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Complete Guide to Bodybuilding Nutrition

In today’s world, everyone is concerned about their looks. While cosmetic dentistry and surgical procedures can go a long way in improving one’s appearance, in some cases, physical effort is required to achieve the desired physique. Bodybuilding is one of the exercises adopted to pump up muscle and attain an admirable figure. 

Bodybuilding is the process of working muscles for the sake of building them beyond what would be considered ”normal” or “natural” size. The sport is strenuous, and it can take years to develop the physique an athlete, if you will, is trying for. 

Bodybuilding is not a natural process, so various lifestyle changes need to be made to ensure the body has the nutrients and nutritional support it needs to continue to heal muscles for continued growth. 

There are various forms of bodybuilding – some bodybuilders go all-natural with no synthetic supplements of any kind. Others choose to use supplements that are supposed to maximize muscle growth and recovery in hopes of building their physique faster and larger. 

Body Types and Bodybuilding

The three body types to take into consideration when bodybuilding are ectomorph, endomorph, and mesomorph. 

Ectomorphs are lean and slim – they are the ones who tend to find achieving 8-pack abs easier than other body types. 

Endomorphs are stockier in build. The body tends to be wider and is packed with more muscle, but also with more fat. It can be hard for an endomorph to build a lean physique. 

Mesomorph is the middle of the road, and often the physique men and women strive for when working out and bodybuilding. They can be thicker and more muscular and trim at the same time. (National Association of Sports Medicine)

The Difference Between Noom and Other Plans and Programs

When it comes to learning how to eat and how to live for weight loss, Noom works from a psychological perspective. According to the Chief of Psychology for Noom, Dr. Andreas Michaelides, “By understanding the past behaviors and attitudes of all types of users, we know the best way to meet our users where they are in their journey to help them maximize their change of long-term weight-loss success.” Noom, as a weight-loss platform, uses the power of food logging, among other advanced technologies, to teach simple, key behaviors for lasting change. Behavior changes that include self-efficacy, motivation, and knowledge are just the start of how psychology can interact with food, so you lose more weight in a way that lasts a lifetime.

Noom works with tech-based tools partnered with support from real-life coaches in a structured program that connects the user with the social support and positive reinforcement needed to change behavior in a way 
that increases the likelihood of success.

Not all dietary changes are for everyone, and no two weight-loss plans should be the same, which is precisely how Noom works. By identifying specific areas where changes can be made to reach goals of weight loss and health improvement successfully, users realize where their best changes are to be made and how those changes are incorporated into a lifestyle they can adopt for the long-term.

What is bodybuilding?

Bodybuilding was created as an aesthetic sport. This means the process of gradually building muscle to improve physique is a purely personal one that has no purpose other than the look of the physique. 

The art of building muscle is progressive. You start lifting one weight and progressively increase weight as muscle grows stronger with the idea of growing muscle size in mind. The growth of muscle is an intricate process that takes months and years.

The history of bodybuilding spans back to the late 1800s in England, as a sport, but lifting stones and other heavy items was recorded in ancient Greece and Egypt. In the 1800s and early 1900s, the real focus on bodybuilding was strength. The stronger the person, even if their physique was anything but that of a bodybuilder, was seen as the winner. The amount, size, or shape of muscles was not taken into consideration. 

By 1901, bodybuilding had started to change. More focus was being paid on the size of muscles and the leanness that came with showing off all the hard work and growth. Eugen Sandow is often considered the “Father of Modern Bodybuilding.” 

The first competition was organized by Sandow in September 1901. They called it the “Great Competition.” The trophies for the competition were all sculpted to look like Sandow. In the future, it is the bronze (3rd place) trophy that stood the test of time. It popped up in several competitions then disappeared again until 1977. 

After 1977, eventually, the bronze figure became THE trophy awarded to winners of the Mr. Olympia competition held each year. Some of the recent winners of Mr. Olympia include Arnold Swartznegger, Lee Haney, Dorian Yates, and Jay Cutler. All of these former winners have gone on to create some form of weight loss, workout, or supplement company. 

How does a muscle grow?

When working out to grow muscles, how exactly does the body work to achieve this goal? The first thing to understand is that muscle growth requires injury. Not the type of injury that leads to being unable to workout or where medical attention is needed. Rather, the act of working muscles with weights causes small injuries, often referred to as muscle trauma. The trauma is then addressed by the immune system, which comes running to heal the injury. (Medical News Today)

At this point, various body processes occur at once on both a cellular and hormonal level. The changes, on a basic level, cause the growth of new tissue that essentially becomes muscle and that muscle builds on top of the current muscle. You can think of new muscle as being similar to scar tissue in that it builds on top of the current tissue. 

