Have you been lifting weights for a while and want to take your training to the next level by competing in bodybuilding competitions? If so, then this guide is for you! Here, we'll discuss everything you need to know about how to diet and train for a natural bodybuilder.
We'll cover what types of training and diets work best for bodybuilders and some common mistakes people make when trying to get into this type of shape.
By the end of this guide, you'll have all the information you need to start training and dieting like a pro!
What is Natural Bodybuilding?
Bodybuilding, at its core, is developing one's muscles through resistance training. It can be done by lifting weights, using bodyweight exercises, or various other methods.
Natural bodybuilding is a specific subset of this broader category. It generally refers to building muscles without using drugs or other artificial means, including anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing substances.
Many believe that natural bodybuilding is a healthier and more sustainable approach to muscle development. However, some find the challenge of achieving results without resorting to drugs to be more difficult and hence they shifted to using drugs with the training.
While there is no right or wrong way to build hypertrophy, natural bodybuilding may be a better option as it is a drug-free approach.
Now, let's move to the common mistake people make while training for bodybuilding events; they eat like a druggie!
Stop Eating Like a Druggie
If you're serious about bodybuilding, it's time to break up with your druggie diet. It is the one downside to being a natural bodybuilder or recreational lifter because if you eat like someone who uses medicinal products, your nutrition will suffer and eventually make it difficult for you to gain any muscle at all!
For instance, "enhanced" lifters can follow a low-calorie diet without losing muscles as the medications protect their muscle mass. And by taking growth hormone, T3, or clenbuterol, they may be able to eat excessive amounts of food and still lose weight. Natural bodybuilders can’t do this.
You, as a natural lifter, have unique needs, both in the kitchen and in the gym. In the kitchen, you need to fuel your muscles with the right mix of nutrients to help them grow by eating a balanced diet of protein, carbs, and healthy fats.
But it's not just about what you eat; it's also about when you eat it. Timing your meals around your workouts can help you maximize your gains.
Whereas, in the gym, you need to focus on lifting heavy weights and doing compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once instead of isolated ones.
Calorie Guidelines for Natural Bodybuilders
While dieting for a bodybuilding show may seem daunting, the process is essentially similar to any other dieting plan for losing weight and gaining muscle, whether you're a beginner or not.
The main difference lies in how much time you allow yourself to lose while preserving muscle; certain drugs will make this go quicker! (which is not allowed if you are trying natural bodybuilding.)
For that, you'll need to start with calories and determine the number of calories required to keep your weight stable to lose and gain responsibly.
To avoid gaining too much weight (fat) or losing too much weight, you need to control your bulking phase (bodybuilding phase that involves eating excess calories to build muscles) and caloric deficit phase (phase where you eat fewer calories). You should generally consume 200–400 calories more or less than your maintenance calories based on your objective.
It's better to consult a nutritionist, dietician, or coach as they most likely calculate your calorie requirements more accurately. Also, keep in mind that as you prepare for a competition, your metabolism will change, which could cause your caloric requirements to change from week to week.
The ideal weight loss/gain rate is 0.5 kilograms, or 1.1 pounds, every week. Even though this number may seem low, numerous studies have proved that it is the most enduring strategy to adjust your body weight while maintaining lean muscle and being strong.
Weigh yourself once a week and modify your calorie intake accordingly. Scale back your calorie intake by 100 to 200 if you lose or gain weight too quickly. Increase them by 100 to 200 if you lose or gain too slowly.
However, slow and consistent weight loss reduces testosterone, which is especially significant for natural bodybuilders on a diet. Along with losing some lean muscle mass and weight, they also lose testosterone. This essential hormone promotes muscle retention, regulates the fat distribution, and supports strength.
Most bodybuilders typically use testosterone boosters or protein supplements to lessen this impact, which is forbidden in natural bodybuilding competitions.
So what should natural bodybuilders do? Well, you can take protein supplements with safe and organic ingredients (approved by the bodybuilding events). Or, try food alternatives from the kitchen.
After determining your caloric needs, divide them across three macronutrients, protein, carbs, and fats. As a general rule of thumb, it is suggested to eat a diet high in protein and carbohydrates and low in fat as it helps you retain your muscle mass, provides you energy for the gym, and consumes fewer calories overall.
However, as your caloric requirements shift, your macronutrient divisions will also change to accommodate how much food you’re consuming compared to the energy you’re putting out.
Many natural bodybuilders generally decrease their carbohydrate ingestion over time while maintaining protein as high as possible to support muscle retention.
For a natural bodybuilder, protein is essential since it supports muscle growth despite eating in a caloric deficit phase. This lean muscle mass makes up a portion of the weight loss and body fat.
Studies have indicated that consuming over 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight can help people trying to reduce their total calorie intake to prevent losing muscle mass.
According to another study, protein is the most satiating macronutrient, which is important for people controlling their calorie intake and attempting to avoid binge eating.
One more thing: It's time to give up on "protein timing," often known as the "anabolic window." The old-age misconception is that eating protein within an hour of resistance training can help your muscles absorb the nutrients more quickly.
This urban myth has been debunked by science, that protein intake timing has little to no significant effects on muscle size or strength as long as you meet your daily protein count.
