By now, you’re familiar with most of the hard and fast rules of nutrition. You know that protein builds muscle and that you want to avoid fast-burning carbs if your goal is to stay lean. You’re already drinking lots of water a day—a gallon or more if you’re active. And if you’re reading this, odds are you probably have more than a passing interest in how to dial in your diet to take your muscle gains to the next level—so we’ll leave out the basics.
The following nutritional tips are for those who already know the difference between carbs, fat, and protein and who are looking for a dietary edge that will help them maximize their muscle-building potential. If you already have a solid foundation of healthy eating, these are the quick hacks to push your gains even further.
Fish is an excellent source of protein that should be consumed regularly by bodybuilders. Varying in fat content, some types of fish are high in healthy fats while 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.
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, they also provide bulk and fiber, helping your body more efficiently process a high-protein diet.
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’re overly stressed from dieting or training, this supplement allows your body to maintain its storage supply of glutamine in muscle tissue, enhancing overall muscular growth and recovery. Take 10 to 40 grams of glutamine a day.
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 400 to 800 international units (IU) of vitamin E, 500 to 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C, 200 micrograms of selenium (from selenium yeast). Get the rest from five or six servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
Try adding arginine to your supplement mix. Arginine, a conditionally essential amino acid, seems promising in the muscle-building department, although not by aiding growth-hormone release, as previously believed. Studies suggest it speeds wound healing, which isn’t too far removed from what happens in the body after a workout.
Arginine also 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.
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 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).
Give the amino acid tyrosine a try to prevent burnout caused by lack of sleep, stress, or use of thermogenic supplements. Taking one to four grams 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.
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
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 to 1,000 mg per day.
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 50 grams 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. Lean meats, nuts, and seeds are reasonable alternatives.
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 body fat. 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 body fat—schedule a higher carb day after every three to five low-carb days.
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. A judicious selection of a cheat food, 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.
BY M&F EDITORS