There's no such thing as a dumb question, so if you want to know more about how to eat right for maximum muscle and minimal body fat, we've got the answers to your top 10 essential nutrition questions.
1) How many meals per day should I eat?
Eating six smaller, bodybuilder-friendly meals a day rather than 3-4 larger meals is an absolute must for those who are serious about adding muscle. Frequent eating spread throughout your waking hours encourages the body to store greater amounts of carbohydrates within muscles. This fuel reserve, called muscle glycogen, promotes mass gain by energizing muscles, giving them the fuel they need to recover. By topping off six or so times daily, you provide your muscles with a constant supply of glycogen; eating only 3-4 meals a day deprives you of this fuel source. In addition, greater glycogen stores increase water retention inside muscles, encouraging growth and tissue repair.
Eating more often also provides a nearly nonstop influx of nutrients and protein. Muscles use amino acids, the building blocks of protein, to repair damage caused by hard training. The result: Muscles grow larger. Amino acids also help manufacture important hormones that regulate growth and support the immune system. A strong immune system plays a vital role in recovery from a hard workout.
2) What does "eating clean" mean?
Eating clean means avoiding foods that are not conducive to adding muscle mass, such as fried foods, butter and refined foods, including snack foods and fast foods. By "clean", bodybuilders often mean "natural/unprocessed" and "low-fat." Clean foods include fish, fowl, lean red meat, eggs, low-fat dairy products, potatoes, yams, brown rice, whole-wheat bread, oatmeal and fruit. Clean foods are generally more nutrient-dense. They have lots of vitamins, minerals and/or fiber and they're prepared with little or no added fat.
3) Can I eat fast food and still put on muscle?
Fast food doesn't usually fit the bill as "clean" food, but you don't have to completely rule it out if you're careful. If you have a fast metabolism, you could eat there daily as long as it's just one of your six meals and you make decent choices. Stick with burgers without the mayonnaise or choose chicken sandwiches that are neither breaded nor fried. Skip the fries. Hell, even two hamburgers from McDonald's provide 25 grams of protein and 66 grams of carbs, which is not a bad combo for a quick fix.
4) What's so special about protein, and how much of it should I eat?
Protein is the foundation for muscle growth. It directly builds mass by providing amino acids, the essential material muscles use to get bigger. In fact, protein or amino acids are often referred to as the body's "bricks and mortar." No surprise, then, that if you want to get big, you need more protein than the average person. Start at 1 gram per pound of bodyweight per day and go up to as much as 1.5 grams. So if you weigh 180 pounds, that's 180-270 grams of protein daily. Be sure to spread that intake evenly over your six meals to maximize absorption and provide a continual flow of building material.
5) What's the best kind of protein drink for beginners?
Whey protein powder tops the list. Whey is extremely easy to digest and provides a concentrated amount of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which increase protein synthesis, the muscle's ability to take in and use protein for growth. Whey protein is especially beneficial when taken within 30 minutes before and immediately after training. It's easy to absorb, allowing the amino acids to quickly reach the muscles and kick-start the growth and recovery process.
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