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For those who just want to get down to business, cut to the chase, and build muscle, the world of bodybuilding nutrition can be a daunting place.
Even with the greatest dietary supplements, pre-workout elixirs, hormone boosters, pump enhancers, and secret formulas that promise the world, absolutely nothing will ever substitute for proper eating. When it comes to building extreme muscle, there are some fundamental rules I teach. Here’s a sample of five rules I consider golden.
1. Eat Frequently
If extreme muscle building was all about what you eat and not when you eat it, then bodybuilding for serious brawn would be easy and you could get it all out of the way with one big meal each day. Just eat half a cow and your biceps would blow up. But this is clearly not the case. In fact, when you eat may be as important, if not more important, than what you eat.
One of the biggest mistakes a bodybuilder who wants massive muscles can make is to ignore this fact in favor of narrowly focusing on protein quality at the neglect of what I call “meal cadence.” This term refers to the rhythmic frequency of meals throughout the day needed to build muscle. Poor meal cadence means having long stretches of little or no food intake and then trying to make up for it by shoving down extra food. As I always say, you should eat because it is feeding time, not because you are starving. If you’re starving, you’ll stuff. Proper eating for big muscle building requires that the metabolism is calm, relaxed, and taken care of. This is achieved by dividing meals into many smaller portions separated by no more than a couple of hours, as opposed to one or two large meals separated by more than three hours. To be more precise, having four to as many as 10 small meals each day is far more effective for building lean muscle than taking in the same exact calories and food content but divided over only one to three meals each day.
Good meal frequency allows you to spread out your protein intake throughout the day, thus optimizing its absorption. Poor meal frequency invariably means that you’ll be excessively hungry at one or more meals and risk overstuffing, which a bodybuilder should absolutely, positively never do. Being stuffed not only crushes your appetite, but it also bloats the belly. Bloating reduces the propensity of your body to absorb vital nutrients and increases its tendency to store what it perceives as excess calories as body fat. In this way, if you take too long to feed yourself, the body tends to gorge on food and slam the breaks on the metabolism. As a result, the same calories that were supposed to be used for building muscle and to provide your body with energy are instead quickly stored as fat, leaving you tired and listless. Using smaller, more frequent, and well-spaced meals throughout the day is the best way to keep the metabolism calm and focused on anabolism (muscle building).
I’ve found that a male bodybuilder wanting to gain mass should space his meals no more than three hours apart. This way, long stretches lacking nutrients are eliminated. Just remember that what constitutes a bodybuilder’s meal in this case is not the same as a normal person’s meal. In fact, the only relatively large meal should be breakfast. After that, all the meals should be small and include not only solid foods but also protein shakes.
2. Follow Proper Protein Intake
Bodybuilding is really the result of body destruction in the gym, with the building coming in the form of muscle repair. Dietary protein is critical in order to repair muscles and make them bigger. The human body needs the so-called “complete” proteins because they contain all the essential amino acids. These specific essential aminos are found in the richest concentration in animal meat and animal products. So bodybuilders need animal protein throughout the day as part of their frequent feeds. As such, bodybuilders are very susceptible to protein depletion because they are trying to gain an almost “unnatural” and disproportionate degree of muscle, all while keeping down their body fat. Although an average 30-year-old male may not even need one gram per kilogram of body weight per day, a serious bodybuilder may need double or even triple that amount depending on his size, intensity of training, and a number of other factors.
Applying this knowledge to my model of a good bodybuilding meal cadence, we come out with a general rule of roughly 20–30 grams of protein every two to three waking hours. When it comes to protein intake for extreme mass building, another key point to keep in mind is not to overdo it. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. As I pointed out, a good meal cadence is critical and you should never be starving, but there will be rare occasions when the very thought of eating another protein meal actually sickens you. When times like this strike, the key is to listen to your body and not push it. Instead of obsessing about losing muscle, back off the meal or you really will become somewhat catabolic. What I mean is to just skip the rare protein meal your body tells you is too much. Don’t fear that you will lose ground. All that will happen is that your muscles will flatten a bit but tighten up with more density.
On the other hand, if you don’t listen to your body and instead force-feed yourself, you will be stimulating a catabolic response resulting in physiologic retribution in the form of muscle breakdown and fat gain. So again the rule is to carefully honor the two- to three-hour protein meal cadence while being sensitive to those times when your body is not cooperating and wants a brief break.
3. Create a Fibrous Foundation
Fiber is crucial for good health and a strong body, especially critical when you are eating a ton of protein in an attempt to pile on lean muscle. In truth, most bodybuilding diets are too low in fiber because of the age-old bodybuilding propensity to avoid vegetables because they tend to believe that this “sissy” food isn’t providing them with anything worth the time it takes to eat it. Of course this is not correct.
Fiber provides the bodybuilder with several key benefits, the most important of which is the prevention of constipation by providing bulk to the stool. This is an important point because so many bodybuilders that have a high-protein and low-residue diet are plagued with problems like constipation and hemorrhoids. The fact is that high-protein diets are, by themselves, constipating. It might seem strange to write about it with such candor, but it is the truth and a very important warning for bodybuilders. That’s because a constipated bodybuilder has a slowed metabolism, which is bad for absorption and utilization of nutrients, and is the exact opposite state that a bodybuilder strives for.
