Bodybuilders, trainers and diet gurus alike (at least those worth their salt) will tell you that bodybuilding is more than 50% nutrition. We tend to agree, especially where the novice is concerned. Beginners or those heading back into the gym after a layoff can expect to make some serious gains in strength and mass from a regular training program, but not without a solid nutrition program. Bottom line, the more serious you are about your nutrition, the more serious your gains will be. In fact, if you combed the literature on weightlifting, you'd quickly learn that relatively little research has been done on training techniques for boosting muscle mass and strength compared to the tons of studies on the effects of nutrition and dietary supplements. Said research shows that paying attention to macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat), calories, meal timing and certain supplements will have a huge impact on your results.
But because you don't have time to do all the combing yourself, we've boiled it down to 10 basic nutrition and supplement rules that every beginner should learn now and maintain indefinitely. Follow these rules and stick to your lifting program, and soon that "beginner" label will no longer apply to you.
Rule #1: Focus on Protein
Consume at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight on a daily basis. Protein provides the amino acids that are used as the building blocks of muscle protein. Although the recommended daily allowance for protein is set at less than half a gram per pound of bodyweight for the typical person, research shows that athletes, especially those concerned with muscle mass and strength, need roughly double that amount. Beginners should actually try to get in about 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day for the first six months of working out, since this is when your muscles will respond the most rapidly to training. 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 come mainly from lean animal proteins such as chicken, turkey, beef, fish, eggs and dairy. These are the most complete protein sources, meaning they provide your body with every essential amino acid, defined as those your body cannot manufacture on its own.
Rule #2: Carb Up
Eat about 2-3 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight each day. Protein is the most critical macronutrient for muscle growth, with carbohydrates a close second. Carbs are stored in your muscles as glycogen and both keep your muscles full and large and fuel them during workouts. To gain mass, the 180-pound beginner will need 360-540 grams of carbs daily.
For most meals, stick with slow-digesting carb sources such as whole grains, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, beans, fruit and vegetables. (For all other times of day, see Rule No. 7.)