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No matter your genetics or the goals you've set for yourself, you need to follow the rules of bodybuilding nutrition if your hard training is going to pay off.
Granted, nutrition can be a complicated subject – carbs, proteins, vitamins and minerals, not to mention meal timing, creatine and shelves and shelves of other exotic supplements can make your head spin.
Stop spinning. FLEX has compiled 70 rules of nutrition to help guide you through the minefield of all things related to food and supplements. This comprehensive compendium of commandments gives you 70 easy-to-follow basic to advanced dictums that have passed the Team FLEX test for accuracy and efficiency. Whether you want to add mass, get ripped or simply maintain your weight, you'll find the answers here.
1. TAKE IN PLENTY OF PROTEIN
FLEX recommends that bodybuilders take in at least one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight each day. Protein needs for individual bodybuilders may vary, but this minimum ensures sufficient amounts with which to build muscle. If your bodyweight is low or if your caloric needs for bodyweight maintenance are high, then you may need even more protein than bodybuilders of comparable size.
2. DON'T OVERDOSE ON PROTEIN
Some bodybuilders develop a mentality that if some is good, then excessive amounts are better. If you're eating more than 2g of protein per pound of bodyweight each day, then you're probably consuming more protein than your body can use for muscle building. Excess protein will simply be broken down and burned as energy (or stored as bodyfat). Protein is difficult for your body to break down because it's a complex molecule, so it's an inefficient source of energy. Keep protein consumption high, but don't go overboard. Rely on other good bodybuilding foods, including carbs, to keep weight up during growth phases and watch the mirror for signs of excess.
3. TAKE IN PLENTY OF CARBS FOR ENERGY
Your body can use protein, carbs or fats for energy, but when you're training hard, it preferentially uses carbs. Essentially, carbs are chains of glucose molecules, and the body can easily absorb sugar for energy. Taking in ample carbs makes it easy for your body to fuel itself, sparing protein and fats for their more specific nutritional uses.
4. EMPHASIZE COMPLEX CARBS
Complex carbs are constructed of long chains of sugars. These types of carbs are easily digested, yet they're slow burning because the body has to break them down to use them. Since complex carbs are a longer-lasting fuel than simple carbs, there's less chance they'll be stored as bodyfat. During a mass-building phase, strive to take in 3g of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight per day, drawn mainly from complex sources such as vegetables, pasta, potatoes, rice, yams and oatmeal. During cutting phases, reduce total carbohydrate consumption, relying more heavily on slow-burning complex carbs, including brown rice, yams and oatmeal.
5. DE-EMPHASIZE SIMPLE CARBS
Except after workouts, a bodybuilder should minimize calorie consumption from simple carbohydrates (sugar). Simple carbs can be rapidly absorbed, especially in liquids with little or no fats or solid foods to slow down their passage through the gastrointestinal tract. Significant quantities of simple carbs provide the release of insulin, which is desired after a workout but not at other times, because it can encourage the body to store these sugars as bodyfat. Foods that are high in sugar are among the worst for bodybuilders seeking to keep bodyfat low.
6. LIMIT SATURATED FAT AND AVOID TRANS FATS
Excesses of these two types of fat increase the risk of heart and other health problems, and they can also undermine bodybuilding efforts. Trans fats are commonly found in processed foods such as crackers, cookies and other baked goods. Saturated fats are prevalent in lower-quality (fattier) cuts of meats.
7. CONSUME HEALTHY FATS
Foods containing unsaturated fats, particularly monounsaturates, are excellent for bodybuilders. Don't buy into the notion that a bodybuilding diet should be low fat. It should only be low in saturated and trans fats. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish and flaxseed oils, are important for creating a favorable hormonal environment for building muscle tissue. Other unsaturated fats, such as those found in olives, avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive and canola oils, also provide bodybuilders with numerous muscle-building advantages. Except when cutting up, fats should represent 15-20% of your daily diet.
8. COUNT CALORIES
When breaking down a bodybuilding diet, macronutrients are often split into percentages. For instance, an offseason dietary recommendation might be to get 50% of calories from carbs, 30% from protein and 20% from fats. To do this accurately, you have to have this valuable information: Every gram of carbs has approximately four calories; every gram of protein has four calories; and every gram of fat has nine calories. This calorie differential explains why bodybuilders, even those who are not on a low-fat diet, need to pay attention to fat calories, as well as to carbs and protein.
