by Mike Arnold
As a BB’r or any other weight training enthusiast looking to put on size, eating enough food to sustain one’s mass-building efforts over the long-term can prove to be a real challenge. What might initially be perceived as a relatively simple task often turns into a tremendous test of willpower, as the growing metabolic demands of one’s ever-expanding muscle tissue combined with the realization that there is no off-time, begin to take a toll on the BBr’s resolve. In truth, most BB’rs will end up failing this test long before achieving their ultimate physique goals.
Some will convince themselves that they simply don’t have the genetic ability, while others, in an unconscious attempt to take the easy way out, will delude themselves into thinking that an insufficient PED program is to blame. A more noble approach would be to simply admit that one doesn’t have the mental attributes required for success in this sport and either accept mediocrity or move onto other, more fitting pursuits.
The truth is that it takes a special type of person, both physically and mentally, to be able to endure the year-round hardships associated with the BB’ing lifestyle. While most people can make fairly impressive changes to their physique with a little hard work, being able to make the most of one’s genetic potential requires a degree of effort that few are willing or able to put in. Unlike many other endeavors, which tend to become easier the longer one is involved, it is just the opposite when it comes to bodybuilding nutrition. As the BBr’s physique continues to grow, so to do his nutritional requirements. This basic physiological fact has been the demise of many an aspiring bodybuilder.
Aside from the grueling mental aspect, some find that their digestive system is unable to handle the quantity of food necessary for taking things to the next level. Digestion problems ranging from heartburn, bloating, improper elimination, impaired absorption-assimilation, and general malaise are all too common. This can lead to other unwanted health issues, such as endotoxin build-up, the proliferation of harmful bacteria in the gut, and a compromised immune system resulting in reduced muscle growth. Undiagnosed food allergies and/or intolerances can further exacerbate the problem.
While there is no magick pill or technique that can make up for a lack of mental fortitude, neither are we solely at the mercy of our natural genetic make-up when it comes to dietary success. Fortunately, there are several steps we can take to help improve upon those areas where nature may have dealt us a less than ideal hand, thereby boosting our appetite and allowing us to achieve a greater measure of success. Even for those who find they are already able to take in all the calories they need for maximizing muscle growth, several of the recommendations below should be implemented by everyone wishing to improve absorption & assimilation—a worthwhile goal for any bodybuilder.
Of the various remedies available, they can be separated into two different categories: preventative and curative. Preventative remedies are often closely linked with our digestive health and can help alleviate, as well as prevent appetite suppression by dealing with the problem at its root, thereby stopping problems before they arise. Falling on the other end of the spectrum are curative remedies. Generally, these help stimulate the appetite by altering the body’s hormonal and/or chemical environment, although they frequently fail to address the under-lying cause. In most cases best results are achieved when tackling the problem from both angles.
With the typical BB’ing diet containing such a large volume of food, producing an adequate amount of digestive enzymes can be a real struggle. Although we may eat food, the digestive system doesn’t absorb food, it absorbs nutrients. Digestive enzymes, produced primarily in the pancreas and small intestine, are the compounds responsible breaking down the food we eat into its most basic form so that the nutrients within, such as amino acids, simple sugars, vitamins, minerals, etc, can be liberated and absorbed into the bloodstream. Because of this, it is not what we eat that matters, but what we absorb, and digestive enzymes play a critical role in this process.
Without adequate digestive enzymes present a portion of all the food we eat will be wasted, placing undue stress on our digestive system and short-changing our muscles of the nutrients they need to maximize recovery & growth. This dilemma is easily solved by supplementing with these enzymes, which can be purchased at an inexpensive price through numerous online distributers. One has the option of purchasing individual enzymes or comprehensive blends depending on what is wanted. While many beginning and intermediate BB’rs may be able to get away without using with these products, the advanced BB’r who is currently eating 4,000, 5,000, or more calories per day will almost always benefit by their use. Although the positive effects may be difficult to recognize, especially at first, the long-term improvements in absorption & assimilation will pay dividends in the end.
Probiotics are another category of supplementation which has caught on in recent years, once scientists started recognizing the important role these beneficial bacteria (also known as intestinal flora) play in digestion and intestinal-colonic health. Technically, probiotics include a wide variety of live microorganisms which confer health benefits when present in sufficient quantities. They naturally reside and reproduce in the digestive tract, but can also enter the body through some food sources, such as yogurt and kefir. However, not all potentially beneficial bacteria can survive transit through the initial stages of the digestive tract, so it is important that any probiotic strains one chooses to purchase are first scientifically validated as a viable source of oral probiotics.
Due to severe deficiencies in the typical Western diet, at no other time in history has supplementation with probiotics been so important. The body depends on a proper ratio of good to bad bacteria in order to maintain digestive and immune system integrity, without which it becomes susceptible to a number of potential health risks ranging from mild to life-threatening. Under ideal circumstances, supplementation with probiotics is unnecessary. However, extensive damage to the food supply, poor dietary habits, and the use of pharmaceutical drugs has in many cases shifted the balance in favor of bad bacteria. This is a significant part of the reason why so many people now suffer from diagnosable diseases and disorders relating to the digestive and immune system. Many researchers also claim a strong link to colon cancer.
With such a large amount of evidence supporting the use of probiotics for digestive health, as well as the fact that even the most health conscious BB’r is still subject to a compromised food supply, the inclusion of probiotics within one’s diet is a no-brainer.
