What do body builders eat? Here is some nutrition advice, tips, and tricks from an award winning bodybuilder, also known as my dad!
This is my dad. A bit over the top right? Yea, I know, I know. But because he knows a thing or two about losing weight, is a Licensed Personal Trainer, just WON 1st IN HIS BODYBUILDING COMPETITION, and because IT IS HIS BIRTHDAY, we’re gonna do a little interview about his nutrition tips for us common folk, then dive into how he gets to looking this way and what body builders eat.
What is your best advice to people who want to lose 5-50 pounds and, most importantly, want to keep those pounds off?
Answer: I’m not a believer in diets. Diets don’t work because the weight normally comes back. I am, however, very much in favor of lifestyle changes. With that my best advice is:
Your best results will come from a combination of fewer calories consumed and more exercise (more calories burned). I would assert, however, that between the two, your first focus has to be on getting nutrition right. If you don’t, all the exercise you do is not likely to get you far. I would further suggest that what you eat is more important than how much you eat, if you eat the right foods. A Starbucks specialized coffee (20 oz.) and a scone or muffin brings with in about 800 calories and probably 70% (+) of this comes from sugar and fat. Make such consumption an exception, not a routine.
- Eat more vegetables. A LOT more. Find your favorites from such nutritional gems as spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, cucumbers, etc. These all pack a ton of vitamins and fiber and bring 10 calories per ounce or less. You just can’t coat them in high fat dressings. Limit your use of starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, and peas.These are all healthy choices but bring a lot more calories per ounce than the others I suggest.
- Enjoy fruits, but remember that many fruits are very high in sugar. Your best bets are the lower calorie fruits like strawberries, peaches, blueberries, raspberries, apricots, apples, etc. Bananas, mangos and the like are all healthy snacks but have a lot of sugar. Enjoy them, but in lesser quantities than say strawberries (about 9 calories per oz vs 25 per oz in bananas).
- Switch from beef and pork to chicken, turkey and fish.The fat content, to include saturated fat, is much lower as is the calorie count per serving. Again, however, if you are smothering your chicken in mayo or cream sauce…well your weight control ambitions may suffer.
- Limit your alcohol consumption. I like beer as much as anybody and drinking wine with dinner seems more like a right than an indulgence. Just keep in mind that alcoholic drinks are pretty high in calories and fairly low in nutritional value.
- Avoid fast food and processed food as much as possible. A whopper, large fries and 32 oz Coke probably has 1500 calories, before you even refill the Coke. If you are serious about a lifestyle change, such eating has to become the exception, not the routine.
If going to the gym isn’t your thing, don’t do it! I see people all the time that start workout programs, which often cost then substantial gym or personal trainer fees.These people often start with great enthusiasm and intensity, but almost inevitably fall off when life gets busy, they hurt themselves, or any of a plethora of reasons. I don’t fault these people at all. It just isn’t their thing.So what do I recommend if the gym isn’t for you long term? Quite simply, increase your daily activity. Get out and keep moving. Go for a walk at lunchtime and then eat a small lunch at your desk. Walk down the hall to talk to people you need to do business with at work instead of picking up the phone. Take the stairs. Really, do about anything that keeps you moving as part of the Activities of Daily Life (ADLs).The wide selection of activity trackers like Fitbit are really a great tool for keeping you honest about our ADLs. I carry or wear one all the time. Just keep moving, turn off the TV, put down the laptop, and just keep moving!
Stay positive. When you fall off the wagon and have a big cheat meal, don’t get discouraged or panic. Just get back on to your healthy eating routine, focus on ADLs, and forget about the 2000 calorie Bloomin Onion you ate. Patience is key. You didn’t put all the weight on overnight, and it isn’t going to come off overnight.There will be setbacks, disappointments, and splurges.
Well I think you’ve just about covered Weight Loss 101! So what does your daily diet typically look like?
Answer: I should start by saying that my typical eating habits will probably sound just awful to most people, but my tastes have changed over time as I focused less on eating what I like and more on learning to like what I should eat. There is a big difference, and I often ask myself “why am I eating this? While the focus of this question is what nutritional value comes from the item in question, sometimes the answer is because it tastes good and I want it. This is a good answer occasionally. The problem with so many people’s diets is that all decisions are made based on taste and desire vs health.
I generally have two small breakfasts. The first is a bit carb heavy with a no sugar cereal like Fiber One or Shredded Wheat. I measure it out on a kitchen scale because portion size with cereal is very deceptive. I often put yogurt on the cereal, and typically have some sort of veggie with that Some days I’ll make a veggie smoothie, typically based on spinach. I generally sweeten that a bit with one of the sugar free coffee sweeteners. Then I’m off to the gym by 6 am. Immediately after a workout I’ll have a more protein heavy small 2nd breakfast. If I have time to cook, this is typically an egg white omelet (either on the stove or in the microwave) with mushrooms and perhaps fat-free ham. If I’m pressed for time, I’ll go with cottage cheese and perhaps some sort of fruit or vegetable.