Although carbohydrates are the primary energy source for your body, they are a disruptive macronutrient. It's because many people consume simple carbs, like pastries, candies, and white wheat pasta, and bread has no nutritional value compared to complex carbs, such as whole grains and vegetables. To put it another way, quality is above quantity.
Since natural bodybuilders want protein to stay as high as possible, the remaining calories will most likely come from carbohydrates and fats as your diet becomes less calorically dense. But you must maintain high carbohydrate consumption at the start of your natural bodybuilding preparation.
Studies on drug-tested bodybuilders showed that carbohydrate intake might affect your blood sugar levels and make it easier for you to hit caloric goals throughout prep.
Contrary to the statement above, cutting back on carbohydrates can result in poor gym performance. Unfortunately, there isn't much you could do to stop this, the body needs fuel for intense workouts and doesn’t seem willing or able without plenty of carbs available during long training sessions.
It’s no wonder that dietary fat is often demonized as it contains more calories than carbs and proteins; one gram of fat will set you back at 9 versus 4 for each nutrient. However, its significance for bodybuilding cannot be underrated.
Fat aids hormonal activity. Now recall all the significant functions that testosterone performs. Without fat, it can't do any of that.
It is preferable to consume fats through foods, such as cereals and meats, rather than those containing only fat. They’ll help you reach your fat-loss goal real quick.
Micronutrients for Natural Bodybuilders
The vitamins and minerals in food, known as micronutrients, promote various body processes, from improving hand-eye coordination to lessening muscle tiredness. Even though they are essential, bodybuilders are more likely to start restricting them from losing weight before competition day. Two of these essential micronutrients are iron and vitamin D, both of which boost performance in the gym.
Multivitamins are proven fantastic to fill any nutritional gaps in your diet (if any) but select the one that best suits your needs. For instance, you might require more vitamin A than someone deficient in vitamin C.
There is conflicting research on the effectiveness of multivitamins, but most of it points to the fact that you should acquire most of your vitamins through food. Having said that, taking multivitamins is a wise choice if cutting out certain foods from your daily diet.
We won't discuss each micronutrient in detail since there are far too many of them, but we will highlight three in particular.
- Iron helps athletes perform better, but it's also necessary for producing new red blood cells. Additionally, an iron deficiency may result in nutrient-deficit anemia, which, in addition to lowering performance, can cause heart problems, breathlessness, and pale or yellow skin.
Athletes already have a higher risk of anemia since exercise depletes their iron reserves. The recommended daily iron intake for men is 8.7 mg, while for women, it is 14.8 mg.
- The other two are zinc and vitamin D, which your body requires to support testosterone production. Your body cannot produce the necessary amounts of testosterone to lift weights and accomplish other tasks if you are low in these two nutrients.
Besides dietary requirements, here is a quick word on supplements; you can take supplements (not steroids). While many natural bodybuilding leagues have banned substance lists, it is important to make sure any supplements you may be taking, such as protein powders or fat burners, don't contain anything on this list. It will help ensure you are eligible for future competitions!
This section will give you an idea of how many reps you should do and how much rest you should take between sets and other things. It won't necessarily tell you what exercises to do; you need to consult a professional personal trainer or coach.
Consider these suggestions with a grain of salt because your coach or trainer might have you follow a different course of action than what we've suggested.
In a publication, the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness outlined some top advice for athletes on resistance training for bodybuilding. Here are a few examples:
- Train muscle groups twice or more every week.
- The majority of reps should be kept between 6 and 12.
- Take a 1 to 3 minute break between sets.
- Limit concentric motions, which involve contracting the muscles, to 1 to 2 seconds.
- Limit eccentric (muscle-lengthening) movements to 2 to 3 seconds.
- To reduce excessive weight loss, stay away from any intermittent fasting.
1. How much do natural bodybuilders eat?
On a diet for weight loss, start at 11 calories per pound of body weight, whereas on a diet for muscle gain, start at 16 calories per pound of body weight.
2. How important is diet in bodybuilding?
Diet is essential for bodybuilding because it provides the nutrients that the body needs to grow muscle mass. To achieve significant results, you need to eat a balanced diet and make sure you are getting enough protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
You should also make sure you drink plenty of water and avoid processed foods and sugary drinks.
3. Is bodybuilding good for health?
Yes, bodybuilding is good for health. It can help you maintain a healthy weight, increase muscle mass and strength, and improve cardiovascular health.
It’s not easy to be a natural bodybuilder. It takes hard work, dedication, and discipline both in the gym and kitchen. But it’s definitely worth it when you step on stage looking like a million bucks and know that all your hard work has paid off.
So if you’re serious about becoming a natural bodybuilder, start following these tips today and prepare to do some serious work! Are there any other tips you would add? Let us know in the comments below!
- Cangemi, Roberto, et al. “Long-Term Effects of Calorie Restriction on Serum Sex-Hormone Concentrations in Men.” Aging Cell, vol. 9, no. 2, Apr. 2010, pp. 236–42. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1474-9726.2010.00553.x.
- Chappell, A. J., et al. “Nutritional Strategies of High Level Natural Bodybuilders during Competition Preparation.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, vol. 15, 2018, p. 4. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-018-0209-z.
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