What about nutrition and muscle growth? How do protein, carbs, and fats play into bodybuilding? 

Briefly, as we’ll discuss nutrition in more detail later, protein, carbs, and fats all work to help muscle growth in their own way. 

Proteins: the amino acids in proteins help build new muscles. 

Carbs: supplies energy and replenishes glycogen stores.

Fats: fats are required to help maintain testosterone levels, which play a direct impact on muscle mass. 

Let’s go more in-depth into the part nutrition plays in bodybuilding. 

Bodybuilding Nutrition

Before jumping right into bodybuilding nutrition, let’s take a look at the three macronutrients the bodybuilder will watch – proteins, carbs, and fats. 

Proteins: “Proteins are large, complex molecules that play many critical roles in the body. They do most of the work in cells and are required for the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs,” including muscle tissue. (Genetics Home Reference

Each gram of protein supplies four calories.

Carbohydrates (Carbs): “…carbohydrates have several roles in living organisms, including energy-transportation. They are also structural components of plants and insects. Carbohydrate derivatives are involved in reproduction, the immune system, the development of disease, and blood clotting.” (MedicalNewsToday)

Each gram of carbs supplies four calories.

Fats: “Dietary fat is a macronutrient that provides energy for your body.
Fat is essential to your health because it supports a number of your body’s functions.” (Mayo Clinic

Each gram of fat supplies nine calories.

Now that we have an idea of what proteins, carbs, and fats are – how do they fit together to create a bodybuilding diet. 

What Does a Bodybuilding Diet Look Like?

There are two schools of thought for the ideal bodybuilding diet. The first has been around for decades and focuses on proteins as the source of fuel for muscle growth. The second, and most recent, focuses more on a well-rounded plan that looks more at how protein, and other healthy foods, fit into each meal and how often you should eat. 

Let’s take a look at the tried and true old favorite. 

The Old School

There’s always been a focus on protein and carbohydrates in a bodybuilding diet. Protein is the source of amino acids that fuel muscle growth and recovery, and carbohydrates are the perfect transportation system to move protein to muscles.

Protein

A lot of data goes into calculating the amount of protein needed daily, including age, gender, height, weight, and activity level. So, when someone says there’s no one bodybuilding diet for everyone, that’s 100% true. 

The old favorite bodybuilding diet tends to lean toward focusing on the total amount of protein needed each day. This is where the protein calculator fits in. Let’s take a look at how different protein needs can be for a few body types. 

First, the average man, based on a more traditional Western diet, should take in about 56g of protein daily. The average woman should take in about 46g daily. Now, what do the numbers look like when you’re following a bodybuilding diet?

Man: 150lbs, 5’8”, 42, moderately active = 152g a day

Man: 175lbs, 6’4”, 25, very active = 212g a day

There are differences among women, as well. 

Woman: 150lbs, 5’8”, 42, moderately active = 135g a day

Woman: 175lbs, 6’4”, 25, very active = 183g a day

If you don’t have a protein calculator handy, you can estimate about 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight – for recreational bodybuilding. That equates to:

150lbs = 150g of protein a day

175lbs = 175g of protein a day

When choosing your protein, remember to choose from a variety of sources. Though amino acids are present in all proteins, each protein type has a different amino acid profile. You need a complete protein profile for optimal muscle growth. 

Now we know how protein intake differs for someone following a traditional diet and someone following a bodybuilding diet, but what about the macronutrient carbohydrates? 

Carbohydrates

Basically, proteins can’t work without carbohydrates. Carbs supply energy to muscles, so the body doesn’t turn to protein for energy – thus reducing muscle loss with intense exercise. The most suggested bodybuilding diet consists of moderately to high intake of carbs. “Moderate-to-high carbohydrate diets provide better energy levels, support muscle growth, prevent muscle break down, and promote faster recovery after training, all of which are vital when athletes are training for size and strength,” or in this case when bodybuilding. (Bodybuilding.com)

You can estimate about 2.5g of carbs per pound of body weight. How does that look for our four athletes? Since there’s no difference between men and women, weight plays the most important factor.

150lbs = 375g of carbs a day

175lbs = 438g of carbs a day

Fat

The final macronutrient is fat. Fats are calorie-dense at nine calories per gram, but they are crucial to the bodybuilding diet. Like protein, there is a calculation method to find out how much fat you should intake each day when building muscle. To calculate the total fat grams needed, multiply 0.4 by your bodyweight in pounds. 

Let’s take a look at our example athletes again. 

