Bodybuilding involves developing muscle and improving physique through progressive weight training and intentional dietary changes.
Bodybuilders are interested in increasing the size of their muscles and improving their appearance, not just developing their overall strength.
A person can apply the same techniques of bodybuilding for their regular workout routines. People interested in growing muscle, whether for bodybuilding or general fitness, need to focus on challenging resistance training to trigger the development of larger muscles.
People can also consider the following three potential mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy:
- metabolic stress
- mechanical tension
- muscle damage
In addition to workouts, bodybuilders need to focus on their diet. A good understanding of how foods affect their size and current goals is important for those looking to bulk up or lean out.
A bulk-up period can last several months to years. During this time, a person will consume a high calorie and protein-rich diet to grow as much muscle mass as possible.
During the lean-out stage, the person focuses on losing as much body fat as possible while maintaining as much muscle mass as possible.
Bodybuilding can yield several health benefits. One clear advantage comes from exercise frequently with aerobic and strength training sessions.
People often use aerobic exercise to lose body fat. According to a recent review, there is overwhelming evidence that regular exercise increases a person’s lifespan and helps prevent several chronic conditions and diseases.
Strength training also plays an important role in overall health. According to another review, muscular strength reduces the risk of several mortality risk factors.
Although the review article indicates scientists need to do more research on the subject, the benefit of strength training plays an important role in keeping people healthful.
In developing their diet, bodybuilders will want to focus on healthful foods and nutrition. They should follow a healthful dietary eating plan that includes the foods they need to develop muscle mass safely.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, following a nutrient-rich diet can also help reduce the risk of developing health conditions that negatively impact a person’s quality of life and life expectancy.
To effectively gain muscle mass or reduce body fat, a person needs to focus on eating the right number of calories.
They also need to concentrate on their macronutrient consumption and eating strategy, or how many times they eat throughout the day.
The number of calories a person eats, combined with exercise, affects whether they will gain, lose, or maintain their current weight.
In order to bulk, bodybuilders should eat more calories than their body needs to maintain weight each day. Conversely, when preparing for a competition, they need to eat fewer calories than they need each day to lose fat while preserving muscle mass.
According to an older review, a bodybuilder should increase their necessary caloric intake by 15% during the off-season or bulk-up periods. To lose fat, they should eat 15% fewer calories than the number they need daily to maintain their weight.
A person should consult their doctor, certified fitness instructor, or dietitian for professional guidance on how many calories they need to eat daily. They can also try using a reputable online calculator.
A person can then tailor their caloric intake based on whether they are in the bulking or leaning phase of their training.
Macronutrients, or macros, are three general types of nutrients that provide energy to a person. They are:
A person following a bodybuilding routine should base what they eat on a balance of these three macronutrient groups.
Various methods can determine how much of each macronutrient a person should consume. Here are a couple of approaches:
According to an older review, a person should eat the following percentages of each macro during both the bulking and leaning phase:
- 55–60% of calories from carbohydrates
- 25–30% of calories from protein
- 15–20% of calories from fat
A more recent review suggests the following distribution of macros:
- 2.3–3.1 grams per kilogram of lean body mass per day of protein
- 15–30% of calories from fat
- remaining calories should come from carbohydrates
Number of meals per day
There is still debate about the number of meals a person should eat each day within the bodybuilding community.
One review indicates that a person can consume between three and six meals daily. It states the timing of meals and workouts has no impact on retaining muscle or reducing fat.
A bodybuilder can choose from many different foods when preparing their meal plan across the week. In general, they should focus on foods that provide adequate calories and nutrients.
During the cutting phase, it is desirable for a bodybuilder to feel fuller on a given amount of calories. However, they may struggle with the opposite problem during the bulking phase. This is because they may need to continue eating to hit high calorie intake goals, despite possibly feeling full.
Proteins should make up a portion of a bodybuilding diet.
Sources should include lean proteins, including:
- lean red meat
- poultry such as chicken and turkey breasts
- beans and legumes
- yogurt and low fat dairy products
- nuts and seeds
A person who is bodybuilding needs carbs to provide additional energy during workouts.
They can include the following as examples:
- whole grains, such as oatmeal, quinoa, rice, cereals, and popcorn
- starchy vegetables, such as potatoes
- fruits, such as oranges, apples, and bananas
- other vegetables, such as leafy greens, cucumbers, and broccoli
Fats are the third macronutrient people need to focus on in their diet.