9. DRINK AT LEAST A GALLON OF WATER EVERY DAY
Steady water intake keeps nutrients moving in your bloodstream and into muscle cells. Water is also a critical source of many minerals, but don't drink that gallon-plus in one sitting. Gulp it during the course of the day. This is especially important for bodybuilders on high-protein diets, as well as those using creatine, fat burners or other supplements that affect hydration. Water is the essence of life, and its importance to bodybuilders can't be overstressed. Drink a pint of water with main meals and try to exceed the daily one-gallon recommendation. Water is essential for overall health as well as for muscle growth. Keeping your body well hydrated benefits everything from protein synthesis to digestion.
10. FIRE UP YOUR FIBER
Most bodybuilding foods are notoriously low in fiber yet, bodybuilders need plenty of fiber to make ideal gains. Bodybuilders must get most of their dietary fiber from complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables. Strive to take in 30g of fiber a day, and even more when you're on a high-calorie diet. If your diet doesn't provide this amount, then consider daily supplementation with a fiber product.
11. MEAT MAKES MUSCLE
All forms of protein are good for bodybuilders seeking to add muscle mass, but lean forms of meat are among the best. Turkey, chicken, beef and other meats have complete proteins, meaning they contain all the amino acids that your body needs. Other forms of protein, especially vegetable sources, are incomplete and thus less-concentrated sources of protein. For best results, FLEX recommends that bodybuilders strive to take in some form of animal protein at least once if not two or more times a day. Among the best meat choices are chicken and turkey breast, as well as lean cuts of red meat.
12. EAT BOTH FATTY AND LOW-FAT FISH
Fish, an excellent source of protein, should be consumed regularly by bodybuilders. Varying in fat content, some types of fish are high in healthy fats,. others are low in fat altogether. Unlike other tissue proteins, though, fatty fish provide a host of benefits to bodybuilders. Salmon and sardines, for example, are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which support the immune system and assist with muscle recovery and growth, in addition to many other benefits. Fish that are lower in fat, such as tuna, also make an excellent source of protein. All bodybuilders, regardless of their phase of diet or training goals, should strive to take in eight ounces of fatty fish at least twice a week.
13. EGGS ARE AN EXCELLENT SOURCE OF PROTEIN
Eggs are a versatile, easy-to-cook and easy-to-consume protein source. They're also relatively inexpensive. Eat just the egg whites if you're seeking a low-calorie protein source. Use the yolks when you want the benefits of various fats, lecithin and other nutrients. Eggs can be boiled in bulk, they're easily transported, and they make fine between-meal fare.
14. DAIRY IS VERSATILE
As do eggs, dairy products provide many dietary options. First and foremost, milk proteins, casein and whey, have innumerable nutritional benefits. Nonfat milk is an excellent cheap and readily available source of protein, calcium and other nutrients. Cottage cheese is the casein fraction of milk and an outstanding bodybuilding protein. You can find low or nonfat varieties that are relatively inexpensive. Unsweetened yogurt is also a good protein source, and it contains beneficial bacteria to help support the immune system and improve digestive efficiency.
15. USE GRAINS AND STARCHES AS APPROPRIATE
Some bodybuilders shy away from grains such as white rice and wheat because they are mostly carbohydrates. Others include liberal portions of pasta, cereal and bread in their diets. In general, you should include grains, but pay attention to how they affect your physique. Some bodybuilders can eat them every day with little consequence. Others need to carefully monitor the quantity they take in. Regardless, all bodybuilders should opt for whole-grain varieties over processed grains.
16. EAT VEGETABLES EVERY DAY
Vegetables are one of the most overlooked components of bodybuilding nutrition. Many bodybuilders are rigorous about their protein and complex carbohydrate consumption, but lax about eating a sufficient quantity and variety of vegetables. Bodybuilders should strive to take in five or six servings every day. To meet your needs, include more than one serving at a meal. Not only do vegetables provide nutrients that other bodybuilding foods may lack, but they also provide bulk and fiber, helping your body more efficiently process a high-protein diet.
