Shortcuts to packing on new muscle mass and getting ripped to the bone are frequently peddled on late-night TV, but sadly, these feats can not be accomplished with quick fixes or next-day miracles. You can, however, implement certain dietary practices that, over time, will guarantee your investment in fitness. Yes, getting in your best shape ever requires hard work in the gym, but without the proper nutrition to fuel your gains, you’re dead in the water. Feeding your body the right way is just a matter of repetition—learning and developing the kinds of dietary habits that leave your body with no choice but to respond with cover model-worthy size, strength, and detail. By applying the bulk of these 16 strategies to your diet, you’ll find that things really do fall into place automatically, even if they don’t happen overnight.
Adding new muscle to your frame is an admirable pursuit, but no matter how much weight you lift in the gym, you’ll never obtain that tight, shredded look you covet without chipping away at your bodyfat stores. Many people mistakenly think that losing fat is simply a matter of exercising more and eating less, yet a bodybuilder can’t afford to arbitrarily hack calories and run until it hurts. It’s about striking a balance. These tips will help you get lean without losing hard-earned muscle.
Limit your carbohydrate intake for 4-5 days, then boost carbs for the following two days. When you cut calories you lose fat, but when you cut calories and limit your carbs to 100 grams or less for 4-5 days, the body goes into a fat-burning mode that’s influenced both by fewer calories and a favorable hormonal shift. When you reverse the process and increase your carb intake to 250-300 grams for two days, you drive your metabolism even higher. Just remember to keep protein intake high to spare muscle tissue.
CLOCK YOUR CARBS
Too many carbs can make you fat, but too few for an extended period can slow your metabolism. That’s why timing is important: Consume a hefty sum of your daily carbohydrates at breakfast and after training. Eating at least 50 grams of fast-digesting carbs first thing in the morning and immediately postworkout hinders training-induced muscle breakdown and keeps cortisol, a stress hormone that destroys muscle and slows metabolism, in check.
USE BCAAS TO PRESERVE MUSCLE
To help prevent catabolism, take 5-10 grams of branched-chain amino acids with breakfast as well as before and after training. Ingested preworkout, BCAAs are used by the body as a substitute fuel source so it doesn’t tap into stored muscle protein to get through a session. Also, when you’re going low-carb, BCAAs can better trigger protein synthesis.
MAKE CARBS WORK FOR YOU
Since building muscle is the best way to burn more fat in the long run, you need to make your workouts intense enough to elicit the gains you want. Taking in 20 grams of fast-digesting whey protein and 20-40 grams of slow-digesting carbs (from sources such as fruit, sweet potatoes, or brown rice) 30 minutes or less before your first rep helps you power through your workouts with the required intensity. Keep the weight loads up and your rest periods short to burn through your preworkout fuel.
What’s a neurotransmitter? Think spark plug. These chemicals in the brain signal the body’s internal fat-burning machinery to shift into an active state. Caffeine, evodiamine, and tea (green, oolong, and black) boost these fat-fighting chemicals, especially when taken before training and in the absence of carbohydrates. Dosages vary, but each can be taken in a stack with other fat-burners 2-3 times a day, with at least one of those doses coming 30-60 minutes preworkout.
PRIORITIZE SLOW-BURNING CARBS
Slow-digesting carbs such as beans, whole-grain breads, and pastas, oatmeal, brown rice, and sweet potatoes should constitute the bulk of your daily carbohydrate intake (the exceptions being first thing in the morning and immediately postworkout). Slow carbs reduce the effect of insulin, the hormone that initiates both hunger and fat storage. Research confirms that athletes who consume slow-digesting carbs burn more fat throughout the day as well as during exercise.
Sugar-free yogurt and cottage cheese are quite possibly the perfect snack foods. Their slow-digesting carbs prevent your insulin levels from going through the roof. Also, dairy products contain plenty of calcium, which can affect calcitriol levels in the body; calcitriol makes the body’s fat-storing system inefficient at manufacturing fat. Keep low-fat cottage cheese and sugar-free yogurt at your office to avoid the call of the vending machine throughout the day.
