“Is Too Much Cardio Bad”; is it actually dangerous?
“Bodybuilding Intensity”: What is it and how too much can hurt you?

“Diet for Muscle”: Is a ‘meal plan for muscle building’ really the biggest success factor?

Excuse me – I’m going to butcher a sacred cow. Not because I want to be different or controversial. Likewise, it’s not for the purpose of simply grabbing your attention. Nor will I do it just because I love beef (which I do… “Ha-ha”) No… I want to kill the “diet for muscle” mantra – or at least relegate it to its rightful place of importance – to stop potential muscle building success from being thwarted by lack of focus on factors of relatively greater importance.

We’re constantly bombarded by the ‘diet for muscle’ and “meal plan for muscle building” rhetoric. You know the stuff I’m talking about:

“Diet is 70% of your bodybuilding success.”

“You’ve got to eat at just the right time to build muscle”

“You’ve got to eat just the right items to build muscle.”

“There’s a window of opportunity right after your workouts.”

“You can’t out-train a bad diet.”

“You should ‘somatofy’ your nutrition.”

“There’s a technique for building ‘lean muscle.’” (Wait a minute: there’s fat – there’s muscle; is there a type of muscle that’s not lean?)

Before you simply write off what I’m about to say, consider this: If “diet for muscle” is really so important – if meal plans for bodybuilding are 70% of your success – if “eating right” is the KEY FACTOR in building muscle – then why do so many competitive bodybuilders allow themselves to become fat by getting sloppy with their diets in the “off season?”

You’ve got to at least ask this question if you’re a critical thinker.

Is it “Diet for Muscle” or “Diet for bodybuilding?”

The distinction to make when considering the relative importance of “diet for muscle” and ‘meal plans for muscle building’ are between overall bodybuilding and the more specific task of building muscle. They’re used interchangeably. But ‘bodybuilding’ is typically defined as “becoming muscular and lean.” Granted, building muscle is half the challenge in that equation, but it can be done without getting or maintaining a lean body. But since losing body fat usually requires adherence to calorie control and strict attention to what one eats, the significance of diet in that context often gets cross-pollinated as an exaggerated factor of importance in building muscle.  Lifting_Weights

To illustrate my point, I’ve often told people that I’m confident I could build muscle eating a hamburger and french-fries as my main course at every meal. I wouldn’t do that. It would lead me back to being fat. It’d be unhealthy. I’d have less energy and become lethargic. And who’s to say that gaining back the fat wouldn’t knock me into possessing unfavorable hormone ratios that could make muscle building more difficult?  But such a meal would definitely provide the carbohydrates, protein, and dietary fat required for tissue repair needed between workouts. That’s my main point in saying it.

Contrastingly, the ‘diet for muscle’ and ‘meal plan for muscle building’ crowd would have you believe there’s some precise and scientific method to meal content and timing that is the key to building muscle. They’ll tell you to eat high glycemic carbs immediately after your workout if you’re an ectomorph. They’ll recommend chugging some quick-digesting protein as soon as you’re finished with a training session. And if you’re not making muscle building gains while doing these things, they’ll likely conclude that you’re “not eating enough” or you’re timing your meal intake incorrectly.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with or potentially counterproductive about following such stringent guidelines for eating. I have no problem with the practice of “diet for muscle” methodologies; I only have a problem with the claim that it represents seventy percent of success in building muscle.

“Diet for Muscle”, ‘Training/Recuperation Ratios’… and Percentages of Importance

Obviously, those who claim muscle building success is 70% dependent on diet are also saying that all other contributing factors constitute only 30% importance. It means they’re claiming that workout routines and the chosen number of recuperation days between the workouts account for much less than half the equation for packing on muscle. This is absurd, to put it mildly. The absurdity stems from the fact that tissue recuperation is of utmost importance for building muscle and eating habits have a more finite effect on the speed of that recuperation than is being asserted or implied.