Constipation leaves a bodybuilder feeling slow, gaseous, and sluggish. Trying to train like that is almost counterproductive. Luckily, fiber can save the day. I prefer eating my vegetables. I love them. I eat them raw in the form of salads, or broiled or steamed depending on the type. These types of vegetable fibers are known as insoluble fibers. They include leafy greens and other salad-like veggies. The insoluble fibers have the advantage of being relatively low in carbohydrates while having the added advantage of providing the body with many essential minerals and nutritive phytochemicals. Diets rich in these bulk fibers help to speed fecal matter through the colon. As a result, they help prevent colitis and hemorrhoids.
There are also soluble fibers,
like oatmeal. Soluble fibers speed up transit time through the colon as well but do tend to have a slightly higher carbohydrate content. Soluble fibers can also have the added advantage of helping to lower blood cholesterol levels. Of course, if all this fiber talk scares you, you can always turn to something like natural psyllium
in the form of a powdered dietary supplement. Either way, just see to it that fiber works its way into your diet in some natural form.
I believe water is the most neglected of all critical nutrients. A healthy adult is more than 50% water, which makes it the most abundant substance in the body. So water is even more essential to the bodybuilder than all the protein taken in. If we look at our body composition as a model for what we should consume, then it should be clear that water should outweigh most other things you ingest. Because a healthy body is made up of more than half water, followed by muscle, then fat and other elements, our diet should reflect these proportions.
From a bodybuilding and health standpoint, the standard bodybuilding diet tends to be very acidifying due to the high protein and low residue. If you add to that a low water intake, the result can be painful kidney stones. I’ve seen it all too much in bodybuilders and fitness fanatics that lack adequate hydration. In my experience as a physician, the worst of these guys tend to be coffee drinkers as well. Perhaps that’s because caffeine is a mild diuretic and may work to dehydrate their bodies even faster. But proper hydration is absolutely critical to muscle growth because, while protein may be the most common structural component, lean muscle truly and shockingly contains mostly water. This explains why, when the body dehydrates, the muscles quickly flatten.
From a dietary standpoint, the body cannot be expected to freely enter into an anabolic muscle-building state on the backdrop of poor hydration. There is just no way all that protein you are taking in is going to be put to use and piled onto your biceps without a good prerequisite hydration status. Think about it like a priority list. You want your body to build muscle, but your body won’t budge until it gets a few glasses of water first. Guess who’s going to win that argument?
5. Satisfy Essential Fat Requirement
Almost any seasoned muscle builder knows that he has to take in liberal amounts of protein to build muscle while keeping carbohydrate intake in check in order for those gains to be lean and rock hard. But the mistake I’ve found far too many of those same experienced guys making is neglecting fat intake, just as the average person does.
I remember the days when I trained with Lee Labrada. There honestly was a time when Labrada was one of the very best bodybuilders on the planet, second only to eight-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney. During his competitive days it seemed the only thing that kept Labrada from beating Haney was that he just lacked extreme mass. Labrada was small in stature, so gaining more mass would have been critical to get to this next level. But he just couldn’t put it on. He and I discussed a lot about diet back then, and I always argued with him that his diet was way too low in fat to gain big muscle. He was a proponent of eliminating as much fat from the diet as possible. I could not have disagreed with him more. But to his credit, albeit too late to topple Haney, Labrada finally acknowledged that he felt I was right. Many years later, through his dietary supplement company, Labrada Nutrition, he has become a full fat convert with products like EFA Gold and many others.
The concept I want you to understand is that dietary fat is not only critical to overall health but also a key component of extreme muscle growth that rivals dietary protein in importance. Of course, getting the right kind of fats is key too. Just as protein is made up of some “essential” amino acids (building blocks that the body must obtain from the diet), certain fats are also “essential” fatty acids. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) cannot be made by the body from other substances and thus must be ingested to satisfy this dietary need. For muscle building, while protein in the form of the essential amino acids may be your best anabolic macronutrient, EFAs may be your best anticatabolic macronutrient.
In summary, when it comes to building lean muscle mass, there are many other dietary concepts worth understanding. But for those embarking on the bodybuilding road, following these five golden rules will give you the strongest start. For those more seasoned, I still suggest taking a moment and checking all five to make sure you are not coming up short on any one of them. No matter how much you know, try to check your ego at the door and be as objective as possible when self-assessing. I periodically do it myself. You might just find one or more are not incorporated as well as you thought they were and are therefore holding back your gains. Make the needed changes and get back on course.
Remember that bodybuilding is a lifelong learning process. It is also quite humbling. It seems that just as you get to understand how one idea or concept applies to your own body, you get older and your body changes. So adjustments must be made. But the one thing you can count on is that my five golden dietary rules are fundamental methods to follow throughout your bodybuilding endeavors.
The latest edition of Dr. Colker’s book, Extreme Muscle Enhancement: Bodybuilding’s Most Powerful Techniques is available online at amazon.com. MYO-t12 is available at myot12.com. In addition, if you have a question for Dr. Colker, feel free to e-mail us!