By Skip La Cour 2x NPC Team Universe Overall Champion As you strive to attain a quality physique without drugs, it is important to remember that intense and efficient training methods only initiate the muscle-building process. And, although very helpful, a good supplementation program can only help so much. It is sound nutrition -- followed on a consistent basis -- that will make the biggest impact on the development of the natural trainer’s physique. One of my bodybuilding goals is to help natural trainers see the importance of good eating habits. I intend to accomplish this by explaining why proper nutrition needs to be prioritized, how it affects muscle growth, and why the need for patience and consistency is so important. Many expert opinions have been expressed and many books have been published on the subject of nutrition. Some of these sources are undoubtedly more knowledgeable of the specific "nuts and bolts" of this topic than I am. But I will, however, offer some basic guidelines on protein consumption theories, getting lean, and how carbohydrate manipulation affects the fat loss process. I will also give you tips on scheduling meals, eating well despite your busy schedule, and whether bulking up is necessary to build muscle. I can teach you exactly what to eat, how much, what time, and why -- but this information would be useless if you do not follow the plan. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will be mentally ready to implement a good nutritional program that is so important for your development. PROPERLY PRIORITIZING NUTRITION Too many of us who train without drugs fail to take complete responsibility for our lack of progress. We are sometimes too quick to blame factors such as training plateaus, poor genetics, and often the fact that we do not use drugs, for our inferior development. I have come to the conclusion that the major culprit for most of us is poor and/or inconsistent nutritional habits that inhibit quality muscle gains. I have also discovered that the majority of lifters sincerely feel that their habits are above average. Many are badly mistaken. Unless they are made aware of their deficiencies and, most importantly, make the necessary changes, they will continue to be dissatisfied with their results. Good eating habits must be put on the very top of your priority list. Nutrition is probably the single most important factor in the muscle building process -- even more important than training and supplementation. It has been said that up to 80 percent of the way you look is determined by the way you eat. My former training partner, Travis Souza, coined a phrase that we have gotten into the habit of saying as we adjourn from our training sessions. It is "Eat, Sleep, and Grow!" This underscores our understanding that, no matter how great a training session we just had, it will be minimized if we do not eat properly that day, that week, that month, or that year. If you are a natural trainer frustrated by your lack of improvement, reevaluate the importance you put on the way you eat. CREATING THE "RIGHT ENVIRONMENT" FOR MUSCLE GROWTH I often use the analogy of the right conditions for a potted plant to grow when explaining the right conditions of the human body that stimulate muscle growth. If you want a plant to grow, you must constantly keep it in what I call the "right environment" to grow. If you keep its soil rich with quality fertilizer day after day, you can expect to have a healthy, strong, thriving plant. It is from this high-quality fertilizer that the plant gets the nutrients that make it grow. The higher the quality, the better development you can expect from the plant. The more consistently you have that fertilizer available to the plant, the better the results. Your body is very much the same. The "fertilizer" that makes your body grow is high-quality food. The higher the quality of food you give your body on a consistent basis, the better development you can expect. The muscle-growth process is only initiated by training. Putting it very simply, it takes heavy training of the muscle to begin the building process. It breaks down the muscle and demands it to adapt by growing larger and stronger. Sound nutrition, along with rest and recuperation, is what will satisfy that demand. I can usually complete my training session in about one hour. What will greatly determine how well I grow is what I do in the other 23 hours of the day. I consistently eat high-quality meals every two hours. This type of environment you create for your body is extremely crucial as you try to build size naturally. You must keep your body fed with nutrient-dense foods day in and day out. THE NEED FOR PATIENCE Patience is a very important part of your ability to stick to your nutritional program. You see, eating properly is not something you are going to see immediate results from. But consistent, proper nutrition is the biggest factor that leads to long-term gains for the natural trainer. The route you have chosen by training naturally will be challenging. Your gains will be slower than those of your drug-assisted counterparts. Although this could be frustrating, be patient. You can also be guaranteed that the muscle you develop is yours to keep. Best of all, you do not have to worry about doing anything illegal or hide anything from your family and friends. CONSISTENCY IS ESSENTIAL Bodybuilding is a lifestyle. Doing it correctly does not stop after you are done in