Bodybuilding is centered around building your body’s muscles through weightlifting and nutrition.
Whether recreational or competitive, bodybuilding is often referred to as a lifestyle, as it involves both the time you spend in and outside the gym.
In order to maximize your results from the gym, you must focus on your diet, as eating the wrong foods can be detrimental to your bodybuilding goals.
This article explains what to eat and avoid on a bodybuilding diet and provides a one-week sample menu.
Bodybuilding differs from powerlifting or Olympic lifting in that it’s judged on a competitor’s physical appearance rather than physical strength.
As such, bodybuilders aspire to develop and maintain a well-balanced, lean, and muscular physique.
To do this, many bodybuilders start with an off-season followed by an in-season way of eating — referred to as a bulking and cutting phase, respectively.
During the bulking phase, which can last months to years, bodybuilders eat a high-calorie, protein-rich diet and lift weights intensely with the goal of building as much muscle as possible.
The following cutting phase focuses on losing as much fat as possible while maintaining muscle mass developed during the bulking phase. This is achieved through specific changes in diet and exercise over a period of 12–26 weeks.
Bodybuilding training and dieting is typically divided into two phases: bulking and cutting. The goal of the bulking phase is to build muscle, whereas the cutting phase is dedicated to preserving muscle while losing body fat.
Benefits of Bodybuilding
There are several health benefits associated with bodybuilding.
In order to maintain and build muscles, bodybuilders exercise frequently, performing both resistance and aerobic training.
Resistance training increases muscle strength and size. Muscle strength is highly correlated with a lower risk of dying from cancer, heart and kidney disease, as well as several other critical illnesses.
Aerobic exercise, which bodybuilders regularly implement to reduce body fat, improves heart health and significantly lowers your risk of developing or dying from heart disease — the number one killer in America.
In addition to exercise, bodybuilders also focus on their nutrition.
With careful planning, bodybuilders can eat in a way that not only supports their efforts in the gym but keeps them healthy too.
Following a healthy eating pattern, including nutrient-dense foods from all food groups in appropriate amounts, can significantly lower your risk of chronic diseases.
Bodybuilders exercise regularly and may eat well-planned and nutrient-dense diets, both of which offer many health benefits.
Calorie Needs and Macronutrients
The goal for competitive bodybuilders is to increase muscle mass in the bulking phase and reduce body fat in the cutting phase. Hence, you consume more calories in the bulking phase than in the cutting phase.
- How Many Calories Do You Need?
The easiest way to determine how many calories you need is to weigh yourself at least three times a week and record what you eat using a calorie tracking app.
If your weight stays the same, the daily number of calories you eat is your maintenance calories — in other words, you’re not losing or gaining weight, but maintaining it.
During your bulking phase, it’s recommended to increase your calorie intake by 15%. For example, if your maintenance calories are 3,000 per day, you should eat 3,450 calories per day (3,000 x 0.15 = 450) during your bulking phase.
When transitioning from a bulking to a cutting phase, you would instead decrease your maintenance calories by 15%, meaning you would eat 2,550 calories per day instead of 3,450.
As you gain weight in the bulking phase or lose weight in the cutting phase, you will need to adjust your calorie intake at least monthly to account for changes in your weight.
Increase your calories as you gain weight in the bulking phase and decrease your calories as you lose weight in the cutting phase for continued progression.
During either phase, it’s recommended not to lose or gain more than 0.5–1% of your body weight per week. This ensures that you don’t lose too much muscle during the cutting phase or gain too much body fat during the bulking phase.
Once you establish the number of calories you need, you can determine your macronutrient ratio, which is the ratio between your protein, carbohydrate, and fat intake.
Unlike the difference in your calorie needs between the bulking and cutting phase, your macronutrient ratio does not change.
Protein and carbs contain four calories per gram, and fat contains nine.
It’s recommended that you get:
- 30–35% of your calories from protein
- 55–60% of your calories from carbs
- 15–20% of your calories from fat
Here’s an example of the ratio for both a bulking and cutting phase:
|Bulking phase||Cutting phase|
These are general guidelines, so it’s best to consult with a registered dietitian to determine your individual needs based on your goals to make sure your diet is nutritionally adequate.
Recommended calorie intake, but not your macronutrient ratio, differ between the bulking and cutting phase. To account for weight changes, adjust your calorie intake each month.