When it comes to the process of absorption and assimilation, one of the most important things we need to consider, and which nearly every BB’r has a large degree of control over, is the types of food he/she puts in their mouth. I am not talking about some universal diet or certain food sources which every BB’r should be eating/ avoiding. Rather, I am referring to one of the most basic tenets of bodybuilding nutrition—something every BB’r must learn before they can hope to achieve their full potential. To the point, you must find those foods which work best for you and build your diet around them. A concept simple in its understanding yet difficult in its application, it can take many years before a BB’r finally figures out which foods work best for his own body.
Although humanity’s physiology is identical in many ways, there is no denying that we all respond differently to various foods. Although we are still in the infantile stages of learning how different food types correspond to one’s unique make-up, we can, through personal observation, begin to identify those foods which harmonize with our body’s unique chemistry and subsequently develop a working plan based on that knowledge. In order to accomplish this one must be attuned to their body and pay attention to how different foods affect them from both a physical and mental standpoint.
Do certain foods cause indigestion, bloating, stomach up-set, gas, constipation, or heart burn? Do they sit in your stomach like a rock for hours…or make you feel lousy after eating them? Sometimes the signs are subtle—even barely recognizable, but if we pay attention, they can provide us with accurate feedback regarding a certain food’s suitability in our diet. Any form of indigestion is a sign that a particular food does not agree with us, regardless of what it is. In the same way, some foods might not cause any noticeable digestive upset, but may provide other clues indicative of personal incompatibility, such as lethargy, fatigue, headache, or a general feeling of unwellness. If any of these symptoms consistently appear after eating specific food(s), then you may want to consider temporarily removing it from your diet and see how things go. If symptoms subside, you should then re-introduce it in order to confirm that it was indeed responsible for the problem. If symptoms reappear then you most likely have your answer.
Often times BB’rs will continue to consume certain foods, even when they know they are the cause of digestive up-set, simply because they have been taught that they are indispensable. In the very early days of the sport milk was considered the most basic staple of bodybuilding nutrition. It was believed to be irreplaceable–the most anabolic of all foods and essential for growing to gargantuan proportions. Many of the old-school BB’rs, although occasionally lactose intolerant, would consume quarts or even gallons of milk per day. You would think that after experiencing repeated bouts of intense abdominal pain and a new part-time job on the toilet, that one would quickly come to the realization that no food resulting in such negative effects could ever be good for muscle growth, yet many persisted in following such a diet scheme because they were convinced that it needed to be done (Note: raw, grass-fed cow and/or goat milk is indeed an excellent BB’ing food for those who can digest it without any difficulty).
While this may be an extreme example, it illustrates a basic truth in that some BB’rs, despite being provided with the clearest of signals, will continue engaging in a behavior that is injurious for no other reason than conventional wisdom tells them they should. It should be understood up-front that no foods are necessary. Any benefits supplied by one food can almost always be found in another. Therefore, each BB’r, once freed from the constraints of cultural preconception, should make every attempt to construct a diet which is in tune with their own unique physical constitution.
Even when a BB’r makes excellent dietary choices and utilizes the best preventative supplementation available, the sheer volume and types of food involved will result in at least some degree of food build-up within the digestive tract—a common problem among not only BB’rs, but many modernized populations around the world. Largely due to inadequate fiber intake, the end result is impaired nutrient absorption and potential health problems. When the digestive system is unable to completely eliminate the food we eat, a portion of it can stick to the lining of the digestive tract, where it hardens and remains indefinitely. This wall of hardened fecal matter acts as a literal barrier to absorption, preventing recently digested food from passing through and making its way into the bloodstream. Obviously, this has negative implications in terms of muscle growth, but even more disturbing is what happens to this food as it sits in the digestive system for months or even years.
Well, think about what happens when you put a piece of meat in a warm, dark place for an extended period of time. It rots. This is exactly what takes place when the food you eat remains permanently lodged in your digestive tract. This has an injurious effect on not only the digestive system, but on the entire body, as the resultant toxins are absorbed directly into the bloodstream. With the average American holding between 10-30 lbs of uneliminated digestive matter in their gut at all times (and in many cases more), it is not surprising that BB’rs, who eat so much more than the average American, would also succumb to this problem.
It is a mistake to confuse “clean” eating with “healthy” eating, as the two are not necessarily synonymous with each other, but before we go further, we should first define what it means to “eat clean” from a BB’ing standpoint. In its most simplistic form, most BB’rs define clean eating as a diet low in added fats and sugars. However, most BB’rs eat a massive amount of processed foods, usually in the form of carbohydrate (ex. white rice), which fails to provide adequate dietary fiber—an essential nutrient for keeping the digestive tract clean and free of debris. In addition, most BB’rs consume a diet high in meat and low in vegetables—another well known risk factor that further exacerbates the problem.
While it would be easy to sit here and tell every BB’r to switch out all their refined grains for whole grains, and add a bunch of fruits & vegetables to their diet, the fact is that most BB’rs just won’t do this, as it can make it even more difficult to take in all the calories they need to grow. Lamentably, the things that are best for one’s BB’ing progress are not always the best for one’s health. Still, we can help mitigate the damage of a BB’ing diet on the digestive tract by consuming as many whole-grains, fruits, and vegetables as possible, while using fiber supplements to make up for the slack. In any instance, something is better than nothing, even if all one does is add a high quality fiber supplement to their daily diet.
Being that all of the above-mentioned factors can result in various degrees of appetite suppression, anything we can do to assist with the digestion, absorption, and elimination process will have a positive impact on appetite, especially in those BB’rs who are unknowingly experiencing serious problems in one or more of these areas.