Let’s provide an example: If you work your deltoids today, you’ll need them to fully recuperate and actually build a bit of compensatory strength and size before you work them again. If you work them again any time prior to them gaining that compensatory size and strength, they won’t grow… period. It will not matter that you drink whey protein and time its intake right after your workout. It won’t matter that you time your high glycemic carbs intake directly prior to and directly after your workout. Eating every three hours, likewise, won’t add up to much more than the appearance of ravenous gluttony. If you work your deltoids sooner than the time required for the specific amount of tissue damage to be repaired and made stronger, you’ll have wasted workouts and all your eating efforts.

Curling_a_Dumbbell

Would “clean eating” make the recuperation process faster than eating cheeseburgers and French fries? It would certainly be healthier. For many of us, it would prevent fat gain that would surely result from consuming the high fat/carbs content of the burgers and fries.  But if macro-nutrient quantity is sufficient for recuperating that deltoid tissue, the case for saying it’d happen faster with a healthier source of those macros is debatable. Let’s not deny that the less healthy sources of macro-nutrients would require the addition of some multi-vitamins/minerals; I’d use them if not eating cleanly.  However, if all macro and micro nutritional needs for tissue repair are being met, the remaining pivotal factor for whether the delts get bigger is sufficient recuperation time given the amount of tissue breakdown inflicted during the workout.

This is a far cry from saying that muscle building success is 70% dependent on diet. To make such a claim requires a factor of utmost importance being relegated to a mere 30% significance. That factor is the ratio between tissue breakdown (workouts) and recuperation time (rest days between workouts). If the recuperation time between workouts is not customized to the exact amount of stress that was put on the muscle tissue, no amount of “diet for muscle” tricks will compensate for the imbalance. This sounds like something more of 70% importance to me.

What do you think? And what’s your reasoning?

“Diet for Muscle” or “Diet for Fat Loss”

I think it was Vince Gironda who once said the following about “bulking up”:

What’s the purpose of building muscle if you’re going to appear like every other fat person in the world?

Whether it was Gironda or someone else, the person who said it didn’t mince words. The purpose of building muscle (unless you’re a power lifter) is usually to build a better shape to your body. My point in this article does not deny that many of us need to adhere to clean eating to avoid gaining fat.

But if you’re not gaining the muscle you desire, beware the claims of the “diet for muscle” and “meal plans for muscle building” crowd. What they preach could have you perpetually frustrated if you accept their “70% is diet” rhetoric at the expense of what’s vitally important for natural muscle gains.

Comments

scott

Hi Fred,

Thank you for taking time to read my entry and for adding your comments/question.

Uh... how is it that Olympic weight lifters and strongmen can recuperate faster than average? In a word... I think it's called... pharmaceuticals? In a few words, I think it's called "large doses of pharmaceuticals."

There's no doubt that steroids and HGH drugs accelerate inter-workout recuperation way beyond what's experienced naturally.

You didn't mention whether the peer you know is actually making tangible gains with his training protocol.

Personally, here's something I witness quite often: A bodybuilder makes all his/her tangible gains using steroids. Then, in the off-season, this same person trains haphazardly while "natural"... without making any gains at all. In fact, they often struggle to hold onto the gains made while on the drugs. They appear to accept this as they count fully on the assumption that the gains will continue when steroid cycles are resumed.

I personally don't subscribe to the notion that recuperation speeds up with experience. In fact, I think the opposite happens. The more muscle you gain, the more tissue you have that needs inter-workout recuperation. Thus, to build further muscle mass, one needs to recuperate longer between workouts to repair all the additional tissue.

Of course, when drugs are used (and they're used at varying levels), this entire picture can become distorted.

Scott

scott


Hello Glenn,

Thank you for taking the time to read my entry and for providing your input. You make some excellent points.

