Steering a Wide Path Around Common Diet Mistakes

Common Diet Mistakes

There are Simple Steps you can Take for Success

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Working out is only part of the equation. They say weight training is just a third of what counts toward successful bodybuilding. The other two thirds come from cardiovascular work, intended to build a strong heart and burn fat effectively, and from the food you eat every day. The truth is, diet is the real key to success and likely represents a higher percentage. I'd say it's at least half of any success or failure. If you always remember this fact, you'll be ahead of the game.

In the early to mid-'90s the bodybuilding climate wasn't the same as it is today. The "bigger is always better" philosophy was less common. Judges fell into two distinct camps. One camp felt size was all important and anything less than gargantuan was inferior. The other camp emphasized both size and conditioning, but would surely have placed a well-conditioned athlete ahead of one who was soft and, perhaps, even better shaped because the athlete in superb condition showed a better package. Still, the better conditioned athlete usually got the nod, even if he was slightly smaller, because his musculature looked more impressive overall. Big without cuts just doesn't look as complete as average ripped to ribbons.

This split in the valuation of bodybuilding packages onstage has been a topic of heated debate since the beginning of the sport, and it didn't stop in the '90s. Today, as most people understand and witness, size is back in fashion. Now that extreme size on a man's frame creates a kind of automatic separation/definition that doesn't appear on a physique carrying 40 pounds less, the game appears to have changed yet again. Definition, however, can never take the place of conditioning.

The changes of the late 1990's seem to be here to stay. With a physique like Ronnie Coleman's stepping into the winner's circle, and the other competitors following suit with massive size gains that seem almost surreal, convincing the skeptical that judges care about anything more than size is hard to do. But conditioning is still an integral part of bodybuilding. Unless you plan to enter your next NPC local qualifier with 290 pounds of muscle, you're probably not going to be able to claim definition by way of density!

So that still leaves all bodybuilders in the same quandary as they've always had: how to get contest lean. Fortunately for newcomers and veterans alike there's a diet for virtually every day of the year on bookstore shelves. That's not to say every diet out there would suit bodybuilders or that the special needs of competitors would ever be addressed in mainstream material. Not many diets would work. There are a lot of different methods by which some of the world's top competitors get and stay lean. No matter what method you use to prepare for a competition - the low-carbohydrate/high-protein diet or the cycle-your-carbs diet - the same basic principles apply to diet success. I call these principles the insurance policies of dieting.

Although what you eat is important on a day-to-day basis, dieting isn't about the con-tent as much as it's about the process - the intention, the drive and the commitment to dieting success. Choose any diet you like as long as you cover yourself with these insurance policies of dieting.

Set Short-Term Goals

Failure to set goals is one of the biggest mistakes bodybuilders make. The next biggest mistake is not breaking large goals down into manageable short-term goals. Usually a contest date becomes a goal, and that target dominates for the duration of the diet. The process isn't as simple as vowing to get lean in 12 weeks because during those 12 weeks you need to be able to keep your body on track, and the only way to do that is by setting short-term goals. You want to look your best by contest time, but unless you set definite intermediate goals you probably won't get there. If you believe nothing else I ever write in this column, believe that! I've worked with many bodybuilders and have seen this scenario time and again. The solution is to set five three-week goals over a period of 15 weeks, rather than 12. That schedule gives you plenty of time, and you have one extra three-week period to see how well you can remain on target. Try it for one competition and you'll realize it works better than having one large 12-week goal.

Drink Enough Water

Water is one of the most important elements of diet success. When you diet, your body throws off a lot of waste. This is particularly true if you are on a low-carb/high-protein diet. The only way you can transport waste out of the body is with fluids. Your fluid intake helps keep the weight-loss process moving along rapidly and discourages the accumulation of fluids beneath the skin. Drinking enough water permits you to see progress along the way and helps bolster the confidence of dieting bodybuilders who need encouragement.

Keep Track of What You Eat

Keeping track of everything you put into your mouth is a powerful means of achieving success and a great insurance policy to ensure you reach your goal by the end of the appointed time period. I have kept diet logs for years, and even though I know how my body will respond, I still do it. I recommend this practice to everyone I work with. I can't be there with my clients at home and force a pen into their hands at the end of the day, but it's a good habit to get into. I also record cardiovascular work so that I can tell when it's time to back off, and just how far I'll need to back off.