Lunch is similarly split in two I generally have a big salad with big meaning 16-24 oz. of veggies. This typically will have some combination of spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, tomato, cucumber, zucchini, etc. I’ll either use a super low calorie dressing like Walden Farms or just use some sort of vinegar or salsa. The second lunch is typically a panini. I’ll use chicken, turkey or fish with a low-fat cheese and either chopped mushrooms or spinach. Dinner also includes a big salad then whatever your mother makes. As you know, she is a magnificent cook and also likes vegetables generally cooked with olive oil. Again, we eat a lot of chicken, turkey and fish.
I almost always have some sort of dessert as well, the key here being to either limit portion size or make something that is low cal. With summer here I’ve been making a lot of banana icecream. If you google one ingredient ice cream you can see how easy it is to use frozen bananas and a food processor to make a dessert with the consistency of icecream but made from bananas and whatever you want to mix with it. Strawberries, peaches, chocolate all work pretty well.
I think the takeaway point here is that I don’t starve myself and I eat A LOT I would assert, however, that what you eat is more important than how much you eat. A diet based heavily on vegetables can be pretty large as so many vegetables are extremely low calorie yet provide excellent nutritional benefits.
How do you deal with temptations, like ooey gooey cinnamon rolls or a cheesy slice of pizza?
Answer: I generally don’t eat cinnamon rolls very often and when I eat pizza moderation is the watchword. You can’t completely deprive yourself of the kinds of food you love. You just can’t over indulge on them. Well you can, but let’s face it…the human body is the ultimate mathematician. It counts every calorie you consume, and while you may think that big bowl of Captain Crunch is about one serving, your body knows it was really four servings. Over time my tastes have changed and I really don’t crave things like pizza as I once did.
I didn’t come to a largely vegetable based diet overnight. Life style changes generally take root over a period of time. But again, diets don’t work. Lifestyle changes do. Just take the pleasures of life like cinnamon rolls in moderation.
So how much protein powder do you eat/drink per day?
Answer: That is a great question, and the answer is very little. I don’t even own a protein shaker I would prefer to eat my protein than drink it. I do have a collection of different flavored protein powders, but when I use them it is often to flavor something like a fruit or vegetable smoothie or sometimes even breakfast cereal. You can easily get enough protein in your diet if you eat a moderate amount of chicken, turkey, fish, or occasionally red meat.
There is a belief among body-builders and weight lifters that you need more protein than medical studies generally suggest. The ingestion of 1 gram of protein per pound of body-weight daily is often sited, and if you talk to serious work-out fanatics or read the on-line blogs you will hear about guys eating 2g (+) per pound. I have yet to see, however, a scientific study that supports even the lower 1 gram level.
Side not from Sarah: 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (g/kg) of bodyweight is the recommendation for a healthy adult. Body builders can bump this up to 1.4g/kg to 1.8g/kg (.64 to .82g per pound of bodyweight), but more than that is generally not necessary. Those gorilla juiceheads guzzling down 2 grams per pound of bodyweight are consuming 4.4g/kg…5 times the recommended amount! At this point they’re either likely consuming too many calories and that extra protein is being converted to fat, or they’re cutting out other major groups and likely major vitamins and minerals.
What do body builders eat in the days and hours leading up to a competition?
Answer: I need to state right up front here that what I, and others, do to get ready for a competition is something that people who are trying to cut some weight or just improve their fitness shouldn’t even begin to do. This is just the final prep for a show to give you that “shrink wrapped” skeletor kind of look. I further think that dipping down to body fat percentages of 4-6% like you see in the photos you have here is probably neither healthy nor safe. Also please understand that I’m really only doing amateur competitions which are all drug tested. You aren’t going to see the Arnold Schwarzenegger kind of people at these.
That said, if I’m going to get up on a stage on a Saturday evening, I’ll start the competition prep the previous Sunday. Sunday thru Thursday morning I’ll be on an ultra-low carb diet. The idea is to deprive the muscle cells of the glycogen they really want. By Wednesday I generally look a little small and flat. On Thursday I’ll reverse gears and start back eating carbs but start slowly dehydrating. On Friday I won’t drink much at all but will dramatically up my carb intake and Saturday morning will have a high GI carb breakfast. Something like Life Cereal covered in honey. The idea is to deplete the muscle cells of glycogen so that when you do carb load right before the competition the cells soak in all the glycogen and fill out. Water follows the glycogen, but being dehydrated the cells will pull water from wherever they can get it. This will soak up the subcutaneous water sloshing around in your body and give you that shrink wrapped look and make the veins pop out. If you time it right, it can be quite a look. As you know, I don’t walk around all year looking like those photos at age 50.
Again, however, this isn’t a routine I’d suggest to anyone who isn’t looking to get up on a stage, be it armature or professional. For weight loss and fitness activity you should stay well hydrated (AND carbohydrated).
So that’s my dad! Nutrition-lover, bodybuilder, best dad ever. Though his insistence on eating vegetables at literally every meal may sometimes get on our nerves, we’re so, so, so proud of him and his perseverance towards better health. Love you, Dad and happy birthday!
P.S. What does a body builder eat on his birthday? Check out my dad’s favorite Chocolate Pumpkin Cake. 2 ingredients, 193 calories. No need to worry about “falling of the wagon” with this one!
Special thanks to Middlebrock Fotography for the competition photos.
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