One element of the bodybuilding lifestyle that is vital to master is the science of food selection or grocery shopping. I use the term science when referring to food selection because if you have decided that bodybuilding is for you, the employment of precision in your shopping endeavors is a must.
In this publication I aim to discuss exactly how to construct a precise, effective, goal-oriented grocery list. To achieve this goal it is necessary to discuss the relevant factors that will shape your shopping behavior. These factors are: Supply and Demand, the mathematics of eating, basal metabolic rate, body type, body mass, current training phase, food labels and the purpose of food. Also, to illustrate the principles presented here, you will see at the end of this article a sample shopping list.
After reading this article you should be able to determine with precision and accuracy the exact foods you ought to purchase and consume, and know the reason(s) you are purchasing and consuming them.
The Law Of Supply And Demand
A fundamental law of the bodybuilding lifestyle is the law of supply-and-demand. In the article Survival Strategies For The Traveling Bodybuilder! I wrote:
"I want to stress here the importance of precise shopping for the bodybuilder. Everything in the world operates according to the principles of supply and demand. It is important to determine what demand your body places upon you. Put another way, if demand is nutritional requirements brought about byâ€¦training, the supply or grocery shopping must be tailored to match itâ€¦.when shopping you should have a very specific idea of what you are buying and what you are not going to buyâ€¦."
When applied to bodybuilding endeavors, supply and demand is a law. Why? Put simply, the name reflects the causational relationship that exists between the two variables of TRAINING INTENSITY and NUTRITIONAL REQUIREMENT. The relationship appears mathematically as follows:
If: X = Training intensity
Y = Nutritional requirement
Then: X > Y
When training occurs, the body attempts to initiate the repair and restoration process. In order to repair micro-muscular tears in muscle tissue and replenish depleted glycogen stores, the body must look for the raw materials to begin the repair process.
As illustrated above, by increasing or decreasing the work you put forth in the gym, you can increase the demand or decrease it, and thereby increase or decrease the quantity of food you require Thus, your grocery list will depend upon your training phase and style.
The Mathematics Of Eating
Make no mistake: Eating, like all things, operates according within the framework provided by mathematics. At least it does if you wish your body to appear as you desire, instead of it looking like some overweight, derelict physical accident. When constructing a grocery list you must consider the following:
- Basal Metabolic Rate [BMR]
- Body Type
- Body Mass
- Current training Phase
Basal Metabolic Rate
The rate of your metabolism is correlated to your age. With every passing decade the metabolism slows by 10%. This translates into a 1% decrease in metabolic rate per year. Therefore, as people age and fail to change eating habits, they often gain unwanted body fat. Somehow it never occurs to people that as their metabolism slows so too should their eating slow by a proportionate amount.
Calculating your basal metabolic rate [BMR] will allow you to determine with precision the amount of calories your body needs to maintain its current mass. Determining this will allow to you determine with certainty the food you require to compliment your training phase.
For example, are you trying to add mass? If so and if at rest you burn 2500 calories daily, then you will need to consume more than 2500 calories daily to facilitate the addition of mass to your frame. What if you are trying to lose bodyfat? Then you would eat less than 2500 calories per day to facilitate the fat-loss process.
Think of the BMR as a baseline that you must either eat below, at, or above depending on your phase of training.
When constructing a grocery list you must first determine your body type. Three possible body types exist and they are presented in the chart below:
- Slow metabolism
- Easily adds weight
- Easily adds bodyfat
- Potential of catabolism due to metabolic rate, increased fat storage and higher estrogen levels.
- Relatively lower testosterone levels
- Increased potential of estrogenic symptoms resulting from ability to store fat easily
- Ideal metabolism
- Easily adds mass
- Low potential of estrogenic symptoms
- Increased potential of androgenic symptoms
- Relatively higher levels of testosterone and growth hormone
- Fast metabolism
- Has difficulty adding mass
- High potential of catabolism due to metabolic rate
What Is Your Body Type?
What body type are you? How can you tell? Take our simple test and know! Learn how to train for your body type and what the differences are.
It should be noted that most people are combination of two of the categories above. Put another way, not everyone will appear heavily-muscled nor will they appear emaciated and thin.
Body type is very important to consider when constructing an effective shopping list because when you understand how your body reacts to certain macronutrients you can select certain foods and avoid others. For example, If you were a mesomorphic individual and could add muscle very easily while staying relatively lean, it would be wise to select foods high in protein while also allowing for a slightly higher fat content. Foods like less lean cuts of red meat, for example, would do nicely.