17. FRUIT PROVIDES NUTRIENTS AND FIBER
Many bodybuilders skimp on fruit, just as they do with vegetables. Fruit is an excellent source of fiber, carbs, antioxidants and numerous other nutrients. Fruit also supplies nutrients that are hard to come by from other bodybuilding food sources. Eat a range of fruits, taking in two or more pieces or servings a day.
18. FATTY FOODS PROVIDE MANY BODYBUILDING BENEFITS
Low-fat diets have gone out of vogue in the world of bodybuilding. Bodybuilders have learned instead to cut harmful saturated and trans fats while boosting healthy unsaturated fats, especially omega-3s. Foods such as olives, avocados, nuts and seeds, and olive, flaxseed and canola oils are all high in healthy fats, and they should be a part of a bodybuilder's daily diet. Healthy fats are essential for optimizing growth, recovery, mood and even fat loss.
19. USE SUPPLEMENTS INTELLIGENTLY
Supplements are a tool to help you achieve your goals. They are not magic pills and potions that will grant your physique wishes. You must use supplements intelligently, with reasonable expectations of what they can do for you. You still have to train and rigorously follow your diet. If you do the hard work and use supplements as they're designed, then you'll get the benefits that you seek from them.
20. USE PROTEIN SUPPLEMENTS
Take a protein supplement at least once a day. If you choose a product from a good manufacturer, this practice can give you an extra 40-50g of protein per day, and it will help bring you into compliance with FLEX's standard protein recommendation (at least 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight daily). It's often enough to cause acceleration in muscle growth, usually noticeable within four months. It's especially important to follow this formula when dieting. Higher protein needs and restricted caloric intake make a protein supplement essential.
21. TAKE GLUTAMINE
Known for its immunity-enhancing properties, glutamine is not only one of the most prevalent aminos in the body, but also one of the most important for bodybuilders. If you are overly stressed from dieting or training, supplementing with glutamine allows your body to maintain its storage supply of glutamine in muscle tissue, enhancing overall muscular growth and recovery. Take 10-40g of glutamine a day, spread over 3-4 servings, with food.
22. TAKE CREATINE
Supplementing with creatine can provide bodybuilders with tremendous benefits, including faster recovery from intense weight training, decreased postexercise muscle soreness and increases in muscle mass. Take 5g of creatine, once or twice a day around training.
23. TAKE A MULTIVITAMIN/MULTIMINERAL PACK
Take a multi with breakfast each and every day for insurance. Being low in any vitamin can cause breaks in the blueprint of muscle construction. A fast-food world combined with the demands of bodybuilding training can leave you short of a host of micronutrients. That's bad when you consider that many of them are needed for the things an ironhead is most interested in, such as building muscle and burning bodyfat.
24. MIX YOUR ANTIOXIDANTS
Take a mix of antioxidants; a good cocktail has an anticatabolic effect by quenching free radicals formed during and after intense exercise. In your antioxidant regimen, include FLEX's top candidates: 400-800 international units (IU) of vitamin E, 500-1,000 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C, 200 micrograms of selenium (from selenium yeast). Get the rest from 5-6 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
25. USE THERMOGENICS INTELLIGENTLY
Use thermogenic supplements sparingly and intelligently to reduce bodyfat. Supplements containing caffeine can help curb appetite, boost metabolism, enhance workouts and preserve muscle mass during a cutting phase. The side effects are irksome for some trainers, but they usually can be avoided by starting with a low dose in the morning only and working up to the recommended dose of 200-400mg caffeine three times per day over two or three weeks. Do not exceed the recommended dose. Do this consistently for at least three months to achieve significant fat loss. Check with your doctor before taking thermogenics if you suffer from depression or other psychiatric conditions.
26. ADD ARGININE
Try adding arginine to your supplement mix. Arginine, a conditionally essential amino acid, seems promising in the muscle-building department. Arginine improves blood flow and enhances the growth of muscles lengthwise (new contractile units are built onto muscle at a faster rate when arginine is given to developing rats). Arginine may also enhance immune function in athletes, especially when combined with glutamine. Try 3-5g before and immediately after training. If you train at night, make sure your post-workout does doesn't contain stimulants, lest you jeopardize your sleep.
