Balanced diet

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I am currently reading The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding by Arnold Schwarzenegger and I will summarize what I have learned in a series of posts about health, nutrition and diet. I highly recommend reading the book.

This is part 2 where I learn about a balanced diet.

Disclaimer: I am not a certified nutritionist and make no claims to the contrary. Each individual’s dietary needs and restrictions are unique to the individual.

The amount of energy contained in food is measured in calories. A calorie is the amount of heat given by slow burning of energy in muscle cells. All of the macronutrients contain energy in different amount of calories: 1 g of protein or 1 g of carbohydrate is 4 calories and 1 g of fat is 9 calories.

The body metabolizes the calories in basal metabolism or the energy to maintain the basic life functions and in physical activity. The muscle determines the caloric requirements of the body: the more muscle you have the more calories consumed at rest and the more muscle effort you put in the more calories consumed in the process.

RMR or resting metabolic rate is calculated based on the mean body mass as follows:

RMR = lean body mass in pounds / 2205 x 30,4

There are other factors that influence the metabolic rate, like age, gender, body type, thyroid functions.

So we said that the harder you exercise and the more work you put in the more calories are metabolized, e.g. you burn of energy faster by running instead of walking and with bodybuilding it depends of the intensity of your workout so the fewer reps and longer the rests between sets is less intense than training continuously with little rest.

But there is no such thing as a free lunch: false energy in form of alcohol or caffeine can give you short-term results but the performance ability will be damaged over time.

Certain nutritional minimums have to be met in order for the body not to suffer from deprivation.

For protein the generally recommended amount is 1 g for every kg of body weight and bodybuilders eat as much as 1 g per pound of body weight.

As for carbs 60 g is required for the basic process of the nervous system but carbohydrates are also the fuel for the muscles so the workouts would suffer with a low-carb diet. How much carbohydrate to eat depends on what the goal is: maintain, lose or gain weight. Keep in mind that too little carbs causes carb deprivation and your body goes into ketosis.

Typically insulin is released by the body to break down the carbohydrate sugar so with high glycemic carbs a lot of insulin is released which is an insulin spike. This insulin quickly processes the carbs and blood sugar levels drop fast, then energy levels drop so you get hungry again soon. It’s is best to combine these high glycemic carbohydrates with protein, fat or low glycemic carbs. Its best to avoid fast food as they are empty calories with little nutrition value.

The normal recommended amount for fast is <30%.

The body works best with food in combinations. Arnold’s macros are typically 40% protein, 40% carbohydrates and 20% fat. Take all the nutrients needed from real food for maximum energy and growth, else you can develop deficiencies.


Fat is burned in the furnace of carbs

The body needs carbohydrates in order to properly metabolize body fat, otherwise carb deprivation will set in. If you don’t eat enough carbohydrates, the body takes emergency measures. The primary symptom of ketosis ketonemia or the ketone bodies in the blood which are the result of incomplete burning of fats. Ketones can be used in place of glycogen for energy production, also as energy to fuel the nervous system but ketones are not as efficient in fueling exercise as glycogen. In a prolonged state of ketosis you feel sluggish, you get dehydrated and your mental process suffers. Also the body metabolizes amino acids for additional energy.

Any deprivation is detrimental to healthy, training intensity and the ability to build maximum muscle mass.

Eating and training

Eating heavily before training causes conflict in the body, a demand for excess blood in too many places at once, both for the digestive system and the muscles.  The muscles require blood during training, the pump is the blood swelling up the muscles.

It takes 2-6 hours for the stomach to empty contents, carbs are first, then protein and last are the fatty foods.

In the morning when you wake up you haven’t had any food for 8-12 hours and you body is depleted of carbs. In order to produce glycogen you should eat a high-carb breakfast, e.g. fruit, juice, toast. High protein or fats take longer to digest so it is not recommended to eat them before training. Also it is best not to eat any big meals after the workout, some protein or a protein and carb supplement drink is enough. When the system returns to the normal state, you can have a nutritious balanced meal of real food.

As for how often you should eat, the body handles a lot of small meals better than a few big ones. 3 meals per day is good but 4 meals per day is better. Bodybuilders eat every 2-3 hours and have 5 meals per day. Eating often is a good strategy for weight control as you rarely get extremely hungry so the body has no reason to store the food intake as body fat.


  • The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, by Arnold Schwarzenegger