A lot of guys believe that going to the gym in a ridiculously tight tank top, lifting weights that are quite frankly too heavy for them and chugging down a few dozen protein shakes a day is all it takes to build high-quality muscle but in reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The truth is that if you’re looking to build and maintain high quality muscle for the long-term, your diet is just as important as (if not more important than) your workout routine. This is a fact that a lot of bodybuilders have a tough time facing as quite frankly, all a lot of them care about is whether or not they can bench press more than the person next to them.
However, if you’re truly serious about bodybuilding and getting the results you desire, it’s important that you create (and stick to) a bodybuilding diet that suits your particular physique. The problem is that bodybuilding diets constantly change due to increases in mass, decreases in body fat and so forth; this makes staying on top of what’s required nutritionally quite difficult.
Although difficult, it’s certainly not impossible and to help you out, I decided to create this guide with the aim of helping you to create the perfect bodybuilding diet for your particular physique. It’s a long one, but if you make sure to read it all the way through and follow the steps in the correct order, I can assure you that you’ll be well on your way to a better physique.
#1 – Calculate Your Weight, Body Fat Percentage & Lean Mass
Image source: Wikimedia.org
While you might be able to roughly tell whether or not your diet is working for you through noticeable changes in your physical appearance over time (either positive or negative), this isn’t a very “scientific” or accurate way to judge your progress.
What’s more, physical appearance can often be deceiving so in order to ensure that your diet is positively contributing towards your desired goals, it’s important that you calculate your weight, body fat percentage and lean body mass in the initial stages as you can then use these as base figures on which to judge your progress.
Here’s a quick definition of what each of these three calculations represent:
Weight: The total/overall weight of your body.
Body Fat Percentage: The percentage of your total body weight derived from fat.
Lean Body Mass: Your overall weight minus your body fat percentage.
Calculating these figures will also help you to better understand how to create a bodybuilding diet that will lead to your desired goals. For example, if you have a particularly high body fat percentage, it might be wise to slightly reduce your daily calorie intake to help lose weight. If you have a low overall weight and low body fat percentage, it might be wise to increase your daily calorie intake to help increase your weight and muscle mass respectively.
How To Calculate Your Measurements
Calculating your personal measurements is pretty straightforward, although the body fat percentage calculation will require a little more effort. Here’s how to calculate them:
Weight: Pretty straightforward, just stand on a pair of decent scales (this should give you a reading in lbs or kg’s)
Body Fat Percentage: The most simple way to calculate this measurement is to use a body fat caliper. Essentially, this measures the thickness of skinfolds on various parts of your body (mainly stomach and back) and then calculates a body fat percentage based on the measurements.
Any decent gym will have a pair of body fat calipers you can use (just ask) or if you prefer to do it yourself, you can buy one from Amazon for just a few pounds/dollars.
It’s also possible to calculate your body fat percentage using body composition scales. Some gyms will have these and so long as the scales are of a decent quality, you may get slightly more accurate readings than with calipers. Ultimately, either method offers a pretty accurate reading.
Lean Body Mass: Essentially, your lean body mass is obtained by calculating your overall weight minus your body fat percentage.
For example, let’s assume that you weigh 168 lbs (approximately 76 kilograms) with a body fat percentage of 20%, your calculation would be: 168 * 0.8 = 134.4 lbs.
|Body Fat Percentage:||20%|
|Total Body Fat (Lbs):||33.6lbs|
|Lean Body Mass (Lbs)||134.4lbs|
It doesn’t matter how precise you are in the creation of your bodybuilding diet, there’s always a chance that you won’t see the results you were expecting. This is simply because everyone is different and people’s bodies react in varying ways to workout routines and diets.
It’s for this reason that it’s important to not only calculate these measurements initially, but also regularly re-measure (ideally daily or weekly) in order to ensure that your bodybuilding diet is having a positive effect on your physical composition.
If you’re like most people, you’ll probably be looking to “bulk up” whilst also cutting that excess body fat. If this is the case, you’ll want your body fat percentage to decrease whilst your lean body mass either increases or stays roughly the same. If you’re particularly underweight, you might be happy for both of these measurements to increase.
#2 – Calculate Your Daily Calorie Requirements
Image source: Slate.com
Before you can even think about creating the perfect bodybuilding diet, you need to calculate exactly how many calories your body requires every day. Although the recommended daily calorie intake for men is 2,500 calories, this is only a ballpark figure and it actually varies significantly depending on a number of factors including your weight, lean body mass, age and level of physical activity.
Essentially, two calculations are used to calculate your daily calorie requirements; the basal metabolic rate (BMR) formula and the Harris Benedict formula.
Here’s a brief explanation of these two formulas:
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is essentially the amount of calories your body needs per day to maintain its current weight should you happen to do no exercise at all. It takes into account your weight, height, age and gender to create a personalised calculation.
