After I assure them that we have running water and we do more than just sit around and watch the corn grow, I start questioning them about their individual body type. I ask for body comp stats, past contest pictures, current pictures, and literally every piece of data I can pull together to help me peak them perfectly. Why? Though there are major consistencies in physiology and how I handle a client's nutrition, there is also a great deal of individuality. Now, I'm a pretty middle-of-the-road guy; I don't have a confederate flag and shotgun in the back window of a pick-up truck, but you also won't find me marching in a gay-pride parade or chaining myself to a spotted owl's tree in front of a bulldozer.
You also won't find me spending too much time at extreme ends of nutrition unless it's absolutely necessary for a client's success. Most of the time it's a rock-solid program to build and maintain muscle and well-timed subtle changes along the way to shed the body fat with precision. Each program for every client, however, is always unique based on his or her body. Your program should be just as precise. Not extreme, just precise.
Where Do You Begin?
When you decide its time to start dieting, where do you begin? If you're like me, it will be with protein. How much protein do you need to build, or more appropriately, maintain your muscle mass? For a bodybuilder, I would always start with a base of at least one gram of protein per pound of lean body mass. I like to add a little buffer because of additional cardio and to guard against inadvertent catabolism due to the dieting process. I add even more if a client is an ectomorph and loses weight easily.
As that person gets closer to a contest, if he or she is on track to be ready ahead of schedule (my typical plan) then I add even more. This is the high end of protein consumption as you follow my rationale for adding more protein into the diet. For example, I have one client who is a WNBF title-holder and is currently six weeks out from a contest and meets every one of the criteria for adding protein. He is currently carrying several pounds of muscle above last year's contest weight and is consuming more than two grams of protein per pound of lean body mass! Keep in mind this is an ectomorph with a high metabolism who is already in virtual contest shape battling to maintain muscle. Not everyone would ever need or be able to even use that much protein.
Protein intake should match your requirements as a bodybuilder, but not necessarily at the expense of other important nutrients. The client I mentioned above is also consuming 250 grams of carbs per day. I haven't raised his protein exponentially at the cost of muscle-sparing, energy-building carbohydrates or fat. These two nutrients are where most of us are a little confused. Should I eat no carbs, low carbs, or moderate carbs, and what about fat? Should I eat some red meat or maybe just flaxseed oil or maybe no fat at all? I get emails all the time with questions that begin with, "I heard that..." and the email ends with, "...is that true?" Here's where you need to really pay attention.
Know Your Body
Your body type will give you a great starting point on what type of dieting is best for you. In determining whether you'll be more effective with a higher or lower carbohydrate diet you have to decide if you're an ectomorph who has a very hard time gaining weight, a mesomorph who can gain weight and has a decent muscular frame, or an endomorph who gains weight very easily. You can also characterize yourself in different degrees such as an extreme ectomorph who has a very light muscular frame and can barely gain five pounds in the offseason.
Or, maybe you're a moderate endomorph who has a lot of muscle, can gain weight easily, but also doesn't have a terrible time losing when you need to. Recall that carbohydrates are the most muscle-sparing nutrient we eat. More so than even protein, carbs will buffer against muscle loss. I always want my clients to eat as much carbs as they can and still lose weight. Now, that may be a gigantic difference for two clients of even the same size due to body type, but I still want as much as possible.
An ectomorph is generally very efficient at glucose metabolism. Ectomorphs don't convert a lot of excess glucose into body fat because they use it rapidly for energy. This person needs more carbs more frequently to maintain muscle mass and energy. Making up for it in protein and fat isn't as effective as walking the fine line of a higher amount of carb intake.
Slow metabolic endomorphs do much better with a lower amount of carbs. If this person consumes too many carbs throughout the day, then glucose metabolism (which is a slower process for an endomorph) blocks ketogenic metabolism where body fat can be used for energy. Remember that when you have carbs that are available to be used as energy, they will be. If your body is slow at using carbs, as indicated by a slower metabolic rate and carbs making you look "soft," then you have to eat a low enough amount so that your body will turn to body fat for energy. I still like to keep carbs as high as possible for this type of client but for the slowest of the slow (metabolically) it sometimes requires brief spurts of no-carb dieting.
An easy way of giving yourself a solid starting point is to set your protein intake first. Determine how many calories you think you need to reach your goals. Next, add about 20-25% of your total calories from fat. Then, fill in the rest with carbs. Track your nutrition meticulously for two weeks and make notes on how you feel and how your workouts are going. If progress is too slow or too rapid, analyze your plan in light of your body type. Are you too high or too low on protein? Adjust your carbs up or down as needed. You can also adjust your fat. I never go below 15% on fat intake, but I also don't like to go too high. Once you get over 25% of your total calories from fat, you could use those extra calories as protein or carbs for a greater benefit than the additional fat can give.
I realize the last part of this article raises as many questions as it answers. The adjusting and monitoring of a specific person's nutrition and determining if it's the absolute best way of dieting is very much an individual process even with so many scientific constants. The true art of this process is using all the science available and molding it to a single person and all their individuality. As I work with a WNBF world champion or a fifty-five year old heart attack survivor, the program becomes a process.
Constant tracking, monitoring, adjusting, and analyzing forms the program into what works perfectly for that person. I suggest no less for you. Start now. Create an initial program. Track it flawlessly. Make adjustments one at a time so you can monitor your body's reaction and don't be afraid to keep trying new things until you're confident you know how your body responds best. You may just stumble onto perfection! Get a workout log and get started!
About The Author
Dr. Joe Klemczewski is a WNBF Pro with graduate degrees in health and nutrition. He designs nutrition programs and monitors contest diets for top professional and amateur bodybuilders through his unique online peaking program. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.