Bodybuilding Nutrition for Beginners Made Easy
Written by AJC

To those who already know "everything": Please remember that this was written to give beginners a place to start in terms of nutrition. I could get into much more detail, but the object of this article is to be brief and explain the very basics of bodybuilding nutrition. This gives the beginner a place to start, so that when they read the articles in the magazines, they aren't completely lost. Hopefully after reading this, Snackwell's fat free cookies will no longer be considered a good diet food and protein will no longer be considered just a supplement.

Beginners, hopefully this will spark your interest enough to get you to read articles and books and further educate yourself, so that you will get the results that you want. In my opinion, nutrition is 50% of the equation when trying to achieve your goals, training is 40%, and the correct use of anabolics is 10%. Yes, anabolics do make more than 10% of a difference, but that's only if you are eating right and training hard. Anabolics, in my honest opinion are merely supplements that actually do what they are supposed to.

Part I - Macronutrients

What are macronutrients?

It's actually very simple. All foods fit into these three categories: Protein, Carbohydrates, or Fats. As a bodybuilder (or anyone trying to get fit or get bigger), you need to know this and you must know what each one does in your body.


Literally, protein is the essential building block of muscle. Without this, you cannot and will not grow, even if you are on a boatload of drugs! As a matter of fact, without sufficient protein you will lose muscle. Strive for a bare minimum of 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight each and every day. Most bodybuilders keep protein intake at 2 grams per pound or more. All protein has roughly 4 calories per gram. Remember that the body will use protein as a source of energy instead of using it to build muscle if you aren't getting sufficient calories from carbohydrates and dietary fats. This will rob your muscles of this essential building block, so you must take in sufficient quality carbs and fats as well, but more on that later.

Protein sources include:

All meats - including beef, poultry, and fish.

Protein powdesr - Adding this to your diet is probably the only way you will get 2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight on a daily basis unless you have nothing to do all day except eat, train, and sleep.

Nuts, legumes (includes peanuts, soy beans, etc.) - Not the best choices, but remember not to worry so much about what kind of protein you get as much as you should worry about how much protein you're getting every day. Adding nuts to your diet is a good way to add protein and healthy fats.


The body's preferred source of energy. Carbohydrates also provide your brain with energy, which is why you will be somewhat "out of it" when you first start a low carb diet. Most bodybuilders will strive to get 2-3 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight when bulking. (i.e. A 200lb. bodybuilder would strive for 400-600 grams per day). All carbohydrates have roughly 4 calories per gram. In my opinion, it's very important to eat some carbs before training to provide you with energy that you will need.

Too many calories from carbohydrates at one time will be stored as fat. Carbohydrates that are digested fast (called sugars, simple carbs, or simple sugars) will be more likely to be stored as fat because the body doesn't get enough time to burn the calories. Foods that include simple carbs and sugars are fruits, fruit juice, sweets and junkfood containing sugar (including candy, cookies, cakes, soda, etc.) Obviously, you will want to limit the amount of simple carbs that you take in. The only time it is advantageous to take in simple carbs is immediately after training, when your body's glycogen stores are low. Taking in simple sugars at this time will allow your body to replenish glycogen stores more quickly (in short, this means faster recovery, which translates to quicker growth).

Carbohydrates that are digested by the body more slowly (referred to as complex carbohydrates) are less likely to be stored as fat and tend to be high in dietary fiber. These are the bodybuilder's preferred source of carbohydrates.

These slow burning carbohydrate sources include:


Whole Grain Bread (nothing with the word "enriched" in the list of ingredients)


Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes (Yams)

Vegetables - These will be mainly used as a source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and not as a source of energy


Rice - Brown rice tends to burn slower and because of that, it is a better choice than white rice.

Not all complex carbs burn as slowly as others, for instance whole wheat bread (not enriched) burns much slower than white bread, white rice burns faster than brown rice, also note that pastas burn faster than most other complex carbs.

Faster burning carbohydrate sources include:



Cakes, Pies

Sugar of any type

Fruit Juice - Not as good as fruit, but a better choice than the above mentioned foods.

Fruits - Still a very good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Carbohydrates also affect blood sugar, muscle glycogen levels and insulin production. But for the purpose of keeping this article "beginner friendly", I won't get into all of that. Just remember that when you take in simple carbs (sweets/sugars) your blood sugar spikes relatively fast and then drops that much faster (unless they are taken in after training), which will leave you feeling tired, sleepy, and even a craving for more sugar or carbs. This is another reason why slow burning carbs are preferred.


Some dietary fats are good for your fitness goals and other dietary fats are very bad for your fitness and your health. Fats, like carbohydrates can either be burnt as energy or stored as bodyfat. Fats generally burn faster than carbs, therefore they are more readily stored as bodyfat. Dietary fats have roughly 9 calories per gram, as opposed to 4 calories per gram for protein and carbs. Along with being used as energy, healthy fats provide a host of other benefits, including maintaining overall health and even making your skin and hair look better. Unhealthy fats (saturated fats) can do just the opposite, especially to your skin.