Eat Enough Calories

This advice is important for everyone, especially male bodybuilders. Don't underestimate the power of ample calories in both retaining current muscle mass and in boosting metabolic rate. People make the mistake of cutting down too far so that, when they need to cut again, they have no place to go with their caloric intake. Start a diet higher in calories than you normally would, and kick-start your metabolic rate by doing more cardio in the beginning. Once your metabolic rate kicks in, drop back on the cardio, and gradually reduce calories. You can eat your way into condition rather than losing your mind on low calories. Eat Enough Protein Protein is the single most important macro-nutrient to include in your diet. Make sure you always have sufficient protein during your day. Don't just eat all your protein requirements in one or two meals. Include protein whenever you put a fork up to your mouth. This practice boosts metabolic rate each time you eat. It is beneficial between cardio sessions because it keeps your body in burn mode at all times. You should also supplement between meals with protein powder that contains few carb calories.

Cook Often for Yourself

Don't rely on restaurants to provide food for you that suits your diet plan. Some establishments will accommodate bodybuilders. No other place in the world, I find, does that more than Venice, California, so we're pretty lucky. Don't drive through McDonald's and rip the buns off your burger just to get protein. Prepare chicken breasts, steak, or whatever kind of meat you're eating, in the morning before leaving home. If you can cook during the day, that will be even better for your diet success. You won't get the nutrients out of pre-cooked steak after about four or five hours, so don't bother. Preparing your own food has another positive effect that buying take-out doesn't. It makes you feel even more committed.

Avoid Sugar Calories

Sugar is probably the deadliest kind of calorie because it can make or break a diet, even in small amounts. None of us realizes how much sugar is in our diets until we actually start recognizing it in the foods we eat and begin eliminating it. At first sugar is easy to miss because it makes food taste better. But it can truly be the difference between winning and losing in a bodybuilding diet, not so much because of the extra calories as the way it changes your body's chemistry. Sugar slows the metabolic process and affects how you burn or store the food you eat by stimulating the release of insulin. While small amounts of sugar are beneficial if you know how insulin release will affect your growth, and when to cause it to happen, it can also slow you way down. The only time to take in sugar - and it should be in the form of simple carbs in a workout drink - is just before and/or just after workouts. Eating sugar at other times, when it won't be immediately utilized, won't do anything but stimulate your body's cravings during a diet.

Eat Less Starch

Your body needs a certain amount of complex carbohydrate during the day, even during a diet, to retain size. Besides, the body can't get enough calories throughout the day if carbs are nonexistent. However, there are both starchy and nonstarchy carbohydrates. You need both while you're dieting. Oatmeal is a good example of a nonstarchy carbohydrate, as are vegetables. Rice, white potatoes, pasta and bread are examples of starch. Stop eating starch by 1 or 2 p.m. each day and you'll get the correct amount of both. Reduce your starch intake four weeks out from a competition.

Balance Macro nutrients According to Body Type

If you're a hard gainer/easy loser, the balance of macronutrients you need will be different than for the person who's an easy gainer/hard loser. Let your common sense and experience with trial and error guide you. Talk with your trainer or a seasoned competitor (or take my advice) if you want to learn how to divvy up percentages of macronutrients. Eat 40/30/30 if you're a mesomorph and have no issues with gaining or losing and are just athletic. That's 40 per-cent protein, 30 percent carbs and 30 percent fat. If you're a hard gainer, eat 40/40/20 to get more calories (since carbs and protein are both worth 4.5 calories per gram and fat is worth 9). If you're a difficult loser of fat but have no problem gaining weight of any kind (muscle or fat), then you should eat a diet of 50 percent protein, 20 percent carbs and 30 percent fat. Just make sure the fat comes from healthful sources and the carbs come mostly from veggies and lower glycemic sources.

Choose Supplements that Work for You

You don't need the whole supplement store to achieve the results you're after. Choose supplements that suit what you're doing. Choose a fat-burner (either ephedrine or ephedrine-free products), a good protein powder with few carbs, a muscle-sparing supplement such as glutamine, a meal-re-placement bar, and a good multivitamin. Pick and choose based on recommendation, personal experience or money-back guarantees if you're unfamiliar with a supplement and want to try it. Keep track of changes you make that may be attributable to supplementation. Despite what most people think, supplements can be very effective in the diet process.

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