Sometimes “good” isn’t quite good enough. “Good” grades don’t get you into an Ivy League school. Making a merely “good” movie doesn’t get you a Best Picture statuette (well, unless you happened to make Forrest Gump or Chicago). Bodybuilding fans know that “good” doesn’t even get you near a Mr. Olympia posedown.
Knowing that, why would you settle for a good meal plan when you can have a terrific one with just a few tweaks? To eat like a true bodybuilder and optimize your results in the gym, you need to pay attention to the specifics, like when to eat slow-burning carbs and when to rely on the fast-burning variety, and when to consume whey protein versus using a casein-based protein food.
Putting all the right pieces together in your own solid nutrition program can be difficult. Here, we cut through the confusion, showing you the best meals to eat for every meal of the day and letting you know why they’re superior.
Good: 8 egg whites, 2 cups oatmeal
Better: 20-gram (1 scoop) whey protein shake, 3 whole eggs, plain bagel with jelly
Why: Sure, the “good” breakfast is all right, as it delivers 32 g of high-quality protein from egg whites and 50 g of slow-burning carbs from oatmeal. Yet, the latter breakfast wins for several reasons, the first and most important being speed — as in speed of digestion.
When you wake in the morning after your eight-hour fast (or however long you sleep), you are in a catabolic state; your body has used a majority of its stored glycogen and has turned to your muscles to break them down for energy. A plain bagel with jelly provides a fast-digesting carb that will rapidly spike insulin levels — one of the few times in the day you want this to happen. Insulin will signal the body to stop robbing muscle for fuel and to use the carbs (in the form of glucose) from the bagel instead. The carbs will also restock your depleted muscle and liver glycogen levels.
Whey protein acts as the body’s fastest source of protein. The body will use the aminos from whey as fuel instead of the aminos from muscle fibers; the aminos from whey also will be used to rebuild what was broken down. Adding three whole eggs provides a longer-lasting high-quality protein source that will continue to rebuild your muscles after the whey protein has been used up. Egg yolks provide healthy fats, as well as highly bioavailable iron, riboflavin, folate, vitamins B12, D and E, and choline (which enhances strength and brain function).
Good: 8 oz low-fat yogurt with fruit
Better: 8 oz low-fat cottage cheese, 1 oz mixed nuts
WHY: Between meals, you want a decent dose of slow-digesting protein to steadily supply amino acids to your muscles until your next major feeding. Low-fat yogurt is not the best choice, as it only provides about 9 g of protein. In addition, fruit yogurt contains about 42 g of carbs, the majority being fast-digesting sugars. You could switch to low-fat plain yogurt and increase the serving to 12 ounces for about 18 g of protein, but a better option is low-fat cottage cheese. This will provide almost 30 g of slow-digesting protein. Adding a serving of mixed nuts will add another 5 g of protein and provide healthy fats that will serve to further slow down protein digestion.
Good: 8 oz lean hamburger on plain hamburger bun
Better: 8 oz deli turkey breast on whole-wheat bread, salad with olive oil and vinegar dressing
Why: Believe it or not, the “better” lunch is not superior because turkey is a leaner protein source. The fat in beef is important for testosterone production, so if you want to swap the turkey for lean beef, it’s still a better lunch.
The second meal is the way to go because of the slower-burning carbs in the whole-wheat bread. These longer-lasting carbs provide steadier energy throughout the day. A plain hamburger bun (white bread) burns fast, possibly leading to an energy crash later in the day.
Another benefit of the latter option is the phytonutrients from greens and vegetables like peppers, carrots, onions and tomatoes. Salads have been shown to boost blood flow, which will be critical to your pump come workout time. And no, fat-free dressing isn’t the way to go — an olive-oil-based dressing provides healthy fats, which research shows will help you better absorb the phytonutrients (such as antioxidants) that will also boost muscle recovery after a workout.
Good: 20-g whey protein shake, 3 slices of white bread
Better: 20-g whey protein shake, 1 large apple
Why: What’s the difference? Both have whey protein and a carb source, right? A big hint: it’s the type of carbs. White bread will give you almost 40 g of rapidly digesting carbs. You might think that you need a quick source of carbs for quick energy before training — you’d be wrong. The energy you use during your workouts comes from the stored energy, such as glycogen, in your muscles. Furthermore, a fast-digesting carb will spike insulin levels, which could blunt fat burning during a workout.
The better option is an apple, which gives you 30 g of slow-digesting carbs that won’t spike insulin and will be available as fuel toward the end of your workout, when you may need the extra energy.
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