Harris Benedict Formula: The Harris Benedict Formula takes your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and multiples it according to your activity level. It therefore more accurately estimates your daily calorific requirements as it takes into account your daily calorific expenditure through physical activities.
Calculating Your Requirements
I’m not going to bore you by explaining the mathematical process behind the formulas as honestly, it isn’t necessary. There are plenty of online calculators (such as this one) that do all the work for you.
To illustrate the outcome of these formulas (i.e. the numbers obtained when the data is inputted into the calculator), I’ll use our original example of a 168 lb guy with 20% body fat. For the purposes of this example, let’s assume that he’s 21 years old, 5’10” and is moderately active (i.e. he works out 3 – 5 days a week).
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): 2231 calories.
Harris Benedict Formula: 2881 calories.
Note: The Harris Benedict Formula doesn’t take into account your body fat percentage or lean body mass meaning that it might not be quite as accurate for those that are either very overweight or exceptionally muscular. If you’re overweight, it will likely over-estimate your daily calorific needs as lean bodies burn more calories. If you’re exceptionally muscular, it will underestimate your calorific requirements, so make adjustments accordingly (i.e. decrease your daily calorific intake if you’re particularly overweight and increase it if you’re already pretty bulky).
#3 – Calculate Your Macronutrient Requirements
Image source: PilatesRichmond.com
Now that you’ve figured out exactly how many calories you need per day, you need to decide upon a macronutrient profile for your bodybuilding diet.
Macronutrient Definition: A nutrient that is required in large amounts by living organisms. For the human body, the main macronutrients are protein, fat and carbohydrates (although alcohol is also considered to be a macronutrient).
Essentially, all foods are made up of fat, carbohydrates and protein in varying amounts. Each of these macronutrients supplies the human body with varying amounts of nutrients and energy. For example, pound for pound, fat contains more calories than protein or carbohydrates.
Here is an overview of the energy provided by each of the main macronutrients:
Fat: 9 calories per gram.
Protein: 4 calories per gram.
Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram.
Alcohol: 7 calories per gram.
Each of these macronutrients plays an important role in the human body. Protein is used for muscle growth and recovery whereas carbohydrates and fat are used as primary energy sources.
In order to stay healthy, you need to maintain a diverse diet meaning that your daily calorific requirements should be obtained from a mixture of fat, protein and carbohydrates.
Typically, a bodybuilding diet will consist predominantly of protein and carbohydrates with a minimal amount of fat. This helps to build muscle and keep your body constantly supplied with energy whilst also keeping body fat relatively low. Fat also hinders the muscle building process so keeping this to a minimum is a must.
Calculating Your Macronutrient Percentages
As a rough guide, most bodybuilders opt for a 40/40/20 split. This means that 40% of their calories will be derived from protein, 40% from carbohydrates and only 20% from fat.
Let’s use our original example of the 168 lbs guys once again (from here on in, let’s name him Mike). If he was to opt for this split, his diet would look a little something like this:
|Percentage (%)||Grams (g)||Calories (kcal)|
Here’s the maths behind the example:
Protein: 40% of 2881 calories = 1152 calories / 4 = 288 grams of protein per day.
Carbohydrates: 40% of 2881 calories = 1152 calories / 4 = 288 grams of carbohydrates per day.
Fat: 20% of 2881 calories = 576 calories / 9 = 64 grams of fat per day.
To be honest, you don’t really have to worry about calculating this yourself as much like the BMR and Harris Benedict formulas mentioned earlier, there are a number of online calculators (such as this one) to help you calculate your macronutrients based on your personal daily calorific requirements.
Note: The 40/40/20 split is only a rough guide and while it does create a good basal guide for those bodybuilders that regularly workout and are also looking to increase/maintain muscle mass, it might vary slightly depending on your specific goals and/or results obtained from incorporating this particular diet. It’s also recommended that you consult your doctor to ensure that such a high protein diet is safe.
#4 – Calculate Your Macronutrient + Calorie Requirements For Each Meal
Image source: Babble.com
Now you’ve worked out your daily macronutrient and calorie requirements, you’re going to need to calculate how this translates on a per meal basis. Any good bodybuilding diet will consist of a number of meals per day (ideally 5 – 8 in order to keep metabolism high) so you need to figure out how much food you’re going to require during each of these meals.
To do this, it’s as simple as calculating how many meals per day your bodybuilding diet is going to consist of and then splitting up your daily macronutrient and calorie requirements equally.
Doing this is pretty straightforward and once again, I’m going to use our original example (the lovely 168 lb Mike) to demonstrate the formula.
Let’s assume that in our example, we’re going to consume 6 meals per day. The calorie and macronutrient profile for each meal would be as follows:
Calories: 2881 calories / 6 = 480 calories per meal.
Protein: 288 grams / 6 = 48 grams of protein per meal.
Carbohydrates: 288 grams / 6 = 48 grams of carbohydrates per meal.
Fat: 64 grams / 6 = 10 – 11 grams of fat per meal.
