The Ultimate Nutrition Q&A

The Ultimate Nutrition Q&A

06-05-2015 | 
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It's safe to say that diet know-how is almost every aspiring bodybuilder's weak point, both because of rampant misinformation in the media, on the web and spread through gyms everywhere, and because it isn't the simplest of topics in the first place.

What you need are the tools and techniques to shift your body into an anabolic state, that magical place where your body creates new muscle, thus increasing your bodyweight, size and strength.

We've picked 25 of the top inquiries on this very subject, and posed them to two nutrition experts — Chris Aceto and Jim Stoppani, PhD — to provide the information you need to know to grow.

  1. How Key Is Protein To My Muscle-Building Efforts?

You can't construct a building without adequate raw materials, and it's pretty much the same in building muscle. Amino acids, the small components of protein, are commonly referred to as "building blocks" because they're used to build and add new muscle tissue. Lower-fat sources of protein include: poultry (skinless white meat), fish, flank steak, top sirloin steak, protein powders and low-fat dairy products such as: cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt or milk. To get your fill, aim for at least 2 to 2.5 gram of protein per kg of bodyweight (1 gram per pound and upward of 1 1/2 g), spread over six to eight meals each day. This can maximize absorption while minimizing bloating. A 100-kg (200-pound) bodybuilder, for example, would need 200-300 g a day.

  1. What Is The Most Important Thing To Know About Carb Intake?

Two words: glycogen and insulin. Glycogen provides the body's storage tanks for carbohydrates located in your muscles. When you eat plenty of carbs, these energy tanks fill up and encourage the body to hold onto protein and build new muscle. When you skimp on carbs, the tanks empty quickly, causing protein to be burned for fuel and, thus, that protein is not available for the muscle-building process.

Carbohydrates also increase the natural release of a hormone called insulin, touted as the body's most potent anabolic or tissue-building hormone. Insulin is quite versatile, driving both amino acids and glucose, the most basic unit of carbohydrate foods, into muscles to facilitate repair and recovery. For building your physique, you need to make carbohydrates a major ingredient in your nutrition plan. Shoot for a minimum of 4 g per kilogram of bodyweight and up to 6 g for hard gainers (2 g / 3 g per pound). A 100-kg (200-pound) bodybuilder, for example, would need 400-600 g a day.

  1. How do I know whether I should go up to 6 grams of carbs (per kg of bodyweight) per day?

Your bathroom scale is directly tied to your carbohydrate intake. How? How? If the scale is moving up 0.25 to 0.5 kg (one-half to one pound) a week, you’re eating sufficient carbs. If the numbers aren’t budging, you aren’t eating enough to support your training and growth. For example, if you’re eating 4 g per kg of bodyweight (2 g per pound) daily, and that doesn’t cause a weekly uptick on the scale, boost your carb intake by one gram per kg. If not, go up another gram per kg until you reach 6 g per kg.

  1. Are all carbs the same?

No. Most of your carbs should come from slow-digesting sources such as whole grains (whole-wheat bread, whole-grain cereal, oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta), sweet potatoes and fruit. This will allow you to pack on muscle without adding fat.

  1. As a hard gainer, do I need to worry about what type of carbs I’m eating?

If you are a true hard gainer, you don’t need to worry much about rule #4. Your focus should be on foods that are dense in carbs. Dense mass-building carbohydrates include mashed potatoes, pasta, rice, raisins, honey, pancakes, bagels, cookies, cereals and ripe bananas. These types of foods let you meet your daily carbohydrate quota without getting so full (as with high-fiber vegetables) that you fail to eat enough.

The Ultimate Nutrition Q & A

  1. How many calories do I need daily?

In addition to protein and carbs, you need adequate calories to grow. Muscle growth requires energy: if you don’t provide enough energy in the form of calories, you won’t grow. As a general rule, you need about 40 calories per kg (20 calories per pound) of bodyweight per day to put on muscle. A 100-kg (200-pound) bodybuilder, for example, would need 4000 calories a day. But everybody’s biochemistry is different. If this doesn’t pack on the mass, up the calories. If you’re packing on mass along with too much body fat, lower the calories.

  1. Should I be following a low-fat diet if I want to get or stay lean?

It used to be that when bodybuilders dieted to get lean, they slashed their fat intake to below 10%. Today, we know that is not just unhealthy, but it’s also not as effective as a diet containing 20%-30% fat, with the majority of fat coming from healthy sources. Fat is critical for maintaining testosterone levels. If these levels drop, you lose muscle and burn less fat. In addition, healthy fats don’t get stored readily — they encourage fat burning; on top of that, they aid joint recovery and promote cardiovascular health. Be sure to include plenty of fatty fish like salmon, trout and sardines in your diet to get sufficient essential omega-3 fatty acids. Also take in plenty of nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil and egg yolks for the healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats in them.

