Anyone who knows anything about Bodybuilding will know the importance of a good diet. Anyone who doesn’t know the truth behind a good diet will think that it has to be repetitive and boring. It’s a big misconception to think that a Bodybuilders diet consists of just oats, chicken, eggs and protein powders. Yes, the majority of diets will contain some, if not all of the above, but not exclusively, and not necessarily every day.
There’s a good reason why Bodybuilders, and everyone, regardless of whether or not they train, should eat a varied diet. Let me explain why you should give a lot of thought and effort into planning a well balanced and healthy diet. It doesn’t matter who you are or what sports you do, everyone will benefit from taking on board a few points from this article.
People who train with weights or do any kind of physical activity on a regular basis put their body through a lot of stress. Some are physical, some mental, and some, you may not even be aware of. Have you ever given a thought to your Central Nervous System (CNS) after you’ve been to the gym? You can physically feel an aching muscle, and physically feel (and maybe see)an injury, but if you’re having trouble sleeping at night and feeling run down, you may find that your CNS needs a rest. That means laying off the weights and keeping the trainers out of sight whilst you relax and recover. But what people don’t realise, is that you can help your body recover and grow, and reduce the risk of injury by paying attention to your diet. Not only will a good diet help keep you healthy, but it will help you get the results you’re after.
I’ve no doubt that you’re aware of the high amounts of protein Bodybuilders and other athletes consume. Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair, as well as all the other functions it holds within the body, eg hair, nails, hormones etc. Protein is made up of Amino acids of which there are 24 different types. Eight of which are classed as essential. Essential because the body cannot produce them itself from other sources. Ideally, you need to provide your body with most of, if not all the 24 Amino acids on a regular basis. Think of each Amino acid as being a colouring pencil. You can make a good picture using just a few different colours, but without the full range of colours, you’ll never make the picture as good as it could be. The same applies with the body; if you don’t have all the Amino Acids (colours), you’re limiting your potential, and possibly health. If you just eat the same thing all day every day, not only will you soon get bored, which may cause you to stray from your diet, but the chances are you’re not getting a good mix of Amino’s. Eating chicken every day is ok if that’s what you want to do, but don’t have it at every meal. It can make up one or possibly two meals, but no more. Try using other sources of protein such as fish, lean minced beef, eggs, steak, turkey, cottage cheese and of course protein shakes. By doing so, you will also be helping your digestion by consuming a variety of food. Protein from solid food is digested slowly so is ideal for during the day. Certain Protein powders are designed to be digested quicker. This type of protein is called whey protein. It is derived from milk (the sugar and fat has been removed), and it is relatively fast at being digested (whey isolate being the fastest). This is ideal first thing in the morning to top up your levels of protein to stop any catabolism that may be taking place following sleep and then after your workout to kick start the muscle recovery.
Next onto Carbohydrates (carbs). These are your body’s main energy supply so it would be silly for anyone to exclude carbs from their diet in my opinion. Low carb diets (keto diets) are popular amongst bodybuilders in the final few weeks before a show, but they are not necessary for the average trainer, and if done incorrectly, they can be detrimental to your health.
Knowing which carbs to consume, and at what time, is the main downfall in a lot of people reaching their goals, especially when it comes to fat loss. An excess of energy from the wrong type of carbs, such as a chocolate bar (high in sugar), will cause a release of insulin (a hormone) due to the high levels of sugar in the blood, which results in the sugar in the blood being transported into the cells which can lead to fat gain IF glycogen stores within the cells were already full. Think of glycogen cells as an empty water reservoir, if it then rains (you eat a high sugar food) and water (sugar) enters the reservoir, the water can enter without causing any water to overflow. If however, the reservoir was already full, any additional water would cause flooding. This ‘flooding’ so to speak is then converted to fat and stored. The chance of this happening can be reduced by ensuring the level of sugar (energy) in the blood is kept at a constant and relatively low level. Carbs can be split into 2 groups; fast digesting and slow digesting. During the day you want to consume slow digesting carbs. Energy is released slowly and over a long period of time. Examples of slow digesting carbs include Oats, sweet potato and brown rice. Slow digesting carbs should be consumed roughly 60-90minutes BEFORE your workout to help fuel you through it. Fast digesting carbs aren’t always bad though; they can serve a good purpose to our diets. An ideal time to be consuming the fast digesting carbs is AFTER your workout. At this time, your blood sugar levels, and the amount of glycogen (stored energy) in your muscle cells will be low due to being used up during the exercise you have just participated in. You want the energy to enter your bloodstream quickly, so that the resulting release of insulin will mean that your muscle cells are replenished as soon as possible. You want this to happen so that your muscles can begin to recover/grow. This insulin will also cause the uptake of protein (from your post-workout shake) into your muscles; again this is a desired response as protein is required after a workout for essential recovery and growth.
