By Tom Venuto, author of Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle
Bread haters are just HANGRY… That’s right, they’re mad at the world because yummy bread and yummy pasta are forbidden to them, while we in the bodybuilding nutrition field know how to use carbs intelligently rather than demonize them completely…
QUESTION: Tom, I’m entering your upcoming Burn the Fat Challenge contest, and I have thought about ways to improve my nutrition (I wouldn’t mind winning that trip to Maui!) A strategy that has worked well for me is having a fixed breakfast and lunch. Part of the lunch includes a sandwich with two slices of whole grain bread with no HFCS. It does a great job of keeping me satisfied until dinner. I also eat a piece of whole grain bread with some PB2 before going out for very intense or long bike rides.
Although I know many folks have gluten or wheat issues, I haven’t noticed any problems with my body handling the bread. As I think about things, though, I am wondering if having bread is consistent with a clean bodybuilding diet. After all, it is processed. Are there any successful bodybuilders who eat bread on a regular basis? Has bread been unfairly demonized, or should I make the effort to avoid it?
If I should avoid bread, suggestions for carb dense substitutes that can be eaten cold while tasting good would be appreciated. Brown rice is fine when I have access to a heating unit, but often I am eating lunch away from home.
ANSWER: Erica, this is a good question because while low carb vs high carb has been a nutrition debate for decades, bread and grains and gluten specifically are all hot topics right now.
You asked, “Are there any successful bodybuilders who eat bread on a regular basis?”
I’m not a clinical nutritionist, so people who have serious metabolic problems, gastrointestinal disorders or even gluten intolerance should consult a dietician or a physician for information about dealing with those issues. But I can certainly answer your question because I’ve been a competitive bodybuilder for over 20 years, I’ve been immersed in bodybuilding culture and lifestyle for over 25 years and bodybuilding nutrition IS my specialty. Nutrition for fat loss is also my specialty.
The answer is yes, absolutely there are successful bodybuilders who eat bread on a regular basis. But mainly in the “off season” – or differently put – during muscle size building programs when calorie requirements are higher. I know very very few bodybuilders who eat bread during pre-contest prep (serious fat loss goals). It’s not even that they couldn’t – a small handful do – it’s just that they usually don’t.
Bodybuilders and physique athletes do not demonize bread, they simply eat whole grain bread when they do eat bread and they use low to medium-low carb / high -protein diets for contest prep (which means there isn’t much room for bread calories). Sometimes they do take high carb days even during serious fat loss phases if they use the carb cycling or refeeding method and sometimes those high carb days include bread.
Other athletes, including endurance athletes who have high training levels and high calorie needs, also do not demonize bread or whole grains – they in fact, NEED calorie dense fuel sources to keep up their training energy and performance.
One thing I can say for certain is that I know almost no bodybuilders who use bread as a daily staple during pre-contest prep. No, not even wheat bread. But don’t confuse that with “bread is bad for you” or “bread makes you fat” or “you cant get ripped while eating bread.” NONE of those statements are true.
Is bread unhealthy? No doubt, the refined breads made with white flour are not nutritious and can be unhealthy when eaten on a regular basis. Even whole grain breads, I consider them a “B choice,” not an “A choice” in my fat-burning food rating system simply because they are slightly processed.
What I mean by that is you dont see a slice of bread hanging off a tree branch. The grain, as it originally appeared in nature, does require some processing to get into bread form. Vegetables on the other hand, you can pull them out of the ground and eat them in their 100% natural form, so they get my “A grade” seal of fat burning approval. As much as there are differences in nutritional idealogies these days, almost no one disagrees on that point (veggies = good carbs!)
Bread has been demonized for a variety of reasons.
One is the popularity of low carb diets for fat loss. If carbs are low, bread is a carb, therefore bread intake is low. Two is the recent popularity of gluten-free diets. Some people are gluten intolerant and cannot eat bread. Some people who promote gluten-free diets seem downright mad at gluten and mad at bread: ”Bread is evil” “NO ONE should eat bread.. ever… it’ll kill ya!” they scream.
No, bread is not evil. Foods are not evil. Hitler was evil. Osama Bin Laden was Evil. But foods don’t go around the world committing atrocities. I have a reward for anyone who can prove with science that 200 calories of bread is any more fattening than 200 calories of sweet potato (the latter usually consider the more “clean” carb) – the condition being – all else in diet and lifestyle remains exactly equal, including energy intake, energy expenditure, N.E.A.T. and macros.
Now on the other hand, if you change the macros – 200 calories of bread versus 200 calories of egg whites, you may see a difference. A calorie is not just a calorie across different macros.
And if you remove the stipulation of all else being equal and you factor in the effect of your food choice on satiety and hunger and appetite (the “betcha cant eat just one syndrome”… or the “get the munchies later syndrome”), you may see an even larger difference with lower protein versus higher carb macro ratios.
Lean protein has thermogenic and hunger-suppressing advantages that even work on hormonal level (ghrelin,etc).
But bread is not inherently fattening, calorie for calorie.
Bread is not inherently unhealthy either, assuming we are talking about 100% whole grain, which is more nutrient-dense than refined flours and white bread and assuming a person has no pre-existing health problems, intolerances or allergies that contra-indicated bread products specifically.
White flour products are not recommended and best kept only as “free meal” foods for occasional enjoyment. A calorie is not just a calorie from a nutritional point of view either. White bread products are empty calories – and a “waste of calories” when you’re on a calorie budget.
