Learn the latest research on the limitation of supplements.

Written by The FLEX staff

April 16, 2008


Mainstream dietitians often decry the typical pre-contest diet followed by bodybuilders, wringing their hands in horror that such diets are woefully unbalanced and deficient in nutrients. That’s a valid criticism: Such diets, oriented only around proteins and carbohydrates, are, indeed, deficient in fats and other foods in the USDA’s pyramid; however, when apprised that the bodybuilders compensate for their meals’ inadequacies with supplement drinks, the dietitians remonstrate all the louder, insisting that event hose are not enough, and that certain nutrients must come only from food. We can’t seem to win.

The Bodybuilder’s Diet

Here is where the dietitians are right: In a study published in Nutrition Research (16:3-10, 1995), 53 members of a Maryland gym, 13 of whom described themselves as bodybuilders and the rest aerobics/fitness members, completed questionnaires detailing, as precisely as possible, their food intake. The results were then compared with the government standard, the food pyramid, which describes a healthful diet as: 3-5 servings of vegetables; 2-4 servings of fruit; 2 or 3 servings of milk, yogurt or cheese; 6-11 servings of bread, cereal, rice or pasta; 2-3 servings of meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs or nuts; plus, fats, oils and sweets consumed sparingly.

According to the survey, the bodybuilders’ menus did not come close to reaching the recommended daily allowances of many nutrients, most notably fruit, vegetables, red meat, grains, oils and fats. The two most unpopular foods among bodybuilders were vegetables and red meat; and while their most popular vegetables were potatoes, they probably did not add oils of any kind. Women in the study professed a greater preference for vegetables than did men, but they favored more sweets, particularly those with high concentrations of refined sugar.

On average, the bodybuilders averaged six meals a day to the non-bodybuilders’ four, probably explaining the bodybuilders’ higher calorie intake (3,835), versus the non-bodybuilders’ 1,848.

Bodybuilding Supplements

Supplements were not discussed in the study, but the bodybuilders likely made liberal use of them; still, the nutrients normally provided by vegetables and grains are rarely, if ever, adequately supplied by supplements. Perhaps the most serious deficiency of a bodybuilder’s diet is the lack of fiber, which is usually supplied by whole grains and vegetables.

Temporal though a bodybuilder’s pre-contest diet may be, it might be advisable for him to reassess his menu and supplement program. If his preparation goes into double-digit weeks, he would be wise in adding some of these unpopular foods to his menu and critically analyzing his supplement ingredients. The purpose of bodybuilding, after all, is to build a healthy specimen. FLEX

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