27. MAXIMIZE YOUR MINERALS
Take extra calcium and magnesium. If you look at the label of any once-daily multivitamin, you'll notice a "mineral gap" – a place where certain minerals should be listed. Even if they're included, most multis contain only a small percentage of the Daily Value (% DV) of calcium, magnesium and potassium. Calcium is important for fat-burning metabolism, magnesium for training performance and potassium for muscle cell volume. A once-daily multivitamin simply doesn't cut it. Correct the situation by taking 1,000 mg per day of supplement-source calcium (or two to three cups of fat-free dairy products), 450 mg of magnesium, and five or six servings of fruits and vegetables per day (for potassium as well as other micronutrients).
28. TRY TYROSINE
Give the amino acid tyrosine a try to prevent burnout caused by lack of sleep, stress and/or use of thermogenic supplements. Taking 1-4g of it early in the day is recommended. In studies using military personnel as subjects, tyrosine was shown to increase performance under stress. It is a precursor to fat-burning hormones that stimulate norepinephrine.
29. DON'T OMIT OMEGA-3s
Take a high-potency omega-3 fatty acid supplement such as flaxseed or fish oil. The omega-3s in fish oil capsules (EPA and DHA) are more potent than the one in flaxseed oil at stimulating fat metabolism, reducing muscle catabolism, reducing wear and tear on the joints and improving mood and cognitive performance, but both are acceptable. Take 6g per day of 30% omega-3 fish oil extract (or 2g per day of the newer 90% omega-3 fish oil extract) for best results, or 40g of flaxseed oil per day added to shakes, salads or other food items.
30. TAKE ZMA
ZMA is a specifically formulated combination of zinc and magnesium. The benefits of ZMA supplementation include improved recovery due to enhanced sleep efficiency and increased anabolic hormone levels, as well as greater gains in muscle strength and power. For best results, take ZMA on an empty stomach before bedtime. Follow label recommendations for dosage.
31. REPAIR WITH GLUCOSAMINE AND CHONDROITIN
Glucosamine is the major building block of the solid parts of cartilage. Chondroitin is a major component of connective tissue, especially cartilage. Often, these two ingredients are combined in one supplement. Bodybuilders should use glucosamine and chondroitin for joint injuries, and for injury prevention. Take 1,500 to 2,000mg of glucosamine and 800 to 1,200mg of chondroitin each day. Split that amount into a morning and evening dose.
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are essential aminos: leucine, isoleucine and valine. They're important for bodybuilders because they can help with energy production, fat burning, muscle growth and recovery. Those who take BCAAs may note increased bodyfat loss and improved maintenance of muscle mass. Take 3-6g per day.
33. VITAMIN C CAN REVITALIZE YOU
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps in the synthesis of hormones, amino acids and collagen. It also protects immune-system cells from damage and allows them to work more efficiently. The body cannot store vitamin C, so it must be frequently supplemented. Multivitamins contain C, but additional supplementation will ensure that you don't have a deficit. Take 500-1,000mg per day.
34. VITAMIN E IS EXCELLENT
This antioxidant is especially Vitamin protective of body tissues. Vitamin E acts as a preservative that prevents many substances from destructive breakdown in the body. Vitamin E also prolongs the life of red blood cells and is necessary for the proper use of oxygen by the muscles. Bodybuilders should supplement with 400-800 IU per day.
35. GO FOR GREEN TEA
You can drink green tea or take it as a supplement in place of a formal thermogenic. To minimize production of estrogenlike compounds, look for a brand that contains at least 50% polyphenols and/or 30% epigallocatechin gallate.
36. EAT A LARGE BREAKFAST
FLEX bodybuilding diets always recommend a substantial breakfast loaded with protein and complex carbs. Whether you're cutting bodyfat or building muscle mass, a large breakfast jump-starts your metabolism, providing you with the calories and nutrients you need to get your day started and keep you going. Of course, if you train in the morning, you should eat the bulk of your calories after your workout (or at least an hour and a half before). In that case, a small preworkout meal is fine and may even be beneficial.
