BIG AND HEALTHY

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DRINK PLENTY OF WATER

If you’re underhydrated, you are not providing your body with an ideal environment for muscular growth and, in fact, your muscles will appear flatter and smaller, and your strength will be affected.

Recommendations: Bodybuilders should drink at least one gallon of water a day. Strive to drink about 16 ounces (oz) of water 20 minutes or so before a workout -- and at least 5-10 oz every 15 minutes during -- to increase your blood volume and muscle pumps.

Strategies: Drink water several times throughout the day, especially between meals. Carry a bottle with you and drink from it throughout the day as you work, travel, train, etc.

CONSUME ADEQUATE FIBER

Fiber is crucial for helping the body digest food, and helps slow down the digestion of protein, allowing your body more time to absorb amino acids for muscle building.

Recommendations: Bodybuilders should take in at least 25 grams (g), and preferably 35 g or more, each day from whole-food and supplement sources.If you currently get less than the minimum, slowly increase your fiber consumption by 2-3 g per week until you are getting enough on a daily basis.

Strategies: Include vegetables in every whole-food meal. Use nuts and seeds as additional protein sources. Always eat whole fruit instead of drinking fruit juice. Choose whole-grain breads over processed breads. Use whole-grain oatmeal rather than quick-cooking oats. Select protein products that contain at least 2 g of fiber per serving (however, use fiber-free protein products postworkout for faster absorption).

EAT PLENTY OF VEGETABLES AND FRUITS

In addition to their essential fiber content, vegetables and fruits are a crucial source of vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients.

Recommendations: Eat vegetables and fruits with every whole-food meal. Strive to take in a minimum of five servings a day, and shoot for eight or more. A serving is a fairly small portion (2-3 oz), so most bodybuilders can easily consume at least two or three servings at a meal.

Strategies: Add berries to oatmeal. Cook vegetables in bulk, preparing several servings at once. Eat plenty of mixed-green salads and add vegetables, such as broccoli, to them. Add fresh salsa (and other vegetables) to eggs -- a bodybuilder’s breakfast is often devoid of vegetables.

TAKE VITAMIN AND MINERAL SUPPLEMENTS

Bodybuilders require more vitamins and minerals because of their size, as well as training demands. In fact, athletes such as bodybuilders who train intensely are often found to be deficient in several minerals, including magnesium, zinc and copper.

Recommendations: In addition to the healthy eating suggestions given in this article, FLEX recommends that you supplement your diet with a daily multivitamin/multimineral pack.

Strategies: Take your multis with whole-food meals. Ideally, split the dosage over two or three meals. Certain vitamins, such as C, can clear your system in less than 24 hours. Frequent smaller doses provide your body with a more constant and more usable supply of nutrients, even though the total dosage remains the same.

SUPPLEMENT FOR WORKOUT RECOVERY AND GROWTH

Pre- and postworkout nutrition is crucial for ideal bodybuilding gains, but it can also improve health. Creatine helps keep muscles full. Postworkout shakes help muscles recover and grow. Glutamine boosts immunity, improves digestion and enhances muscle gains. Also, consider an immunity booster, such as products that contain immunoglobulin G (IgG), which is an antimicrobial protein formed by the body to fight certain types of pathogens. It can aid recovery and growth, and it may boost immunity.

Recommendations: Take up to 5 g of creatine after you work out, or split that amount into two doses taken before and after training. Drink a postworkout shake that contains 40-50 g of protein and 40-100 g of simple carbs, such as glucose or dextrose. Take glutamine throughout the day — up to four doses of 5-10 g each. Take products that provide 500-1,000 milligrams (mg) of IgG.

Strategies: Put as much effort into your supplementation as you do into your training and nutrition. Supplement around the time of your workouts, as this is when your body needs these crucial nutrients most.

FOCUS ON REST AND RECOVERY

Keep in mind that training tears down your body, and muscle growth occurs afterward, when you are recovering.

Recommendations: Get plenty of sleep nightly -- at least eight hours, especially when you’re training hard. Limit hard training to four or five days per week and allow at least two full days of recovery per week.

Strategies: Plan your recovery the way you plan your workouts. Schedule time off as a psychological strategy to allow you to return to better training sessions and enhanced growth. Take one or two weeks off every six months to help recovery and to boost long-term strength and muscle gains. Consider activities such as massage and meditation as part of your rest and recovery plan.

GET REGULAR MEDICAL AND DENTAL CHECKUPS

Being young and healthy is the ideal time to find out your baseline numbers for blood pressure, heart rate and blood tests in order to get the most out of your training. A checkup is also an ideal way to determine whether you have some unknown condition.

Recommendations: Have a full physical once a year, or at least every two years. See a dentist once or twice a year.

Strategies: Track all your baseline numbers in the same way you track your nutrition and training. This allows you to make comparisons from one checkup to the next.

HAVE BLOOD TESTS DONE PERIODICALLY

Knowing at least the following baseline numbers can be helpful in determining the status of your health and the potential of your muscle gains: cholesterol, testosterone, glucose, insulin and liver enzymes.

Recommendations: Have blood work performed once a year, if not every six months.

Strategies: Look for fluctuations in your results. Take particular notice of large shifts (10% or more) in values from one test to the next or of trends in which one number continues to move in one direction over three tests or more.

PERFORM CARIO YEAR-ROUND

For ideal cardiovascular health -- and potentially better bodybuilding gains overall -- include cardio training throughout the year.

Recommendations: While dieting to shed bodyfat, perform up to four one-hour sessions of moderately intense cardio per week. While trying to gain muscle mass, perform two or three 20- to 30-minute sessions of light to moderate cardio per week.

Strategies: Adjust your cardio parameters and perform it year-round. Do fewer and lighter sessions while trying to add muscle mass; do additional and more challenging sessions while trying to cut bodyfat. This will promote heart health and still allow you to use cardio effectively to shed bodyfat.

AVOID NUTRITIONAL EXTREMES -- IN DIETING OR GAINING

Overdieting will make you look flat and cause you to lose muscle mass along with bodyfat. Trying to grow too fast can result in adding more bodyfat than need be. In addition, gaining or losing weight too quickly can negatively impact health by overtaxing your body. Finally, diets low in healthy fats can have a negative impact on both health and bodybuilding results, because your body needs those fats for numerous physiological functions.

Recommendations: Whether your goal is to reduce bodyfat or gain muscle, make moderate adjustments in your calorie consumption. Increase or decrease total calories by about 10-20%, depending on your goal.

Strategies: Plan your diet in advance, both on a daily and weekly basis. Prepare quality foods and have them available so you can consume them consistently at the appropriate times.

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