Creating the ultimate bodybuilding meal plan is a difficult task, there are so many differing opinions regarding calories, macronutrient ratios, what supplements to take, and even how often you should eat. In this article, we will simplify the bodybuilding diet for you so that you can improve your physique as quickly as possible. Drug-free!
When people think bodybuilding, they think of massive 8,000 calorie meals. But this is not always the case. Depending on the individual's goals, the bodybuilder may be eating thousands of calories per serving, or limiting themselves to just 1200 calories for the day.
If you are planning on competing in a competition you will have two distinct phases to your program: The bulking phase and the cutting phase.
During the bulking phase, you will be consuming more calories than you are burning throughout the day so that you can gain muscle.
Your muscles need fuel to grow, more specifically they need increased protein to perform protein synthesis (where your muscles repair and grow after a workout). The goal of the bulking phase is to put on as much muscle as possible while keeping fat gain to a minimum.
During the cutting phase (which occurs immediately after bulking) bodybuilders will aim to lose as much fat as possible whilst maintaining their muscle size. They do this by lowering calories (usually carbs) slowly over the weeks looking to peak for the competition.
As you can probably see, bulking and cutting are quite complicated processes. To achieve either you need to know what your maintenance calories are. In other words, what calorie target you could hit without gaining or losing weight. There are many websites available that can help you find this information.
Once you have your calorie target you can either add or subtract 500 calories from it to gain or lose weight. Depending on which phase you are attempting. Now, it might not be the best idea to immediately drop 500 calories from your diet.
So long as you have enough time (i.e. you don't have a competition in the next 8 weeks) you should attempt to lower your calories by 50-100 per week rather than all in one go. This is a much more sensible strategy but will take more time.
You can follow the same strategy during your bulking phase, so instead of adding 500 calories to your diet in one go, you could attempt to increase your calories by 100-150 per week (it is definitely easier to add calories than minus them hence the larger calorie changes). Again this strategy will work so long as you have time on your side.
Once you have established your calorie targets you will need to work out what the calories are going to be made up of. You could eat 2,000 calories worth of fried chicken and still lose weight (provided your maintenance calorie target was 2,000+) but would that be optimal? No.
This is where macros come in, you have three main macronutrients (plus alcohol) they are; protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Protein and carbs contain 4 calories per gram while fat contains 9 calories per gram.
Getting the ratios right can make a huge difference to your body composition. In fact, many of the most well-known diets (Atkins for example) have used macronutrient ratios to create change.
As this is a bodybuilding meal plan, we will use macronutrient ratios specific to bodybuilders. A study on natural bodybuilding contest prep stated that 2.3-3.1g of protein per kilogram of lean body mass (your body weight minus the weight from body fat) per day was optimal. 15-30% of your calories should come from fat, and the remaining calories should come from carbohydrates.
So if your maintenance calories are 2,500 and you want to gain weight, your target will be 3,000 calories. Let's say your lean body mass is 100kg and you plan on eating 2.5g of protein per kg. That means you would need to eat 250g of protein per day, which is 1,000 calories.
Then let's say you decided to have 20% of your calories from fat. Well, 20% of 3,000 is 600 calories. There are 9 calories per gram of fat so 600 calories divided by 9 equals roughly 67g of fat.
So far you have 1,600 calories coming from fat and protein, so the remaining 1,400 calories must come from carbohydrates. Remember there are 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates so 1,400 calories divided by 4 equals 350g of carbs.
Your macro ratio is now 33% protein, 20% fat, and 47% carbohydrates. The important thing to do now is to assess how your new diet is affecting your body composition. If you are gaining too much fat, then maybe lower the amount of carbohydrates you are taking.
Bodybuilding meal plans and supplements seem to go hand in hand; there hasn't been a single bodybuilder who hasn't used some form of a supplement to improve their physique. There are thousands of different products out there at the moment and it can be slightly overwhelming for a newcomer.
So we will quickly go over the top three supplements that all bodybuilders should take, three supplements that have been proven to work time after time. Just a quick note of caution, though, if you have had any kidney/liver problems in the past please consult your doctor before taking.
The most common supplement, protein shakes are a fantastic way to increase your daily protein intake without consuming too many calories. They are also quick and easy to make whilst being relatively cheap. Each serving contains around 25-35g of protein.
A naturally produced chemical compound, creatine is crucial for energy production. It can seriously help with muscular endurance (how many reps you can manage continuously) while also helping with muscle size and strength.
In moderation, caffeine will improve your training performance, increase your metabolism, and increase fat loss. We recommend getting caffeine through a natural source like black coffee.
Honorable mention goes to multivitamins, omega 3s, and casein protein. If you have the budget you could get these 3 supplements as well, but they aren't quite as essential as the top three supplements mentioned above.
There is a lot of debate about how often you should eat a meal when training, whether 3 times per day is enough or if you should be eating 5, 6, or even 7 times per day. The fact is that it doesn't really matter! So long as you are hitting your calorie targets the amount of meals you have per day is down to personal preference and nothing more.
There used to be a belief that you could only absorb 30g of protein in one sitting, which was leading to people eating lots of meals to fit in their protein requirements. Luckily there is not a shred of scientific evidence to support this crazy theory and you can, therefore, create meal sizes to fit you.
Most people eat 3 meals per day and have a couple of snacks around their meal times, if this works for you and you are reaching your calorie targets for the day then keep going. If you are constantly struggling to fit your calories into 3 meals and some snacks, then maybe 4 meals will work better. Try it out, don't be afraid to experiment.
This topic could go on forever so we are only going to give some examples of common bodybuilding food choices that might work. As mentioned above, so long as you are hitting your calorie targets and your macro ratios are fine then it doesn't matter what food you are eating to achieve this, though obviously more fruit and veg will be beneficial!
Eggs, milk, cheese (look for low-fat options), Greek Yoghurt (0-5% fat options)
Lean meats such as chicken/turkey, bacon (turkey or Canadian), ground beef etc…
potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, vegetables, fruit
Tuna and salmon are high in protein and low in fat (much tastier than bodybuilding favourite tilapia)
Protein shakes (obviously), black coffee, decaffeinated coffee (studies show that it can help stave off hunger when dieting), water.
So there you have it, everything you could possibly wish to know about creating your own bodybuilding meal plan. Remember, creating a meal plan that is specific to you will get you much better results than copying someone else's diet, so take the time to work out your calories. Then get your macronutrient ratios correct, and finally make meals that you enjoy that help you reach your goals.