Bodybuilding nutrition is the pillar upon which all progress relies. No matter how much weight you can lift, or how often you hit the gym, you won’t reach your muscle-building potential without proper fuel and support in the form of food.
And yet, there are bodybuilders who are willing to live their life under the iron, but never give enough attention to their diets and lifestyle outside the gym. Here are seven mistakes that no serious bodybuilder should be making.
Not Getting Enough Protein
Muscles are essentially made of protein. There’s no such thing as proper bodybuilding nutrition with inadequate protein. If you’re not getting at least one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, you are shortchanging your progress. And it’s not just for building muscle. In a 2004 study that appeared in Sports Medicine, Doctors Lambert, Frank, and Evans found that increased protein intake also created a thermic effect in the body that resulted in accelerated fat loss.
Too Much Junk Food When Bulking
Bodybuilding is about building mass. You can’t put on substantial size without enough calories. One way to approach mass building is to go through a “bulking” phase, which is exactly what it sounds like: you eat a caloric surplus in order to gain weight.
Unfortunately, some bodybuilders use a bulking cycle as an excuse to eat everything in sight without considering what it’s made of. If you consume excess calories, you will gain weight. Some of the weight will be muscles, but some of it will be fat. There’s no way around it. Processed foods will certainly give you the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to calories in a hurry, but they will also do the most damage to your body composition. It’s more work to eat at a caloric surplus with clean (or mostly clean) foods, but it can be done.
Cutting Too Soon
A “cutting” cycle is the opposite of a bulking cycle. A bodybuilder looking to get absolutely shredded for the stage must first put on some muscle. Bodybuilding nutrition will help you see your abs and striations, but simply having good conditioning isn’t enough to win a competition.
The size must come first, whether it comes in a dirty or clean bulk. When you have enough size, you then start cutting calories to drop fat and give your body that peeled to the bone look. But if you start cutting to strip away fat before you have any appreciable mass, you’re not going to get optimal results. It’s kind of like whittling down a bone. Being thin and shredded is fine and might get you a couple of looks on the beach, but huge and shredded is what bodybuilding is all about. Don’t cut before it’s time.
Not Eating Often Enough
It’s probably obvious by now that proper bodybuilding nutrition takes a lot of diligence and thought. You have to eat like it’s your job at times. But you can’t eat all of the food at once. You wouldn’t want to anyway, as infrequent eating doesn’t give your metabolism a chance to stay fired up.
Eating small, frequent meals–5-6 per day–will allow your metabolism to be in overdrive in your waking and sleeping hours. Your body will also have better results using these smaller, more frequent bursts of protein, the processing of which does take a toll on the system. Include a lean protein source in each meal or supplement with a shake.
One question that many bodybuilders fail to ask when choosing supplements is: Supplements to what? Ad copy can easily convince impressionable lifters that proper bodybuilding nutrition is as simple as having the right supplements. But the foundation of bodybuilding success has always been proper training, proper nutrition, and recovery (sleep and rest).
Workout supplements exist to support that triad of progress. In a 2006 study in American Fitness, author Dr. Esmarck found that subjects who drank a carb and protein supplement directly after lifting weights experienced an eight percent increase in muscle size. Fantastic results. But Dr. Esmarck would not have said that the supplements were a substitute for the other elements we are discussing here.
Without lifting for results, eating for results, and sleeping enough to have the energy to train like an animal, supplements won’t do much besides lighten your wallet. But once you have your foundation locked in, there are many supplements that will work wonders for you. They just can’t be the focus.
Ignoring Sneaky Calories
It’s really easy to feel good about making a giant salad. It’s also really easy to ignore the fact that you can drench a healthy salad in so much dressing that you’ve essentially canceled out its greatest benefits. The same can be said of cooking with too many oils or putting cream in an otherwise tame black cup of coffee. Get in the mindset of knowing everything that you eat, not just the name of the entree. Which brings us to the final, and potentially most serious, of our bodybuilding nutrition mistakes.
Not Keeping a Food Journal
If you track your reps, sets, poundages, workout volume, and time spent under the bar, there’s no excuse for not tracking your food. It’s part of your training. If you don’t know how much (or how little) you eat, and if you don’t know how your intake breaks down into carbs, fats, and proteins, you will be unable to make adjustments. Keeping a food journal allows you to evaluate your progress objectively.
Consider that the reason you’re not gaining muscle like you want could be as simple as you needing 300 additional calories each day, or 25 additional grams of protein. Well, you’d never know it unless you have a food journal. If you have to guess, you can always guess wrong. And guessing is one of the worst bodybuilding nutrition mistakes.