37. EAT SEVERAL MEALS EACH DAY
All bodybuilders should eat as many meals as possible, striving for a minimum of five a day. Eating multiple meals serves many functions. It provides your body with a constant stream of micro-and macronutrients to facilitate the muscle-building process. A constant supply of calories helps keep your metabolic rate revved up so that you are more likely to use that energy instead of storing it as bodyfat.
38. TAKE IN PROTEIN AT EACH MEAL
In addition to eating several times a day, it's a good idea to stay focused on your protein consumption at each meal. By making certain that you take in a minimum of 20g of protein at each meal, 20-40g preworkout and 40-60g postworkout, it will be easier to get your daily total of at least 1 g per pound of bodyweight. As an additional benefit, the constant stream of aminos this provides will help prevent your body from burning muscle tissue.
39. ADD A SMALL PREWORKOUT MEAL
The word used to be that should train on an empty stomach. Research has shown that a small meal, preferably liquid, taken 15 to 20 minutes, or right before training, may aid postworkout recovery. Providing your body with simple carbs and whey protein is an ideal way to kick-start recovery before these nutrients are even needed. Keep the calorie count on your preworkout meal low, 200 calories or less, equal to about 20g of protein and 25g of carbs so digestion doesn't interfere with your workout.
40. TAKE IN SIMPLE CARBS AND PROTEIN POSTTRAINING
Postworkout is one of the most crucial nutritional windows. At that point, your body needs simple, fast-digesting carbs (50-100g) depending on your size, diet, and workout, to rapidly replenish glycogen stores depleted by weight training and to increase water uptake and protein synthesis. By adding 20-50g of protein immediately after a workout, you provide your body with the raw building materials for repairing and constructing new muscle mass. A protein shake with simple carbs is ideal at this time because it's easily digested.
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41. TAKE CREATINE POSTWORKOUT
Take 3-5g of creatine immediately after your workout – the muscles you trained will absorb creatine at a faster-than-normal rate. Boost creatine retention in muscle (and get more out of this powerful supplement) by taking it with your postworkout shake. Take the rest of your daily creatine allotment (3-5g) at another time of the day. This strategy may help speed the rate at which your muscles refuel with phosphocreatine.
42. TAKE GLUTAMINE POSTWORKOUT
Add a heaping teaspoon (5g) of glutamine powder to your postworkout shake and take another 5g before bed, especially if dieting. If you take more than 40g daily, spread it out in 4-8, 5-10g doses over the day. Glutamine has a muscle cell-volumizing effect that shuts down protein-destroying enzymes that become active when you're dieting, reducing muscle catabolism and helping you retain a pump even on a strict eating plan. Glutamine also nourishes muscle, gut and immune cells directly, reducing protein loss.
43. EAT A LARGE SOLID-FOOD MEAL IMMEDIATELY POSTWORKOUT
At FLEX, we think of the posttraining meal as two-tiered. First comes the liquid recovery drink (mentioned previously); second, an hour later, comes a large solid-food meal high in protein. If you're in a mass-building phase, you can consume a significant quantity of complex carbs at this meal (100g or more) from such foods as rice, potatoes and pasta. If you're in a cutting phase, you're better off sticking to vegetables and smaller portions of slower-burning carbs such as brown rice or yams (25 to 50g). In addition to breakfast, this is one of the most important meals of the day because it further recovery and enhances growth.
44. REDUCE CARBOHYDRATE CONSUMPTION AT LATER MEALS
Just as FLEX recommends that you take in most of your carbohydrates early in the day and around your workout, we also recommend that you taper off on carbohydrate consumption as the day progresses. Later in the day, especially after your postworkout meals, you have less need for energy-producing calories.
45. BOOST PROTEIN BEFORE BEDTIME
One of the best ways to prevent your body from tapping into muscle stores for energy is to take in a moderate amount of protein shortly before going to bed at night. Thirty to 50g of protein, consumed before going to sleep, will provide your body with the nutrients it needs to repair and build muscles. A protein shake is ideal before bedtime, ideally one that is casein based since it will digest more slowly. Lean meats, nuts and seeds are reasonable alternatives.
