of his daily allotted calories from fat. The safe range for cardiovascular health is 30% or less; I recommend getting 25%-30% of your total calories from fat. If you eat more than 30%, you'll naturally cut down on carbohydrate, which isn't desirable.

Q: What are the relative advantages and disadvantages of various protein sources?

A: Availability of all proteins is measured against the protein quality of the egg. The protein efficiency ratio (PER) is measured by the gain in weight of a growing animal over its protein intake. An egg's PER is 1.0. If you eat 7,000 calories, you can get protein wherever you want, but don't have 18 eggs a day. Moderation in all things is key.

Complete proteins such as eggs, milk, cheese, red meat, fish and chicken easily supply any lifter's protein requirements, but may be expensive. Incomplete proteins such as wheat, peanut butter, beans and legumes might take more time to prepare, but it's an effective way to moderate fat intake.


Q: What's the safest way for a bodybuilder to dehydrate?

A: Unfortunately, dehydration plays a part in observable muscle definition. Play it safe. Fluids are needed to dissipate heat, transport nutrients and eliminate waste products. In other words, you can't dehydrate safely. Body fluid loss of only 2% will cause a throbbing heart, nausea and muscle pain.

Q: What is superhydrating, and will it benefit bodybuilders?

A: Super hydrating is fluid intake over what's normally lost by sweating, urination and other body processes. It allows your kidneys to get rid of toxins. Super hydration is done best when you slowly drink small amounts of fluids over a period so they have time to move into the small intestine and be absorbed into the bloodstream. No athlete chooses to experience fatigue, visual disturbances, dizziness and increased blood pressure [results of dehydration]. Prevent heat disorders by predicting the environmental conditions in the gym or wherever you train and taking along a bottle of water or sports drink if necessary.

Q: What are the benefits of sports drinks?

A: Sports drinks take the guesswork out of it all. The manufacturers look at taste, the ability to keep the body at normal temperatures, gut-emptying and recovery times. The big thing is your ability to come back the next day and do the same amount of work. The goal, of course, is to hydrate day after day so that next week you can work harder. Several good sports drinks are available.

You should probably eat about 1 gram of protein per pound of body-weight per day.


Q: What is an ergogenic aid?

A: This is a substance or food reputed to enhance your performance above the level anticipated in normal conditions. They can't hurt you, but may be expensive.

More calories, extra carbohydrates, vitamin and mineral supplements and a vast array of other products fall into the category of ergogenic aids. Consider your own individual requirements or deficiencies, availability of the product and advice from your sports-medicine physician and/or sports nutritionist. While it doesn't hurt to take a multivitamin/mineral supplement within normal ranges, you should look at the harmful side effects of some supplements.

I wouldn't use any aid that makes unrealistic promises. The only thing that builds muscle is continuous hard work and calories to support your growth and muscle development.

Q: If the athlete is on the road or needs to quickly grab a bite to eat, what kind of fast food would be the best choice?

A: Most fast-food restaurants now publish the fat and carbohydrate content of their menu items. Choose low-fat foods, and ask for things without sauce. Most chicken products [broiled or baked, not fried] are good. Carry fluids and healthy snacks with you.

Q: If an athlete needs more iron, what type of supplement might help?

A: Check your iron intake to match your body's iron stores. Get a lab analysis of your red blood cell count. An iron supplement of 15 mg a day is ample, and most vitamin and mineral supplements include iron.

Q: If a bodybuilder has muscular weakness and fatigue, what kind of a deficiency might he or she have?

A: It could be overwork, a lack of vitamins or too few dietary carbohydrates because you're concentrating on too much protein. The body can use protein as energy, but more byproducts are involved and it may lead to dehydration. If weakness persists, consult your gym's exercise scientist or a sports physician.

Q: Do you recommend supplementation?

A: After evaluating an individual's dietary intake, I usually make suggestions. If dairy is not an option, I'll recommend calcium supplements. If fruits and vegetables are consistently low, JuicePlus or a children's dose of vitamins and minerals may help correct, say, low Vitamin C intake. I've never recommended a product that's produced abroad or can be purchased "by our dealer only." This is a fascinating field, however, and the possibilities are endless.


Q: Does over training lead to fatigue?

A: Overtraining is the worst problem. The bodybuilder may not have a coach on a daily basis, so he or she may overexert. At first you get exciting results, and you get so enthusiastic. The natural tendency is to press on. To correct fatigue from overtraining, get adequate rest and drink lots of water, and every other day, bodybuild! Let your body rest and adjust.

Q: Which postworkout foods will enhance glycogen synthesis?

A: For resynthesis in the first 20 minutes after working out, take in juice, fruit or a fruit drink. A bran muffin doesn't sound good when you're dehydrated. Ross labs and Gatorade have a 60% solution glycogen-repletion drink. Grape juice is good, too. Canned juice is inexpensive, doesn't spoil and is readily available.

Q: What fuel sources does the bodybuilder use during lifting?

A: Muscle glycogen is the takeoff at the muscle site. Blood glucose is the fuel for the thinking and directing of the brain. Before lifting, have a sports drink; drink water during your workout. Afterward, drink apricot nectar, grape juice or a sports drink.

Q: Do you have advice for someone just starting out in bodybuilding?

A: Of increasing concern is the individual who decides to bodybuild on his or her own without having things like height, weight, blood pressure and visual acuity checked. He or she may also want to consult a psychologist and dietitian. Food will allow you to do the things you want to do, but if you don't pay attention, it could ruin everything. I'd consider eliminating alcohol; it compromises glycogen metabolism. I encourage all athletes to keep a diet and exercise diary with their feelings about their body. Include a reminder to take a blood-pressure reading.

Q: What final advice can you give us?

A: All bodybuilders should be aware of current research, but explore the reputation of those writing or producing "the ultimate." Quality information is available from the Journal of American Dietetic Association, Medicine in Science, Sports and Exercise, and Sports and Cardiovascular Nutrition.


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I run for my aerobic exercise. You can run, walk, dance; whatever you prefer. Just be certain to do aerobics at least 3 – 4 times a week for a minimum of 30 minutes each workout. If you are using HIIT or something on that order, obviously you will be spending less time getting in your aerobics.

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