Okay, lets get a few facts straight. If you're thinking of becoming a bodybuilder, or you already are a bodybuilder and are looking for some tips, or you like to poke fun at bodybuilders (it happens more than you'd think), then there are a few things you should probably know.
Bodybuilding will not shrink your testicles, give you saggy 'man breasts' or turn you into a tub of lard when you reach 60. These things do happen to some bodybuilders, but only if they go about it the wrong way. If you train well and eat a good diet, you'll never experience any ill effects from bodybuilding. However, it does have a dark side. Many bodybuilders succumb to the temptation of rapid gains and incredible results, and indeed it is true that steroids will give you a finer body than natural training ever could, but it is a destructive route. It is these poor souls that find themselves with shrivelled testicles and saggy man breasts (caused by the body producing oestrogen in response to the steroids). Natural bodybuilding, however, will not have these effects, and it's only people who've never lifted a weight in their lives that say it will.
That said, there is still a vast array of supplements available that are not steroids and will be positively beneficial to your long-term health as well as your state of muscle growth.
Leaving supplements aside (look up the commercial bodybuilding sites for more info), it is important to understand what exactly it means to be a bodybuilder.
The goal of a bodybuilder is to grow his muscles through training and to maximise this growth with a good diet, sleeping well etc. Most people start with the goal of only growing their muscles to a certain point, but others choose to go further and grow their muscles to the fullest extent possible. Contrary to popular belief, professional bodybuilders can indeed get their hands down by their sides, and they also have excellent control of their bodily movements and generally have a good field of movement. Many people that the ignorant may refer to as 'muscle bound' are in fact more flexible than the ignorant person poking fun at them.
One of the things that separates bodybuilders from power lifters is that bodybuilders pay close attention to the fat levels of their bodies and take every measure to keep them as low as possible in order to maximise the visibility of their muscles (and giving rise to the 'popping out veins' look).
This is one of the most vital aspects of bodybuilding. You are what you eat, and if you eat too many cream buns you'll start to look like one. Food is composed of three main constituents, each of which is listed below. A healthy diet consists of each of these constituents in the right quantities and proportions, and each one is essential for the normal functioning of the body. (Yes, even fat. Without it, you'll die.)
Here's an example of a healthy, balanced diet for bodybuilders. (Note that it will provide too many calories and an unnecessary amount of protein for non-bodybuilders, which can put a strain on your liver and kidneys as they struggle to convert the excess protein to urea and excrete it from the body). Feel free to compose your own diets by using this one as a guide.
- 8am: Porridge
- 11am: Tuna roll
- 2pm: Jacket potato and low fat cottage cheese
- 5pm: Small chicken pasta dish or a high protein sandwich
- 7.45pm: Poached salmon + rice + salad
- 9pm: Small yoghurt
- 11pm: 2 small eggs, poached
You'll notice that this diet is composed of a large number of small meals. This is the 'grazing' principle. It is designed to give your body a steady supply of nutrients to support a constant state of muscle growth. If you go for too long without food and try any hard physical activity (such as training), your body will produce cortisol, which will cannibalise your hard gained muscle tissue for energy. Unfortunately, your body finds it easier to burn muscle for fuel rather than body fat, so it's important to eat regularly.
This is one of the most basic parts of bodybuilding. Without a ready supply of protein, your muscles simply will not grow. A bodybuilder needs around 1.5g of high quality protein per kilogram of bodyweight each day to sustain optimal muscle growth. This is 120g of protein for an average male of 80kg, about twice the recommended daily intake for non-bodybuilders.
Types of Protein
Before you get excited about the high protein content of your lentil hot pot, you should understand that not all protein is the same. The biological value of protein (how useful it is to the human body) can be measured by our dear friends in the food nutrition industry.
Biological values of various top quality proteins and ingredients:
- High quality whey protein (artificially prepared supplement) (110-139bv)
- Whey protein or lactalbumin (artificially prepared supplement)(104bv)
- Whole egg, cooked (100bv)
- Cows milk (91bv)
- Egg white (88bv)
- Fish (83bv)
- Beef (80bv)
- Chicken (79bv)
- Calcium caseinate or casein (77bv)
- Soya protein or soybeans (74bv)
- Oats (65bv)
- Rice protein (59bv)
- Peanuts (56bv)
- Peas (55bv)
- Whole Wheat (54bv)
- Beans (49bv)
Simply put, what this means is that beans, for instance, will only do you half as much good as a whole, cooked egg. Therefore, you would have to eat twice as much bean protein as egg protein (not to be confused with eating twice as many beans, which is a different matter altogether) to get the same effect. Refer to the food packaging to see what percentage weight of the beans is protein.
One of the stereotypical images of bodybuilders (and there are many more besides) is of a breakfast consisting of a mug of raw eggs. This simply doesn't happen, since it's thoroughly manky - this Researcher's tried it! There are many other ways to reach that goal of 120g of protein a day, such as cooking the eggs first. Note though, that eating huge quantities of eggs will make you smell somewhat sulphurous, and if you eat the yolks your cholesterol level will shoot up.
Contrary to popular belief, it's not eating fat that makes you fat, it's eating more calories than your body uses that makes you fat. Nevertheless, there are still particular types of fat that you'll want to avoid.
Fats from dairy products, red meat and poultry are high in saturated fats, which are generally disapproved of in sporting circles as they lead to high levels of LDL cholesterol, high blood pressure and an increased incidence of heart disease. That said, they aren't particularly detrimental to bodybuilding in general but it's still worth avoiding them.