Sources of "good" or "healthy" fats include but are not limited to:

Fish Oil (basically fats found in fish)

Nuts (good source of protein and healthy fats)

Olive Oil

Flaxseed Oil - can be found in most nutrition stores like GNC

Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) - also can be found nutrition stores

Sources of "bad fats" include, but are not limited to:

Anything that it deep fried (french fries, fried chicken)

Fat from animal sources, such as the saturated fats found in beef and pork and the saturated fat found in milk.

Part II - Diet Types

What kind of diet should I be on?

This depends on what you want to accomplish. We'll look at two categories of diets, "bulking" and "cutting".


This is the term we use to describe diets where you are ultimately trying to add muscle. The only way this can be done is to take in more calories than your body uses. Most bodybuilders will tell you that it's easier to add muscle when a small amount of fat is added along with it. That being said, if your body fat is over 20%, you should probably consider cutting down to around 12-15% before you think about bulking or you will end up looking like an fat person rather than a bodybuilder.

To build muscle, you need to take in adequate protein, complex carbs, healthy fats, and even some sugars (Candy bars aren't really what I mean). As you already know, protein is what builds muscle. But, without sufficient calories coming from complex carbs and healthy fats, your body will use that protein as a source of energy, which will in turn rob your muscles of this very important building block.

*To find out how many calories you need to build muscle and what form they should be in (Protein/Carbs/Fats), you will want to multiply your bodyweght by 15-17 for starters (use a higher number if you don't see desired results).

200 lbs x 15-17 = 3000-3400 calories. So, a 200 lb bodybuilder will need 3000-3400 calories per day.

Chris Aceto, a popular nutritionist used by many pro bodybuilders recommends a protein/carbs/fats ratio of 35/55/15, which means 35% of calories come from protein, 55% come from carbs, and 15% come from dietary fats.

We'll use that 200 lb bodybuilder at 17 calories per pound as an example.

3400 calories x 0.55 = 1870 calories from carbs (1870 divided by 4 calories per gram = 467.5 grams of carbs per day)

3400 calories x 0.35 = 1190 calories from protein (1190 divided by 4 calories per gram = 297.5 grams of protein per day)

3400 calories x 0.15 = 510 calories from dietary fats (510 divided by 9 calories per gram = 56.67 grams of fat per day)

*Click on Nutritional Calculator for help with calculating this.


This is the term we use to describe diets where the reason is to reduce bodyfat. There are many different approaches to doing this, in terms of diet. You will most likely need to experiment to find out which one is for you and which type of cutting diet your body responds to best. On any cutting diet you choose, you need to take in less calories than your body uses. Without turning this into a training article, cardio is another very important factor here. The basic idea when cutting (in my opinion) is to eat a little less, and move a lot more (cardio). Cardio should be performed anywhere from 3 times per week to twice per day.

One thing to consider while cutting is muscle loss. If you restrict your maintenance calories by more than 500-750 per day, you will likely lose some muscle. That being said, try to allow yourself 1 week for every 2 lbs of fat you want to lose. If you are losing much more than 2 lbs per week, it's safe to say that you are probably losing muscle mass.

Here are a couple of types of cutting diets. All of these diet types will need to be considerably high in protein.

Low carb - The basic idea here is to reduce calories by restricting carbohydrates considerably, while allowing more dietary fats. After you have used up the small amount of calories that comes from carbs, the body will be using mostly dietary fats (healthy fats only) as it's primary source of fuel. Sugars are basically eliminated on this diet.

Ketogenic - Also known as the Cyclic Ketogenic Diet (CKD) The idea here is similar to the low carb diet, except carbs are virtually eliminated from the diet completely which makes the body go into ketosisr (produce ketones which are reported to be anabolic while promoting fat loss at the same time...For simplicity's sake, we won't get into all of that here.) As with a low carb diet, the body will be using mostly dietary fats (healthy fats only) as it's main source of fuel. Carbs are generally kept at around 15-20 grams per day.

Low fat - The way this type of diet reduces calories is by virtually eliminating dietary fats, while keeping carbohydrate intake relatively high compared to the above two diet types. The body uses carbs as it's main source of fuel. While on this diet, you will still want to get around 20 grams of healthy or "good" fats per day.

*To find out how many calories you need to reduce bodyfat, you will want to multiply your bodyweght by 12-14 to start (use a higher number if you are losing more than 2.5 lbs per week).

200 lbs x 12-14 = 2400-2800 calories. So, a 200 lb bodybuilder will need 2400-2800 calories per day. As he loses weight he will want to recalculate this every 4 weeks or so.

Although a 55/35/15 carb/protein/fat ratio used above would probably work, the ratio will be different depending on what type of cutting diet you choose, which can get a little confusing. For further detail, I suggest getting a book focusing on one of these diet types and reading the nutrition articles in the magazines.

Part III - Timing

One thing you will learn with bodybuilding, is that timing truly is everything.

Eat at least 5 times per day!