Health-promoting fats include:
A person should note that many foods provide more than one macronutrient. For example, nuts can provide both fat and protein.
A person’s specific needs for each food will vary based on their size and daily calorie requirements.
Eating plans will vary from person to person based on biological gender, size, and goals.
Additionally, different coaches and nutritionists may make varying recommendations based on whether the person following a bodybuilding meal plan is trying to cut excess body fat or build lean muscle mass.
According to a study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, bodybuilders at the start of the prep phase will take in more calories than those nearing competition.
The most abundant macronutrient in the bodybuilder’s diet plan across all phases was carbohydrates from fruit, whole grains, and vegetables.
The same study states that protein from white meats, dairy, nuts, and seafood was the second most abundant macronutrient in a bodybuilder’s diet.
The study notes that bodybuilders ate fewer red meats and eggs, though they still received protein from those sources.
Portions will vary from person to person. For portion recommendations, a person should calculate their own macro needs or consult a certified nutritionist.
Here is a sample 7-day meal plan for bodybuilding.
- Breakfast: scrambled eggs, stir-fried veggies, and oatmeal
- Snack: whey protein shake
- Lunch: grilled chicken breast, mixed greens, and baked sweet potato
- Snack: hard-boiled egg(s) and carrot sticks
- Dinner: broiled fish, green beans with brown rice
- Breakfast: protein pancakes with fresh berries
- Snack: apple slices and almonds
- Lunch: lean ground beef burger on lettuce with tomato, onion, and green beans
- Snack: protein shake
- Dinner: shrimp stir-fried with bell pepper and brown rice over spinach
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt, almonds or walnuts, whole grain granola, and fresh berries
- Snack: protein shake
- Lunch: grilled fish with a spinach salad and broccoli
- Snack: egg white omelet with bell peppers and mushrooms
- Dinner: chicken breast topped with fresh salsa with a sweet potato and a side salad
- Breakfast: oatmeal with berries and scrambled egg whites
- Snack: turkey breast with carrots and celery
- Lunch: sirloin steak with broccoli and mushrooms
- Snack: apples with natural nut butter
- Dinner: broiled fish, brown rice, and a mixed green salad
- Breakfast: protein shake with oatmeal
- Snack: hard-boiled egg whites with sliced peppers and cucumbers
- Lunch: grilled chicken with white bean and tomato salad
- Snack: Greek yogurt with berries and nuts
- Dinner: grilled fish with quinoa and green beans
- Breakfast: scrambled egg whites with cheese, peppers, herbs, and Ezekiel bread
- Snack: protein shake
- Lunch: grilled chicken breast with bell peppers, black beans, and onions over romaine lettuce
- Snack: apple and almonds
- Dinner: sirloin steak with sweet potato and asparagus
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt with whole grain granola and berries
- Snack: turkey breast with carrots and celery sticks
- Lunch: grilled chicken breast over spinach with sliced strawberries and almonds
- Snack: protein shake
- Dinner: shrimp stir-fried with peppers, onions, and broccoli over brown rice
Supplements can play an important role in providing nutrients to a bodybuilder.
According to a recent review, supplements and vitamins that may help a bodybuilder include:
There is some debate about whether protein shakes are necessary for bodybuilding.
Protein shakes can help people who cannot get all the protein they need from their daily diet. A person may want to avoid shakes with excessive added sugar unless it is consistent with their nutritional needs.
When choosing any supplement, a person should note that the regulation of the supplement industry by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not as strict as for pharmaceuticals. People should look for supplements that verify their products using a third party.
They should also seek advice from their doctor or nutritionist when choosing a supplement or shake.
There are some risks associated with bodybuilding.
One risk is overtraining, which could lead to injury or even illness. Some experts recommend taking a rest day every 7–10 days to ensure their muscles have a chance to recover fully. A person may also wish to avoid overworking the same muscle groups two days in a row.
Another risk of bodybuilding is that some participants may have body dissatisfaction and eating disorders.
A 2018 study found a correlation between eating disorders and body dissatisfaction and body dysmorphic disorders in biologically male bodybuilders. The researchers indicate a need for more research and prevention strategies to help those affected.
A bodybuilding meal plan should consist of healthful fats, proteins, and carbs. A person should plan to eat between three and six times a day and adjust their total caloric count based on whether trying to bulk up or lean out.
A person should talk to their doctor or a certified fitness professional before starting a bodybuilding routine or meal plan for the first time. That way, they can get additional information on how to implement a new program safely.