Before I get started with this article, I want to extend my thanks to Stuart for providing me space to give what I hope has been good, common-sense nutritional information. With as much hype-filled garbage as there is out there, just as with training, the opportunity to write this column was appreciated. I hope readers derived benefit from it.
After almost three years, this will be my final article. There are several reasons for this, but the primary one is that I feel I've covered everything which 99% of trainees honestly need to know about basic nutrition for training. I haven't covered the details necessary to get someone ready for a bodybuilding contest, or to compete at the highest levels of athletic performance, but I feel that such information has limited if any appeal to the majority of HARDGAINER readers.
While I've quite a few questions remaining that Stuart has forwarded, I've answered the majority which I feel have significant relevance to most readers. The remaining tend to deal with details that aren't that important (in my opinion) in the big scheme of things. This is not, however, to slight anyone whose questions I've not answered.
Long Term Effects
As with the training approach espoused by HARDGAINER, which is simply long-term application of some basic principles, nutrition should be no different. There are a few primary guidelines that need to be addressed, primarily regarding total nutrient intake. Beyond that, quibbles about whether one food is going to give better gains or fat loss, for example, is a true case of missing the point.
In essence, and again this is so true of training, once you have the basics truly dialed in, that's 95% of the battle; the remainder simply won't contribute that much to your results one way or the other. This is extremely true of supplements, but still true about some of the nutritional details that many trainees seem to fixate on.
For the same reasons that some trainees become concerned about whether two minutes or two and a quarter minutes between sets is better, some become concerned about whether they should eat a baked potato or a yam, because of a 2 point difference in the glycemic index. Such concerns indicate missing the point of what basic nutrition is about.
In this issue I want to focus on a recap of some basic nutritional guidelines. Get these correct, consistently, and couple that with proper training, and you're home free. But first I'll deal specifically with a couple of questions/concerns that some readers have.
"I've heard that cooking by XXX [where XXX might be microwaving] causes changes to the food which can cause health problems. Can you address this?"
"I've heard that item YYY [such as fish or aspartame] is contaminated with something. Can you address this?" The problem with such questions is that you can find data on both sides of the fence, and people to argue both sides vehemently until the end of time.
If you have concerns over a certain food or cooking method, the solution is to find a different food or a different type of cooking method. If something causes you mental stress, just don't bother with it. There are too many other foods and ways of cooking to drive yourself nuts over such things.
Recapping Basic Nutritional Guidelines
With all that said, let's recap basic nutritional guidelines for bodybuilders and strength trainees:
All trainees should know the benefits of protein for lifting. Increased protein intake is an absolute requirement for maximal gains. Unfortunately, many trainees take this to extremes and eat far more protein than they could ever assimilate. The protein, while not causing health problems—there's no indication that high protein intake is harmful to HEALTHY kidneys—simply becomes an expensive source of calories since the excess gets converted to glucose.
A protein intake of slightly less than 1 gram/pound of bodyweight (or lean body mass if you can measure it accurately) is plenty as long as you're getting enough calories and the sources of protein are high quality. There are a lot of good food sources of protein: meat, fish, poultry, beans and dairy; even vegetables have a small amount.
Protein Powders can provide a convenient way to increase protein intake if you're having a problem, but any protein powder claiming to be magically anabolic compared to another, is trying to separate you from your money.
If there's one place modern weight trainees go wrong, it's the misguided quest of trying to eliminate fat from the diet. We need certain types of fats, but not others. Fat quality is far more important than fat quantity. In general, I feel that a fat intake of 20-25%, coming from healthy sources such as vegetable oils, seeds, nuts, etc., should be consumed by all trainees.
This helps to provide sufficient calories without being excessive. Saturated fats from animal products (and oils like coconut and palm kernel oil) should be minimized since they are associated with health problems. But there are no absolutes.
Carbohydrates are both under and over-rated for strength athletes. On the one hand, many athletes tend to over-consume carbohydrates (especially highly refined ones), usually in lieu of healthy fats. On the other hand, there are some diet gurus telling people that they can grow without carbohydrates in their diet.
Even though I've written a book on low-carbohydrate dieting, I'll tell you flat out that such diets are not ideal for maximal growth. Carbohydrates are required for high-intensity activity, and a low-carbohydrate diet will eventually sap training intensity--not a recipe for good gains.