150lbs = 60g of fat a day

175lbs = 70g of fat a day

As you can see from these figures, there’s no difference between male and female suggestions for how much fat to eat when bodybuilding – just like carbohydrates.

The New School

Protein will always play a critical role in muscle growth and bodybuilding, but instead of focusing on a daily intake – the new school focuses more on intake per meal and meals per day – macronutrient timing if you will. 

If you were to take a general formula for the average person who’s physically active (starting out in bodybuilding), you could use the following calculations to maintain lean body mass. 

  • 0.9g of protein/pound
  • 1.8g of carbs/pound
  • 0.3g of fat/pound

Looking back at our athletes, the new school of bodybuilding diet may start out with the following macronutrient suggestions. 

150lbs = 135g protein, 270g carbs, 45g fat

175lbs = 158g protein, 315g carbs, 53g fat

Now, for the newer school of thought, the idea is to focus more on how to break the macronutrients up between meals. It is suggested that the bodybuilder eats four to six times daily. If we average that out to five times a day – the meals could be broken up like such:

150lbs = 27g protein, 54g carbs, 9g fat – per meal

175lbs = 32g protein, 63g carbs, 11g fat – per meal

With these numbers in mind, the bodybuilder can focus more on the quality of each meal, ensuring that the macronutrients come from healthy sources of protein, carbs, and fats. Then, to lose weight, you can cut down the number of carbs to 0.9g per pound of bodyweight to have both the protein needed to support muscles and the carbs needed for fuel. 

We know how much protein, carbs, and fats we need in each meal to build muscle effectively, but what are the best sources of these macronutrients? 

List of Healthy Carbs, Proteins, Fats

Not all proteins, carbs, and fats are created equal in a bodybuilding diet. Where once it was thought that eating any protein, any carbs, and any fats were okay as long as you met your macronutrient profile, today there’s more to building the diet than just goals in grams. 

Great Sources of Protein for Bodybuilding

First and foremost, the body prefers protein from whole-food sources. Nature does a great job of partnering proteins, carbs, fats, and other nutrients in food to work synergistically to maximize nutrient absorption and nutrient utilization. Basically, the right proteins in the natural form are the best types of protein. 

Some of the best sources of protein when bodybuilding, and their nutritional facts, include:

  • Eggs: 75 calories, 6g protein, 0.6g carbs, 5g fat
  • Greek Yogurt: 120 calories, 22g protein, 9g carbs, 0g fat
  • Cottage Cheese (per cup): 222 calories, 25g protein, 8g carbs, 10g fat
  • Skinless Chicken Breasts: 284 calories, 53g protein, 0 carbs, 6g fat
  • Lean Ground Turkey (4 ounces): 128 calories, 16g protein, 0g carbs, 7g fat
  • Wild-Caught Fish (Atlantic cod per fillet): 189 calories, 41g protein, 0g carbs, 1.5g fat

Remember that bodybuilding doesn’t give you free rein to eat however much you want. You have to watch your intake based on your macros. 

Great Sources of Carbohydrates for Bodybuilding

No, you can’t just throw a few candy bars into your gym bag and think that’s going to work to maximize muscle growth. Those candy bars provide a quick source of carbohydrate energy, but they provide nothing in terms of nutrition. Some of the most nutritious carbs for bodybuilding, and the nutritional values, include:

  • Oatmeal (1 cup): 158 calories, 27g carbohydrates, 4g fiber, 6g protein, 3g fat
  • Fiber-Rich Fruits (1 medium apple): 95 calories, 25g carbohydrates, 5g fiber, 0.5g protein, 0.3g fat
  • Fiber-Rich Vegetables (1 cup chopped kale): 33 calories, 7g carbohydrates, 1.3g fiber, 2g protein, 0.5g fat
  • Yams (1 cup cubes): 177 calories, 42g carbohydrates, 2.3g protein, 0.3 g fat
  • Beans (1 cup): 245 calories, 45g carbohydrates, 15g protein, 1g fat
  • Rice (1 cup wild rice): 166 calories, 35g carbohydrates, 7g protein, 3g fat
  • Pasta (2 ounces whole wheat): 180 calories, 39g carbohydrates, 8g protein, 0g fat
  • Whole Wheat Bread (1 slice): 69 calories, 12g carbohydrates, 4g protein, 1g fat

A quick tip on choosing carbs for bodybuilding – not all rice, potatoes, pasta, and bread are created equal. Any of these foods made with traditional white flour do not provide the nutrients of whole grains or alternative grains like flax and chia.