If, on the other hand, you were an ectomorph and had difficulty adding any mass, it would be wise to focus on consuming foods that have high good fat contents as well as protein contents. All natural peanut butter, for example, would be an excellent choice in that particular situation, while chicken breasts or tuna alone may not be best for adding mass.
If you are endomorphic then you definitely want to focus on consuming lean cuts of meat such as chicken breasts, tuna, lean beef and turkey, and avoid a lot of dairy products.
It is also important to distinguish between the body-type you are born with, and the one currently facing you in the mirror. For example, genetically you may be mesomorphic, but because of terrible eating habits you may now be fat. It may be that you have overloaded your body with processed junk foods at such a quick rate that your body simply cannot rid itself of them. Reforming your eating habits will reveal to you your true body-type.
The point to understand is that while this is not an exhaustive analysis of the effects of food on body composition, one must consider ones body-type while constructing an intelligent goal-oriented grocery list.
Your body mass will directly determine how much you need to eat, and in what ratio. When aiming to intelligently construct an effective, goal-oriented grocery list understanding the macronutrients is crucial. The macronutrients are protein, fat and carbohydrates. Below is a brief description of each macronutrient and its respective function within the body.
- Muscular Repair
- Boosting Immune System Functioning
- Prevent Catabolism
- 4.5 calories p/gm
- Fat Burning
- Soy [Plant]
- Energy Source
- Boosting Immune System Functioning
- 9 calories p/gm
- Good (mono)
- Bad (poly)
- Energy Source
- Preventing Catabolism
- Insulin Regulation
- 4.5 calories p/gm
- Simple Sugars
- Complex Starches
As may be seen from the chart, each macronutrient performs different functions within the body. Understanding the different functions of each macronutrient will allow for the construction of a sensible, goal-oriented shopping list that will compliment your training phase and body type.
GENERALLY [as opposed to specifically which we will address shortly] it is wise to aim for 1-1.5 gm of protein per pound of bodyweight, .25gm of fat per pound of bodyweight, and .5-1.5gm of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight.
Current Training Phase
Many new to the bodybuilding lifestyle do not understand exactly how to eat for training phase. To eat for bodyfat reduction refer to the article A Step-By-Step Plan For BodyFat Reduction! To eat for mass gains refer to the article Adding Mass in the Offseason. These publications will provide you with the basic mathematical outline of how to eat for training phase.
Understanding HOW to read food labels is essential for your success as a bodybuilder. If there is one element of the grocery shopping experience that is so frequently misunderstood by so many, food labels are it. How many times have you seen on packaging statements to the effect of "fat free" "half fat" or "sodium free"? We see these claims and statements all of the time. But how well can they be trusted?
Despite the food market being flooded by "half fat" and "fat free" products there are more obese persons today than ever before. When I see statements on labels like "half fat" and "fat free" I think they would more appropriately be named "half-truth" and "truth-free."
One example that best stands out is the infamous "fat free" brownie. Often people with carnivorous eating habits will charge to the store that sells them and will eat five or six reasoning that they are "fat free." "They are fat free" they reason "so they are not harming me at all!" It is also interesting that they are LOADED with refined sugars. And what do refined sugars do in the body? They turn to FAT.
And what about the claims of "half of the fat"? Or "half of the calories"? Did you know that if a product has 10grams of fat for one serving, simply by cutting the serving size in half, the manufacturer can claim that its "half of the fat" and "half the calories"? It makes sense because if you eat HALF of the product you get half of the calories and half of the fat. In other words, simply by changing the labeling on the package but leaving the product as it is, they can legally make these claims. Not fair is it?
Let us consider 2 percent milk. The term "2 percent" is supposed to be the MILK FAT percentage. Let us take a look at what the mathematics REALLY say.
In a typical 8oz serving of 2% milk there will be 119 calories, 8.5 grams of protein, 2.5 grams of fat and 13 grams of carbohydrates. So, to determine the percentage of calories coming from fat we must perform the following mathematical calculation:
If: F = Grams of Fat
X = Calories per gram of fat
Therefore, 22.5 of the overall 119 calories are derived from fat.
To determine the percentage that this constitutes toward the overall mass of the milk we must perform the following equation.
22.5/119 = 18.7%
Therefore the fat constitutes 18.7% of the milk.
From the math we can see that the claim that milk is only "2 percent" does not pass muster. The point to understand here is that it is important to your health as a bodybuilder to learn how to intelligently read food labels, and to understand that many of them are misleading. Knowing this will greatly aid you in your quest to be healthy. Remember this saying well: There is no free lunch when it comes to food. You are how you eat, and if you eat poorly you will reap the results of your dietary transgressions.