46. TIME MINERAL SUPPLEMENT INTAKE
It's important to consider the timing of some mineral supplements. Calcium can interfere with the absorption of zinc, magnesium and other minerals. To avoid this, take ZMA (zinc and magnesium) before going to bed, preferably on an empty stomach. Take calcium with a solid-food meal earlier in the day – breakfast is ideal.
47. FORCE-FEED DURING MASS-BUILDING CYCLES
If you want to add size, you have to eat. Of course, you need to emphasize quality bodybuilding foods such as chicken, lean red meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, rice and potatoes, but you can also use foods and supplements that are easier to get down. This is an excellent time to consume mass-gaining beverages such as protein shakes (with or without carbs). You can even add an occasional quart of nonfat milk to your diet. Liquids make it easier for you to take in the calories you need for adding bodyweight.
48. KEEP CALORIES MODERATE WHILE STRIPPING BODYFAT
Often, bodybuilders make the mistake of reducing calories too drastically when they try to cut bodyfat. With too few calories, the body turns to available energy sources, and one of those is muscle mass, which is broken down to use for energy. Bodybuilders should avoid this. If you normally eat 3,000 calories for bodyweight maintenance, you should only reduce calories to 2,700 or 2,500 for bodyfat reduction. Going lower can reduce muscle mass in addition to bodyfat.
49. KEEP FOOD VOLUME UP WHILE DIETING DOWN
While maintaining moderate caloric intake, you should also eat bulky foods. Foods such as vegetables are high in volume but low in calories. (They're also dense in nutrients.) Bulky foods help keep you full and help your body process the high-protein meals associated with body fat cutting phases. Eating plenty of protein and avoiding feelings of hunger are important aspects of maintaining muscle mass while stripping bodyfat.
50. NEVER GO HUNGRY
Bodybuilders, even those on bodyfat reduction diets, should learn to use the feeling of hunger as a warning sign of the need for food energy. Hunger means that your body is tapping into your muscle stores and burning them as energy. If you're in a bodyfat-stripping phase, eat basic bodybuilding foods high in protein and complex carbs when you feel hungry. If you're in a mass-gaining phase, you have a little more latitude. Take in the foods that serve your current needs, keeping your protein requirements in mind.
51. AVOID JUNK FOODS AND PROCESSED FOODS
The temptations are everywhere – soft drinks, fast food, Cheetos on the table at a friend's house. You must learn to cut out these sugary and fatty foes (even when you're hungry). Empty calories of all kinds dominate the American palate, especially in social situations, but successful bodybuilders know how to chew the fat without eating it. White-flour products (doughnuts, white bread, etc.) are particularly bad for your physique. Even lemonade may be more sugar than real lemon. Processed cold cuts, with their nitrates and preservatives, are far from true lean meat. Learn the difference.
52. USE CHEAT FOODS AS PART OF YOUR DIET STRATEGY
On the surface, this may seem to contradict the previous point, but when implemented properly, it doesn't. The mindless consumption of junk and processed foods destroys bodybuilding progress faster than almost anything else does. Judicious selection of cheat foods, however, can help keep you sane and help ensure your adherence to your overall diet strategy. Cut out junk food that you don't crave. If you have a craving, feed the beast, but keep it moderate. If doughnuts are your thing, allow yourself that Sunday morning Krispy Kreme. Have a slice of pizza occasionally. Just set limits and adhere to them.
53. SCHEDULE CHEAT DAYS
Cheat days aren't just for mental health. They're important for your physiological system, as well. The human body is an efficient machine that has evolved over eons. It has an internal register that strives for homeostasis, the balance of all internal systems. You need to jack things up and slow things down occasionally to keep the pump primed, and that's when cheat days come in. Schedule them to suit your needs, whether that means once a week or once a month. Let the mirror – and your sanity – be your guide.
54. CYCLE BETWEEN HIGH- AND LOW-CARB DAYS
One excellent way to keep your metabolic rate up and your body burning fat is to change the amount of carbohydrates you eat on a daily basis. Eating high carbs all the time allows your body to readily store them as bodyfat. Eating low carbs all the time encourages your body to tear down muscle tissue for energy. To get the best of both worlds (keeping your muscle while avoiding bodyfat) schedule a higher-carb day after every three to five low-carb days.
