Nutrition and Bodybuilding

In the last century, the sport of bodybuilding has had a strong impact

upon entertainment, sports, and the medical community. Such pop culture icons as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno have transformed the sport into what it is today. At the same time, the sport has catapulted these and others who have followed into the media and entertainment world spotlight. Bodybuilding has given new ideas as to what a healthy body and a healthy state of mind consists of. The sport of bodybuilding has ignited medical research of all kinds relating to body mechanics, nutrition, and supplementation. Nutrition, in addition to supplements, is essential to bodybuilding.

Bodybuilding has not been around forever. The Greek culture was the first culture to idolize the idea of an aesthetically beautiful, strong, muscular physique capable of great feats (Schwarzenegger 3). These ideals resurfaced at the end of the nineteenth century as the people of the era began to show new interest in weightlifting and the celebration of the human body (Schwarzenegger 3). This was, in part, due to health problems which created a desire to eat a balanced diet and develop the human body, and also because Europe and America had a fascination with strongmen and the feats they performed as entertainment (Schwarzenegger 3).

The American ideas took a different direction than the Europeans however. Americans sought after aesthetics as well as power, while the Europeans were more interested in what feats he could perform rather than what he looked like (Schwarzenegger 4). The American fascination with aesthetics drew Eugene Sandow to the United States. Eugene Sandow was a man who had made his reputation in Europe as a professional strongman (Schwarzenegger 4). Upon coming to America, Sandow was dubbed by his promoter as the “World’s Strongest Man” (Schwarzenegger 4). Sandow toured America doing stunts and performing strongman feats (Schwarzenegger 4). It was the aesthetical quality of Sandow’s physique which captivated audiences across America. Contests were held and the physical measurements of the competitors were compared (Schwarzenegger 5). Sandow would then award the winner with a gold plated statue of himself (Schwarzenegger 5). As time went on, many other strongmen with aesthetical qualities followed in the footsteps of Eugene Sandow and created contests where strength and other aesthetical qualities were compared (Schwarzenegger 11-17).

It had become more and more evident by the 1920s and1930s that health and the development of the body were connected very closely (Schwarzenegger 11). From these ascertainments, many realized that the best way to produce the largest degree of muscular development was through weight training (Schwarzenegger 11). Between 1930 and 1960, bodybuilding as a sport took on great advancement as people such as John Grimeck, Reg Park, and Clancy Ross began to dominate the sport (Schwarzenegger 11-20). They did this with qualities and attributes unseen in their time with huge backs and chests as well as superbly developed abdominals and calves. During this span of forty years, several agencies were formed to conduct the contests that were taking place. Among the most notable being the Amateur Athletic Union, the National Amateur Body Builders Association, and the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB)(Schwarzenegger 12-24). The 1970s were great years for the IFBB. It became the dominant bodybuilding organization under the leadership of its president, Ben Weider (Schwarzenegger 33). The IFBB then consisted of over 100 member countries and had become the sixth largest sports federation in the world (Schwarzenegger 33). The Mr. Olympia title given by the IFBB became the top professional championship in bodybuilding, giving the winner a gold plated Eugene Sandow (Schwarzenegger 33). The IFBB remains the largest bodybuilding federation in the world today and the promoter of the highest competition in the sport of bodybuilding.
Bodybuilding training is a science which focuses on even the most miniscule detail of technique to ensure the maximum yield from a certain exercise movement. Most bodybuilders follow a precise workout regimen determined by the type of look that they desire their bodies to mirror. The regimen they follow is usually backed by repeated scientific studies which explain the correct way to achieve the look they desire.

The most common practice among bodybuilders, in regards to the frequency at which they train certain muscle groups, is to train each group once or twice a week (Schwarzenegger 147). This is because the general consensus is that any more would just be overtraining (Schwarzenegger 147). Those bodybuilders who train each body part twice a week usually allow two days for a muscle group to heal (Schwarzenegger 147). For instance, if a bodybuilder trained arms on Tuesday, he would wait until Friday before he trained them again. Overtraining is a big problem in the gym because many times the symptoms are very subtle and go unnoticed.