the gym. You must constantly feed your body the right foods if you want to enjoy a great physique. Some natural bodybuilders make the terrible mistake of being inconsistent. When they want to prepare for a show, they start "bearing down" two or three months before. This is usually much too late. Some of the best drug-assisted bodybuilders may be able to get by with this habit, but a successful natural bodybuilder cannot. How you eat seven months before a show is just as important as how you eat seven weeks -- or even seven days -- before a show. If you wait until three months before, you are losing a lot of precious time that you could use for growing if you are consistent with your nutritional habits. Natural bodybuilders need to be consistent with their diet all year long if they expect impressive results. They have no assistance -- results must be accomplished over a considerably longer time period. If you are a noncompetitive bodybuilder, consistent eating habits are just as important to you. If you want to feel strong, be strong and look your best you must "feed the machine." For me, a day of sound nutrition consists of eight quality meals. Seven days of quality meals stacked on top of each other will create a quality week that surely will contribute to my growth. Every four weeks make a good month. Twelve good months equate to a good year of quality muscle growth. It is this kind of consistency that is needed if you plan on achieving substantial growth without drugs. There are no shortcuts! PROTEIN CONSUMPTION Protein consumption is an extremely vital part of the muscle building process. Although there is much debate to exactly how much protein is necessary, it is generally believed that bodybuilders need to consume more than an average person. How much should you consume? One opinion is that it depends on how well you as an individual can assimilate protein. I try to eat at least 400 - 500 grams a day. Not strictly in the form of food, but also in whey protein, amino acid, and meal replacement supplementation. There is a very old method of determining the "proper" amount of protein you should ingest, but I don't believe this "cookie cutter" rule can possibly be right for everyone -- especially bodybuilders. Multiply your body weight in kilogram times 1.5 to figure the grams of protein to consume daily (divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to determine how much you weigh in kilograms) and experiment upwards from there. If you are able to handle more than that amount efficiently, you will probably gain more muscle. GETTING LEAN One pound of body fat contains about 3,500 stored calories. So you must reduce your caloric intake by 3,500 calories a week to lose one pound per week or increase your activity level to burn 3,500 extra calories per week. You must either eat fewer calories or burn more calories by increasing your activity level, or a combination of both -- it's that simple. But, don't expect getting ripped to be so easy. The first few days on a diet, you may lose several pounds. That's because your body takes the easy way out when it needs energy. It uses up your stored carbohydrate (glycogen). And carbohydrate contains a relatively large amount of water. When you begin a diet, you can lose a lot of fluid -- but no fat. You have a weight loss that only lasts until your next drink of water. Your body does other things to preserve body fat. When it has used up its carbohydrate stores, it will shift your metabolism into a slower rate. You will discover you are moving more slowly and have less energy because you have used up your carbohydrate (quick energy) stores. Our bodies have been conditioned, over time, to guard against famine and will do almost anything to conserve fat. If weight loss is not done properly, too much precious muscle mass will be lost. But if you are persistent, as a last resort, your body will begin to use its fat stores for energy. Many people who have written to me are amazed that a natural bodybuilder can show up for contests in great condition. I believe that getting ripped is a matter of having a little bit of knowledge -- but most importantly, having a lot of "heart". It takes a lot of discipline to stay on your diet for a longer time than others who have a faster metabolism or who use chemicals to assist them. You have to go hungry sometimes while continuing to train hard and heavy so you can retain as much muscle as possible. I think that many more natural bodybuilders could show up in better condition -- it is a matter or whether or not they are willing to do so. CARBOHYDRATE CONSUMPTION My friend and world-class natural bodybuilder, Chris Faildo, shared a dieting tip with me that has proved very useful. What he does is rotate his carbohydrate intake -- not only in amount, but also in type. For three days he will get his carbohydrates only from vegetable sources and keeps the total to around 150 grams. Then he will eat a more moderate amount of grainy types of carbohydrate sources for two days, then rotate back and forth. This is a very difficult contest diet -- especially when you need to train hard and heavily also. But, if you have seen the trademark condition Chris routinely shows in competition, you know that it works. I tried his method at the 1995 Mr. Universe contest and competed in my all-time best condition. As I look at pictures from that show, I am amazed at the shape I was able to achieve. I would have had trouble