Everyone wants a body that’s a pleasure to look at. A lot of people turn to the wisdom of bodybuilding for guidance on how to train and eat. Problem is that a lot of this advice is classic broscience—a distortion of what the real evidence says. Plus, many bodybuilding practices are obscure, dangerous, or will do more harm than good to your health and metabolism.
This article will help you avoid making mistakes so that you actually get the sculpted fitness physique you want.
#1: Get Training Frequency Right
Muscles need to be trained frequently in order to grow. This is one area that a lot of bodybuilders get wrong—they use body part splits and train each body part just once a week.
This approach leaves a lot of muscle on the table because even if you trash your muscles with a German Volume program, it doesn’t take a full week to recover from a workout.
Rather, you can recover from a high-volume workout in 48 to 72 hours. In addition, studies consistently show that a higher training frequency (3 times a week versus 1) leads to greater muscle and strength gains, especially in individuals with training experience.
Bottom Line: A higher training frequency that allows you to hit each body part at least twice a week will ensure recovery and allow for maximal muscle development.
#2: Use Moderate Loads & Shorter Rest
Muscle growth is a result of three interrelated factors:
- Mechanical tension—when a muscle contracts forcefully, a large amount of tension is produced, which stimulates growth pathways in muscle tissue.
- Metabolic stress—anaerobic energy production leads to the release of growth factors and hormones that trigger protein synthesis and build muscle.
- Muscle damage—when tissue is damaged, protein synthesis is enhanced and the muscle cells swell with liquid, contributing to growth.
All three factors are best achieved by moderately heavy loads in the 65 to 85 percent of the 1RM range. Short rest periods of 60 seconds or less will allow for significant metabolic stress and a high training density for a longer time under tension.
This approach is also good for reducing body fat because it burns a lot of energy quickly and induces a large afterburn, so that you continue burning energy at an accelerated rate in the 24-hour post-workout period.
Bottom Line: High-volume, short rest training is your best friend when you want to get shredded.
#3: Get Your Cardio Right—Avoid Jogging
Cardio done the right way can support muscle development and help you strip off body fat. Cardio gone wrong can create a catabolic muscle-degrading environment. A lot of bodybuilders make this mistake.
In fact, a review of elite bodybuilding practices found that 89 percent of the body builders used a high-volume of low-intensity cardio—generally jogging—during the pre-competition phase. Low-intensity cardio is a bad choice because it interferes with muscle and strength gains from weight training. Concurrent training leads to reduced protein synthesis and a decrease in the testosterone-to-cortisol ratio—a combination that negatively affects muscle mass.
On the other hand, sprint training won’t interfere with muscle and strength gains. It’s recommended you do your sprints on a resisted bike rather than running them because research shows that running paired with strength training results in poorer strength and muscle outcomes than cycling paired with strength training
Bottom Line: If your goal is to build muscle and lose fat, you’ll get better and faster results from cycle sprints. Do your sprints separately from weight workouts to make the most of your efforts and recovery.
#4: Use a Moderate Rate of Fat Loss
Many people slash calories in an effort to get lean fast. This approach is no good when you are training hard and want to maintain muscle mass. Instead, gradual weight loss of around 0.5 to 1 percent of bodyweight a week will allow for most of the weight loss to come from body fat. Training performance will be better and life won’t be as miserable.
For example, in a study of elite athletes, those in a moderate calorie deficit group (about 450 calories a day) had a weekly weight loss rate of 0.7 percent and lost a total of 31 percent body fat while gaining 2.1 percent lean mass. A faster weight loss group had a severe deficit (about 900 calories a day), and lost a small amount of lean mass and less fat (21 percent body fat reduction).
Bottom Line: You’ll get better body composition results with a smaller calorie deficit and a longer “cutting” phase, rather than a more severe one over less time.
#5: Use Protein to Your Advantage
Protein has a number of benefits for anyone training hard who has physique goals:
It’s filling, causing the release of gut hormones that keep you satisfied.
It raises your metabolism because it costs the body more calories to process protein than carbs or fat.
It triggers protein synthesis, preserving (or building) lean muscle mass so your body burns more calories at rest.
It helps manage blood sugar levels, reducing cravings for carbs.
Therefore, research suggests that when calories are adequate (when you’re not dieting) 1.2 to 2.2 g/kg of body weight of protein is recommended for resistance trainees. However, if you’re cutting calories, a higher intake between 2.3 and 3.1 g/kg of lean body mass is recommended.
Note that the 2.3 to3.1 g/kg recommendation is based on lean body mass, not body fat. For example, if you weigh 75 kg and have 10 percent body fat, you have 90 percent lean body mass. Multiply 75 X .90 to get 67.5 kg of lean body mass. You need between 155 and 209 grams of protein a day (67.5 X2.3 = 155.25 and 67.5 X 3.1 = 209.25).
Bottom Line: If you’re dieting, extra lean, or doing cardio in addition to lifting, you need more protein.
#6: Pick A Daily Protein Goal & Distribute Protein Evenly At Meals
Hitting your protein goal daily is most important. Distributing that dose evenly at meals so that you’re eating protein at least every 4 hours is common sense because it keeps hunger at bay.
Plus, based on the availability of amino acids, the body is constantly in a fluctuating state of muscle loss and gain. Any time you replenish that pool of building blocks by eating protein, it’s a good thing, promoting muscle development.
For example, a new study in The Journal of Nutrition showed that when participants ate 30 grams of protein at each meal, protein synthesis levels were 25 percent higher than that of people who skewed their consumption by loading up on protein at dinner.
Bottom Line: Spiking protein synthesis throughout the day gives your body more opportunity to add muscle and increases the likelihood you’ll reach your daily protein goal.
#7: Don’t Be Afraid of Carbs When Cutting Calories
A common mistake when trying to maximize fat loss is to cut calories while practically eliminating carbs. This practice is based on wisdom—high-protein low-carb diets are great for reducing appetite and raising metabolic rate for easier fat loss. But they don’t typically require calorie cutting at the same time—rather people just naturally eat less and they lose fat.
Bodybuilders often take it to the extreme during contest preparation, slashing calories and carbs at the same time. This leads to reduced performance—carbs are necessary to replenish glycogen, the fuel source for muscle. It can also lead to a metabolic slowdown and a greater loss of lean mass due to lower insulin and testosterone levels.
Research suggests a useful approach: Cut carbs to produce aggressive fat loss. Once you’ve reached your desired level of leanness, increase carbs and calories slightly to avoid further lean mass loss and boost performance.
Bottom Line: It’s useful to prioritize when it comes to carb intake—if your top goal is fat loss, cut the carbs even if your performance suffers. If your priority is muscle mass, get the carbs you need to keep training quality high.
#8: Don’t Be Afraid Of Fat
Most people have gotten the clue that fat is good for them, but there are still some holdouts, recommending a low-fat diet for fat loss. This is no good because it leads to reduced testosterone and other androgen hormones. These hormones are necessary for recovery and they may play a role in strength and lean muscle gains.
That said, decreases in testosterone, especially over the short term don’t necessarily lead to a loss of lean mass. Therefore, if a low-fat diet is necessary in order to reduce calories, research shows that maintaining adequate consumption of saturated fat may minimize the drop in testosterone.
Bottom Line: Shoot for 30 percent of your calories from fat, getting it from a variety of sources. If you decide to go low fat to cut calories, be sure to eat a decent amount of saturated fat (butter, meat, eggs).