Apart from overtraining, there are only a couple of other things which would halt a person’s progress in the gym. One thing that will halt the progress of a bodybuilder is lack of healing sleep. Because of the huge amounts of energy expelled and the amount of damage to the muscle tissue caused by heavy weight training, a bodybuilder requires at least seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep a night for proper healing to take place (Wolff 52). Mainstream bodybuilders state that a person should wait only one or two minutes between sets (Schwarzenegger 148). The reason for this is that as a person does a set, their blood vessels dilate so that more blood can enter the muscle and carry more oxygen and other nutrients into the muscle. This starts the healing process as well as supplying the energy that is needed at the moment. As a person rests between sets, the muscle, which has become engorged with blood, slowly drains the blood which has filled it. If the person waits too long, the muscle will empty most of the blood back into the circulatory system. In order to build muscle, the muscle must tear. This is what weight training does. As the muscle fills with blood, the tears in the muscle fibers increase. Since a bodybuilder waits only one or two minutes between sets, the blood has not completely drained out of the muscle. When a muscle still contains blood from the prior set and the bodybuilder forces more blood into the muscle, it creates an increase in the tears. These tears are what need to heal while the bodybuilder is resting that particular body part. This time is when sleep, nutrition, and any supplements the person is taking become crucial. During the time of muscle recovery, the muscle fills in the tears that have been created by thickening and enlarging the muscle fibers that were already there. The next time a bodybuilder enters the gym to work that particular muscle, they must alter the routine. This is done either by altering the amount of weight used or by altering the types of exercises done to hit the muscle from a different angle (Wolff 110). The same thing which caused damage to the muscle the first time cannot be used over and over because each time the muscle recovers, it has more density, is stronger, and is better prepared to handle the heavy weight put on it during the prior workout. This is the muscle adapting in order to protect itself. In order to adapt, however, there are key nutrients a bodybuilder must utilize for optimal growth.

There is a complex science to the way bodybuilders eat. The nutritional requirements for a bodybuilder are a lot different than the requirements for an average person. Energy in the body is produced by the breaking of a chemical bond in adenosine-triphosphate (Bean 5). This is produced in every cell of the body resulting from the breakdown of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins (Bean 5). Due to the greater amount of energy expended by bodybuilders, they require much greater amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and fats than normal people.

A protein is made up of smaller units called amino acids (Bean 51). These amino acids are what the body actually needs. They are the building blocks in skeletal muscle, tendons, skin, hair, and nails (Bean 50). “About three-quarters of the dry weight of human muscle is protein” (Bean 50). Protein is absolutely essential for the growth of new muscle, as well as repairing damaged muscle tissue. Catabolism is the breakdown of proteins in the cells of the body (Bean 50). Anabolism is the building up of proteins in the cells of the body (Bean 50). These processes are continually taking place in the body of a sedentary individual, but more so in an active one. There is an overall loss in protein every day. An individual who is active requires more protein than one who is not. This is the reason that bodybuilders require so much protein to ensure optimal growth. A bodybuilder requires between 1.4 to 1.7 g of protein per pound of body weight (Bean 52). This means that if an individual weighs 200 lbs. and needs 1.4 grams of protein multiplied by his body weight, that person would require 280 grams of protein daily. Since such great amounts of protein are somewhat difficult to eat, many bodybuilders have meal replacement shakes which can consist of 20-60 grams of protein (Ironman 4).

Carbohydrates are the best substance for energy when considering a choice between fat, carbohydrates, or protein. Carbohydrates are stored in the blood and liver as a substance called glycogen (Bean 8). Glycogen levels must be kept high to ensure that a bodybuilder does not tire during exercise (Bean 9). Carbohydrates are also the source of the energy the body uses to use the protein in muscle regeneration. Carbohydrate levels for a bodybuilder trying to bulk up must be at least 2-3 grams per pound of body weight (Bean 35). This means a 200 lb. man needs 600 grams of carbohydrates daily to ensure optimal muscle growth. During pre-contest and contest training, a bodybuilder would diet and lower his carbohydrate intake to one and a half grams per pound daily.

As protein and carbohydrate requirements are heightened for bodybuilders, so too are the calories. Most diets are based on an intake of two thousand calories per day, whereas a bodybuilder should consume three thousand to over four thousand calories daily to ensure optimal growth (Ironman 110). Fats in the diet are also very important for hormone production and to protect organs (Ironman 108). However, most bodybuilders keep fats to a minimum, making them only fifteen to twenty percent of their daily intake of food (Ironman 108).

