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Protein is the core of any bodybuilding diet. That's why bodybuilders try to get all the protein they need via their daily nutritional intake. Beef, chicken, fish and turkey are among the best sources
of protein because of their good amino acid profiles. However, many bodybuilders find it difficult to meet all their protein needs through meat alone. To make sure they get at least one gram of protein
per pound of bodyweight every day, bodybuilders turn to nonmeat sources, which can be easier to digest and more convenient to eat. This month, four fitFLEX members tell us about their favorite protein
sources and how you can incorporate them into your diet.
Some protein sources are better at certain times during the bodybuilding season. I drink nonfat milk in the offseason, but never precontest, because it tends to make my skin thick and I don't want that as I get ready for a show. In addition, the lactose in milk affects a body like sugar, and bodybuilders need to cut out sugars when they try to reduce bodyfat. When you're eating only a few carbs on any given day to prepare for a show, you don't want those to come from the little bulls-t carbs in milk. I'd rather have a baked potato or some oatmeal - both are much more filling and satisfying.
Offseason, though, milk can be a great protein source. Even though it has carbs, it's pretty high in protein for the amount of calories. If you drink a quart of nonfat milk, you get 33 grams of protein for only 342 calories. It's great for people who have trouble getting in all the protein they need from meat. If you need more calories and you don't mind taking in a little saturated fat, you can go up to one percent milk. Besides the additional calories, it has a richer flavor.
Some guys say they eat clean all year, but I don't think that helps their bodybuilding progress. My bodyfat has always been pretty low. When I eat the foods I want, including a little junk, my bodyweight goes up to 300 pounds at about 10% bodyfat. When I eat more strictly in the offseason, I carry about 280 pounds with nine percent bodyfat. All I'm doing is saving myself one percent bodyfat by eating real clean, and it's not hard to lose that amount when I start my diet. Eating clean also makes me tired when I begin dieting, and that kills me faster than anything. You're better off eating what you want in the offseason, taking in a few simple carbs with your protein and getting all you need to grow. Then go on your diet and stick to it.
If you're young and looking to put on muscle mass, you have to get enough calories and protein. That can be challenging for young people with busy schedules. Nonmeat protein sources can be quick effective ways to help you get what you need.
When I was a teenager, I used to go through up to three gallons of milk a day. I lived on the stuff. I see kids today and they're in terrible shape - all they're doing is drinking soda and sitting around playing video games.
Taking in plenty of nonmeat protein sources, such as milk, eggs, cottage cheese and protein drinks, is a great way to make sure you're getting what your body needs for muscle growth. It also provides your body with plenty of calories, and that's one diet aspect that young bodybuilders are weak in. They burn so many calories on a daily basis that it's hard to get in enough to keep growing.
Milk is one of the best foods for putting on weight. When you're young, you process food much better than you do as you get older. Milk has a lot of sugar in the form of lactose, and even lowfat milk has a lot of fat, so you're better off with nonfat milk, which still has all the protein you need and is high in calories, too. In addition, if you drink more milk, you tend to eat less fast food and other things that aren't good for you.
As you get older, though, milk can thicken your skin a little. Dairy intake should be reduced as you get into your early 20s, especially if your bodybuilding career takes off. I don't use milk at all now, but I still rely on eggs and protein drinks.
Over the past several years, bodybuilders have come to understand that their physiques develop better with a high level of protein and moderate to low carbs. A 250-pound bodybuilder may need up to 375 grams of protein a day, but it's hard to eat that much in the form of meat: 375 grams of protein works out to about four pounds of meat a day. I often get to the point where I don't want any more meat on a particular day, and nonmeat protein sources can be a great alternative.
My favorite nonmeat protein sources include protein drinks with whey and casein, dairy products and eggs. They not only complement the meat, but it's so much easier to get in these protein sources than their meat counterparts. They're not as filling, they don't require as much preparation, and they're easy to consume and digest. They also provide different amino acid profiles than meat. You need to eat red meat, poultry and fish, but it's also important to get a variety of different proteins so you have a greater ability to recover faster. By including many protein sources in your diet, you provide your body with more branched-chain amino acids and glutamine. Egg whites and whey are recognized as two of the best sources of nonmeat protein.
In the offseason, I strive to get a little bit more than half of my protein from meat and the rest from whey, egg whites and maybe a little bit of dairy, but not too much. I have more trouble with dairy products causing thickness of the skin than do guys with smaller physiques and thin skin. When I shift into precontest mode, I take in over half of my protein from egg whites and whey, and I get the rest from chicken breasts and fish.
A lot of bodybuilders focus on one type of protein or the other, but I don't understand that thinking. You're much better off getting a mix of nonmeat and meat proteins.
For me, red meat is the best overall protein source, but I don't think it's just because of the protein. Red meat also has high levels of iron and contains creatine. I feel better and get a better response when my diet is high in red meat. For these reasons, it's my protein source of preference.
I also like to use some nonmeat protein sources for a balance in amino acids. My favorite nonmeat sources are nonfat cottage cheese - which I love - and whey. I like the texture of cottage cheese, and I can add peaches or other healthy fruits to it. However, I don't use other milk products. If I drink nonfat milk, my stomach bloats, my skin gets thick and I feel nasty. Cottage cheese doesn't affect me that way because it doesn't have much fat and there's less lactose in cottage cheese than there is in milk and yogurt.
I eat a lot of cottage cheese because I'm sick of some other protein sources. I hate chicken. I can't stand turkey. I can't eat egg whites anymore except when I make steak omelets. With cottage cheese, I can quickly get the same amount of protein that takes much longer to eat when the source is dry tasteless meat.
Everybody thinks Jay Cutler got so massive over the last couple years because he eats so much food, but that's not true. He really doesn't consume that many calories a day, but he does eat a small meal every hour. He put on size because he's so consistent with his protein levels. That's something I can't do. If I had to eat every hour, I wouldn't bodybuild. I have five meals a day and a shake during the offseason and six or seven meals precontest. That's as much as I can eat on any day.