  1. How many meals should I eat per day?

Bodybuilders were the first athletes to incorporate five, six and even seven meals a day as a nutrition strategy because they found it produced better results. Eating throughout the day provides a nearly nonstop influx of amino acids from protein and of glucose from carbohydrates. Amino acids help repair muscle tissue and glucose keeps insulin levels constantly elevated, which prevents muscle breakdown while enhancing the formation of glycogen. On the flip side, consuming the same amount of food in three or four bigger meals can cause an increase in body fat and promote seesawing blood sugar levels — which can leave you tired and weak.

  1. Should I stick with the same meal plan every single day to see results?

Although many bodybuilders fill upon carbohydrates, protein and the right kinds of dietary fat, many follow the same approach every day, using and reusing one or two menu plans. The danger here is failing to consume a variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies contain an assortment of phytochemicals that strengthen the immune system, ward off pathogens and, overall, keep the body fine-tuned and healthy. Include at least three servings a day of fruit and another three to five servings of vegetables. Mix blueberries, a banana, strawberries or sliced melon into your yogurt, oatmeal or protein shake. Add some broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms or chopped onions and peppers to your rice or pasta. Have at least one large garden salad each day, preferably topped with a dressing made with extra virgin olive oil or a cold-processed vegetable oil.

  1. How much water do I need?

Failing to drink adequate liquid can affect your gains in mass. How so? Water comprises up to 75% of the body, and maintaining a hydrated body aids growth. When the body becomes dehydrated, water leaves muscle cells and can initiate a trigger that sends the body into a muscle-wasting state. Research also shows that even slight dehydration decreases muscle strength. In fact, one way that, creatine and glutamine work is by hyper swelling the muscles with fluid. They push water into muscles to facilitate an anabolic or growth state. Be sure to drink about 3.5 to 4 liters (a gallon) of water each day.

  1. What’s the deal: should I be eating red meat or not?

Talk about coming full circle: bodybuilders in the ’60s and ’70s lived on red meat, while the cholesterol awakening of the ’80s and early ’90s left bodybuilders scrambling for ultralow-fat protein foods including egg whites, tuna and chicken breast. Red meat is back and with good reason. Lean cuts such as top sirloin and flank steak don’t yield much more fat and cholesterol than chicken breast. When it comes to energy-producing B vitamins, including B12, plus creatine, iron and zinc, red meat has no parallel. B12, iron and zinc support cell growth and the development of red blood cells. Zinc is required to manufacture testosterone, the male hormone that impacts muscle strength and size. So if you want to get big, eat big, but eat smart to build lean, hard muscle.

  1. What’s the best thing to eat first thing in the morning?

As soon as you wake up and before you cook breakfast, down about 20-40 g of fast-digesting whey protein and 20-40 g of fast-digesting carbs such as white bread or sugar. (Editor’s note: we at shop.builder do not necessarily agree, as insulin sensitivity is at the bottom in the morning. Experience shows that complex carbohydrates are a better choice at this time of the day.) You wake up in a catabolic state due to the long night of fasting. To stop the catabolism (muscle breakdown), getting in fast-digesting protein and carbs will quickly put you into an anabolic state.

  1. What’s your advice on breakfast?

Breakfast is considered by some to be the most important meal of the day. For bodybuilders, it is just one of the important ones, after your pre-breakfast meal (detailed in number 12) and your pre- and post-workout meals (detailed in numbers 15, 17 and 18). About 30-60 minutes after your first meal of the day, it’s time for a big, traditional whole-food bodybuilding breakfast. Go with quality protein such as four egg whites and two or three whole eggs, or 1 to 1 1/2 cups of cottage cheese, along with a slow-digesting carb like oatmeal or whole-wheat toast.

  1. What’s the best protein for between-meal shakes?

A good way to get in extra protein and calories between meals is to drink protein shakes — but not just any type of protein. Although whey is considered supreme by many bodybuilders, the best option between meals is casein. Research shows that casein doesn’t leave you feeling as full as whey does after drinking it, so you’ll still be hungry for that all-important next meal. Consume about 40 g of casein protein.

  1. What’s the best preworkout meal?

A good preworkout meal will contain fast-digesting protein such as whey and slow-digesting carbs like fruit, oatmeal or whole-wheat bread. This combination enhances energy for training and aids muscle recovery and growth. Slow-digesting carbs will also keep insulin levels low, ensuring fat burning isn’t limited during the workout.

  1. Should I be taking anything during my workouts?

The essential amino acids include leucine, isoleucine, valine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and histidine. Our bodies cannot make these nine aminos; we must get them from our diet. They are critical to building muscle. Taking them during your workouts will push muscle growth because they will get to the muscles even faster than the aminos from whey. Add 20 g of EAAs to a water bottle and sip during your workouts.

What’s the best post workout meal?