Great Sources of Fats for Bodybuilding

When it comes to fats, there are great sources of fats rich in omega fatty acids. These fats are suggested across the board in all healthy diets. This, again, touches on the new school of bodybuilding diet. It isn’t just about getting enough fat in the diet, it’s about the quality of that fat. 

A few great sources of healthy fats, and the nutritional values, include: (Harvard Health)

  • Vegetable or Fruit Oils (1TB): 119 calories, 14g fat
  • Olives (3.5 ounces): 115 calories, 11g fat
  • Avocado (1 medium): 80 calories, 8g fat
  • Nuts (1 ounce): 200 calories, 21g fat
  • Seeds (1 ounce): 158 calories, 14g fat
  • Fatty Fish (½ fillet): 238 calories, 27g fat
  • Peanut Butter (2TB): 188 calories, 16g fat
  • Soymilk (1 cup): 131 calories, 4g fat
  • Tofu (½ cup): 94 calories, 6g fat

Research into Bodybuilding and Nutrition

Nutrition Recommendations for Bodybuilders in the Off-Season
(Sports)

According to 2019 research, bodybuilders should increase calorie intake during the off-season with the goal of gaining a small amount of weight. Advanced bodybuilders should watch calorie intake more closely. Macros (protein, carbs, fats) should be split across three to six meals daily.

Nutritional strategies of high-level natural bodybuilders during competition preparation
(Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition)

Based on diets reported by bodybuilders who placed, and did not place, in competition, taking in more carbohydrates may help preserve muscle mass. Bodybuilders who placed consumed, on average, more carbs before the competition than did the bodybuilders who did not place.

Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation
(Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition)

Natural bodybuilders who are in contest prep may benefit from consuming a higher-carbohydrate diet pre-contest as it can improve appearance. This benefit should be approached individually. Not all carb intakes will work for everyone, nor will carb-loading help all bodybuilders achieve a firmer, slimmer physique.

Macronutrient Considerations for the Sport of Bodybuilding
(Sports Medicine)

In the off-season and pre-contest prep, the bodybuilding diet should consist of “55-60% carbohydrates, 25-30% protein, and 15-20% of fat…” Off-season calorie intake should be 15% above maintenance levels, and pre-contest calorie intake should be 15% below maintenance levels.

Do Bodybuilders Use Evidence-Based Nutrition Strategies to Manipulate Physique?
(Sports)

Based on a review of seven bodybuilders’ dietary habits during the off-season, in-training, and contest prep showed that bodybuilders do, in fact, use an evidence-based approach to weight and muscle manipulation. 

Off-season diets tended to be higher in calories and less strict in terms of macros intake. The diet was high in protein and carbohydrates. 

In-training diets tended to gradually reduce carbohydrate and fat intake over the course of training to pre-contest prep. Protein intake remained high. 

Pre-contest prep diets were the lowest in carb and fat intake, up until the final days before prep when carb intake was increased to improve the muscle’s look. More focus is paid to fluid retention as the bodybuilder attempts to lean out as much as possible before competition. 

You can track all the foods you intake on your bodybuilding diet with the app Noom. With Noom, you can learn what foods to eat to maximize muscle growth. Learning how to eat is about more than losing weight – it is about learning how to live healthier, whether your building muscle or taking a 10-minute walk.

The Three Phases of Bodybuilding

There are three phases of bodybuilding – off-season, in-training, and pre-contest. Off-season and in-training tend to make up what’s referred to as Bulking. The pre-contest phase is referred to as Cutting.

Bodybuilding and Weight Gain (Off-Season)

During the off-season of the bodybuilding schedule, dietary guidelines are at their most flexible. Total calorie intake should be about 15% higher than in-training amounts. Total weight gain will be different for each person but tends to average less than 1% of body weight each week. The gradual increase in weight helps ensure you’re not gaining fat mass. Without an increase in total calories, muscle growth is not at optimal levels.

In this phase, you’ll be consuming:

  • 1g protein per pound of body weight
  • 1.5g of carbohydrates per pound of body weight
  • 0.6g of fat per pound of body weight

If we jump all the way back to our athletes again, here’s what the total intake works out to be for the bulking phase. 

150lbs: 150g protein, 225g carbs, 90g fat

175lbs: 175g protein, 263g carbs, 105g fat

What is Dirty Bulking?

During the bulking phase, the idea is controlled dietary changes for gradual lean weight gain. Dirty bulking takes the word controlled out of the equation. 

Dirty bulking involves eating as many calories as possible each day. Some even say to consume as much food as is tolerable – leaning toward the practice being uncomfortable. Partnered with the excessive intake of calories is intense resistance training. The idea is to gain as much muscle as possible while fighting fat gain with intense exercise.

