Bodybuilding Diets - What Works and What's a Myth?

Bodybuilding Diets

There's a lot of conflicting information out there about bodybuilding diets because of the constant battle to gain muscle while staying relatively lean. In this article, I'll tackle common questions to help you dial in your diet based on what works.

Can I gain muscle and lose weight at the same time?

Unless you're new to lifting or have a lot of excess bodyfat, it's very difficult to gain muscle mass while losing weight over a prolonged period. The dichotomy between packing on muscle while remaining lean is why competitive bodybuilders follow bulking and cutting phases. 

Why do bodybuilders eat chicken and rice?

"Clean eating" is a popular concept in bodybuilding, and chicken and rice top the list. In reality, there's no magic to chicken and rice other than they're pretty cheap and have decent macros. White rice is also a low-fiber carb source, which is a benefit to bodybuilders who are about to step on stage.

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What is clean eating?

In a general context, clean eating means basing your diet on natural foods that are not highly processed. It means avoiding junk food and focusing on "healthy" meals. In a lifting context, this typically means lean protein sources like poultry and fish, and carbs from fruits, vegetables, and grains like white rice and oats.

Do mass gainers work?

Mass gainers will help you enter a caloric surplus, but they're not needed to gain muscle or strength. They simply offer a lot of calories and about the same amount of protein as found in a protein shake. The example below is from Optimum Nutrition's mass gainer. As you can see, one serving comes with a massive 1,250 calories, 252g of carbs, and 50g of protein.

ON Mass Gainer Nutrition Label

Do you need supplements to build muscle?

Muscle-building supplements are just that, supplements. They're great tools to help you reach your dietary goals, but aren't required. Most lifters will add whey protein powder to their bodybuilding diet to help hit their protein requirements. The only other truly proven supplement for muscle and strength gain is creatine monohydrate.

Does meal frequency and timing matter?

Nutrient timing, the anabolic window, eating multiple small meals throughout the day, and similar concepts fall under this bucket. Generally speaking, your end-of-day macro and calorie totals are most important. There's some evidence that spreading out your protein intake can help with building muscle, but the overwhelming factor is getting enough protein consistently over time.

What are some superfoods for muscle gain?

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If you're worried about superfoods, fad diets, and other food myths, your focus is in the wrong place. These are largely dishonest schemes to get your money. Everyone has dietary preferences, but 99% of your progress will come from consistent training and a diet where you hit your daily macronutrients.

How important are micronutrients?

Micronutrients are your standard vitamins and minerals, and are thus good for your overall health. That said, you don't need to focus on them too heavily. You'll get most of your necessary micronutrients through the food you eat. A simple multivitamin should cover the rest (unless you have a special medical condition). And when it comes to vitamins, more does not necessarily mean better. I'd suggest remaining close to daily recommended values.

Why meal prep?

Meal prepping, especially when in a strict bodybuilding diet, is the easiest way to track your calories and macronutrients (read about IIFYM for more). It's important to know how many grams of protein, carbs, and fat you're getting every day, especially when deep into a cut for a show. Whether you should meal prep comes down to preference.

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How accurate are nutrition labels?

In the United States, the FDA allows for a 20% margin of error on nutrition labels. That's a lot, and another reason why bodybuilders tend to prepare their own meals with largely individual ingredients.

What's the best bodybuilding diet?

Ultimately, the best bodybuilding diet is the one that helps you reach your goals. Everybody's different and has their own preferences. Find what works for you while keeping in mind your macronutrients, caloric intake, and long-term progress. Unfortunately, there are no secret shortcuts to gains. Put in the work consistently over time and you'll experience the best results.

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