Friday, March 8, 2013

Bodybuilding Basics (Part One)

This past weekend in Columbus, Ohio was the Arnold Sports Festival and Fitness Expo (to locals, it’s just the Arnold or the Arnold Classic).  It has grown from bodybuilding, phenomenal physiques, and strong man competitions to covering everything from gymnastics, cheerleading, ‘mighty mitts’ (guys with the strongest hands), to an expo of 700 booths that almost rivals FNCE.

Despite going to about 200 different booths, there was zero representation from the dietetic community from this measly cross-section.  This is a curious population made up of young men in their 20s, intrigued folks looking for something to do, and a lot of soccer moms/dads.  “Sports Nutrition” signs were everywhere.  Companies with claims to ‘gain lean body mass’, ‘improve strength’, and ‘eating clean’ were everywhere but after about 3 hours, one dietitian wasn’t to be found.  No one claiming to be a dietitian was found but there were a lot of ‘nutritionists’. 

Frankly, this is a multi-million dollar industry and dietetics needs to be able to adapt and get in on this diverse population.  This is the first part of a 3 part series to provide information on the sport of bodybuilding which will also include figure shows which are gaining popularity among women.

“Participants in the sport of bodybuilding are judged by appearance rather than
performance. In this respect, increased muscle size and definition are critical
elements of success.” (Lambert, Frank, and Evans 317-327)

Bodybuilding is broken up into two parts, off-season, and pre-show.  The basis of the off-season is to build body mass and fat mass.  Fat mass or energy stores are later used for muscle anabolism (muscle building). 

Pre-show is a period of time lasting 6-12 weeks where the body builder attempts to maintain muscle mass while reducing body fat to low levels. 
“During the pre-contest phase, the bodybuilder should be in negative energy balance so that body fat can be oxidized.” (Lambert, Frank, and Evans 317-327), this is also a time of negative Calorie balance.  Protein consumption comprising of 30% of the diet will reduce lean mass losses at this time. 
Suggested ratios for body builders are 55-60% carbs, 25-30% protein and 15-20% fat for the off-season and pre-show.  Foods that rank low on the glycemic index are preferred (sweet potatoes, whole grains, brown rice). Processed foods high in sugar are avoided during the pre-show period as they lead to increased fat mass and water retention.

Estimated protein consumption of 1.2-1.7 g/kg of body weight was initially thought to be adequate but the research in this area is shaky.  Moderate exercisers where studied with protein intakes of 1.6g/kg/day.  This very high level was no more effective in promoting a positive nitrogen balance than 0.8g of protein/kg/day (Lambert, Frank, and Evans 317-327).  Other variables include how steady the level of training was and the intensity of the exercise coupled with recovery time.

Lambert, Charles P., Laura L. Frank, and William J. Evans. "Macronutrient Considerations for the Sport of Bodybuilding." Sports Medicine. 34.5 (2004): 317-327. Print. <>.

Protein and amino acid metabolism repletion after high-intensity intermittent exercise during and after exercise and the effects of nutrition. Rennie MJ, Tipton KD.   Annual Review Physiology 1977; 42: 129-32, Nutrition 2000; 20: 457-83.  Print.<>.

Gina Lesako RD, LD is the SCAN blog coordinator (those interested in writing for SCAN can email her directly at, resolve to increase your online exposure).  

She can also be found blogging at