The Need For Nutrition In Bodybuilding


by Stephen Terrass

One of the most important decisions a bodybuilder can make is what you can do to accomplish the body that you want. Obviously, the first thing which must be decided is, 'what type of body do you want?'. Do you want to look more like Arnold Schwarzenneger or Bruce Lee? Would you rather be Laura Creavelle or Kate Moss? Then the first step is to set your workout routine to accomplish this. There is little doubt that most of you reading this have a preference for Arnie or Laura, so there are some important rules which apply in order for you to have a better chance of attaining your goals.

Although no doubt, all experienced bodybuilders are aware of what makes the muscles grow from weightlifting, a surprising number of beginners are not. Many still think that it is the pump that they experience after doing many sets of reps that makes the muscles bigger. Of course, the truth is that the muscles are torn down with the reps and the size comes from the systematic repair of this damage. The stretching of muscle fibers from the ever increasing contractions from lifting heavier weights more or less allows for the size of the muscles to increase. The common misconception by many beginners about what makes the muscles grow often leads them to make one of the biggest mistakes of all - over-training.

You've seen it before - seven days a week, the same muscle sets. They have no opportunity to recover and repair the damage. And to their mind, worst of all, they don't get bigger.....just sorer and more prone to nagging injuries. What often keeps the beginner in this situation is the fact that they think they are accomplishing something, because for awhile they seem to be getting more definition. Eventually they often get burned out or bored with their lack of success, never to be heard from in the gym again. (Did you ever wonder why most gyms are not overflowing with teenagers with a deep commitment to the sport?)

The reality of bodybuilding is that genetically speaking, it is not a natural condition for the body to be the size of today's top bodybuilders, so one has to employ further measures if they ever hope to accomplish this. As a result, even the most experienced bodybuilder must adhere to the same rules as the beginner. All those who work out soon realize that in order to ensure that the regular and increasing intensity of the muscle damage is being repaired, not only to maintain, but to increase muscle size, what the body uses for repair must be increased as well. The responsibility of carrying out these requirements falls almost entirely on our nutritional status and intake.

Some have chosen to ignore these issues because of the fact that they were using a more 'pharmaceutical approach' to anabolic stimulation. More and more bodybuilders, including many who are enhanced by anabolic 'gear', are learning of the dramatic improvements that they are seeing by adopting a more nutritional approach in addition. The enhancement seen by anabolic drugs is obvious, but one must remember that the muscles are not made of testosterone, growth hormone or insulin. You still need to efficiently supply ALL that which is required for this to take place. Whether or not you use anabolic drugs, you are bound to see sometimes substantial improvements with a well-designed nutritional/herbal approach.

Don't be put off by some of the ridiculous claims being made for various products on the market. That is not the kind of nutritional approach I am referring to. The proper approach includes a more deep understanding of how to manipulate your diet, as well as the strategic use of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, protein, enzymes, herbs and many high-tech accessory nutrients. It is not enough just to know what to take, it is also about knowing how much, when, in what combinations and so on.

Just two of the many examples of the need to focus of the role of nutrition in your program involve protein and carbohydrates. If we just take a very basic view of these two areas you start to get an idea of how important it is to be more aware of your nutritional status for the greatest success. In future articles, these areas will be covered in much more detail.

The body's muscles are more complex than they seem, but the primary component is protein. Most people are aware of this point, and thus increase the intake of protein in their diet. Not all experts agree on how much protein a person needs each day, partly because the needs will vary greatly from person to person, to a great extent, based on their size and lifestyle. Nevertheless, many have chosen to direct the average person to try to achieve about one gram for every two pounds of body weight. So under normal circumstances, if you weighed 170 lb., you would be looking to consume about 85 grams of protein per day; but remember, this is under ordinary circumstances. Once you start to pump iron, your circumstances are no longer ordinary. If you eventually begin to bodybuild in a very intensive manner to increase size significantly, some experts feel that your protein intake in proportion to your weight should at least double!