believing that this was possible drug-free if you had asked me a couple of years ago! Give this method a try. I'm sure if you stick it out, you will also be surprised with your results. As a bodybuilder, I will always keep my protein intake high. If I want to get or stay lean, I will also watch the fat content in my food. What's left? Carbohydrates. This is the one nutrient that you must vary in amount to trick your body into getting lean. As I learn more about nutrition, my theories sometimes change. I still believe that watching your carbohydrate consumption plays an important part in shedding body fat, but probably not for the same reasons as I once did. I believe that eliminating starchy carbohydrates (at least for periods of time) are an effective way to lose fat because they are calories-dense and very easy to overeat more than any other reasons. Regardless of all the different diets, nutrition theories, glycemic indexes of foods, and other complex and debatable factors, when it all comes down to it, effective weight and fat loss is a matter of calories consumed versus calories burned. If you eat more calories than you burn over the course of a day, you will gain weight. On the other hand, if you burn more calories than you eat over the course of a day, you will lose weight. SHOULD YOU BULK UP? Is it better to bulk up for added muscle growth, or stay lean all year around? Unfortunately, this is an area where there are no definitive answers. One school of thought is that if you consistently ingest high-quality protein and train heavily and efficiently, it is not necessary to put on excess weight to gain muscle. The addition of body fat is not considered beneficial in the off-season to acquire more muscle. The more fat you put on, the tougher it will be to prepare for a show, so it is advised to stay within 10-15 pounds of contest condition. Others feel that if you limit the amount of weight you can gain, you will also limit the amount of muscle you can gain in the process. I have tried both methods during my off-seasons and personally feel it is better to bulk up -- but with some limitations. I am definitely stronger when I am not restricting my calories -- regardless of the quality of those restricted calories. Consistently feeling stronger means heavier training sessions. Heavier training sessions over time leads to more muscle. Carrying around a little extra weight also allows my body to fuel its energy requirements from body fat -- without threatening valuable amino acid stores (or protein). These protein stores can be used to build and repair muscle all year long – every single day of it!. If you do decide to bulk up, be sure not to get too far away from contest shape. If you get behind schedule and need to drastically reduce your calorie intake to be ready for your show in time, you will undoubtedly sacrifice a lot of precious muscle in the process. This will negate the very reason you bulked up in the first place! As a natural bodybuilder, you do not have any chemicals to help you save muscle. Whether you are a competitive or noncompetitive bodybuilder, ultimately you will need to decide how much body fat you are comfortable carrying. It may not be worth it to you to feel "sloppy" most of the year to display more muscle on that one day of the contest. A good rule of thumb when it comes to eating in the off-season is "eat to gain muscle." Do not eat to get fat or eat to stay lean. Consistently feed yourself high-quality protein for muscle growth and enough carbohydrates to keep you feeling your strongest. After prioritizing those needs, consume as much fat as you feel comfortable eating. SCHEDULING YOUR MEALS Why are smaller, more frequent meals better than larger, less frequent meals? The body can better utilize the nutrients in the food. I heard this analogy used once to explain how smaller meals are beneficial to the bodybuilder. Think of steer, horses, or other "grazing" animals. They eat a little all day long -- and have tremendously muscular and lean bodies. You should try to feed yourself every two to three hours. This will take a lot of planning, but if you want a quality physique, you must do it. There are many things you can do to insure that eating frequently will not be so difficult. THE BENEFITS ARE MORE THAN JUST A GREAT BODY Sound nutrition has many more benefits than just aesthetics. Applying good eating habits to your daily life will also help you mentally. If your body is a machine that needs fuel to run properly, then food is that fuel. The higher quality food you give your machine, the better it will perform. That means a better sense of well-being, sharper thinking, more strength in the gym, and better performance in other areas of your life, such as work and relationships with people. I believe when you consistently eat right, you have more "pep in your step," the sky seems a lot bluer, the air seems a lot fresher -- you become a happier, more optimistic person. It goes without saying you will need to put forth some effort -- and this can become very difficult. But isn't anything worth having always a little difficult? Attaining a muscular physique that you can be proud of -- while sticking to your commitment of staying drug-free -- is one of these difficult tasks. Eating properly on a consistent basis is going to help you reach your goals. Eating well is the avenue to enjoying the great physique you desire. Good luck! And remember to eat, sleep, and grow!