Bodybuilding and Weight Training/Constructing a Diet

There are many aspects to weight lifting, beside the obvious work in the gym. Perhaps the most important of all is maintaining a proper diet. Building a diet will revolve around your macronutrients: protein, fat and carbohydrates (or carbs, for short).

Macronutrients edit

Proteins are what your body uses as "building blocks", although to be fair, they have a lot of different functions in an organism. They are made up of amino acids and can be found in fish, meat, dairy products, eggs, legumes.

All in all, we can find 20 different amino acids and of these only three are brached-chain amino acids (BCAA): isoleucine, leucine and valine. These are the ones needed to build muscle, and they are "essential amino acids". This means that your body can't produce them, unlike other amino acids.

Fats are perhaps the subject of the biggest misconception. Many people think that all fats are bad, and that a healthy life style should comprise no fats at all, as people think they will gain body fat but that is a myth, here's why:

First, what are fats? and what are they good for?

We usually call fats to all lipids, be it oils or fats. They are molecules made up of "fatty acids" and are important for various functions in our organism, such as lubrication (yep, like your car's engine), formation of hormones, cell structure, carrying vitamins and storing energy.

Secondly, what types of fat are there?

There are "good fats","bad fats" and "fats you don't want near your children".

  • Unsaturated fats can be either monounsaturated ou polyunsaturated.
    • Monounsaturated fats can be found in olive oil, canola oil, nuts and avocados and they have been associated with keeping LDL (bad) cholesterol low and HDL (good) cholesterol high;
    • Polyunsaturated fats can be found in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, fish (especially cold water, from the ocean). These include the famous essential fats (they are essential because you need them and they have to be ingested, your organism cant produce them): omega-3 and omega-6. Omega-3 regulates heart rythm, normalises cholesterol levels decreases inflammation.
  • Saturated fats are usually found in animal products (although they can also be found in vegetable oils such as coconut, palm and kernel oils) and they are associated with raising cholesterol levels in your body, so they should be consumed with caution;
  • Trans-fats are the fats you find in processed foods, snacks, commercial cakes, cookies, fried foods, stick margarines, etc. They are created artificially by heating regular oil, which forces hydrogen atoms onto polyunsaturated fats and have bigger shelf-life than other fats, they can be easily identifiable as they don't produce smoke when heated. Consuming a moderate amount of this type of fat will increase your risk of cardiovascular keep them away whenever possible;

Carbs are another "bad boy", today. Like fats, it is important to understand what they are and why they are important. But also, how they should be consumed...

Carbs are the primary source of energy and include simple sugars and complex carbohydrates (whether they have up to two sugar units, like glucose, frutose, maltose, etc. or more sugar units, like starch, glycogen or cellulose). The former are water soluble and absorbed quickly by your body. The latter, on the other hand, either require enzymes to break the molecules apart (like in starch) or don't get absorbed at all (like fibers)

And your body loves them... have you ever felt your mouth begin to water when you smelled fresh-baked bead or thought of your favorite chocolate? That's your body preparing the saliva, with the enzimes it will need to break the carbs apart, continuing to be broken apart through your digestive system until they are monosaccharides and absorbed. Now, they can be used promptly or stored. But if they are stored this will be triggered by insulin and it can be in the form of glycogen ou fat.

The thing with energy in your body is that while it prefers to use glucose for energy, it can use protein to produce this energy... but then it's not using protein to what it should, building (or rebuilding) your body. So you really should have about half of your daily energy intake being carbs, but you should also watch what you're eating... prefer foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, etc.

So... how do I build a diet program? edit

First of all, a disclaimer: if you're serious about making changes to your diet and lifestyle, you really should consult with a dietician or your doctor. I mean, you do see an architect when you want to build a house, or a lawyer if you want to sue someone... it's no different. Also, mind that these are empirical formulas... they are meant to give you a general idea for generic individual, whose organism might not be quite like yours.