I'm aware of the e-book marketers to which you're referring. You're right... the claims of tens-of-pounds of muscle gain within weeks or months are plain nonsense. All it takes is some unemotional critical reasoning to figure it out: If forty pounds of muscle could be gained in six months - there would be no demand for steroids and other illegal and potentially harmful drugs by bodybuilders and athletes. Period!

Do I doubt that a kid in his late teens could gain that much "weight" in such a time? Of course not - especially if he’s pubescent and hasn't yet reached his full natural weight. But to claim that it's all (or even half) pure muscle gain is ridiculous. Forty pounds of muscle would be astonishing if added to anyone’s frame; it doesn't give one's physique a sleek “swimmer’s build”… believe me.

It’s funny how a lot of these guys who slam the supplement industry are actually contradicting themselves at a certain level. They tell their readers that “supplements are not needed” and that they’re invariably a waste of money. Then they turn around and claim that diet is most of the equation for muscle building success. But most people are too busy with work, school, family obligations, etc to spend hours in the kitchen each day creating their “70% of bodybuilding success.” So what’s left? Oh… uh… supplements?

Yes Glenn, I’d say the recommendation of 6,000 daily calories is irresponsible. When I was in BUD/S Training, I was measured once as taking in 7,000 calories per day. But we were swimming two miles in the ocean before breakfast. The rest of the day was spent running in soft sand wearing combat boots with intermittent bouts of intense calisthenics and obstacle courses. And… guess what: I still had a slight paunch. I’m sure I wasn’t below 14% in body fat.

You’re right – a holistic approach is exactly what I use and espouse for creating ongoing muscular gains while remaining lean. I do watch what I eat to a certain extent. I do use some supplements because I’m too busy to make it all happen with food. But most of all, I have a contrarian way of training that I’d consider to be closer to 70% of the success factor.

I’ll be taking some more pics pretty soon. When I do, I’ll have things recorded more accurately than ever for letting you know exactly how much muscle I’ve gained since I had the previous set taken in August ’09.

Hope your training’s going well.

Scott

Fred

Now I know recuperation time has its place... but how is it that some athletes can train with a much higher frequency? For example, its been said that olympic weightlifters and strongmen can train every day. I myself also know a peer who can train 3 times a week overlapping muscle groups. Is this just a case of genetic superiority allowing them to train more often? Or could there be some latent factor involved here? Can the body actually adapt to the less recuperation and over time learn to recover faster?

Fred

Glenn

Hello Scott

Excellent point you've brought up. So many of the best selling muscle building ebooks out on the clickbank marketplace overemphasize the factor of the diet's role in muscle building. Now granted, an individual still needs to consume sufficient nutrients to promote muscle growth. But statements such as "If your diet sucks you won't gain a single ounce of muscle" and "The single biggest reason why guys fail to build muscle properly is simply because they are not taking in enough food" are completely out of whack.

I guess for most natural trainess the problem isn't going to the gym for intense bodybuilding workout and neither is it consuming enough nutrients. I'd say its probably a failure to curb their enthusiasm and exercise restraint so that their muscles can fully recuperate (which definitely takes more than a measly week).

I also feel that since as more rest days are being taken, less protein can be consumed daily since the overall protein consumption can be spread over a longer duration. That would relieve trainees from the daunting task of consuming 1g per pound of bodyweight.

Like I mentioned earlier, most ebooks overstress the diet as the key factor. A particular author comes to mind. He claimed he gained 41lbs of muscle in 6 months and he attributed his success to his daily 5000 calorie meal plan. He even went further to say that guys who adopted a "gain muscle and stay lean" approach looked just the same at the end of the year. Are such gains realistic? Or is he just flat out lying and being irresponsible by giving muscle building enthusiasts wrong expectations? If you go to his blog he once wrote a post titled "6,000 Calorie Diet Meal Plan – Realize Your True Potential" LOL.

What I'd like to know Scott; is what was your personal record with your muscle building over a duration of time. It's sad that these authors make supplement companies the bad guys and that they offer the truth but in reality they don't offer a holistic picture to their customers.

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