Bodybuilding Diet Basics for Beginners

So you want to start eating like a bodybuilder…? The following article is pretty much designed for someone doing exercise regularly, and these basic rules can also be applied to a regular non-exercising person (i.e. inactive, sedentary, lazy, couch potato, etc – kidding!). There would only be a couple differences in terms of food quantity and pre- and post workout nutrition. The key is to adjust things according to the individual’s needs i.e. their goals and lifestyle.

an example of a good bodybuilding meal

First of all, most of the population is a little confused about the word ‘diet’. A diet isn’t something a person ‘follows’ for 3 days, 1 week or 3 weeks. Diet is the way you eat. It is a lifestyle and supposed to come about naturally. Diet is the usual food and drink you consume on a daily basis. For most bodybuilders, there are two sides to their diet. There is cutting and there is bulking (see Cutting V Bulking: Losing Body Fat whilst Gaining Quality Muscle); both, especially the ‘cut’, can get complicated if the individual is competing. Competing is a different game altogether.

So what if you’re not a bodybuilder? Maybe you’re just someone that trains to fine tune or even just ‘maintain’ a certain type of body? That’s fine. The same basic rules can apply. The thing that changes is that your food intake will stay more or less the same.

And now for some basic basics:

Cutting / Bulking / Maintaining – What are these and what do they mean?

The cutting phase of a diet is the phase that aims to lose weight. When your diet is sorted out properly the goal to be achieved in the end is mainly fat loss and minimal loss of muscle mass. The severity of a cut may vary depending on how much fat has to be lost and in how much time the weight loss has to be achieved. Note that cutting requires a calorie deficit.

The bulking phase of a diet aims to put on or gain weight. There is the option to bulk like a madman (eat anything in sight) or go for a ‘clean bulk’, i.e. add mass with not too much fat gain.

A lean bulk can be accompanied with some cardio or interval training to help with minimal fat gains. Note, bulking requires a calorie surplus.

Maintaining is pretty much eating enough food to maintain your desired bodyweight. Note, maintaining requires a maintenance of calories.

A calorie (abbreviated to kcal) in diet terms is a measurement of energy in food. There are three basic categories of food, not including alcohol (7 kcal/g); Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fats:

  • 1g of Protein = 4 calories
  • 1g of Carbohydrates = 4 calories
  • 1g of Fat = 9 calories

Let’s get in a little deeper and let’s discuss P/C/Fs shall we? Again, the following will simply cover the basic basics… nothing too complicated or intense so don’t fret!


Protein plays a major role in the diet and in the body. The amount of protein one should aim to obtain depends on the person. Overall protein intake should be at 1-2g of protein per pound of bodyweight depending on a number of factors. Vegetarians and vegans might not have as much choice as meat-eaters, but can still achieve the 1-2g/lb on a daily basis, as other foods with a fair amount of protein do exist and will help.

Sources: Meats: tuna, oily fish, chicken, turkey, lean beef, etc.
Others: eggs, milk*, cottage cheese*, quark*, casein*, whey, soya/tofu, TVP, etc.

* more slowly digested proteins typical for before bedtime; whey in milk is another.


Carbohydrates (carbs/CHO) also play a major role in the diet and in the body. Carbs basically fall into two categories, ‘simple’ and ‘complex’. In general we need around 2g per lb of bodyweight, but this requirement can vary considerably and really depends on the individual’s goals, lifestyle, and their reaction to different amounts.

Complex Carbs break down more slowly and release a constant amount of energy over a longer period of time. The general idea is to get most of your carb intake from complex carbs. Sources: Brown rice, sweet potatoes, yams, oats, high fibre cereals, wholemeal bread and pasta, vegetables, pulses/legumes (beans, lentils, chick peas), etc.

Simple Carbs tend to create an insulin spike because they are absorbed and broken down quickly by the body. This results in a quick boost of energy followed by a sudden drop in energy levels. A good time to use simple carbs could be post workout (PWO). Simple carbs are also useful as ‘easy calories’ for those having trouble gaining weight. Sources: glucose, dextrose, other -ose words, honey, molasses, cakes, sweets, sugary kid’s cereals, chocolate, cookies, etc.

Refined or processed carbs (empty calories) are still complex carbohydrates as such in structure, but it’s the removal of fibre that makes it easier for them to be broken down. A lot of the nutrients are lost as well. Refining the carb does also tend increase its GI (glycaemic index) score; this can lead to an impact on blood sugar levels. The more a food is processed the further it is from its original state. Examples: white bread, white rice, pasta, refined breakfast cereals, etc.

It is important to get an adequate amount of fibre in our diet. Fruit and Vegetables are a must in a person’s diet. Aim for about 2-3 pieces of fruit and 5-10 servings of vegetables a day. Fibre supplements are also available and have to be taken with a lot of water.


Fats also play a major role in the diet and in the body. Fats can get a little tricky. Eating fat won’t make you fat. An excess of calories, beyond your needs, will pile on the fat lbs. To make things simple, you need good fats in your diet. The amount does vary according to your goals. Some people’s fat intake can amount to: 30g; some 50g; some 100g; some 100g +; play with amounts and see how you react.

I generally recommend getting 20-30% of your overall calories from fats. Up to 10% of your fat intake can be from saturated fats. Foods that contain a high amount of fat are more than likely also high in calories. Fats make a food dense in calories. Try to spread out your intake evenly throughout the day.

Sources: Olive oil, flax, flaxseed (linseed) oil/supplements, oily fish, fish oil supplements, nuts, nut oils/butters, natural peanut butter, avocado, coconut oil, Udo’s oil blend, etc.

Key Rules of a Bodybuilding Diet

  • Eat at least every 3 hours with protein at each sitting
  • Bulk of diet should come from whole solid foods
  • Use protein supplements to ‘supplement’ the diet; not as the ‘main ingredient’
  • Have a slow release/slow-digesting meal before bed (ideal time to have some fat)
  • Have something as soon as you wake up, or as soon as you can, to stop any muscle tissue breakdown and to help rev up your metabolism after a long night’s fast.
  • Sort out proper pre- and post workout nutrition according to your goals and your lifestyle

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