I know what you’re thinking: Bodybuilders, almost without exception, are so stupid you’re amazed they can put their shorts on the right way round. And so, what’s there to learn from them?
Ignoring your opinion, Chappel et al. (2018) still conducted a study to examine nutrition of steroid-free bodybuilders during The British Natural Bodybuilding Federation contest preparation:
35 men and 16 women (drug-free) volunteered to do the survey-based study.
While you still think that if you ask bodybuilders to spell “apple,” it would come out as “aprghta,” you gotta admit that success leaves clues. And no one can beat physique athletes at getting at 5% bodyfat shredded to the bone body.
So, let’s see how did top-5 placed bodybuilders eat to get super lean and what can you apply to your nutrition.
Here’s what you can learn from that and apply to your nutrition:
- Not a single athlete consumed 800 calories a day nor did they do a 60-day idiotic juice fast.
All of them used a small to moderate, sustainable caloric deficit. So the next time your friend Jessica tells you to eat 800 calories to lose weight, feed her into a lawnmower.
Once you do that, multiply your goal body weight by 11-12. That’s your caloric deficit to lose weight (11 if you get less than 8,000 steps/day and 12—if you get more than 8,000).
- Reduce caloric intake throughout your diet.
Why did bodybuilders reduced caloric intake throughout their preparation? Well, because they knew that weight loss ALWAYS slows down due to metabolic adaptations.
So when you start your fat loss journey, keep in mind that caloric intake will have to go down along the way to counteract metabolic adaptations to dieting, changes in energy requirements, and preservation of muscle mass.
Further reading: How To Get Over Weight Loss Plateau
Protein, Carbohydrate, & Fat Intake
I bet you have squillions of questions after this infographic. So:
- High protein intake is crucial.
Now, bodybuilders consumed a galactically massive amount of protein in this study. They got totally shit-faced eating it. That’s because the leaner you get the more likely muscle loss is. So for them, getting 2.7-3.3g of protein per kg of body weight (1.2-1.5g/lb) is beneficial.
It’s been shown in the literature too.7
But what about you? Should you eat protein until you pass out from the tryptophan-induced protein coma?
No. For regular people who lift weights and want to optimize training performance, 1.6-2.2 g/kg8 of TARGET body weight (0.7-1 g/lb) is sufficient.
P.S. Contrary to a deeply, deeply uncool lecture on protein by Jillian Michaels, a high protein diet has no harmful effects on health markers (unless you have underlying kidney issues). It’s been proven9,10,11 to hell and back.
- You’ve fed Jessica to a lawnmower for advising an 800-calorie diet. It’s time you also throw your keto and low-carb friends into the same lawnmower because…
…despite what they claim, you can lose fat eating carbs. That’s because calories determine fat loss. Not carbohydrate intake.
Male bodybuilders went as high as eating 431g/day and females—244g/day.
One reason being is that carbs are fucking tasty. The other—carbs are protein-sparing which means that higher carbohydrate diets help to preserve lean muscle mass better compared to low-carb diets.12,13
So eat your goddamn carbs and at the end of fat loss, you may look more like the Greek God Adonis rather than Gollum (unless you have a medical reason to control carb intake).
Further reading: Fat Loss Fundamentals (And Shit That Can Just Fuck Off)
- Don’t overdo fat.
Based on the current evidence, bad things health-wise start to happen if you eat less than 0.6g of dietary fat per kg of body weight (0.3g/lb) or ~40g per day for most people. In this study, subjects were right on that border.
For you, I’d recommend keeping fat intake at 1g/kg (0.5g/lb). Go lower than that and you’ll notice that everything tastes like chlorine and sausages (mixed together). It’s bloody bland.
I know you might have expected magic “fat loss foods” but er, no—bodybuilders tend to eat mostly whole, minimally processed, “boring” foods. That’s exactly what any knowledgeable and sane dietitian and trainer would suggest—eat a balanced diet. Also:
- Ditch unnecessary food avoidance/elimination mindset.
No individual food can have an extreme outcome on fat loss/gain. Therefore, there’s no need to put any food on a banned list except ones barring allergies, giving you cravings, and ones you simply don’t like.
Bodybuilders get jacked eating cereals (fuck paleo diet, they say), potatoes (fuck keto too), heaps of veggies and fruits (no, fructose is not bad), and lean proteins.
- Prioritize high volume, water, fiber, and protein-rich foods.
Bodybuilders know wassup—grains, dairy, veggies, fruits have high food volume and they contain a bucket load of fiber. These help with hunger control. They also know that protein-rich foods serve the same purpose. Read & learn, folks.
- Make less nutritious foods a part of your diet.
Bodybuilders reported bread and a few other ‘fun’ foods being a part of their diet. They didn’t go full-blown clean eating because it’s impossible to sustain and enjoy long-term.
You too—focus mostly (80-90%) on whole foods but don’t forget to enjoy some ‘fun’ foods to keep deprivation at bay—the most important thing is not knowing which foods to avoid but how to make sure you can include any food you enjoy in your diet.
Further reading: How To Build A Balanced Meal That Hits Your Macros
So, according to the most jacked people on the planet:
- Eat in a slight or moderate caloric deficit;
- Focus on a high protein diet;
- Carbohydrate to fat ratio is irrelevant for fat loss for healthy people. Enjoy both;
- No food should be off-limits except ones barring allergies & giving you cravings;
- Less nutritious, “fun” foods should be a part of a healthy, informed, and sustainable diet;
- You no longer have friends because you’ve fed them all to a lawnmower.