Q: Congratulations on once again winning the Natural Mr. Universe. In the past I have tried bulking up and cutting down, and I’ve come to realize that I’ve been making the mistake of downing fat burners on an empty stomach and doing excessive cardio only to lose muscle. Then, when I bulk up, I tend to put on more fat than muscle. So I figured I have to keep my calories as clean as possible and watch my fat each week. In the past two months I have started taking test boosters and weight gainers, and I can see improvements—my muscles are hard, and I have not put on as much fat as in the past. I seek your advice on how to grow more muscle while keeping my fat level at a minimum. I have been training for too long, and the slow progress has become a bit frustrating, but I don’t want to give up just yet.
A: If you’re putting on too much fat when you’re bulking up and then losing too much muscle when you’re dieting to get cut up, you need to improve your nutrition plan. A proper diet will enable you to add muscle while not adding too much bodyfat and also to maintain your muscle while you are losing fat.
You mentioned that you’re using fat burners to lose weight and test boosters and weight gainers to gain weight. Although supplements can help, I think that the best thing you can “take” for gaining muscle is food. When you improve your nutrition plan by eating better foods and in the right quantities, you will really make progress.
You have to find the right number of calories for your individual metabolism. Everyone requires a different number of calories to gain weight and to lose weight. The factors that affect how many calories you need include your activity level, age, bodytype and the amount of bodyfat you are carrying right now.
I like to design a diet by breaking down the three macronutrients—proteins, carbohydrates and fats. By figuring out how much of each macronutrient to get, you will find it easy to adjust your total calories when you want to gain or lose weight.
Your protein intake should consist of complete-protein foods that have all of the essential amino acids—eggs, milk, cheese, turkey, chicken, fish and red meat. I like to eat one gram of a complete-protein food for each pound of bodyweight. If I weigh 200 pounds, I want to eat 200 grams of complete-protein foods a day.
Other foods also contain protein, but they may not be complete proteins, providing all of the essential amino acids. Many carbohydrate foods like whole-wheat bread, oatmeal and brown rice also contain significant amounts of protein but not all the amino acids.
The best carbs to eat for gaining weight are complex carbs that contain fiber, vitamins and minerals. They are natural food groups that will build up the glycogen in your muscles without causing a dramatic rise in blood sugar, which can lead to fat storage.
Combining protein foods with complex carbs also helps to keep the blood sugar more stable because the high fiber content slows the digestion of the food. That helps the carbs to be stored in the muscles and not as excess fat.
Eating six smaller meals a day, every three hours, and focusing on complete-protein foods and complex carbohydrates should help you to stay lean while you’re gaining muscle. Keep a diet log, and always record what you’re eating so you know how many calories as well as grams of protein and carb you need to get bigger.
You can do the same thing when you’re trying to lose fat. When you have your off-season diet down, simply reduce the number of calories by cutting back on the carbs or fats you’re taking in. Don’t go too low on either macronutrient; just reduce it enough for you to lose weight slowly. If you lose only -1 1/2 pounds per week, you should be able to retain your muscle mass while losing fat.
Getting control of your diet and knowing exactly what works for your body is so important. You won’t have to rely on fat burners, test boosters or any other type of “magic pill” to make progress. The diet is the key to making gains in bodybuilding, so if you want to be successful, it’s crucial that you learn what works for your body and how to make adjustments.