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One popular snack food can be a godsend for bodybuilders. I’m talking about nuts, which are calorie dense and loaded with healthful fats. For hardgainers, or any off-season bodybuilder looking to boost the numbers on the scale or the tape measure, a few servings of nuts a day—between meals, with protein shakes or even as a dessert to finish off a meal—can be an excellent choice. You have to be very careful with nuts, though, once your goal shifts to losing bodyfat.

I stumbled onto that discovery last year while trying to figure out why my older brother, who was supposedly eating a strict diet and doing his cardio, wasn’t dropping any bodyfat. The culprit turned out to be nuts, and I also had to admit they were stymieing my own fat-loss goals. I get the big plastic jars of mixed nuts from Costco, and BJ’s sells its own version. Just a quarter cup has 200 calories, a full 150 of them derived from fat. I’d average two servings a day of a half cup each. Let’s do the math:

• Daily: 800 calories—600 from fat

• Weekly: 5,600 calories—4,200 from fat

If you’re trying to gain muscle and need the calories, great! If your aim is to lose bodyfat, not great. You must burn 3,500 calories to shed a pound of fat, and that meant well over a pound of fat each week that I was not losing. It would also take an hour of intense cardio—every day—for a guy of 210 to 220 pounds just to make up for the nuts.

So if it’s your off-season and you want to grow, chow down. If you’re attempting to get lean, just say no to nuts, and snack on lower-calorie items. One tasty alternative I recently discovered is dry-roasted edamame, or soybeans, also available at wholesale warehouses like Costco. A quarter-cup serving has 30 calories, only 40 of them from fat. And, while the nuts provide only a single gram of protein per serving, roasted soybeans deliver 14 grams—a very simple and delicious way to bump up your total protein intake. So don’t go nuts with eating nuts—unless you need the calories.

Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding, available at www.RonHarrisMuscle.com.

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