What are the Dangers of Dirty Bulking? 

A few issues that bodybuilders consider when approaching dirty bulking include:

Fat gain: If you are exceptionally good at increasing calorie intake, you may not burn enough calories to offset fat storage. This means you’ll gain weight, but it will be stored fat, not lean muscle – as is the purpose of dirty bulking. 

Blood health: Depending on the types of foods you use to bulk, total fat intake from unhealthy sources like saturated fats, sodium, and cholesterol levels in the diet will likely rise. This can cause health problems involving blood and organs.

Loss of energy: The carbohydrate-heavy diet lends to eating simple carbs like flour and sugar. These promote a quick rise in energy, followed by a drop that accounts for many reports of afternoon fatigue. Consuming multiple carb-heavy meals a day could cause a roller coaster of energy levels from speedy to sleepy. 

Research and the Bulking Phase

The Effects of Overfeeding on Body Composition: The Role of Macronutrient Composition
(International Journal of Exercise Science)

“Protein overfeeding or the consumption of a high-protein diet may not result in a gain in body weight or fat mass despite consuming calories that exceed one’s normal or habitual intake.” 

Is an Energy Surplus Required to Maximize Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy Associated With Resistance Training
(Frontiers in Nutrition)

According to Frontiers in Nutrition, an energy surplus is needed for optimal muscle growth from resistance training. It is estimated that during the bulking phase, up to 2000 additional calories could be required – much more than some estimates of 15% over in-training.

Bodybuilding and Training (Gradual Carb and Fat Reduction)

The in-training phase is flexible based on when the next competition is scheduled. During this phase, the bodybuilding diet is all about quality. High protein intake is maintained, but simple carbs like white rice and pasta are switched out with more complex carbs like beans and wild rice. The bodybuilder is eating up to six times daily, with some eating more often depending on workout schedule and duration. Most macronutrients should be coming from whole foods, not meal replacements. 

Carb Cycling and Bodybuilding

Another method commonly used in a bodybuilding diet is carb cycling. Carb cycling is a five-day cycle, in many cases, where carbs are manipulated to take advantage of high-carb benefits and low-carb benefits. If 250 carbs are the limit on the highest day, you will consume carbs at: 

  • Day 1: 200g
  • Day 2: 150g
  • Day 3: 100g
  • Day 4: 175g
  • Day 5: 250g

Bodybuilding and Weight Loss (Cutting) 

If you were to choose the least favorite of all the phases of bodybuilding, the cutting phase would have to be at the top. Throughout the off-season and in-training, the bodybuilder has been consuming a fairly open menu, but as the time for cutting comes close, there is a gradual reduction in calories, via carbohydrates and fats, until the bodybuilder reaches the cut. The cut is all about reducing fat and water weight to bring to the surface the physique you’ve been working toward during the previous two phases. 

The healthy way to cut is through the gradual decrease in carbohydrates and fats as you grow closer to the cutting phase, or competition. This is the phase when competitive bodybuilders lose the small amount of fat they have and shed water weight to thin out the skin to allow for muscle structure to show through. 

New research shows that consuming more carbohydrates right before competition helps the muscles look fuller and more pronounced. Just how many extra carbs is up for debate. The only real means of knowing is trial and error.

How Does Weight Loss Happen When Bodybuilding?

The two main methods of losing weight while bodybuilding are a reduction in calories and loss of water weight. Let’s take a look at how each works. 

Diet and Bodybuilding

Heading toward competition (or the cutting phase) requires slowly reducing calorie intake. This is accomplished by cutting back carbs and fats. Protein intake remains high, which is of help to the bodybuilder because protein causes a feeling of fullness. (Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics)

Water Weight and Bodybuilding

The second means of weight loss in the cutting phase is via losing water weight. Whether done naturally through increased sweating, as is done with boxers and jockeys, in many cases, or with diuretics, reducing water weight can show significant changes on the scale. The day after weigh-ins, boxers have been known to gain as many as 20 pounds through food and rehydration. The same can be said for bodybuilders. 

Unhealthy Cutting Phase Practices

The above-mentioned means of cutting during bodybuilding are the natural or safer means if you will. There are dangerous methods that have caused serious side effects, up to and including death. 