Another important thing to consider is that these are greatly affected by body composition. The formulas presented here do not take into account this factor, but is your body fat percentage is greater than about 30%, you should not consider these formulas. There are specific formulas for obese people, but you really should get professional help to ensure your safety as well as your health.

That being said, there are things you might learn, that give you a rough first approach to be refined.

Basal Metabolic Rate edit

First of all, you need to know your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). That is how much energy you spend doing nothing. And brace yourself... we're going metric!



With: W - weight in kg; H - height in cm; A - age in years.

So, let's look at Bruce, a 30 year old male who weighs 80kg and is 170cm high: BMR = 9.99*80 +6.255*170 + 4.92*30 + 5 = 2014 kcal

On the other hand, Joan, a 30 year old female who weighs 60kg and is 165cm high: BMR = 9.99*60 + 6.25*165 + 4.92*30 - 161 = 1617 kcal

Total Daily Energy Expenditure edit

Next, you need to input how active you are and what your goal is...

  • Objective
    • 1.1 to 1.3 for mass gain
    • 1.0 for maintaining
    • 0.8 to 1.0 for mass loss
  • Effort
    • 1.2 for sedentary people with desk jobs and no sports;
    • 1.4 for people who practice light sports 1 to 3 times a week;
    • 1.5 or people with moderate exercise 2 to 4 times a week or jobs which involve physical activity;
    • 1.7 for people who pratice sport 4+ times a week or a job with considerable amount of physical activity;
    • 1.8 for active people who pratice sports and have a job with considerable amount of physical activity.

So, your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) will be:


Again, Bruce has a desk job, but intends to hit th gym twice a week to burn some fat: TDEE = 2014 * 0.8 * 1.5 = 2417 kcal/day

As for Joan, she goes to the gym, but wants to step up her game up to 4 and make some gains: TDEE = 1617 * 1.5 * 1.1 = 2668 kcal/day Notice how these factors affected our subjects... while Bruce will only need 2400 kcal, in order to loose some weight (he will be burning more calories than he will be taking), Joan, who had a BMR inferior to Bruce's, will need 2670 kcal to accomplish her goals.

Proteins edit

The first thing you will calculate is the amount of protein you will need... we are building strength, and it comes from the muscles. Another path could be taken if we were training for endurance or other exercise.

What you first need to establish is your daily need, which will be:

  • 0.8 for sedentary people;
  • 1 to 1.5 for most activities
  • 1.5 to 2.0 for muscle building (strength or bodybuilding)
For Bruce, let's set him up with 1.3g for 80kg, that's 104g of protein per day.

And, for Joan, we'll crank up to 1.8g for 60kg, that's 108g per day So we see that even though they have different calory needs, their protein needs are quite similar.

Fats edit

As for fats, go for 1 to 2 g/kg of fat for body weight. Go nearer to 2 g/day if you do more cardio.

If you want to lose bodyfat, you could consider only your lean body weight to calculate your fat and even decrease further, but as a general guide, don't go beneath 0.6 g/kg of bodyweight.

Bruce's looking to loose weight, so let's go for 1.2g for 80kg, that's 96g of fat per day.

And, for Joan, she's not looking to loose weight and women tend to store more fatty tissue, let's go for 1.4g for 60kg, leaving us at 84g.

Carbs edit

Now, for carbs... it's the rest! What do I mean?

Count 4kcal/g for protein and 9 kcal/g for fat. The rest up to the TDEE will be carbs, with the carbs contributing with 4 kcal/g. So: For Bruce: 2417 - 104*4 - 96*9 = 1137 kcal. This means he will need 284 g of carbs (1137/4)

For Joan: 2668 - 108*4 - 84*9 = 1480 kcal. To consume these calories, she will need 370 g of carbs (1480/4)

But my friend told me carbs (or insulin) were evil. edit

While you can find a chocolate bar to have as many carbs as a portion of nuts, the nuts will consist of complex carbs, that your body will consume over time and use as energy, while the chocolate bar will have simple sugars, which will be quickly absorbed and stored as fat, requiring insulin.

