This article will cover some of the fundamental components of nutrition as they relate to bodybuilding and optimizing body composition.
Here’s what you’ll learn…
What metabolism means and why it’s important
What calories are and their impact on whether you gain, lose or maintain your body weight
An overview of the three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat
The role these macronutrients have on body composition
A brief overview of the micronutrients: vitamins and minerals
The importance of fiber and water intake
Metabolism refers to all the biochemical processes that occur inside your body to maintain life. These processes allow you to grow, repair damage, reproduce, and respond to the environment. Metabolism is usually divided into two categories: anabolism and catabolism.
Anabolism means to build tissue by using energy.
This is the process that is responsible for building muscle tissue (it also builds fat).
Catabolism means to break down tissue and release energy. This process is responsible for reducing body fat (but hopefully not muscle).
In simple terms, our body weight is a result of catabolism minus anabolism — the amount of energy we release into our bodies (catabolism) minus the amount of energy our bodies use up (anabolism).
The excess energy is stored either as glycogen (in your muscles and liver) or fat.
Your metabolism is the base you use in determining how many calories to consume.
A calorie is a form of energy measurement. Different macronutrients contain different amounts of calories per gram based on how much energy they produce in the body.
- Protein: 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram
- Fat: 9 calories per gram
This helps us determine how much food you need to eat to reach your goals.
There are three caloric states you can be in:
Hypercaloric — the state in which more energy is consumed via food and drink than is being utilized to produce body processes or movement. This leads to an increase in tissue weight.
Hypocaloric — the state in which an individual uses (to produce body maintenance, recovery, and movement) MORE calories than (s)he consumes. This leads to a decrease in tissue weight.
Eucaloric — the state in which an individual’s intake of calories via food and drink is the same as his expenditure on activities and body processes.
This leads to stable tissue weight.
Calorie intake has the largest effect on body composition. Learn how to calculate calories and macronutrients here.
Calorie intake for muscle building or fat loss
When adjusting calories to build muscle or lose body fat an important factor to discuss is the rate at which you should gain or lose weight.
Various sources seem to agree that a 1-2 pound rate gain or loss per week is within reason for either goal.
While this recommendation is accepted, a better recommendation would be a 0.5-1% gain or loss of your total body weight per week.
Therefore, if you weigh 150 pounds and are trying to build muscle; a weight gain of 0.75-1.5 pounds per week would be ideal.
This model takes into consideration body mass differences versus the standard 1-2 pound recommendation.
The three macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Macronutrients provide the energy for your metabolic systems to function.
Protein is the most important macronutrient to consider in terms of bodybuilding and body composition. Protein is an essential macronutrient, meaning it is required for survival.
Protein breaks down into amino acids that are used as the building blocks for muscle tissue. Not only does protein provide the building blocks for muscle tissue, but it also prevents muscle loss.
Note — If you are not consuming adequate amounts of protein, constantly throughout the day, your ability to build muscle will suffer.
Your body is in a constant flux between muscle protein breakdown (MPB) and muscle protein synthesis (MPS). Optimal protein intake, over consistent intervals, throughout the day, helps reduce/prevent muscle protein breakdown — which is why it is so important for improving body composition.
The majority of studies put optimal daily protein intake somewhere in the range of 0.8-1.0g per pound of bodyweight for individuals looking to enhance body composition.
While I believe 1.0g/lb to be an acceptable level for protein intake, most strength coaches I’ve worked with (or who’s recommendations I agree with) usually advise getting between 1.2-1.4g/lb.
I tend to consume between 1.2-1.4g/lb per day but I also don’t stress out if I only get 1g/lb. Consistent feedings are the most important factor when it comes to protein intake.
Carbohydrates are the only non-essential macronutrient; meaning your body does not require them for survival. However, just because they are not essential does not mean they are not required for optimal body composition purposes.
The importance of carbohydrate intake on body composition is second only to protein. Carbohydrates are important because they provide energy for the workouts that build muscle.
During resistance training, the primary fuel source during exercise is the body’s glycogen reserves.
Glycogen is a form of carbohydrate stored by the body primarily in muscle tissue (also in the liver).
If glycogen levels are low, workout performance decreases which will reduce your ability to reach your goals.
Glycogen reserves in muscle tissue also play a role in muscle protein synthesis. If glycogen reserves are chronically low it can impair muscle growth and even lead to muscle tissue loss.
The final important note on carbohydrates is their effect on insulin levels which will be discussed in a later post.FatFat is also considered an essential macronutrient.
There are essential fatty acids that must be consumed because the body cannot make them on its own.
Fat is the least important macronutrient in terms of body composition — once the minimum required amount has been met.
Fat intake largely depends on what your goals are depending on which bodybuilding phase you are currently in.
The minimum healthy fat intake an individual should consume is approximately 10-20% of their total body weight in grams.
So if you weighed 150 pounds your minimum fat requirements would be 15-30 grams.
Fats also serve as the base for the production of many hormones. If fat intake drops too low, hormone levels suffer (testosterone for example).
This is why a minimum fat intake should be maintained at all times. This is a good time to address the myth that consuming dietary fat will make you fat.
There is an optimal calorie intake you should be consuming depending on your goals. If you meet your protein and carbohydrate requirements, then the remainder of the calories should come from fat.
Remember that fat does not make you fat. Excessive calorie intake makes you fat.
Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals that are required by the body to maintain normal body processes.
Vitamins can be separated into two classes: water-soluble and fat-soluble.
These classes are based on how the vitamin is absorbed by the body. Water-soluble vitamins include the B and C complexes and are easily absorbed as they bind to water molecules.
The fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K, are absorbed only when dietary fat is present along with the vitamins.
Minerals are chemical elements required in small quantities to maintain various body processes. For bodybuilding purposes, a subgroup of minerals known as electrolytes is important to discuss.
Electrolytes are responsible for allowing skeletal muscle contraction to take place.
Electrolytes include sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
Electrolyte requirements are easily met by most individuals.
Micronutrient deficiencies are rare in first world countries but it is still possible.
It is recommended that you consume 6-8 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
As well as an adequate variety of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fat sources.
Consuming a variety of foods is key so if you are limited in your food variety or you do not eat enough fruits and vegetables I recommend a good micronutrient supplement.
It is worth noting dietary fat is required for the absorption of some vitamins and minerals so any micronutrient supplement you might consider taking should be consumed with a fatty meal.
Fiber is important due to its effects on digestive health and gut motility. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and helps promote the movement of material through your digestive system.
Proven health benefits of adequate fiber intake: Significantly lowers risk for developing coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and certain gastrointestinal diseases.
Increasing fiber intake lowers blood pressure and serum cholesterol levels.
Increased intake of soluble fiber lowers blood sugar levels and improves insulin sensitivity in non-diabetic and diabetic individuals.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests you consume 14g of dietary fiber per 1,000 calories.
This means the more you eat the more fiber you need. If you are not consuming adequate fiber intakes I recommend a fiber supplement.
Water intake is an often overlooked part of proper nutrition. Even mild dehydration can have a negative impact on body composition. When your cells are properly hydrated the actual volume (size) of the cell increases.
When muscle cells are hydrated they are more anabolic — meaning it is easier to build muscle.
When the cells of the rest of your body are hydrated it is easier to burn fat.
A good recommendation is to drink approximately 75% of your body weight in ounces of water each day.
So if you weighed 200 pounds you would drink 150 ounces of water which is a little more than 1 gallon.
Another way to determine hydration levels is by the color of your urine. Your urine should be clear to light yellow at all times.
If it is darker than that you need to drink more water.