Prescription Diuretics: Between 1988 and 1996, four cases of death, or near death, from excessive diuretic use were publicized. Diuretics dehydrate the body with no means of telling when too much fluid has been removed. When slimming down for competition, many bodybuilders use natural diuretics like dandelion root, uva ursi, or an over-the-counter combination of ingredients. More dangerous, prescription diuretics are often used, as well. When the body is severely dehydrated, as occurs with misuse of diuretics, electrolytes fall out of balance, which leads to multiple organ failure, up to and including heart failure. Prescription diuretics have been banned by the World Doping Agency. (British Journal of Pharmacology)

Starvation: There’s a difference between reducing calorie intake during the cutting phase of bodybuilding and starvation. Starvation and dehydration have been the cause of numerous on-stage collapses and hospitalizations during competition. 

Not only is starvation an unhealthy choice in the cutting phase, but it’s also actually costing you muscle. Research has shown that starvation can cause reduced strength and endurance. (Clinical Nutrition)

Ripping: Ripping is often considered to be synonymous with cutting, but in some cases ripping accounts for a drastic change in diet to achieve fat percentages below healthy levels. Healthy body fat levels for men are as low as 5% and 15% for women. This amount of fat is called essential fat. Essential fat can be found in bone marrow, the brain, nerves, and protective membranes covering organs. (Healthline)

Extreme Fat Burners: There are fat burners, and then there are extreme fat burners. Extreme fat burners tend to have at least 400mg of caffeine per dose. The Mayo Clinic says up to 400mg of caffeine a day is considered safe for most people, but take into account that fat burners are taken multiple times a day, in many cases, and total caffeine intake takes into account other sources of caffeine, and you see how much more the bodybuilder is taking in. 

Research Into Bodybuilding Phases

Dietary Strategies of Modern Bodybuilders During Different Phases of the Competitive Cycle
(Journal of Strength and Conditioning)

Based on 2019 research, bodybuilders may not be following the best diet during the three phases of bodybuilding. It appears that most competitors follow a self-prescribed diet that’s not evidence-based. “Most [of the dietary choices] can be considered extreme and lack scientific support.” 

Bodybuilding and Supplements

Probably the second most discussed topic in bodybuilding, just behind protein, is supplements. There is a long list of supplements commonly used by bodybuilders, so let’s take a look at the most common, why the supplements are used, and any possible side effects of taking the supplements. 

Caffeine: Caffeine is at the top of the list when it comes to supplements for weight loss, energy, and bodybuilding. Whether included in the pre-workout for energy and focus or in the cutting supplement for weight loss, caffeine is everywhere. 

What is caffeine? 

Caffeine is a stimulant that affects a human’s central nervous system. It is most commonly found in coffee and tea. The number one reason for taking caffeine in bodybuilding is likely energy, with increased focus falling in at a close second.

Science does a pretty good job of standing behind caffeine. Research shows that caffeine does, in fact, promote focus, but there’s also the risk of “abuse, dependence, intoxication, and lethal effects.” (Current Neuropharmacology)

Other research shows that caffeine is safe for most people, but there is a risk of cardiovascular side effects, sleep disturbance, and substance use that comes with using caffeine. (Frontiers in Psychiatry)

Caffeine can also plan a huge part in alertness and cognitive performance in people who’ve been sleep deprived, which in a society rife with sleep deprivation, may be a critical factor in some bodybuilders workout plans. (National Academies Press)

Creatine: The second big ingredient used in bodybuilding supplements is creatine. Creatine is one of those ingredients that have been around for decades, and bodybuilders use it because everyone uses it – but are there any benefits to creatine and bodybuilding? 

What is creatine? 

Before jumping into the research on creatine, let’s take a look at what this chemical compound really is. You can find creatine naturally in the muscle cells. The body makes about 1g of creatine each day. 

  • Creatine is supposed to help: 
  • Production of cellular energy in muscle
  • Exercise performance
  • Muscle growth
  • Relieve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
  • Fight neurological diseases like Huntington’s disease
  • Lower blood glucose
  • Support brain function
  • Reduce feelings of fatigue

A huge amount of current research into the effect of creatine on physical performance and outcome is on-going with some pretty good results.

To get it out there from the beginning, “supplementation with creatine has regularly shown to increase strength, fat-free mass, and muscle morphology with concurrent heavy resistance training more than resistance training alone.” Plainly put, creatine increases gains when bodybuilding. (Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition)

Traditional research has shown that “creatine can not only improve exercise performance, but can play a role in preventing and/or reducing the severity of the injury, enhancing rehabilitation from injuries, and helping athletes tolerate heavy training loads.” There’s also some indication that up to 30g of creatine daily, for upwards of five consecutive years, was generally considered safe for all healthy populations. (JISSN)

Not only does creatine promote muscle growth, but it also plays an important role in reducing muscle damage during intense exercise. (Nutrients)

