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.
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.
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.