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Bodybuilders are known for their strict approach to nutrition, which is more than a mere diet plan. Everything is tracked and measured religiously by pro-level competitors – from foods eaten to calories counted, and portion size to meal frequency.
How do you eat like a bodybuilder?
The focal point of a bodybuilding diet is a preference for clean eating over ‘dirty’ foods. It also incorporates the entire food preparation process and the constant calorie/macronutrient tracking that follows. Although slight individual differences will apply, the ‘rules’ are typically followed by a majority of elite-level competitors.
BODYBUILDER DIET: THE PROS
Regimented for a reason
Bodybuilders that follow this diet could claim that its regimented nature compliments their career path. A pro-bodybuilder earns his or her living from the competition, so you could argue that a strict nutrition plan is actually the best method for ensuring success. It is no different from the professional players in your favorite sports team following a strict diet plan in order to perform optimally on game day.
You're in control
It is easy to hit your macronutrient targets (of protein, carbohydrate and fat) when you’re eating clean and portioning out every meal. You have full control over what goes into your body, mostly because you are responsible for preparing it yourself. There are no "hidden" calories, fat or sugar on this type of regimented diet, so you can be sure every bite you take is fuel for your goals.
Another crucial aspect of the traditional bodybuilding diet is meal frequency. Eating every 3-4 hours is by no means prescriptive, but it forms a good template that could help you advance towards your goals. Protein, for instance, is not stored for long in the body in the same way carbohydrates and fats are. Muscle protein synthesis needs re-setting every 4-4.5 hours, so frequent feeds mirror this well.
BODYBUILDER DIET: THE CONS
Physical health is only one aspect of your overall wellbeing. It’s essential to stay social for your mental health. Religiously keeping track of your calories and macros isn’t necessary every single day. That said, it can be useful to track your meals for an initial 2-week period, as this is roughly how long it takes to develop a habit. You should then be able to recall protein sources, portion sizes and meal timing without needing to refer to a tracker. If you visit a restaurant with a set of scales in hand, prepare to eat alone in future!
A diet will only work if you do. So, if you stick to a diet and follow its principles to a tee then you will likely achieve results. This often becomes complicated in the face of overly aggressive, unattainable diets, however. A bodybuilder's diet is often referred to as the pejorative ‘chicken, broccoli and brown rice’ approach by critics. Not enjoying food is a key reason why so many people fall off the wagon, so it’s true that a plain, bland diet is less likely to yield results. Spices, homemade sauces and alternating protein sources are perfectly healthy ways to keep your meals tasty.
On the surface of things, a ‘clean eating’ bodybuilding diet may appear to obtain all the micronutrients your body needs. However, while a plate of chicken, brown rice and broccoli is fine as a single meal, you could be missing out on hugely-important nutrients by eating this alone. To solve this problem, you should alternate your protein sources. Turkey is the protein highest in leucine, for instance. As a carb source, quinoa is the only non-animal food item with a full profile of essential amino acids (EAAs). Broccoli is a fantastic vegetable, but the addition of spinach adds much-needed iron, folic acid and niacin for enhanced energy production.
BODYBUILDER DIET: THE OVERALL OPINION
Whether you should adopt a bodybuilder's diet or not comes down to your individual predicament. If you’re a genuine professional bodybuilder, then the need to measure and scale food is much greater than if you’re just a casual trainer. If you aren’t going to be standing on stage anytime soon, your diet just needs to be a plan that can be adhered to. Counting every calorie is unlikely to work in this regard, so you should instead focus on whole, nutrient dense foods and capitalize on variety to keep things interesting and sustainable for your sanity.