Research as far back as 2003 has shown that “the preponderance of scientific evidence indicates that creatine supplementation appears to be a generally effective nutritional ergogenic aid for a variety of exercise tasks in a number of athletic and clinical populations.” (Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry)

One bit of research, as published in 2012, sums up how creatine is looked at via the majority of studies. According to the research, “From a clinical perspective, the application of Cr supplementation is indeed exciting. Evidence of benefits from this supplement has been reported in a broad range of diseases, including myopathies, neurodegenerative disorders, cancer, rheumatic diseases, and type 2 diabetes. In addition, after hundreds of published studies and millions of exposures, creatine supplementation maintains an excellent safety profile. Thus, we contend that the widespread application of this supplement may benefit athletes, elderly people, and various patient populations.” (Amino Acids)

What is protein?

The final in the big-three bodybuilding supplements is protein. Protein is at the heart of muscle growth, and while the body prefers to get protein from natural sources, protein supplements are all the rage in sports and training of all kinds. 

In nature, not all proteins are complete. This means the protein, while supplying amino acids, doesn’t supply all amino acids at once. Different proteins have different amino acid profiles. When protein supplements are made, amino acids are often added to create a complete protein – thus, the lure of the protein shake. 

The debate over how much protein is enough protein to promote muscle growth optimally and recovery is on-going. The current research, as published in late 2019, shows that “bodybuilders may benefit from consuming a higher protein intake than what is generally prescribed for recreationally trained lifters; however, the paucity of direct research in this population makes it difficult to draw strong conclusions on the topic.” (Sports Medicine)

Other supplements commonly used by bodybuilders include:

  • Citrulline malate
  • Nitric oxide boosters
  • Glutamine
  • Fish oils
  • Beta-alanine
  • Carnosine
  • ZMA
  • Carnitine

Prescription Drugs in Bodybuilding

Another concern about bodybuilding is the use of illegal and sometimes dangerous drugs to optimize muscle growth, weight loss, and overall results. These drugs are commonly referred to as performance-enhancing drugs. 

Some of the most common drugs used in bodybuilding include:

  • Androstenedione – Hormone converted to testosterone and estrogen in the body. 
  • Human growth hormone – Hormone that improves performance and muscle mass. 
  • Erythropoietin – Hormone that increases red blood cell production and hemoglobin levels.
  • Diuretics – Drugs that force fluid out of the body. 

Noom is an app that people of all ages can use to track the foods you eat to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients, and macros, you need. With more than three million foods in the database, you’ll find every food you’re trying to track.

Quick Look at the Risks and Benefits of Bodybuilding

What Are the Benefits of Bodybuilding?

Chronic Illnesses

Weight training has proven instrumental in helping reduce the risk of suffering from heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. However, engaging in strenuous weight training can be detrimental to your health. According to a study conducted in 2006, lifting more than half the weight of your body is likely to endanger your heart. This study associates heavy lifting with an increased risk of tearing the aorta. To err on the side of caution, it is better to get a screening test before embarking on weight lifting. It is also advisable to combine aerobic or cardiovascular exercises with weight training.

What Are the Risks of Bodybuilding?

Drugs and Poor Diets

Many bodybuilders have been known to indulge in excess protein in an effort to attain lean muscle. Some even dehydrate themselves or adopt severe diets to gain a specific amount of muscle mass. These practices are risky and could easily lead to serious health complications. Steroids are common drugs for weight lifters. These drugs have been associated with liver damage, heart disease, and atrophy of the testicles. Supplements can also contribute to high blood pressure, agitation, and anxiety.

Bodybuilding and Steroids

No guide to bodybuilding would be complete without touching on steroid use. Steroids are illegal for use in bodybuilding, or as an off-label drug to promote muscle growth in otherwise healthy men and women. 

What are steroids?

Steroids, or as the case is for non-medical use, anabolic steroids, are a human-made, synthetic version of testosterone. The true name for the drugs is anabolic, androgenic steroids as they work on both muscle growth and sexual characteristics. (DrugAbuse.gov)

So, what are the effects and dangers of this prescription drug poses to bodybuilders? 

“Anabolic steroids have dangerous physical, mental, and emotional side effects. These may be more dangerous in young adults because they can stop growth. In women, they can cause permanent changes in the voice and genitals. After stopping these drugs, people can feel severe depression and moodiness.” (Endocrine Society)

Steroids can increase testosterone levels in men and women. While mildly elevated levels may not have a significantly negative effect on overall health, too much testosterone isn’t a good thing. 

