To bulk up your body with muscle, learn to bulk up your diet with vegetables. Low in calories, vegetables also provide a host of nutrients that are otherwise deficient in many bodybuilding diets, including fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.
Most bodybuilders acknowledge the crucial role that vegetables play in a bodybuilding diet, yet, for a variety of reasons, many of those same bodybuilders chronically don’t eat enough of these nutritious foods. First, bodybuilders get so focused on protein consumption that everything else takes a back seat. Once a trainer has eaten the suggested one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight daily and taken in enough complex carbs for growth, he’s very likely to feel full. Second, vegetables can be a pain in the butt to prepare, so many bodybuilders overlook them meal after meal, fooling themselves into thinking that their diets are pretty good anyway.
Here’s a news flash: If you want to make the most of your health and your bodybuilding gains, then you had better include at least two cups of vegetables a day. They contribute to a stronger immune system, improved absorption and stable energy levels — all factors that play a role in recovery and growth.
EAT VEGETABLES FOR FIBER
Vegetables are high in fiber, one of the most widely neglected bodybuilding nutrients. Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate that supplies no calories to your body, but it does provide bulk, which slows digestion. This has two essential benefits. First, carbohydrates enter your body more slowly. This helps hold your blood sugar levels in check, keeping energy levels up and “crashes” at bay. When blood sugar levels crash, they cause a spike in cortisol, a catabolic hormone that breaks down muscle tissue and makes recovery more difficult. Second, fiber helps support the absorption of amino acids. It keeps the walls of your intestines clean, making them more efficient. This in turn allows you to get more bang for your buck from your protein consumption.
EAT VEGETABLES FOR VITAMINS & MINERALS
Every hard-working bodybuilder needs a hefty amount of vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, many believe that popping a daily multivitamin/multimineral will suffice. It will help, but it won’t cover your bases as completely as whole-food sources. You need vegetables. They contain compounds that enhance the absorption of the naturally occurring vitamins and minerals found within them. These compounds also increase the absorption of vitamins and minerals found in meats, grains and even in supplement tablets. Bodybuilding nutrition is more than numbers; it’s more than total amounts of calories, carbs, protein and fat. The best nutrition plans don’t simply focus on the major things. The smaller things play a big role in creating the perfect environment for recovery and growth.
EAT VEGETABLES FOR WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
One thing we do know about vegetables is that we don’t know everything that’s in them. Recent information has demonstrated this. Scientists have established that vegetables contain lycopene, phytochemicals, antioxidants, carotenoids and sulfur compounds that contribute to numerous metabolic functions including immune support. Effective post-training recovery calls for a strong immune system. When it’s weak, not only do you fail to recover, but also your muscles may fail to grow regardless of your high calorie and protein intake. So, eat your vegetables for their known benefits as well as the ones yet to be discovered.
EAT A VARIETY OF VEGETABLES
Many bodybuilders focus on one or two vegetables (often spinach or broccoli). That’s far better than eating little or none, but taking in a wide range of vegetables is better. Include all of those you like and even a few you’re not as wild about. Suggestions include asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, green beans, mushrooms, onions, peppers (all colors), spinach, squash and zucchini.
EAT AT LEAST THE MINIMUM
On a daily basis, eat a minimum of two cups of vegetables. Spread that intake over three meals or more, especially whole- food meals. (It’s a good idea to pair vegetables with meat, since that is one of the most difficult types of protein to digest.)
You can have broccoli at one meal, some cabbage at another and green beans at a third, for example. Keep a couple of pounds of them in your fridge. Other options are
to mix several vegetables together or buy fresh or frozen bags of premixed veggies. This will reduce your prep time and will also provide a broader range of nutrients at each meal, as every vegetable has a different nutrient profile.
EAT VEGETABLES TO GET LEAN
If you’re on a bodybuilding diet, your challenges include avoiding cheating, reducing your total calories and providing your body with enough bulk to feel satisfied. Increasing vegetable consumption can be the key to all of these. Bump up your daily intake to six cups while dieting. When calories are severely reduced, it’s often easy to miss out on some of the important vitamins and minerals, but eating a lot of low-cal vegetables will help ensure that you meet your needs. They’ll also keep you full so that you’re less likely to eat foods you shouldn’t.
EAT VEGETABLES FOR BODYBUILDING GAINS
Certain vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, exert antiestrogen properties due to a phytochemical that they contain. This effect is beneficial to bodybuilders because lower estrogen levels may help fight bodyfat, minimize water retention and enhance testosterone levels. Include these veggies on a regular basis and focus on them when you’re feeling overtrained or stressed.
MAKE VEGETABLES TASTY
Many people don’t enjoy vegetables unless they’re prepared in a way that makes them tastier. Offseason, when trying to add mass, you can pan fry them in olive oil, add teriyaki sauce, grate some low-fat cheese on top or cover them in a low-fat salad dressing. When dieting, you can keep calories to a minimum by adding Mrs. Dash and garlic powder, by using a nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray, or by concocting your own ultra-low-cal dressing (we suggest mixing vinegar, Equal, garlic powder and Mrs. Dash).
EAT ’DEM GREENS
If your bodybuilding program isn’t as successful as you think it should be, consider improving your diet. Eating more vegetables is one of the most basic ways to accomplish this. Bodybuilders usually eat plenty of protein and complex carbohydrates, but they often overlook vegetables. Compared to the bodybuilding benefits of protein, those from vegetables may be less tangible, but vegetables can indeed have a potent indirect effect on muscle gains.