By the way, some of the people who competed in our last burn the fat challenge got RIPPED - I mean REALLY RIPPED – while eating whole grains, and I know a few of them in particular who love Ezekiel bread and a few who used whole wheat or whole grain wraps daily.
Bread and gluten may be unhealthy or problematic for some people who are gluten intolerant. Those individuals often end up being promoters and loyal followers of gluten free diets. That’s fine of course, because they are addressing a specific health problem they have. But unfortunately, many of them get up on platforms and preach about how “evil” bread is and how it’s “not fit for human consumption” and so on. The way I see it, they are projecting their personal health problems onto the rest of the world.
People with lactose intolerance make the same error, preaching about the so called evils of dairy products. They preach, I LOL. Dairy proteins are some of the most superb proteins in nature and milk has been a STAPLE bodybuilding food since the golden era of physical culture. (Jeez, hasn’t anyone heard of GOMAD? What happened to “old school?”)
Some people in our burn the fat challenge contest have gotten ripped – I mean, spectacular body transformations to the point that they are our before and after spotlight success stories, while eating cottage cheese every night and probably the majority of them use whey and or casein (milk proteins) in supplement form.
The moral of the story is that fad weight loss diet programs suck people in by doing exactly that – demonizing a food or food group. It’s the classic diet program pitch and storyline – there has to be a bad guy to attack… or at least some big bad pharmaceutical company to be mad at. You have to be mad at something right? After all, “it’s not YOUR fault”… got to be something or someone else’s fault that you’re FAT… some evil company, some evil food… evil carbs… evil grains.. evil gluten… evil lectins… evil fungi… something! But not YOU and not… drum roll… eating too damn much!
Hey, you want to know what you should REALLY avoid? Avoid EVERY website, book and program that says “being fat is not your fault.” Try on some personal responsibility for size and see how THAT and THAT ALONE transforms your life.
The truth is, for health and for fat loss, you have to customize your nutrition like this:
1. Customize nutrition for your goals. Bodybuilding or physique contest prep (or even a serious run for our “Burn the Fat Transformation champion title)? Yeah, you may want to reduce the bread, as with all carbs in general, but the starchy carbs that are processed and calorically dense get cut first). So yes, it’s true, bread often does get reduced or cut on strict fat loss diets and there are logical reasons why.
2. Customize your nutrition for your health status. If you are gluten intolerant then… duh… don’t eat gluten, just like if you are lactose intolerant, don’t consume lactose unless you like all that gastrointestinal messiness (forgive me for the “duh”, but I can’t help being sarcastic about some of these things, the attitudes pervading the nutrition world about bread and grains lately can only make me laugh).
3. Customize nutrition for your metabolic body type. I don’t believe in “metabolic typing” in the old sense, the way some of the fad diets used to promote it, but I do believe absolutely that you should consider your metabolic type as it pertains to how well your body handles sugar and all calorie dense carbs in general. Many people have serious problems with blood sugar regulation and suffer from metabolic syndrome. Type II diabetes is an epidemic right up there with obesity. Some people are better off with a low carb approach for health reasons and that would mean less bread. Don’t lump all low carb approaches in the fad diet category – they can be a viable option for health and weight loss purposes and you can quote me on that.
4. Customize nutrition for your personal preferences too. Hey, it’s all about compliance. You’ll never stick with a diet if you hate it and you can’t burn fat on any diet you can’t stick with. Some people really really want to keep some bread in their meal plan. They’d rather have some whole wheat toast in the morning than oatmeal for example (oatmeal, generally considered the more “clean” carb). Fine, do it. Just carefully track those calories and don’t allow yourself to eat more calories in whole grain bread than you would have eaten if you chose a totally unprocessed carb. Also do realize that if instead you had all fibrous carbs instead of starch (for example a big pile of chopped veggies in your egg scramble), that lower carb, higher protein approach would most likely control calories better due to lower energy density and higher satiety and lead to better fat loss.
Last but not least
For whatever its worth, I don’t eat a lot of bread and I eat even less pasta. They’re not staples in my daily meal plans and I wouldn’t use large amounts of them if I were doing contest prep. But if I’m on off season or muscle building programs, I certainly have them if I want them – I just fit them into my daily macros and calorie allowance. If I’m using carb cycling with re-feed days / high carb days, I’m considerably more likely to include them (nice big bowl of pasta – yeah!)
I may not eat them all that often, but I’ll go on having grains and bread and pasta whenever I want them… while gaining more muscle, losing more fat and enjoying my life more with a more balanced approach toward nutrition than the bread haters. Bread is not “forbidden” to me. It’s not forbidden to people who follow Burn the fat, Feed the Muscle (BFFM) either.
Yes, we have our own ideology in BFFM – it’s bodybuilding and physique athlete nutrition. But the difference between me and the fad diets is I don’t slap you with all kinds of forbidden food lists. BFFM has the unique distinction of being the most highly structured and by-the-numbers plan and yet the most flexible plan in the world at the same time – YES that is possible!.
Grain and bread haters can go on demonizing grains and bread… they’re just mad at the world… they’re HANGRY (hungry and angry) … we BFFM’ers will go on enjoying ourselves and being lean and happy… with more muscle too.
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About Fitness Author and Fat Loss Coach, Tom Venuto
Tom Venuto is the author of the #1 best seller, Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle: Fat Burning Secrets of the World's Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom is a lifetime natural bodybuilder and fat loss expert who achieved an astonishing ripped 3.7% body fat level without drugs or supplements. Discover how to increase your metabolism, burn stubborn body fat and find out which foods burn fat and which foods turn to fat by visiting the home page at: BurnTheFat.com