Now, the thing is: when you eat and you bloodstream is filled with amino acids, fatty acids and glucose, insulin is released to your organism. Its purpose is to tell the organism to absorb the nutrients, but logically.

To produce energy, your body could do two things: use the fresh glucose or use the energy stored in the fat. But it's like us with our money: you use the money you received now, you don't save it in the bank and use the money you received first, right? It sits there until you need it. And so it is with fat; your body stores its energy for when you might need it and not have enough available.

So, the presence of insulin also tells your body to not use fat cells and stimulates the creation of body fat. And people thick that by consuming carbs, your body maintains a high insulin level and so is always in "fat storage mode"

But... does this mean your friend was right? No. Your body is also always burning energy, even after you're done eating and so, on a healthy living, it will be floating between excess intake and excess consumption during the day. To reduce these differences you should eat less and more often, and not big portions 2 or 3 times a day. And exercise... always exercise!

What about supplements? edit

How can I choose the best whey? edit

When choosing a whey, it is easy to be overwhelmed with how many there are and how different the costs are... from some with "three (or more) kinds of protein" to "amino matrixes" and so on... I've learnt that there are three things you want to be looking for: quantity of protein, the aminogram and amino spiking.

The quantity of protein in your whey should be, at the very least, 70%. I mean, that's what you came for... that's what you're paying for. Anything with less than 70% of protein in it shouldn't even be worth considering.

Now, let's look at the aminogram... doesn't have one? Well, go on to the next one, then. Really, there should always be an aminogram, in your whey, and if there isn't one, that should be a good enough sign that they don't want you to read it. If the first step was to know how much protein there is, now you're beginning to see how much it is worth. Protein is composed of amino acids and here is where you know it's composition. 30% of it's composition should be essential amino acids (they are usually marked, so they are easy to spot). And of these 30%, 15% should be leucine, isoleucine and valine. The other 70% are the rest of the amino acids that are not essential.

Lastly, one final look at the quality... Aminos piking is common in the industry, when trying to cut costs and still making the cut. So, you end up with a protein so poor that you have to "spike it" with amino acids. To spot it, you won't be looking at the aminogram, but reading the ingredients. When you read them, there shouldn't be amino acids as ingredients, as this means they had to be added to compensate for the poor quality of the protein.

So, in short: there should be more than 70% of protein, more than 15% of the amino acids should be leucine, isoleucine and valine and no amino acids should have been added in the ingredients.

...if you look at it now, there won't be that many to choose from... and those should be decent ones.

You said something about rules...? edit

Yes, I did. It is not enough to know how much you should eat... it is also important when and how you eat it. So, here are some rules:

  1. Always prefer natural products to processed ones. Processed foods are always riddled with sugar, preservatives and any number of things you didn't expect to be there and don't need. Plus, it's cheaper to buy a chicken breast and vegetables than hamburgers and fries.
  2. Eat smaller portions throughout the day. Is you skip meals you will "compensate" later in the day and eat bigger portions that your body will need to store as fat, instead of keeping a steady rhythm throughout the day.
  3. Prefer whole grains. The more fiber, the longer your body will take to absorb the nutrients and, again, the more steady is your rhythm throughout the day.
  4. Avoid carbs after 6 p.m.. Your body will not need immediate sources of energy, so it is better to just eat protein and fibers (salads, etc.) and not bread, baked goods, etc., which your body will, again, store as unnecessary fat.
  5. Drink lots of water. We didn't go into how much water you should drink daily, but think of 2 liters and never less than 1.5 l of water per day. Carry a bottle with you at all times and sip occasionally.
  6. Be reasonable, don't overdo it. Most people I've met that failed to keep up with their diet did so because they had a very strict plan and became disappointed after the first few mistakes... if you slipped today, try again tomorrow.

See also: edit

I'm sorry for not making the correct references... but most of what I read is here.

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference

TDEE Calculator

Learn About Carbohydrates

Fat Structure and Functions

Protein Structure and Metabolism

How Insulin Really Works: It Causes Fat Storage…But Doesn’t Make You Fat