Diet for Bodybuilders: Guide, Tips and Menu

Bodybuilding is focused on building muscle through weightlifting and diet.

Whether recreational or competitive, it is often viewed as a lifestyle, as it involves both the time you spend inside and outside the gym.

Eating the wrong foods can be extremely detrimental to bodybuilding goals. Therefore, we have prepared an article with tips on what to eat and what to avoid. Check out.

Introducing bodybuilding

Bodybuilding differs from weight lifting in that the factors taken into account concern the appearance of a competitor, not physical strength.

Therefore, practitioners aspire to develop and maintain a well-balanced, thin and muscular body.

To do this, many start with an off-season, followed by a way of eating – referred to as a volume and cut phase, respectively.

During the bulking phase, which can last from months to years, bodybuilders eat a diet rich in protein and calories. Meanwhile, they lift weight intensively in order to build as many muscles as possible ( 1 ).

The following cutting phase focuses on losing as much fat as possible, maintaining the muscle mass developed during the first phase ( 1 ).

There are several health benefits associated with bodybuilding, see below.

Bodybuilding Benefits

There are several health benefits associated with this practice.

In order to maintain and build muscle, bodybuilders exercise frequently, doing resistance and aerobic training.

The first, increases strength and muscle size. This strength is highly related to a lower risk of cancer, heart and kidney diseases, as well as several other serious conditions ( 2 ).

The second, which they regularly implement to reduce body fat, improves heart health and significantly reduces the risk of developing heart disease ( 3 , 4 ).

In addition to exercise, bodybuilders also focus on their nutrition.

Following a healthy eating pattern, including nutrient-rich foods from all food groups in appropriate amounts, can significantly reduce the risk of chronic diseases ( 5 ).

Calories and macronutrients

The goal of competitive bodybuilders is to increase muscle mass in the volume phase and reduce body fat in the cutting phase. Thus, more calories are consumed in the first.

How many calories do you need?

The easiest way to determine how many calories you need is to weigh yourself at least three times a week and record what you eat using a calorie tracking app.

If your weight remains the same, the daily number of calories you eat is maintaining them – in other words, you are not losing or gaining weight, but maintaining it.

During your volume phase, it is recommended to increase your calorie intake by 15%. For example, if your maintenance calories are 3,000 per day, you should eat 3,450 calories per day (3,000 x 0.15 = 450) ( 6 ).

By making the transition from the volume to the cut phase, you would decrease your maintenance calories by 15%, meaning that you would consume 2,550 per day instead of 3,450.

As you gain weight in the first or lose weight in the second, you will need to adjust your intake at least once a month to compensate for these changes.

At any stage, it is recommended not to lose or gain more than 0.5% to 1% of your body weight per week. This ensures that you do not lose a lot of muscle during the cutting phase or gain a lot of body fat during the volume phase ( 7 ).

Macronutrient ratio

After establishing the number of calories you need, you can determine the proportion of your macronutrient, which is the relationship between your protein, carbohydrate and fat intake.

Contrary to the difference in your caloric needs between the volume and cutting phase, your proportion of macronutrients does not change.

Protein and carbohydrates contain four calories per gram and fat contains nine.

It is recommended that you receive ( 6 , 7 ):

  • 30–35% of your protein calories
  • 55–60% of your carbohydrate calories
  • 15-20% of your fat calories

Here is an example of the proportion for a volume and cut phase:

Volume Phase Cut Phase
Calories 3,450 2,550
Protein (g) 259-302 191-223
Carbohydrate (g) 474-518 351-383
Fat (g) 58-77 43-57

These are general guidelines, so it is best to consult a nutritionist to determine your individual needs based on your goals, ensuring that your diet is nutritionally adequate.

What to eat and what to avoid

Like training, diet is a vital part of bodybuilding.

Eating the right foods in the right amounts provides your muscles with the nutrients they need to recover from workouts and grow stronger.

On the other hand, consuming the wrong foods or not consuming enough of the right ones will yield results below expectations.

See which ones you should focus on and which ones to limit or avoid:

Foods to focus on

The foods you eat need not differ between the volume and the cut phase. Generally, it is the quantities that dictate this distinction ( 7 ):

Group Foods
Meat, poultry and fish Sirloin steak, ground beef, pork loin, chicken breast, salmon, tilapia and cod.
Dairy products Yogurt, cottage cheese, low-fat milk and cheese.
Grains Bread, cereals, oats, quinoa and rice.
Fruit Oranges, apples, bananas, grapes, pears, peaches, watermelon and berries
Starchy vegetables Potato, corn, green peas and cassava.
Vegetables Broccoli, spinach, green leaves, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, asparagus, peppers and mushrooms.
Seeds and nuts Almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, chia seeds and flax seeds.
Legumes Chickpeas, lentils, beans, black beans.
Oils Olive oil, flaxseed oil and avocado oil.

Foods to limit yourself

While you must include a variety of foods in your diet, there are some that you should limit.

They include:

  • Alcohol: Alcohol can negatively affect your ability to build muscle and lose fat, especially in excess ( 8 ).
  • Added sugars: Offer lots of calories, but few nutrients. Some examples are sweets, cookies, donuts, ice cream, cakes and sugary drinks, such as soft drinks and sports drinks ( 5 ).
  • Fried foods: They can promote inflammation and – when consumed in excess – diseases. Examples include fried fish, chips, onion rings, chicken strips and rennet cheese ( 9 ).