A valuable tool that I highly recommend is The Complete Book of Food Counts by Corrine T. Netzer. I recommend using this book in conjunction with a food weighing scale, so that you can know how much of a substance you are eating, and the contents of that substance.
Purpose Of Food
As bodybuilders we eat food for one thing: results. We do not eat for taste. We eat because eating is required by our chosen lifestyle. Food, like supplements, is a tool that is the means to an end. We eat because we want muscle gains and fat loss. That being the case, it is important to select foods for what they do in the body. For example, if you require protein and it is a choice between cottage cheese in the dairy aisle or junk food, which will you buy? As a goal-oriented bodybuilder it should be obvious that the cottage cheese will win out over the processed chips and candy bars.
Remembering that food is one tool among many in your bodybuilding arsenal will help keep you on track, and will also help you to save time. If you know what to buy and in what quantity, your shopping should take no longer than twenty minutes. If the potato chip and candy isles are not on your list, then why go down them? Instead head to seafood for salmon steaks, or to dairy for cottage cheese, milk and eggs. Or go to meat for chicken or beef. This is how I do my shopping because I don't go to the grocery store to socialize; I go to get the basic tools that I use to build muscle: Quality whole foods.
When shopping it is important to shop very specifically and in a way that is goal oriented.
Now that we have discussed in detail the factors affecting your shopping experience, let us now consider a practical example, for purposes of illustration.
Our subject, Joe, has the goal of adding muscle. He knows that to maintain a positive nitrogen balance he must eat six times daily. He is a mesomorph. Therefore, he concludes, he must have a high protein percentage, and a moderate fat and carbohydrate percentage per each of his six daily meals.
His current bodyweight is 220lbs. His BMR is 2500 calories daily. From this information he is able to determine the following [using the GENERAL mathematics provided above]:
Daily Macronutrient Requirements
From having to eat 6 times per day, each meal would appear as follows:
Joe can see that his requirements for each meal are relatively high in carbohydrates for energy, protein for muscle growth, and fat for the healthy functioning of his hormone system.
When going to the grocery store this would mean that Joe would focus on obtaining his carbohydrate sources from starchy sources like pasta, potatoes, yams and rice, and simple sources like fruits and vegetables. He would include a lot of vegetables to ensure that he was getting plenty of antioxidants.
For protein he would focus on red meats, eggs, chicken breasts, turkey, fish, and lean dairy products. His fat sources would come from healthy sources like fish and nuts and seeds.
Notice from the above list that ice cream, chips, pizza and other foods falling into the "processed" category are not being purchased. When shopping, the selection of whole foods is essential. Whole foods greatly assist one in the realization of ones bodybuilding goals.
"This is fine and great" you say, "but I am just starting out. I have NO IDEA of what my first shopping list should look like." Well, now that you know what things you need to consider when going shopping, you will understand the underlying principles behind this sample grocery list. For a one-week period, eating six times daily, you would purchase the following:
Omnivore Shopping List
Protein Sources - Meat and Dairy
- 3 steaks
- 2 pkgs Alaskan Pollock fish (VERY high protein!)
- 6 chicken breasts
- 5 containers 1% low-fat cottage cheese
- 1 gallon 1% or 0% low-fat milk (skim)
- 2 dozen large white eggs
Carbohydrate Sources - Fruits, Vegetables and Pasta
- 1 Sweet potato (Yam)
- 7 pkgs pasta
- 1 small box minute rice
- 3 heads of broccoli
- 6 apples
- 1 green pepper
- 2 small bags of baby carrots
- 1 jar olive oil
- 500gms mixed nuts or almonds
- 1 jar all natural old-fashioned peanut butter
If, by chance, you are a vegetarian bodybuilder, or if your religion prevents the consumption of meat, but you are allowed to eat dairy products, you can incorporate tofu into your diet, and supplement with Branch Chained Amino Acids. Also you will need to mix-and-match incomplete protein sources [legumes, etc] in order to ensure that you consume enough complete proteins daily. It may also, in this situation, be advantageous to buy a protein powder [egg, whey, or soy].
Regardless of training phase, age, BMR, or body-type, food selection will always be determined by ones goals and ones training intensity. It is necessary to select whole foods over processed. Whole foods go a long way toward the realization of ones bodybuilding goals.
The most difficult task facing a bodybuilder is knowing how to precisely select food items that will assist in the realization of ones goals. In order to select food effectively it is necessary to consider all elements discussed here and to utilize the mathematics presented.