Just as the beginner should stick to the basics in the gym, there’s no reason to complicate the nutrition side of things. In college, nutrition science is its own major and a one-semester course for non-majors. But we’ll assume a) you don’t have four years to dedicate to learning how to eat, b) you currently can’t aﬀord tuition and overpriced textbooks or c) both. So we’ve boiled down the dietary basics to 10 straightforward lessons you need to follow to make sure you put the right foods in your body at the right times.
If you’re serious about making a long-term commitment to ﬁtness, you’ll learn the ins and outs of solid nutrition as you go. But no matter how much information you gather, these fundamental guidelines will always hold true.
Lesson No. 1 - Consume at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight daily
Protein provides amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle protein. Although mainstream nutritional guidelines recommend less than half a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight for the average guy, research shows that athletes — especially those concerned with adding muscle mass and strength — need to roughly double that amount. Beginners should try to get in about 1.5 grams per pound per day for the first six months of training, since this is when your muscles will respond most rapidly. For the 180-pounder, this means 270 grams per day at the outset and a bare minimum of 180 grams daily thereafter.
Your protein choices should mainly animal proteins such as beef, chicken, dairy, eggs, fish and turkey. These are the most complete protein sources, meaning they provide your body with the essential amino acids it can’t manufacture on its own.
Lesson No. 2 - Get 20%–30% of daily calories from fat
Get this in your head: Fat is not your enemy, especially if you train seriously. Research shows that diets higher in fat (particularly monounsaturated and saturated) appear to maintain testosterone levels better than low-fat diets. Maintaining optimal test levels is paramount for building muscle mass and strength, and avoiding fat gain. And unlike the sedentary general population who are advised to reduce their saturated fat intake, 5%–10% of your fat calories should be from sat fat.
Choose red meats such as ground beef and steak for saturated fat (these also provide quality protein); avocados, flaxseed oil, mixed nuts, olives, olive oil and peanut butter for monounsaturated fats; and fatty fish (catfish, salmon, trout) and walnuts as good sources of essential omega-3 polyunsaturated fats.