In general, carbohydrates may make up 50-55% of a trainee's diet. Of that percentage, some should be starchy foods such as breads and grains, with the other portion from high-fiber vegetables and fruits. That ensures adequate glycogen levels for training, along with adequate fiber and nutrient intake.
Calculate Your Post Workout Carbohydrates HERE!
You should ensure a large amount of carbohydrates right after training (preferably with protein) as this has been shown to improve protein synthesis and recovery.
Fruits and Vegetables
If there's another place many trainees make mistakes, it's in not consuming sufficient amounts of fruit and vegetables. Fruit and vegetables are crucial for proper nutrition. Five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables per day should not be hard to achieve: that's 2-4 pieces of fruit and 3-5 servings of vegetables. A serving of vegetables is not as large as you think (a cup of vegetables equals two servings, for example).
The high fiber intake will keep your colon healthy, and improve nutrient assimilation. Of course, too much fiber (50+ grams/day) can be detrimental. Balance, again, is key.
I can't emphasize it enough: drink lots of water. Five clear urinations per day should be the minimum. Many people survive on soda and coffee, which don't count as water intake. The water content of milk, fruits and juices does count. Most people are a little dehydrated chronically, which is not healthy. Get a water bottle and fill and empty it 2-3 times per day; then you'll be on the right track. Eventually it will become a habit.
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There's a lot of confusion over how to set calories for different goals. Part of this confusion stems from the fact that any equation can only be an estimate. It should not be taken as holy writ. And, like training, caloric intake will have to be adjusted based on goals. As a general rule, a caloric intake of about 15 calories per pound will maintain weight. To lose weight (fat), reduce this by 10-15%; to gain weight, increase by 10-15%. After a few weeks of the change, check results and make further adjustments until you find the numbers that are ideal for you.
Although there's frankly not as much benefit to eating a lot of meals as people think (given the same caloric intake), it's still a good habit to get into. Eating more smaller meals tends to help with appetite, avoids overloading digestion, and makes it easier to consume sufficient calories. Three meals/day is bare minimum and three meals and several snacks (or full blown meals) would be better.
It amazes me how much mental energy goes into gaining weight. Gaining weight is not difficult. To gain mass you must eat more than you require. Either your body will burn off the excess or it will be deposited as tissue in your body. What type of tissue (muscle or fat) depends on how intensively you're training, and how much you're eating.
If you're not gaining weight, the solution is simple: eat more. There's nothing magical, and no special nutrient combination; just keep adding calories until you start moving up in weight.
One consistent question I get is "What Can I Do For A Poor Appetite" and the answer is "Not Much." Some people simply get more powerful appetite blocking signals than others. First, simply try adding a few calories to each day's intake, just like you'd add a little iron to the bar. Eventually, your body will compensate for the increased food and you'll be able to eat more.
Failing that, try moving to liquid nutrition, since it's usually easier to drink calories than eat them all the time. For example, eat three solid meals and mix up a huge shake and drink it throughout the day.
Losing weight is fundamentally no more difficult than gaining it. To force your body to mobilize stored fat tissue, you have to eat less than you need. All diet plans, no matter what they claim, simply get you to eat less (or exercise more) so that stored tissue is mobilized for fuel. No magic, but just simple physiology.
If you want to lose weight, reduce your calories little by little until you start seeing changes. Then stay there until they stop, and reduce a little bit more. As long as your strength in the gym isn't dropping, you're not losing muscle. If your strength is dropping, you need to eat a little more until your strength stops dropping.
Usually, I'd suggest trainees drop out starchy carbohydrates since even a small reduction can reduce calories enough to cause fat loss. If necessary, and this is usually to control appetite, more extreme approaches like THE ZONE or ketogenic diets can be used. But always, ALWAYS start with the smallest and simplest changes you can, to get fat loss started. Increasing cardio a little bit—and you should be doing some anyhow—can help with fat loss.
The above represents what I feel the great majority of trainees should really be worrying about on a day-to-day basis. Get it all right and you're much farther ahead than most trainees, just like you're far ahead of the game knowing that the HARDGAINER philosophy of training is superior to mainstream methods, for drug-free trainees.
Don't start worrying about minutiae and details until you need to (because you're going into a bodybuilding contest), or you have all of the above truly dialed in on an EVERYDAY basis.
Copyright 2000 by CS Publishing