Your body needs nutrients provided in a steady stream throughout the day, meaning you need to eat 5-8 times per day. If you don't eat for an extended period of time (over 3-4 hours), your body will go into a catabolic state, meaning it will literally feed off of muscle. Not eating for extended periods also causes your metabolism to slow down and hold on to stored bodyfat that you already have and even store more bodyfat when you do get to eat. This is because your body has determined that you are out of food and may not get any food in the near future. This is the body's defense against famine...good for survival, bad for bodybuilding/fitness goals.

Another benefit of eating every few hours, is the thermogenic effect of food. When your body digests food, your body temperature rises slightly, burning calories along the way. Make sure that there is always some protein in there every time you eat (before training excluded).

That being said, you should try to eat every 3 hours or so.

Don't skip breakfast!

Your mom isn't pulling your chain. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day (or a tie with the meal following your workout). I can't stress this enough. If you don't eat within an hour of when you get up, you are cheating yourself to put it mildly. If you are getting the 8-9 hours of sleep that you should be, then you haven't eaten for 8-9 hours...this is not good for bodybuilding. Some bodybuilders even wake up in the middle of the night and eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when trying to bulk, so don't think you can get away without eating breakfast because you can't.

Late night snacks

Carbs and Fats are important, but if it's late at night and you are trying to lose bodyfat, a protein shake may be all you need. If you're having trouble gaining muscle, eat protein, carbs, and fats before bed.

If you are cutting and you get hungry when you go to bed, try eating a teaspoon of natural peanut butter. This is low in carbs and high in healthy fats and protein and should stop cravings for food long enough to let you get to sleep.

Eat before and after you train!

I like to have some carbs before I train in order to provide me with fuel for my workout. I usually try to take in 40-50 grams of carbs about 30-45 minutes before I train. I tend to get sick if I eat a significant amount of protein or fat this close to when I train, so it's mainly just carbs at this time.

The worst mistake you can make is to not eat after your workout. When you train, you are breaking muscle down. If you do not provide your body with sufficient nutrients within 45 minutes of training, you are robbing yourself of recovery and muscle growth. Unless you are cutting carbs, you should try to consume some simple carbs (fruits or fruit juice, not cookies and junk food) after you train. This will allow your body to replenish it's glycogen stores more quickly...allowing for quicker recovery. You should also consume protein after you workout.

Part IV - Convenience

The easiest way to make sure you stick with your diet is to make it convenient. It's not going to taste all that good, so you might as well make this as easy as possible on yourself. Needless to say, it's pretty challenging to go out of your way 5 or 6 times per day to find clean food when Taco Bell and Burger King is right across the street. Don't do this to yourself, it's not fun.

If for some reason you have to eat fast food, at least go out of the way to find a Subway or similar sandwich shop and order a sub. If you're cutting, order a 6 inch sub on wheat bread to keep the carbs low, with double meat to keep protein high. Cheese and Mayo should be avoided, but mustard is a good topping when you're dieting.

Prepare ahead of time.

Take your meals with you when you aren't going to be home for an extended period of time. You don't want to be forced to choose between Taco Bell and not eating when you are on a cutting diet.

When you're bulking, there's no better way to get fat than by eating the wrong kind of carbs and fats. Even though you don't have to be as strict as you do when you're cutting, you still need to eat quality calories. Even when bulking, try to prepare your meals at home and take them with you.

I prepare all of my food for the week on Sundays, put each meal in a plastic container and freeze them until the day I plan to eat them. Then all you need to do is pack a grocery bag with 2-3 meals out of the freezer and a 32 oz. Rubbermaid container full of protein or MRPs and take it to work (or wherever) the next morning. People at work will think you're a little different when your "lunch" sack is usually a full grocery bag. If you aren't going to have access to a refridgerator, buy a cooler and an ice pack.

Don't forget Protein Powders and MRPs (Meal Replacement Powders).

The difference between a meal replacement powder (MRPs) and protein powder is that MRPs have carbs included in them, so they tend to taste a little better. The carbs in MRP's aren't really slow burning like oatmeal, etc. but they are decent calories for bulking. I don't recommend MRPs for cutting purposes.

If you try to get all of your protein from solid food, it can get very expensive and is just hard to do. Meal replacement and protein powders are a great way to get extra calories and protein. When dieting down, I prepare about 120 grams of protein powder and water in a 32 oz. container to take with me to work the next morning. I leave it in the refridgerator and drink about 1/3 of it at 3 different times during the day (in between meals). I do the same thing when bulking, but with a couple of MRP's and some protein powder instead of just protein powder.

For those who don't put on fat easily, another variety of MRPs is the so-called "Mass" drinks. These come pre-bottled or the do-it-yourself powder form. They are usually full of carbs (including a lot of sugar) with a nice amount of protein, and some fat. If you put on fat easily, "Mass" type drinks are probably not for you. These can be a very useful tool for bulking, but can also make you fat, so I generally only recommend these to people that don't put on fat very easily (no matter what they eat).

Part V - Water

Drink plenty of water!!

This is an easy concept. Water is the most overlooked part of nutrition. Drink 1-3 gallons (depending on your size) every day wether bulking or cutting. If you aren't getting enough water, you won't grow muscle as quickly and you won't lose fat as quickly. Enough said.