55. USE REST DAYS AS NUTRITION DAYS
Often, bodybuilders think of a rest day as time away from bodybuilding. Nothing could be further from the truth. You don't grow when you train; you grow from your training while you're recovering. Your body can effectively recover when it's not under assault by weights. A nontraining day is also an ideal opportunity for you to load up on bodybuilding foods, but be vigilant with your diet. Don't take in more calories than you need. Focus on lean protein and quality complex carbs, and give yourself a huge edge in building muscle mass.
56. PLAN AHEAD
Sometimes work hours, school schedules or travel can disrupt your diet. Eliminate nutritional backsliding by planning ahead. Preparing meals the night before, utilizing Tupperware and carrying meal-replacement powders or protein bars with you are just a few simple tricks to help you fulfill your nutritional requirements no matter what your situation demands. Some experienced bodybuilders cook a week's worth of meals in one night, so that they'll be ready to rock 'n' roll when time gets tight. Freezers, canned foods, microwaves, plastic storage bags, ready-to-mix supplements – these are all valuable tools for when you're on the go.
57. FOCUS ON DIET EVEN MORE THAN ON TRAINING
In two very distinct bodybuilding populations – competitors and hardgainers – nutrition is more critical than training. Pros understand this, and they devote far more time each day to their nutrition than they do to their training. Hardgainers, unfortunately, have trouble learning this lesson. If you want to add muscle mass, you have to give your body the nutrients and calories it needs for growth. Chances are you already train like a best. You can stimulate your muscle mass all you want, but it won't grow if you aren't giving it the necessary raw materials. Make nutrition priority one if you're a hardgainer.
58. DON'T THINK IN ABSOLUTES
Because bodybuilding is an extreme sport, its practitioners tend to be extreme thinkers. When it comes to training and nutrition, many bodybuilders adopt an all-or-nothing philosophy. Often, this can run counter to long-term goals. If you're on a diet and you're effectively stripping bodyfat, don't try to rush the process by cutting calories or carbohydrates down to nothing. When you're in a mass-building phase, you must force-feed your body to a certain extent, but adding thousands of calories more than you need for maintenance will only overstuff you and encourage bodyfat storage. Finally, if life events force you to miss a meal or two, don't beat yourself up about it. The negative hormone response you generate from stressing is far more harmful to your overall goals than a lost opportunity to take in 500 calories.
59. INCREASE CALORIES GRADUALLY WHEN ENTERING A MASS-BUILDING PHASE
One mistake many bodybuilders make when they enter a mass-building phase is to add too many calories too quickly. If you're eating 3,000 calories a day for bodyweight maintenance, and you want to increase your calorie consumption to 4,000 to add more muscle mass, the most effective strategy is to do so in increments of 300-500 calories. Allow your body to adapt to this new caloric level for seven to 10 days before bumping up calories a second time. This slow approach to increasing calories allows your body to more effectively use this additional energy rather than storing it as bodyfat.
60. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
We're not all alike. Individual bodies handle nutrients differently. For instance, some people are lactose intolerant (can't digest milk properly), and others could drink a dairy's worth of milk without discomfort. If a particular food or supplement doesn't agree with your body, back off and try something similar that's compatible. Find what works best for your body and stick with it. Learn to trust yourself.
61. CHOOSE PROTEIN SOURCES THAT WORK BEST FOR YOU
Learn what protein foods give you the best results. Some bodybuilders swear by red meat, saying they feel stronger and look fuller when they eat it, perhaps because of the iron, zinc, creatine, etc., it contains. Others prefer fish or chicken, saying they have trouble digesting red meat. Choose the protein sources that work best for you, and use the same logic in making your other nutritional choices, as well.
62. LEARN TO READ LABELS ACCURATELY
Learn to watch for deceptive practices (sometimes "low fat" and "low in sugar" don't mean what you think they do) by reading the fine print closely. Know the differences between the types of carbohydrates listed on panels, and keep in mind that not every calorie is created equal. And do the math. Pay attention to the number of servings per package and how the nutritional information adds up. Get the label lingo down. It should help your bodybuilding efforts immensely.