Fast digesting carbs (also known as sugars) are often hidden in foods. They are what make food taste good, as well as being able to prolong their shelf life. Sugar is also addictive, so there really is a reason why you can’t resist that chocolate bar. Look at the nutritional label on food. If you see any of the following on the list, it is a fast digesting carb and their intake should be limited....
- Anything ending in sugar e.g Brown sugar and Cane sugar.
- Anything ending in syrup e.g Corn syrup and Malt syrup.
- Anything ending in ‘ose’ e.g Fructose, Dextrose, Glucose, Lactose, Maltose and Sucrose
All the above will tell you that the food contains fast digesting carbs which will cause an insulin spike which may not only cause weight gain, but will leave you with sugar cravings due to fluctuating energy levels. You will go from having lots of energy, to very little, and you will be more likely to over eat as your stomach will soon be wondering where all the food went, as sugar requires virtually no digestion. Slow digesting carbs on the other hand would leave you feeling fuller for longer.
As with protein, you want to mix and match your carb sources to your needs. You may find that you consume more carbs on workout days than on non workout days due to the different levels of energy required. Tapering off carbs towards the end of the day as energy requirements are reduced is also often recommended.
The point to take from this section is that the slow digesting carbs should be consumed during the day to keep your energy levels stable, fast digesting carbs should only be consumed post workout, and possibly first thing in the morning as your glycogen stores will be low after a full night’s sleep.
However, please avoid the breakfast cereals aimed at children. They contain too much sugar. Even be aware of the suggested healthy breakfast cereals such as granola. They still contain added sugar. If you’re unsure with how much sugar is too much, remember this; 4gr of sugar is the equivelant of one teaspoon of sugar. So if your breakfast cereal tells you it contains 35gr of sugar per 100gr that means there is nearly 9 teaspoons of sugar in 100gr of the product. In case you’re interested, Coco Pops contains 35gr of sugar per 100gr. Would you add 9 teaspoons of sugar to your coffee? I hope not, but if you’re feeding it to your child or eating it yourself, you are in effect doing just that. Keep that in mind next time you’re choosing what to eat in the morning. A can of coke (330ml) contains 10gr of sugar.
The last of the 3 macronutrients is fats. Please do not overlook Fats when planning your diet. As with Protein, some fats are essential and so need to be consumed. Essential fats can be found in eggs (the yolk), nuts and oily fish such as Salmon. Without eating a mixture of these foods, you will not be providing your body with everything that it needs. Every cell in your body has a cell membrane; that cell membrane is composed of fat. Without cell membranes, there would be no way to regulate the exit and entry of substances into and out of cells, a serious problem! Ever heard the word ‘fat soluble’? This refers to nutrients that cannot be absorbed by the body unless fat is present. Some of these nutrients include Vitamin A, Vitamin D and Vitamin E. The kind of fats you want to be keeping an eye out for are those described as ‘Monounsaturated’ and ‘Polyunsaturated’. These fats are the ‘healthy fats’. They can help lower cholesterol, improve your skin, and reduce the chances of heart disease. The kind of fats you want to avoid are the ‘Trans fats’ and ‘Saturated fats’. They are often found in processed foods such as cakes, biscuits, chocolates etc. Trans fats do the complete opposite of Mono and Poly fats so should be avoided at all costs.
Fats get a bad press because they are the most calorie dense of the 3 macronutrients (they contain 9 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram for Protein and carbs). However, fats are the SLOWEST of all three to be digested. This is great for several reasons...
1. You feel fuller for longer which may stop you from snacking.
2. Energy is released over a longer period of time so blood sugar levels remain stable and the energy is more likely to be used instead of stored.
3. People who find it hard to put on weight can consume a larger amount of calories from a small amount of food. For example, one tablespoon of peanut butter contains nearly 100 calories.
Fats can be consumed at any time of the day APART from post workout. Fats slow down the rate of digestion and at this time, that is not what you want to happen.
We’re not finished yet guys, a good balanced diet also needs to include some fruit and lots of veg.
You can use veg to bump up the volume of your food, especially handy if you’re trying to lose weight and you need something to help keep you full. Veg is very low in calories and is bursting in vitamins and mineral which will help keep you fit and healthy. The fibre in veg will help your digestive system in eliminating waste and toxins. There literally isn’t a negative thing to say about veg so help yourself!
Fruit has its benefits, but should be eaten with a bit of caution. Fruit contains sugar. As you have just read, that means it can cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels, as well as inhibiting weight loss if too much is consumed. Some fruit with your breakfast or post workout is recommended. Not all is bad though; fruit also contains vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
I hope that you now know that a good diet has to include a variety of food from different sources, and hopefully you are now more aware of what you should be eating and when.