  1. What’s the best post workout meal?

Immediately after workouts, you need 40 g of fast-digesting protein (like whey) and about 1-2 grams of fast-digesting carbs per kilogram (0.65 g of carbs per pound) of bodyweight in the post-training meal. This will rapidly provide amino acids to your muscles for recovery and growth. It’ll also spike insulin levels, which will drive the aminos and glucose from the carbs into the muscles, blunt the catabolic hormone cortisol, enhance testosterone’s anabolic actions and increase muscle growth.

  1. Should I just stick to whey protein after workouts?

This fast-digesting protein is critical after workouts for stimulating recovery and growth. Yet, paradoxical as it seems, slow-digesting casein can boost whey’s post workout benefits. Research shows that when bodybuilders add casein to their post workout whey shakes, they gain significantly more muscle mass than when they use whey alone.

  1. What should my first major meal after training be?

An hour after your fast-digesting post workout meal, you need to down a second post workout meal of slower-digesting whole-food selections. Research shows that a second post workout meal rich in protein and carbs keeps the muscle growth process turned on longer after your workout. Go with 30-50 g of lean protein like beef, poultry, eggs, seafood or dairy, and 60-100 g of slow-digesting carbs such as sweet potatoes, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice or other whole-grain options.

  1. What should I eat before bed to fuel bodybuilding gains?

Before you go to bed, you need to consume 20-40 g of a slow-digesting protein such as casein or cottage cheese. While you sleep, you fast for seven to nine hours. During this time, your body will turn to your muscles to break them down for fuel, because the amino acids that make up muscle protein can be converted into glucose. If you ingest a slow-digesting protein that delivers a steady supply of amino acids throughout the night, these aminos will be converted to fuel, sparing your muscle mass.

  1. When’s the best time to use creatine?

Taking creatine before workouts helps keep your muscles saturated with it, producing the rapid energy your muscles need to perform rep after rep in the gym. Taking creatine after your workouts will replenish its levels in muscles and maximize growth by drawing water into the muscles. This keeps them larger through the volume of water in the muscle cells and also stretches the cells to instigate growth. Add 3-5 g of creatine to your pre- and postworkout shakes.

  1. Is there any way to make my creatine even more powerful?

To further enhance the growth-stimulating effects of creatine, stack it with the amino acid beta-alanine. In the body, beta-alanine combines with the amino acid histidine to form carnosine. When muscles have higher levels of carnosine, according to recent scientific research, they have more strength and endurance. Another recent study found that subjects who took beta-alanine along with creatine gained more muscle mass and lost more body fat than subjects taking just creatine. Add 1-2 g of beta-alanine or carnosine to the creatine in your preworkout and post workout shakes.

  1. What are BCAAs? Should I be taking them?

BCAA means “branched-chain amino acids”. Branched-chain amino acids are leucine, isoleucine and valine. Leucine is the most critical of the three, as research shows that this amino acid can stimulate muscle protein synthesis on its own. It’s still best to take all of them together: they work synergistically to enhance recovery and muscle growth, increase energy during workouts and blunt cortisol. Take 5-10 g of BCAAs with breakfast, preworkout and post workout shakes, and before bed.

  1. Are there any vitamins that are especially critical for growth and recovery?

Consuming a variety of fresh foods, including plenty of fruits and veggies, ought to supply a healthy amount of vitamin C, but some research has demonstrated that a larger amount might help. One study revealed that weightlifters taking 1,000 milligrams a day of vitamin C demonstrated lower levels of cortisol. Vitamin C has also been shown to enhance nitric oxide production. Another study showed that bodybuilders using 1,200 international units of vitamin E per day experienced a decrease in creatine kinase activity, which is a marker for muscle-fiber injury. This indicates that a higher amount of E might combat muscle cell damage and free radical production, thereby enhancing recovery and growth, as well as boosting the immune system. Take 500-1,000 mg of vitamin C with breakfast and with your preworkout shake. Take 400-800 IU of vitamin E with breakfast and another 800 IU with your post workout shake.

  1. How do I know if I’m gaining muscle and not just fat?

Skinfold calipers indicate your muscle-to-fat ratio, or how much of you is muscle and how much is fat. When you gain about 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds) of bodyweight, for example, expect some of that weight to be body fat; shoot for a 2:1 ratio, two parts muscle to one part fat. If you want to add 3 kilograms (about half a stone), you can expect to gain 2 kilograms of muscle and one kilogram of fat. Skinfold measurements taken by someone skilled in using calipers will indicate whether you’re headed in the right direction. For example, if you gained about 0.9 kg (two pounds) over a two- to three-week period and see that 0.7 kg (one and a half pounds) are muscle and 0.2 kg (one-half pound) is fat, you’re making great progress. If you gained a pound of muscle and a pound of fat, you know your overall carbohydrate and caloric intake is too high, pushing up fat levels on par with true muscle gains.


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