Getting started in any endeavor is oftentimes the hardest part. This certainly holds true in bodybuilding. New bodybuilders are almost always more confused than they are confident. Even with the overabundance of information available on various websites and on social media, most beginners will walk away with more questions than answers, especially regarding nutrition.
When you first begin training, it becomes almost immediately apparent that you will need to eat well if you’re going to reach your goals. But how much protein should you be eating each day? Should you be eating high carb and low fat? Some say that you should be eating twice as many calories from carbohydrates as protein. Others suggest a more balanced ratio. What worked for me was to start by consuming the same amount of calories from each macronutrient. This formula will get many of you pretty damn far. How many total calories will you need each day to support your metabolism and fuel the addition of new muscle tissue? Don’t worry because I am going to make it incredibly simple for you. Follow the easy steps outlined below and you will be on your way to a sensible, balanced diet that will help you get started...and then some. All you need to know is your body weight.
First, we’re going to calculate the number of grams of protein you should be consuming each day, using myself as an example. Most athletes and trainers will agree that the correct amount of protein to consume on a daily basis should be somewhere between 1-1.5g of protein per pound of body weight. Let’s go with 1.25g of protein per pound of body weight. At a body weight of 260 pounds, I would have to consume 325g (260 lb x 1.25g) of protein daily. And because protein has 4 calories per gram, that would mean that I would be consuming 1300 calories (325g x 4 calories) daily from protein.
Carbohydrates and Fats
Next, we’re going to determine the amount of carbohydrates and fats we should be consuming each day. Carbohydrates, like proteins, contain 4 calories per gram. Since we are aiming for the same amount of nutrition from each macro, I will also be taking in 1300 calories per day from carbohydrates, or 325g of carbohydrates daily. Fats contain 9 calories per gram. If I’m looking for 1300 calories per day from fats, that would mean I would have to ingest 144g (1300 calories/9 calories) of fats daily.
Lastly, we’re going to check our total calorie intake against a BMR (basal metabolic rate) calculator for athletes. Your BMR is the number of calories you need to consume each day to maintain your current size. Using the BMR calculator here https://www.muscleandstrength.com/tools/bmr-calculator and indicating that I am moderately active and exercising 3-5 days each week, my BMR is 3651 calories daily. Based on the calculations above, I should be consuming 3900 calories (1300 calories from each macronutrient) each day as part of a sane diet geared toward gaining quality mass. I have an extra 250 calories each day to allocate toward gaining size—PERFECT.
Body weight x 1.25 = protein requirement in grams/day
Grams protein/day x 4 calories per gram = total daily calories from protein
Grams and calories per day of protein = grams and calories per day of carbs
Total daily calories from protein divided by 9 = grams per day of fat
Add up calories from each macro (answer from #2 above x 3) for total daily calorie intake
Check calculated daily calorie intake against BMR calculator for athletes
Calculated daily calorie intake should be slightly higher than calculated BMR
Now that we have a solid foundation and know how many grams of protein, carbs, and fats to consume on a daily basis, all that we have left to do is select the foods from which we will derive those nutrients. The simplest and most valuable guideline I can give you is to choose foods that are natural and digest well. Complicated food products with lengthy lists of ingredients are out. Your diet should consist primarily of foods that are singular ingredients rather than food products. When it comes to protein sources, poultry, beef, eggs, and fish should be your staples as they are the most concentrated sources of protein. Beans and legumes are also valuable protein sources with their own benefits, but should be consumed with one or more animal protein source as they are incomplete on their own.
Rice, potatoes, and oats are the most ideal carb sources as they are gluten free and are the least likely to cause digestive upset when consumed in large quantities on a regular basis. Wheat based products such as pastas and cereals are certainly not out of the question, but I wouldn’t make them the foundation of your carbohydrate intake.
When it comes to fats, keep in mind that some of the protein sources listed above will contain varying quantities of fat that need to be taken into account when calculating total fat intake. Assuming you are eating whole eggs (which I highly recommend), you will be getting valuable fats via the egg yolk. In addition to the valuable fats contained in egg yolks, healthful oils can serve as ideal fat sources. In my opinion, olive oil is the perfect fat source. It’s easily digested and high in monounsaturated fatty acids. Other valuable fat sources include raw nuts and seeds and the fats contained in wild caught fish. Avocado is also a great fat source so long as you digest it well. Again, I want to stress the importance of two key points: your food should be both natural and easily digested.At the end of the day, not one macronutrient is inherently more important—or required in greater quantities—than another. A 1:1:1 calorie ratio is the perfect place to begin. From there, you can certainly adjust macros up or down as needed. There is no doubt that some people seem to do better with higher carbs and lower fats or vice versa, but the majority of people do exceedingly well with a balanced diet. Each macronutrient is valuable in its own right and plays a vital role in everyone’s diet. As long as natural foods that digest well serve as the basis of your diet, you’d have to try pretty hard to screw things up.
There is often a great deal of confusion surrounding how to approach the process of getting in shape. Whether you’re starting preparations for a contest or want to get yourself in shape, the most challenging part is simply getting started. An evolving approach is best. Just as you wouldn’t go from being single to completely changing your life by moving in with someone you don’t know, I think it’s foolish to make grandiose plans to commit to a diet that is a huge departure from what you currently follow. What if that diet is just not right for you? To go from a diet that you have been following for a significant period of time, regardless of how good or bad it may seem, to one that is radically different is usually a mistake.
Evan Centopani has established himself in the industry as a "health conscious" bodybuilder who understands that we only get one body per lifetime. He takes care of himself in a sport that is not always known for doing such a thing. What does he have to say about Animal Greens, a pill pack greens product designed to supplement your daily vegetable intake? Read his latest article if you're interested.