In one case report, a 53-year old man taking steroids for muscle growth was treated for heart failure after testosterone levels rose to dangerous levels. (ESC Heart Failure)

In another case study, this time around a 40-year-old bodybuilder, steroid use was found to cause liver failure secondary to cardiomyopathy. The effect of steroids on the heart was causing liver failure. (World Journal of Gastroenterology)

When there are heart issues like this with regular steroid use, are the effects reversible, or will the bodybuilder have to live with reduced heart health for life? Research shows that years after stopping steroids, the physical impact on the heart is still recognizable – most often as an enlarged heart. (Heart)

Side Effects of Steroid Use

The potential side effects associated with anabolic steroid use in bodybuilding are a serious risk to consider. 

Women can experience:

  • Increased body hair
  • Deeper voice
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Increased hunger
  • Men may notice:
  • Development of acne
  • Hair loss
  • Heart disease

There are also some mental side effects to consider, including hallucinations, paranoia, and aggression. 

These are the side effects of steroids used by some extreme bodybuilders, but what about the more common uses for steroids? The side effects of traditional steroid use are just as concerning as that of anabolic steroids. 

Additional steroid side effects may include troubles and concerns over:

  • Vision
  • Blood pressure
  • Resistance to infection
  • Uncommon bruising
  • Nervousness
  • Bone loss
  • Mood swings
  • Water retention
  • Swelling
  • Aggravation of diabetes symptoms

Even men who are taking testosterone supplements for medical reasons have to be monitored closely for mood changes, welling, and cardiac dysfunction due to the potential risks of increased testosterone. (Journal of Urology)

Bodybuilding and Other Drug Concerns

The National Health System of the United Kingdom does a great job of explaining the concerns over sports supplements in athletics and bodybuilding. The concern is this. “Millions of people take sports supplements hoping for a range of health benefits, from weight loss to muscle building. But some supplements are being sold illegally and can be very harmful.” 

The medical system goes on to say, “UK drug regulator the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has warned people to be wary of buying illegal sports supplements, as they might contain dangerous ingredients that could cause kidney failure, seizures, and heart problems.

An MHRA investigation found 84 illegal products, such as energy and “muscle-gain” products, were being sold containing dangerous ingredients such as steroids, stimulants, and hormones.”

Final Take on Bodybuilding

Bodybuilding is an exercise that is widely known for its many benefits. Many people think about huge personalities with perfect bodies when the word bodybuilding comes up. There is more that goes into bodybuilding than meets the eye. Apart from improving your physical appearance, weight lifting has psychological and emotional advantages. However, weight training is not without its risks, and anyone willing to engage in this practice should consult a healthcare professional or training expert. Furthermore, for best results, weight training should be performed with the considerations of diet and age in mind.

Whether you’re bodybuilding or building muscle for overall health, there is an app that can help guide you through the process. With Noom, you can connect with a coach who will help you create the best weight-loss and muscle-building plan for your needs. 

Bodybuilding Diet QA

What should bodybuilders eat when training?

Bodybuilders who are training should eat whole foods like fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, omega-3-rich fish, eggs, and dairy products. 

What is the cutting phase in bodybuilding?

The cutting phase of bodybuilding is the weight-loss phase. The bodybuilder decreases calorie intake and modifies diet to lose fat while maintaining muscle. 

What should a beginner bodybuilder eat?

A beginner bodybuilding diet should consist of meats, fish, dairy, grains, fresh fruit, and fresh vegetables. The focus tends to be on protein intake, but a well-rounded diet supports muscle growth. 

What is the best beginner bodybuilding workout?

The best beginner workout consists of working complimenting muscle groups with progressively heavier weights. Studies have shown that resting 2:30 between sets is optimal for muscle growth. In the case of abdominals and calf muscles, rest time is between 1:00 and 2:00. 

Do I eat carbs before or after my workout?

A high-carb meal between three and four hours before you workout is ideal for optimal glycogen stores and muscle energy.

What should I not eat after a workout?

After a workout, you should not eat foods that are:

  • High in sugars
  • Processed
  • Low-carb
  • Salty and processed
  • Fried

It is also a bad idea to consume caffeine or choose to skip eating at all. 

How long before a workout should I eat carbs?

You should eat carbs three to four hours before a workout.

How soon after a workout should you eat?

It is suggested that you eat within 30 minutes of completing a workout.

What are good carbs for bodybuilding?

You’re looking for complex carbs from whole foods when bodybuilding. Some nutrition experts suggest nuts, dairy, fruits, sweet potatoes, legumes, and pasta. 

How much protein do I need a day for bodybuilding?

Some doctors suggest, as a very basic guideline, to consume 0.6g of protein per pound of body weight. This is for men and women.