From the calculations, you can see that on average, each of Mike’s meals will consist of 48 grams of protein, 48 grams of carbohydrates and 10 – 11 grams of fat to form a total of 480 calories overall.
#5 – Build Your Bodybuilding Diet
Image source: Haveheroverfordinner.com (check out the recipe too, it’s a corker!)
Finally, it’s time for the fun part; actually building your bodybuilding diet. Now that all of the boring stuff has been taken care of (above), it’s just a matter of deciding which foods you like and creating meals out of them that fit in with your daily calorific and macronutrient requirements.
Obviously, there are a lot of foods out there and not all of them are healthy so before we explore a couple of meal examples, I want to issue a few guidelines regarding the foods you eat to ensure that you don’t unintentionally hinder your muscle building progress.
- DO NOT consume fast foods (only in moderation).
- DO NOT consume highly processed foods.
- DO NOT consume foods that are high in fat (only in moderation).
- DO NOT rely too much on protein shakes and supplements.
- DO consume a wide range of different foods.
- DO consume protein, carbs and fat in every meal.
- DO consume high quality protein.
- DO consume complex carbohydrates and fibrous foods.
- DO consume unprocessed, unrefined foods.
- DO consume a decent amount of fruit and vegetables.
Essentially, all I’m saying with these guidelines is that you need to eat healthily in order to supply your body with all the nutrients and vitamins that it needs. While it might be possible to obtain your daily calorific and macronutrient requirements solely from fast food, this wouldn’t be particularly nutritious and would also likely be heavily processed and high in fat.
Don’t forget that it would probably be more expensive too.
The Composition Of Each Meal
No matter what meal you’re eating, it should always be comprised of a high quality source of protein, fat and carbohydrates to ensure that you’re meeting your macronutrient and calorific requirements.
If you plan a well thought out bodybuilding diet, your meals should all adhere to the 40/40/20 split too (or at least relatively close).
Here’s a few ideas for high quality protein, carbohydrate and fat sources:
|Protein (Per 100g)||Calories|
|Sirloin Steak (trimmed of fat)||26.5g||140|
Feel free to check out my list of 81 high protein foods if you’re looking for more ideas.
|Carbs (Per 100g)||Calories|
|Fat (Per 100g)||Calories|
In order to show you how this might work in a practical sense, let’s take a look at a few meal suggestions based on the calorific and macronutrient requirements of our example (Mike):
Boiled Eggs On Toast (Breakfast)
|Food (g)||Protein (g)||Carbohydrates (g)||Fat (g)||Calories|
|2 Large Eggs||12.6g||0g||9.6||146|
|2 Slices Wholemeal Toast||8.2g||25.4g||2g||154|
|1 Protein Shake||24g||3g||1g||120|
|1 Cup Orange Juice||1.7g||20.8g||0.5g||112|
Steak and Potato Wedges (Lunch)
|Food (g)||Protein (g)||Carbohydrates (g)||Fat (g)||Calories|
|130g Sirloin Steak||40.6||0g||7.2g||227|
|200g Potato (in wedges)||5g||42.4g||0.2g||186|
|Drizzle Olive Oil||0g||0g||4.7g||42|
|Lettuce + Tomato (grilled)||1.6g||4.4g||0.1g||25|
Sure, these don’t come out exactly as our daily macronutrient and calorie calculations require, but they’re only a few calories/grams off which is the best you’re likely to manage unless you’re willing to get OCD about serving sizes. Plus, the slight variation across each meal will likely average out during the day.
Obviously, everyone likes different foods so ultimately, it’s up to you to create a meal plan that you’re going to be happy to eat on a regular basis. Remember, diversity is important to mix things up as much as you can.
Image source: ThisIsAwful.com
Joking aside, creating the ultimate bodybuilding diet really isn’t that difficult so long as you’re willing to put the work in initially. Once you’ve created a list of meals that adhere to your own personal calorific and macronutrient requirements, you’re good to go.
I realise that this post is a lot to take in but by following the steps, you’ll easily be able to create a bodybuilding diet that works perfectly for your physique.
However, it is also important to regularly recalculate step #1 to ensure that your diet is having a positive effect on your physique.
If you do find that things aren’t quite going according to plan after 2 – 3 weeks, here’s a bit of advice:
If you’re struggling to gain weight: Try increasing your daily calorific intake by 10%. Keep your macronutrient percentages the same unless you originally opted for less than a 40/40/20 split, in which case you should increase your protein percentage slightly.
If you notice an increase in muscle but also body fat: This may be normal if you’re particularly skinny but if not, try cutting your daily calorific intake by 10% and see what happens. If you find that this hinders your muscle building progress, try lowering the fat intake of your macronutrient percentages slightly and replace the calories lost with protein (don’t go over 40% protein though).
Unfortunately, there’s no exact science as everyone’s body reacts in varying ways to exercise and dieting, so it might be a bit of a learning curve but the steps in this post should help you to figure things out pretty quickly.
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