In addition to limiting these, it is important to avoid certain foods before going to the gym, they can delay digestion and cause stomach upset during training.

Here are some examples:

  • High-fat foods : High-fat meats, buttery foods and heavy sauces or creams.
  • Foods rich in fiber: Beans and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli or cauliflower.
  • Carbonated drinks: Sparkling water or diet soda.

Bodybuilding Supplements

Many bodybuilders take food supplements, some of which are useful, while others are not ( 10 , 11 ).

The best bodybuilding supplements include:

  • Whey protein: It is an easy and convenient way to increase your protein intake.
  • Creatine: A creatine provides muscles the energy needed for a good workout. Although there are many brands, look for monohydrate, as it is the most effective ( 12 ).
  • Caffeine: Caffeine decreases fatigue and allows you to train more. It is found in pre-workout supplements, coffee or tea ( 13 ).

A vitamin and mineral supplement can be useful if you are limiting your calorie intake in an effort to reduce body fat during the cutting phase.

Suggested menu

Bodybuilders’ diets are usually described as restrictive, repetitive and boring.

Traditional weight training diets generally contain limited selections and little variety, which can lead to an inadequate intake of essential minerals and vitamins ( 14 ).

For this reason, it is important to incorporate diversity into yours, ensuring that nutritional needs are met – especially during the cutting phase, when you eat limited calories.

Each meal and snack should contain 20 to 30 grams of protein to optimally support muscle building ( 15 ).

In the volume phase, food intake will be much higher than in the cutting phase.

It is possible to enjoy the same foods in the second phase – only in smaller portions.

Here is an example of a recommended menu for a week:


Meal Foods
Breakfast Scrambled eggs with mushrooms and oats.
Snack Low-fat cottage cheese with blueberries.
Lunch Hamburger, white rice and broccoli.
Snack Protein shake and a banana.
Dinner Salmon, quinoa and asparagus.


Meal Foods
Breakfast Protein pancakes, peanut butter and raspberries.
Snack Boiled eggs and an apple.
Lunch Sirloin steak, sweet potato and spinach salad with vinaigrette.
Snack Protein shake and nuts.
Dinner Ground turkey with sauce.


Meal Foods
Breakfast Chicken sausage with egg and baked potatoes.
Snack Greek yogurt and almonds.
Lunch Turkey breast, rice and mushrooms.
Snack Protein shake and grapes.
Dinner Mackerel, brown rice and leaf salad with vinaigrette.


Meal Foods
Breakfast Ground beef, egg, cheese and salsa in a whole grain tortilla.
Snack Yogurt with granola.
Lunch Chicken breast, boiled potatoes and broccoli.
Snack Protein shake and mixed berries.
Dinner Chicken, egg, brown rice, broccoli, peas and carrots.


Meal Foods
Breakfast Blueberries, strawberries and Greek yogurt with oats.
Snack Mixed nuts.
Lunch Tilapia fillets with lemon juice, black beans and seasonal vegetables.
Snack Protein and watermelon shake.
Dinner Ground beef with corn, brown rice, peas and beans.


Meal Foods
Breakfast Ground turkey meat and egg with corn, peppers and cheese.
Snack Can of tuna.
Lunch Tilapia fillet, potato wedges and peppers.
Snack Protein and pear shake.
Dinner Diced meat with rice, black beans, peppers, cheese and pico de gallo.


Meal Foods
Breakfast Eggs and toast with avocado.
Snack Meatballs and almond butter.
Lunch Slices of pork loin with roasted potatoes with garlic and beans.
Snack Protein shake and strawberries.
Dinner Turkey meatballs, sauce and Parmesan cheese.

To get smart

Bodybuilding is a lifestyle associated with several health benefits, but there are a few things you need to be aware of.

Low levels of body fat can negatively affect sleep and mood

To prepare for a bodybuilding competition, competitors reach extremely low levels of body fat, around 5 to 10% and 10 to 15%, for men and women, respectively ( 14 , 16 ).

This factor, combined with low calorie intake, has been shown to decrease sleep quality, negatively affecting mood and weakening the immune system ( 1 , 17 , 18 , 19 ).

Risks of using anabolic steroids

Many, but not all, muscle building supplements use bodybuilders in their advertisements, but use performance-enhancing drugs, such as anabolic steroids.

This deceives many people into believing that they can achieve the same appearance by taking the advertised supplement.

In addition, many bodybuilders, especially those early in their careers, develop unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved naturally.

It can lead to body dissatisfaction and, eventually, the desire to try anabolic steroids ( 20 , 21 ).

The use of these drugs can increase the risk of heart disease, decrease fertility and result in psychiatric and behavioral disorders, such as depression ( 22 , 23 , 24 , 25 ).

Achieving the desired look for a bodybuilder requires regular exercise and special attention to his diet.

It is usually divided into volume and cut phases, during which the calorie intake will change while the proportion of macronutrients remains the same.

The diet should include nutrient-rich foods, 20-30 grams of protein with each meal and snack, and it is necessary to restrict alcohol and fried or high-sugar foods.

This ensures that you get all the important nutrients your body needs to build muscle and stay healthy.


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