63. DON'T USE BODYWEIGHT AS YOUR PRIMARY GUIDE
Unless you're angling to make a certain weight class for competition, don't put too much stock in bodyweight to gauge progress. Goals are important, and sometimes it you aim to lose or gain a specific number of pounds, bodyweight can provide some clear-cut guidance. Ultimately, however, bodybuilders are concerned with body composition and appearance more than with what the scale tells them. We advise you do the same. Use a mirror or bodyfat measurements (although these can be misleading sometimes, too) to judge your progress. That's how the big boys do it. Also, ask for help, but only trust the eyes of a friend who will tell you the truth, not one who will tell you what you want to hear.
64. BE SKEPTICAL OF FADS
It's not just the Dr. Oz crowd that falls for the diet of the month; many bodybuilders fall into the trap of blindly accepting the latest hype as the real deal. We all get a laugh when some poor misguided soul says he's on a "fruit cup" regimen or something just as silly, but some muscleheads would get on their hands and knees and chomp grass in the yard if some "guru" told them to. Use common sense, employ methods from trusted sources only and stick to supplements from established manufacturers. The latest craze is probably just that – crazed. But some "fads" do have their merits. Look for FLEX's examination of the most popular diets in an upcoming issue.
65. REDUCE UNWANTED FAT DURING COOKING
Besides careful food selection, the best way to control the amount of fat you're taking in is through careful preparation. Of course, you must avoid adding unwanted fats to the foods you're preparing. (Do you really need to put that pat of butter on top of that lean cut of filet mignon?) Also, trim off all visible fat and blot off grease and oils from cooked foods. Grilling is a better option than frying, as the fat drips off.
66 KEEP IT CLEAN
Food poisoning is one of the quickest ways to undo weeks of bodybuilding gains. Make certain that the food you're taking in is the best quality. Check expiration dates on everything that you buy. Thoroughly cook all meats so that harmful bacteria are destroyed. Thoroughly wash surfaces with bleach or other cleaning solutions so that you don't contaminate cooked or ready-to-eat foods.
67. SUBSTITUTE SALT
Bodybuilders should keep their sodium intake moderate to low. To reduce yours, try a salt substitute. Many stores carry salt replacement products, which are a mix of regular table salt (sodium chloride) and potassium chloride (which tastes the same). Unlike table salt, potassium chloride doesn't cause bloating, and it boosts muscle cell volume, lowers blood pressure and brings your diet closer to the one on which humanity evolved (the hunter-gatherer diet was low in sodium and high in potassium).
68. USE CONDIMENTS WISELY
Choose your condiments with care. Some, such as mayonnaise, are loaded with saturated fats and are best skipped entirely. Nonfat mayonnaise, on the other hand, can make a sandwich more palatable. Condiments can make bland food tastier, and they may encourage you to eat a greater quantity of quality calories. Some condiments, such as mustard, are generally low in calories and high in flavor, making them ideal for cooking or enhancing taste.
69. AVOID SHORTCUTS
It would be nice to take a magic potion that does the work of a three-week diet or to down a miracle supplement so that you can meet your physique goals. If you think that's possible, you've been sold a bill of goods that you'll regret buying for the rest of your life. A bodybuilding lifestyle gives you tools and teaches you habits that will last a lifetime. A bodybuilding diet can help you feel and look better not just when you're young, but all the rest of your days. Sacrifice your health and your freedom for a quick fix and you can end up ruining your life. Don't listen to the lazy court jesters of the sport who prey on the uneducated and young. There are no shortcuts.
70. ORDER INTELLIGENTLY IN RESTAURANTS
Eating in restaurants doesn't need to be the downfall of a bodybuilding diet. If you have discipline and communication skills, you can generally find a reasonable, if not ideal, bodybuilding meal on almost any menu. Rule one is stick to basics: Order baked or broiled meat dishes, without breading or sauces. Order vegetables as simply prepared as possible. Ask about food prep: Are the mashed potatoes made with heavy cream? If so, choose a plain baked potato instead. Stay with vinegar-and-oil salad dressing, and when in doubt, ask for it on the side. – FLEX