ALWAYS FEED THE MACHINE
Prolonged low-cal diets end up impairing your metabolism over time. One way to get around these inevitable slowdowns is to eat constantly in small quantities. Consuming multiple small meals each day—eating every 1 1⁄2-2 hours—stimulates thermogenesis, which supports metabolism. While dieting is about restriction, doing so while eating as often as possible allows your body to roll right through potential metabolic slowdowns.
Taking 3-10 grams of this amino acid an hour before training increases blood flow to the muscles, boosting metabolism and enhancing your pump. It also magnifies the natural growth hormone burst associated with training, which amps muscle growth and steers the body toward using fat for fuel instead of muscle protein and glycogen.
AVOID CARBS LATE
Hit the sheets light on carbs. When you go to bed in a carb-deprived state, your body maximizes its natural GH output. GH favorably shifts metabolism and causes more calories to be burned, with a greater amount of those calories being derived from bodyfat. One caveat for evening trainees: You should still consume 40-60 grams of fast-digesting carbs immediately after workouts to kick-start recovery. The bulk of those carbs will be burned or stored as glycogen, leaving blood-sugar levels fairly flat. As long as your blood sugar is stable at bedtime, you’ll max out on GH release while you slumber, putting you in a position to grow muscle, not fat.
DRINK TEA REGULARLY
Adequate hydration is essential for performing at optimum levels and keeping your metabolism high. Drink about half your bodyweight in ounces per day; in other words, if you weigh 180 pounds, drink about 90 ounces of water daily. Yet that doesn’t mean you can’t make some of that liquid work overtime for you. For instance, try brewing green tea, which contains antioxidants that increase calorie-burning, or adding ginseng, which can keep blood-sugar levels stable to help you get lean.
USE GLUTAMINE AND TAURINE
These two aminos help maintain your body’s anabolic environment while dieting. When you reduce calories and carbs, cortisol levels often rise. Glutamine interferes with cortisol uptake, staving off protein loss and muscle breakdown. Taken post-workout with fast-digesting carbs, glutamine also assists in recovery by pulling water into muscle cells; it has been found to significantly boost metabolic rate as well. Another crucial amino acid, taurine enhances water retention within muscles, giving them a greater anabolic edge. Take 5-10 grams of glutamine and 1-3 grams of taurine pre- and postworkout to continue dropping bodyfat.
ELIMINATE ALL FAT
Okay, not all of it. Do away with most fat for 4-5 days to bust through a sticking point in your fat-loss efforts. (Temporarily eliminating fat leverages the body to burn more stored bodyfat.) No chicken breasts, no lean meat, no egg yolks. Even ditch oatmeal, which contains small amounts of fat. Instead, consume near-zero-fat protein sources such as turkey breast, egg whites, fat-free cottage cheese, and protein powders. Your body is extremely adaptable, however, so even the zero-fat approach stops working after 4-5 days. That’s when you can return to protein-rich foods that provide more fat. [Ed. Note: Chris Aceto has years of experience getting high levels athletes in top condition. This one tip is only to be used for a very short time period to shock the body. Sometimes it takes drastic measures to coerce the body into dropping body fat when your progress has failed. This is just one of those tricks that Aceto has used with much success with his clients.]
DITCH THE LOW-FAT/FAT-FREE APPROACH
Strict low-fat diets are for getting lean. When gaining mass, make sure you include olive oil, avocado, and whole eggs in your diet, as well as lower-fat—not fat-free—yogurt, milk, and cheese. These types of dietary fats drive growth and recovery. Fat also spares the use of protein as an energy source, meaning the protein you eat is directed to its most crucial role—building mass. Fat also supports the natural production of testosterone and GH, two major players in the mass game. Make sure your daily calorie intake is about 30% of calories from fat, mostly from healthy sources such as egg yolks, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds.
Stepping up your calorie intake once a week can actually trigger new growth. When you radically increase calories—even with foods you may not typically find in the pages of M&F, such as pizza, burgers, fried food, and desserts—the body responds by increasing anabolic hormones responsible for repairing damaged muscle tissue. Plus, this type of occasional dietary splurge keeps you sane while eating clean.
Protein is nutrient No. 1 when it comes to building mass. To maximize your protein intake, make at least two of your 5-6 daily meals a protein shake. Powders are more readily absorbed than tougher proteins such as meat and poultry, and you can generally control your portion down to the gram. The two most critical times to have protein shakes are right before (20 grams) and after (40-60 grams) workouts.