Margarine and similar spreads contain high levels of trans-fatty acids and hydrogenated oils, which are known to inhibit the enzymes that reduce body fat. Despite the general consensus to the opposite, for the purpose of bodybuilding, it's wiser to use butter rather than margarine.
Find ways to use olive oil or flax oil in cold dishes. Don't cook the oil, as this changes the nature of the fats and makes the whole thing pointless.
Eat more oily fish. Tuna, salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines and kippers all contain large quantities of high quality protein, but they also contain a lot of fish oil. What's so special about this oil is that it is high in essential fatty acids and omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, which regulate your hormones, lift your mood and help to reduce body fat. Essential fatty acids are also essential for muscle growth. Without a plentiful supply of them, you should expect pitiful gains.
95g of fat a day is considered a healthy intake, but this can be increased if the fat is from good sources and you are not exceeding your daily energy usage.
This dietary area is, fortunately, rather simple. Avoid foods containing simple carbohydrates, such as soft drinks (ie, not Sunny Delight!), sweets, cakes etc. Although these foods are low in fat, the ridiculous amounts of simple sugars present will cause your liver to pump out bucket loads of insulin to convert the sugar into body fat. Also, it rots your teeth and your mother would be unhappy.
Eat foods such as rice, pasta, bread etc. The complex carbohydrates in these foods will be slowly digested through the day, providing a constant, steady stream of energy that won't trigger an insulin spike and will give you the energy for whatever activities you've got planned.
All this food stuff is great, but what about actually lifting those weights? Well, there's stuff to know about that too. First off, going to the gym is one thing, but if you go there and spend all your time chatting up girls, you're going to stay 'twig boy' forever. The whole point of going to the gym is to train. If you're unsure about how to use the machines, ask someone!
When training, it's important not to over-train. If you spend more than about 50 minutes training, your testosterone levels will plummet and your cortisol levels will rise, causing your body to start digesting your hard-earned muscle tissue. Also, don't train for more than four days a week, as this will exhaust your body and you'll feel tired, grouchy and unmotivated. Your body needs time to rest and recover from time to time, and pushing it too hard will only set you back.
A mistake many people make is to sit at a machine, load up a couple of plates and then spend the next five minutes doing 200 repetitions with a 10-kilogram load. This will do nothing for your muscle mass, and is only useful for building up endurance, which is all very good and well, but the time and the energy could be much more gainfully employed. Another tendency is for people to gravitate towards the cardiovascular machines (the treadmills, rowing machines etc.) A little cardiovascular work is a great thing, but too much of it defeats the whole pint of bodybuilding. Come on, do you want to run the London marathon or look like Arnie?
Ok, now that you've familiarised yourself with the machines, you need to work out how strong you are. Go to the bench press and load it up with about 50 kilograms. If you can lift it 12 times you're doing pretty well for a newbie. Experiment with the weights until you can lift it 12 times. The last lift (known as a 'rep' - short for repetition) should be almost impossible. Ideally, you should see spots in front of your eyes and everything should go dark for a moment when you sit up. This tells you that you've just reached your current weight (and probably indicates that you held your breath on that last rep. Remember to breathe in on the easy bit and breathe out on the hard bit). Repeat this with all the machines and write down or memorise the weights you used for each one.
The most important thing to remember when using weights is that only large weights will cause serious muscle growth. For most machines, such as the leg extension, pec deck and bench press, you should be using a weight that you simply cannot lift more than about 12 times, and each time you sit down at the machine, you should keep going until your muscles are exhausted and simply won't work anymore. It's no use stopping at nine reps because you're tired. You have to push until your muscles cease functioning to receive the full benefits.
Remember - to look strong, you have to be strong. No amount of toning and definition work will give you that sought-after bulky look.
Things to Avoid Like the Plague
The following is a list of things that will slow your progress right down. Don't expect to make much headway unless you sort these out first.
Smoking even a single joint will seriously reduce your testosterone levels (the important male hormone that is the reason why men are so much stronger than women) and raise your oestrogen levels (which turns you into a bit of a wimp) for as long as 72 hours.
Much the same as cannabis, except it tends to make you fat and only affects your testosterone/oestrogen balance for 24 hours.
Oxygen is an important nutrient too, and having tar-filled lungs is never a good thing (and neither is lung cancer).
This can be worse than no training at all.
These can really muck you up.
A holiday can do you the world of good, but going too long without training will knock you right back, since your muscles will rapidly deteriorate after 3-4 weeks of inactivity. Remember to take breaks from training occasionally, but keep it to a week twice a year, not 3 weeks every few months.
The obvious reason to avoid this one like the plague is that it may very well be the plague! Apart from the lethal kind, a bad flu or cold can set you back by weeks or months, so it's worth keeping your immune system in good order. Get plenty of sleep and avoid stress (not always easy, but try) and if you can afford it, 3g of vitamin C a day and a good A-Z vitamin and mineral package will do wonders for your disease resistance (for when an isolation suit just isn't practical).
Remember, bodybuilding takes time and effort. There are no magical pills (even steroids require a good training regime, diet, etc to be effective) and gains can only be bought with sweat and pain (and blood if you're careless with the weights). Don't give up just because you haven't put on 10 kilos of muscle in your first week. Be patient and persevere. You'll get there eventually.