Even if one is aware of this, and increases the protein intake adequately to compensate, another problem still exists. The truth is that dietary protein, in and of itself, is completely useless to the human body. It only after its single components, amino acids, have been separated from one another by the process of digestion. It is very common for one to have inadequate activity of the digestive enzymes which break down protein into its single amino acids - and this is true for many who just consume normal amounts of protein! Imagine the difficulty that many bodybuilders are going to encounter (usually without even being aware of it) in getting the optimal amount of useable amino acid content from their dietary protein intake.

Of course, as a rule, bodybuilders, whether serious or casual, want very much to be well defined as well as bigger. The problem is that the most common food sources of protein are often relatively high in fat as well, and some sources are more likely to efficiently build muscle tissue than others. A bodybuilder must learn about these differences in order to get the most out of his or her program. These issues about protein are already known to many experienced bodybuilders, but not all of them. And very few lesser experienced ones make the right distinctions in their diet. This is just one example of how keenly aware, compulsively aware, a bodybuilder must be of nutrition.

Bodybuilders learn that the skeletal muscles use sugars for energy in preference to fats, so excess dietary fat that they consume is more prone to being stored as body fat. Aerobic athletes, on the other hand, can afford to take in greater amounts of fats than bodybuilders, because fats are the preferred source of energy for the heart muscle, which of course, works harder during aerobic activity. (This is why adding aerobic exercise is very helpful in shedding excess fat around the muscle in more of a hurry.)

At any rate, just knowing that sugars (in the form of glycogen) are the preferred source of energy for skeletal muscles is not enough. Sugars are the most refined forms of dietary carbohydrates. Carbohydrates can come as either sugars or starches. It is essential to understand the distinction between the two for various reasons. It is also essential to understand the distinction between the different types of sugars.

Sugars, in excess of what your body needs immediately for energy, can be stored - and often as fat. Because your body can only use a certain amount of sugar at one time, and because it is impossible to perfectly guess how much that would be, it is a huge value to know the tricks which can help to get around this dilemma. Logically, many will decide to consume far less carbohydrate to be on the 'safe side', to reduce the risk of less conversion to fat. This is not so helpful, because if the muscles have inadequate glycogen, they will often break down amino acids from the muscle itself (such as the branched chain amino acids) in order to accommodate the energy deficit. Naturally, this is counterproductive to muscle building goals, and can lead to longer recovery times and increased risk of injury.

The trick is to supply adequate carbohydrates, and to insure that any abundance is not going to greatly increase fat stores. The more suitable form of sugar for muscle glycogen is going to be found as complex carbohydrates. Although dietary starches supply these (such as those found in whole grains, beans, pasta and potatoes), because of the need for digestion of the food sources, the most efficient intake comes from supplemental sources such as maltodextrin or glucose polymers. Should the muscles run out of their supply during training, instead of cannibalizing the muscles for energy, the liver can release stored glycogen - that is, provided there is an adequate supply waiting to be used. These stores are effectively stocked by the consumption of the type of sugar known as fructose. Because of being able to more efficiently be stored as glycogen, rather than being converted into fat if not immediately used, complex carbohydrate sources and fructose are particularly suitable for bodybuilders.

As you can see, bodybuilding nutrition is more than counting calories or knowing what is high in protein or carbohydrates. These are just two small examples of the dozens and dozens of important rules in bodybuilding nutrition. Each food source has its own rules, and each supplement has its own capabilities, best times to take, best amounts to use, and so on. And things can be very different for different people.

The key is to become more aware of what you put through your body, rather than only what you put your body through. Bodybuilders show more guts and dedication than most, and whether you are trying to get to the top, or are already there, it would be a shame not to realize the absolute best potential from enhancing your body in every possible way - who knows what the results could be!...........Aren't you just a little curious??

(taken from MUSCLE NEWS - London 1995)