If you’re a natural bodybuilder who’s serious about your physique, then you know the importance of proper diet. Your muscles depend on it, your brain depends on it, and in some cases, your job might depend on it too.
If you’re a hard gainer, it can be all too easy to slip off the natural bodybuilding train. Your gym buddies on steroids will be pushing you to try something new, telling you you’ll never achieve the results you crave through natural bodybuilding alone. But the truth is, it is possible. BUT, there are some specific rules you should follow to make it happen.
Food is at the forefront of successful natural bodybuilding, and here’s how to get it right.
5 Clean bulking rules natural bodybuilders should follow
There’s a clean way, and there’s a dirty way to approach bulking as a natural bodybuilder. To keep your body firing on all cylinders and your systems working properly, you want the clean route. Here are some rules you need to live by to make that work.
1. Follow the basics
Getting fancy doesn’t win the race when it comes to natural bodybuilding. In other words, resorting to tactics such as eliminating whole food groups, timing your carb intake or cutting back on water are at best pointless, and at worst damaging to your progress.
Your body needs three things every day to allow it to grow healthy, long-lasting muscle – macronutrients. Carbohydrates, protein and fat – they may not all be created equal, but they’re all equally important. A diet lacking in any of these is a diet which won’t support muscle growth.
Carbs are used for short-term energy, but they also keep you going for hours, as they’re stored both in the liver and muscles for energy down the road.
Protein is essential for the reparation of torn muscle cells. Without this macro, you’ll be aching for longer after a workout, and the end result is your muscles just won’t be as big as they could have been once you’ve recovered. Protein also comes in handy for the health of your hair, skin and nails.
Fat is often vilified, but it’s absolutely needed to regulate hormone production and energy. Plus, it helps to lubricate the joints and promote better brain function.
After reading all of this, why in the world would you decide to cut back on any of these macronutrients? Take my advice. Only do this if you like to take a
road that leads to nowhere.
2. Avoid the wrong foods
Here’s where the difference between dirty and clean comes full circle. You have clean foods, and you have dirty foods. I don’t mean physically dirty, I mean figuratively. They shouldn’t be in your body.
These types of foods don’t have a high nutrient content, or sometimes any at all. Which defeats the purpose of eating them. Natural bodybuilders should set their sites on getting nothing but high-octane, quality foods in their diet at all times. This is how you get ripped without having to resort to steroids.
Wondering which foods I’d consider dirty? Here you go:
- Processed baked goods – Cakes, cookies, pastries, crackers, doughnuts and white-flour products.
- Sweets – Jello, chocolate bars, hard candies, jelly, jam and sweetened yogurt.
- Sweet beverages – Soda, sweetened tea, energy drinks, fruit juices and dessert-like coffee drinks.
- Alcohol – Beer, wine, whiskey, mixed drinks, champagne and the like.
- Deep-fried foods – French fries, chicken nuggets, onion rings, chicken wings and breaded vegetables.
- Miscellaneous calorie-laden foods – Dipping sauces, heavy gravies, cream-based soups, cream-based salad dressing and mayonnaise.
3. Add in the good
Now that we aired out the dirty laundry, let’s address the good, clean foods you should be filling up on. We’ll set this up the same way, with examples of food groups that have good chi. These are the foods that have complex carbs, quality proteins and healthy fats. Base your diet around them.
- Animal protein – Eggs, beef, chicken, turkey, bison and pork.
- Fish – Salmon, halibut, cod, albacore tuna, shrimp, oysters and steelhead.
- Dairy – Cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, milk, cheese and kefir.
- Fruits – All berries, all citrus, apples, bananas, cherries and apricots.
- Vegetables – All, but especially broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage and chard. These are cruciferous vegetables that contain a substance that promotes higher testosterone output.
- Whole grains – Quinoa, brown rice, wheat berries, barley, steel cut oats, oat groats, millet, kamut and farro.
Legumes – All beans, edamame, tempeh, peanuts and peas.
4. Cook your meals properly
Yes, there is a right and wrong way to prepare food. You don’t want to go heavy on the creams and sauces, and you don’t want to overcook some foods, while undercooking others. It’s about getting a balance between food tasting good and still fit for the purpose of nourishing your body.
Cruciferous vegetables, for example, are best when they’re al dente. This means they’re tender, not too soft and not too rubbery. Just the right balance. Make note of that when you prepare them.
Meats should be cooked enough so that you don’t die from salmonella. Rare is fine, but make sure it’s not bloody. The same goes for fish, shrimp and any other sea creatures. The last thing you want to do is come down with food poisoning due to bad cooking practices.
Just use your best judgement here. It’s really not that complicated. If something seems off, it likely is. Don’t go with it. Make sure your food looks good, smells good and tastes good when it’s finished and you can do no harm.
5. Bring your meals to life
Presentation of your meals isn’t really that important, but putting them together to work for you a certain way is. Here’s the scoop.
Eating meat and potatoes together is an age-old practice that farmers used to do after working long days in the fields. Fair enough. But, you can leverage your meals to have more power if you tweak them accordingly. And existing natural bodybuilders are onto this so follow their lead.
You already know that each meal should be balanced with protein, carbs and fat. But you can make them better for muscle gain if you compose them in a particular way. For example, baked salmon with steamed brussels sprouts and quinoa is a great pairing.
The combination of protein, carbs and fat is there, but you also get a t-boosting effect from the brussels sprouts and healthy fat from the salmon. Add some coconut oil to your veggies and you can boost that effect even more.
Scrambled eggs with hemp seeds, kale, spinach and coconut amino acids is another good option. Have a sprouted bagel with clarified butter on the side and you just made another muscle-building power meal.
Always think like this when preparing meals and see what magical concoctions you can come up with.
6. Don’t dope, supplement
No matter how hard you try, there will always be something missing from your diet. It’s virtually impossible to get exactly the right amount of micronutrients each and every day, down to the last gram. And if you’re body’s missing out, the first thing it’ll hold back on is muscle growth.
A good daily multivitamin is essential when you’re putting your body through so much stress. Any supermarket-branded bottle will do the trick for this. Don’t be fooled into thinking the top brands contain better ingredients than the Walmart version – you’re just paying a premium for the name.
Now go make clean bulking happen!
The game natural bodybuilders play is not as complicated as it may look. As you enter this arena, just know that the most important thing is to be patient. Slow and steady progress is always better than rushed and artificial.
Get into a routine, and as time goes by, you’ll hit a groove which becomes second nature to you.
Also, don’t forget to eat enough calories, especially if you’re a hard gainer. Just don’t overdo it to the point that you feel uncomfortable or start packing on excess fat.
This is a learning curve – you’ll find your sweet spot over time.
So, now you know how to clean bulk, tell us – What’s your clean bulking meal going to consist of tonight?