Supplementation is rampant in the sport of bodybuilding. It is not bad to supplement nutrition with a sound, healthy group of supplements. The quantities should not be too high, nor should they have adverse effects on the body or mind. Supplementation takes on many forms. Some supplements are applied like lotion, some are injectable, and others are in pill or liquid form. Dr. Michael Colgan, founder of the Colgan Institute and senior member of the Science Faculty at the University of Auckland, says, “For top performance, food is first (Ironman 1).” There are some cases, however, when the body does not get all that is needed to ensure optimal growth. There are many reasons athletes should take supplements. One reason is that of all people, athletes can least afford to have nutritional deficiencies. “Athletes have a higher demand for various nutrients than sedentary people do” (Ironman 205). The modern diet cannot guarantee that a person is getting the all the nutrients needed in the right amounts. Many important substances are simply not part of a normal diet. “Certain nutrients are best absorbed in supplement form” (Ironman 208). “Supplementation is a way for a person to fine-tune the nutrition for a particular sport or activity” (Ironman 206). It “is a way to get large amounts of a nutrient” without eating a lot of food, and thereby a lot of calories, to get it (Ironman 208). “It also gives a person a nutritional safety margin when on a weight loss diet” (Ironman 208). “Supplementation is an athlete’s psychological and physiological insurance policy regarding nutrition” (Ironman 210). Lastly, “supplementation enables an athlete to perform better” (Ironman 210).

The most basic supplement is a daily multivitamin. This essential supplement ensures that a bodybuilder is getting the wide array of nutrients that he needs at an inexpensive cost (Ironman 9). A multivitamin is necessary even for sedentary people to ensure that they are getting all the nutrients that the human body needs daily.

Another supplement used quite extensively by bodybuilders is creatine. “Creatine enhances activities where short bursts of energy are needed, such as weightlifting and sprinting” (Ironman 18). “In some studies, creatine has been shown to help a lifter train longer and harder” (Ironman 18). Although there are benefits to taking creatine, there are many people that it has no effect on (Ironman 18). Another problem with creatine is the fact that many companies have tried to alter the delivery system of creatine by altering how it is absorbed into the body. For this reason, there are many brands that are not worthwhile to take.
A supplement that has come on the market recently is Acetyl L-carnitine (ALC). It is the amino acid L-carnitine in an acetylated form, which causes it to pass through the blood-brain barrier much easier (Ironman 81). According to Dr. Michael Colgan, ALC has great effects relating to testosterone and cortisol (Ironman 81). It raises the levels of testosterone in a bodybuilder’s body while lowering the cortisol levels (Ironman 81-82). Testosterone is very anabolic, while cortisol is very catabolic (Ironman 81-82).

There are many other supplements on the market, some to burn fat, some to boost strength and mass, and others which are used simply to constantly create an anabolic synergy in the body. However useful these supplements are, bodybuilders who use them must research exactly what these substances can do because they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. One terrible aspect of taking supplements is that a bodybuilder could get addicted to some of the supplements that he is taking. “Addiction is the process of compulsive, uncontrollable use of a drug, despite negative consequences” (Kuhn 46).

Athletes who desire to be the best must realize how essential nutrition is to the building of muscle and a healthy life. They must know all the facts about sleep, diet, and supplementation in order for them to make the best choices. They will need to know all the information in order for them to be the best.

Works Cited

“About the IFBB”. 2 April 2003. aboutifbb.html>.

Bean, Anita. The Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition. 2nd ed. London: A&C Black Ltd, 1997.

Ironman Magazine and Peter Sisco. Ironman’s Ultimate Guide to Bodybuilding Nutrition. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 2000.

Kuhn, Cynthia, Ph.D., Scott Swartzwelder, Ph.D., and Wilkie Wilson, Ph.D. Pumped: Straight Facts for Athletes About Drugs, Supplements, and Training. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2000.

Schwarzenegger, Arnold. The New Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998.

Wolff, Robert, Ph.D. Bodybuilding 101: Everything You Need to Know to Get the Body You Want. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1999.

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