1) Eating very little or excessive protein.
Protein is the key nutrient in any bodybuilding diet plan. In order to build muscle one should consume at least 1 gram of protein per pound of lean bodyweight. Less protein can actually hinder one’s progress significantly and result in frustration and lack of results. On the other hand excessive protein calories in a diet can be stored as body fat or in some cases used as energy. One gram per pound of lean bodyweight spread over 6 nutritious meals is a great starting point. If you want to build more muscle or you train harder OR you find that you are not recovering as fast you can slowly increase your protein intake to 1.1 grams per pound or 1.25 grams. Protein is the building block for muscle tissue and if you want to build mass OR get ripped you have to start eating more.
2) Eating the wrong types of carbs.
This is one of the most common nutritional mistakes i come across. I see people who want to ass muscle and they eat anything for carbs, from chocolate bars & dohnuts to rice & potatoes! Fact of the matter is, not all carbs are created equal and you will be what you eat, eventually! Most people tend to overeat simple carbs (sugars) which give them an almost immediate rise in energy but also an equally sudden slump. A proper bodybuilding diet, whether it’s for mass gaining purposes or leaning out, should consist mostly of complex carbs. Complex carbs are digested slowly and released into the bloodstream steadily over a period of time.
This provides a steady source of energy for muscles throughout the day. With complex carbs there are no highs and lows in energy as they stay steady throughout the day. Imagine your energy as a line in a graph. With complex carbs, your energy is a completely straight line, always staying high. With simple carbs, your energy line is like a few mountain peaks. It has a few extreme highs but it’s followed by extreme lows as well! Carbs have a very significant effect on the way the body utilizes protein. Carbs have a “protein sparing” effect ie when you eat enough carbs, your body will use the protein you give it only for muscle repairing/building purposes. If you don’t give your body enough carbs throughout the day, it will automatically break down protein to synthesize glycogen for energy. It’s a process called glycogenesis and it will take place when your body is running low on carbs. If your body starts to break down proteins you will enter a catabolic state and your metabolism will slow down significantly. You will also lose muscle & strength.
3) Cheating too much with the wrong foods.
Cheating in any bodybuilding diet is an absolute must. Whether you are dieting for a contest or trying to gain muscle, you should set a specific day of the week where you will be able to have a cheat meal of your liking. The way you cheat depends 100% on how strict you are with your diet. Bodybuilders who are dieting for a contest are the most strict, limiting their cheat meals to once a week or once every two weeks. On the other hand, bodybuilders who are trying to gain muscle mass cheat more often, maybe 2-3 times a week. It is important however to cheat sensibly and not go overboard! If you eat a gallon of ice cream in one sitting and consume over 3000 calories, what do you think will happen? Most likely, the extra calories from sugars & fat will be stored as body fat! The KEY to cheating is to do it with moderation. If you want to be a bodybuilder you should forget about eating anything you want. I don’t care how fast your metabolism is! If you eat a ton of cheat meals, it will backfire on you and your progress will slow down.
4) Thinking supplements as the “holy grail”.
Nutritional supplements are exactly what they describe! They are there to supplement your diet in case you cannot eat enough nutrients from solid natural foods. Nothing on earth can substitute the power and metabolic effects of natural foods. Supplements provide mostly conveniency when we don’t have time to cook but they are in no way better than food. Do not look at supplements as the “solution” to your lack of progress. Yes, some of them do provide an extra boost in strength or fat loss BUT if you do not have a solid diet & training program as the foundation of your bodybuilding goals, supplements will do very little for you.
5) Not eating enough fats & fatty acids.
All fat is not created equal! Eating some fats can actually help you gain mass and keep your body healthy. Most people try to avoid fats like the plague but this approach can actually hinder their mass gaining or fat loss efforts. Egg yolks, virgin olive oil, canola oil, flaxseed oil, natural peanut butter & fish oils are all excellent sources of healthy fats. These not only support a healthy metabolism & hormone production but can provide healthy calories for your bulking up bodybuilding diet. Stay away from saturated fats & trans fatty acids at all costs! They will ruin your physique and cause havoc to your body & health.
6) Not having variety in your diet.
I asked a bodybuilder friend of mine recently how his diet was. His reply was typical: “You know, Kostas, chicken breasts, brown rice, steak, tuna, more rice, baked potatoes..the usual”. Don’t get me wrong, all of these foods are top of the line for your bodybuilding diets but you can add MORE! Eating the same thing day in day out is really boring. I have eaten so much canned tuna that i cannot even stand to look at it anymore! A bodybuilding diet is a HEALTHY diet first and foremost. Variety is very important – not only for health’s sake but also for your mind’s sake. Having variety will help you enjoy your nutritional program for years to come and you will also cheat less. There are so many bodybuilding recipe cookbooks out there that give you an immense amount of choices, ideas & healthy alternatives to the staples of chicken & rice.
7) Failing to track calories on a daily basis.
Experts say to measure portions, measure plate fulls or just eat as much as you can (when bulking). I find all this completely wrong. In order to make real progress and see how your body is reacting to your specific diet, you need to accurately track calories. If you do not, you are setting yourself up for frustration. Knowing how many calories you are consuming on any given day can help you make necessary changes if you are not seeing the results you want. You can either keep a diary of your daily calories or you can add them up in excel. Counting calories can be a tedious process at first but you get used to it really fast. Eventually you’ll be able to add everything up in your head automatically!
If you are trying to gain weight be careful not to fall pray to the “experts” who say that you have to eat everything in sight. Yes, you most definately have to eat a large number of calories & meals every day but that does not mean that you have to stuff yourself like there’s no tomorrow! Overeating calories & especially sugars will only make you gain body fat. You can gain a tremendous amount of weight & mass even if you eat clean foods! The only thing you have to do is eat more of them!!
9) Making big changes all at once.
Changing your diet all of a sudden and following a Mr. Olympia’s diet will not do you any good. You will end up gaining body fat or starving your muscles. If you want to change your diet, make sure you do so by either increasing or decreasing your calories over a period of time. Start by adding 100 calories every 3-5 days until you have reached the desired caloric intake. Once you reach the desired caloric level keep close track of your body weight & body fat percentage in order to assess whether the new changes in your diet are beneficial or not.
10) Not drinking enough water.
Water is probably one of the most important ingredients for life. Over 70% of our muscles consist of water. Water is needed for all metabolic processes, including protein synthesis. It helps get rid of toxins, it is important in fat metabolism and it can reduce fluid retention. A good rule of thumb is to drink 10 cups of water per day, increasing it during the summer months and during hardcore training sessions. Even the slightest bit of dehydration can make you feel sluggish and hold you back during your training sessions. Never ignore water intake!!