by Mike Arnold
In Part 1 of this article we took a look at the priorities which govern the make-up of today’s typical bodybuilding diet, while shining a flashlight on their unbalanced nature and the dietary deficiencies which have arisen from such. Having previously addressed the importance of both dietary fiber and whole-grains in relation to health and performance, along with the injurious effects of excessive refined grain consumption, we will move on to the final four most commonly encountered problems within the bodybuilding diet.
Right up there at the top of the list, inadequate fruit & vegetable intake is a major shortcoming within the dietary regimens of most bodybuilders. Providing a host of benefits, fruits & vegetables are not only a primary source of dietary fiber (see part #1 for more information on fiber), but contain numerous phytonutrients, many of which are unique to plant life alone.
Unlike vitamins and minerals, which are critical for basic functioning and the preservation of human life, phytonutrients provide a diverse range of benefits critical for optimal functioning, disease prevention, and stopping/reversing the deterioration of all bodily systems. In short, they keep everything working better, potentially increasing longevity and one’s quality of life.
There are over 25,000 known phytonutrients found within plant foods, some of which you may be familiar with and others which are obscure even to those who study them. Interestingly, phytonutrients are responsible for giving fruits &v vegetables their characteristic color, with different colors providing a different type/category of phytonutrient(s). Some of the most common categories are carotenoids, flvaonoids, glucosinolates, phytoestrogens, ellagic acid, and resveratrol.
Currently, science has discovered over 600 types of carotenoids, which are present in large amounts in fruits & vegetables of yellow, orange, and red hues. Recognizable examples include alpha/beta carotene (protects against free radical damage, bolsters the immune system, helps maintain night vision), lycopene (helps prevent prostate cancer), lutein and zeaxanthin (prevents cataracts and macular degeneration). Flavonoids are found in a wide variety of plant foods and include phytonutrients such as catachins (found in green tea and may help prevent certain types of cancer), hesperidin (reduces systemic inflammation and has antioxidant properties), and Quercetin (helps prevent heart disease, asthma, and certain types of cancer).
Glucosinolates are present in large quantities in cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, kale, and brussells sprouts, and may help prevent certain types of cancer.
Phytoestrogens such as isoflavones and lignans, may help prevent osteoporosis and reduce the risk of endometrial cancer. Ellagic acid, found in large amounts in berries, may slow the growth of cancer cells and help the liver neutralize cancer causing chemical. Resveratrol is a well known phytonutrient which plays a role in the prevention of heart disease, certain types of cancer, reduces oxidative stress, and lowers inflammation.
In addition to the numerous health benefits attached to the phytonutrients found in fruits & vegetables, they are also a rich source of easily absorbed vitamins and minerals and assist in the digestion and assimilation of animal proteins. Although some bodybuilders have neglected this food group because they don’t like the taste, the main reason for its absence is that they take up room in the stomach. Quite frankly, with the typical bodybuilding diet already including an abundance of protein and carbohydrate dense foods, vegetables are often viewed as a “wasted space”, as they aren’t very rich in carbs and contain almost no protein. Therefore, they are given reduced priority, with most bodybuilder’s preferring to eat those foods they believe will most benefit their muscle building efforts. This is a mistake.
In reality, fruits & vegetables are even more important for bodybuilders than the average person, due to the greater quantities of animal proteins and refined grain products consumed. Furthermore, the more food we eat, the greater the oxidative stress placed on the body. This is counteracted, in large part, by the regular inclusion of substantial amounts of fruits & vegetables within the diet.
Knowing this, all bodybuilders should begin prioritizing their intake, while viewing them as equally essential to one’s bodybuilding progress, rather than add-ons that really don’t matter. Whether this requires one to restructure their diet or begin exercising self-discipline is irrelevant. What does matter is that these vital food groups are included in the diet with both greater frequency and in greater quantities.
At one point maligned as detrimental to the physique, fats have made a resurgence over the past decade. Although science has provided us with an increased understanding of their role in recovery and growth, there is still a lot of confusion as to which fats are considered “good” and which are considered “bad”. This has resulted in many health-promoting fats being shunned, while less beneficial and sometimes even harmful fats are included in the typical bodybuilding diet with regularity, but before we discuss how to differentiate between the various forms of fat, let’s look at what fats do in the body.
As one of the three basic macronutrients, fat are involved in a multitude of physiological processes in the body, including hormone production, thyroid function, vitamin absorption, brain development, nervous system function, endorphin production, etc. In fact, fats are involved in the formation of every cell membrane in the body, without which life could not occur.
In addition to basic physiological functioning, they also provide numerous health benefits, including the stabilization of blood glucose levels, increased insulin sensitivity, improved metabolic health, reduced inflammation, enhanced immune function, free radical protection, and better cardiovascular health. Although most people tend to view fat primarily as an energy source, it is just as critical to the development, function, and preservation of the human body as any other macronutrient. Therefore, great consideration should be given to its inclusion within the diet, being careful to making sure the body is supplied with a wide range of beneficial fat sources, but how do we know which ones are best?
For years the method of determination used was overly simplistic (as well as misguided), with good and bad fats being decided based on their saturated or unsaturated status. By and large, saturated fats, which included most animal fats, were viewed as bad, being harmful to cardiovascular health and providing little overall benefit. So naturally, their consumption was limited. Instead, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats were championed as “healthy” and were recommended as the primary fat source by both the American Heart Association, as well as the medical community at large.
These days, research continues to reveal the errors inherent in this way of thinking, as we now know that a fat’s saturated/unsaturated status has little to do with its effect on cardiovascular health or overall value. The one exception to the rule is trans-fats, a type of unsaturated fat that contains one or more double bonds in trans geometric configuration. These engineered fats have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease by increasing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and decreasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Trans-fats may also damage DNA, increase inflammation, impair insulin sensitivity, and damage blood vessels. However, some trans-fats, although present in small quantities, are natural in origin, providing distinct health benefits. One example is CLA (conjugated linoleic acid).
When attempting to determine which fat sources are ideal, we need to look at both the source, the degree of processing the fat has been subjected to, and in the case of animal fats, what the animals were fed. So long as the fat comes from a natural source, has been subjected to little or no processing, and in the case of animals, was a fed a natural diet, you can be reasonably certain it is a “healthy” fat.
For example, butter was once considered an un-healthy fat, but we now realize that the negative effects associated with butter consumption are only present in that which has been derived from cows fed corn—a food source unnatural to their native diet. Regular corn-fed butter is also frequently loaded with artificial dyes, preservatives, industrial solvents, chemicals, etc. This not only alters the fatty acid profile of the butter, but it dramatically decreases levels of Vitamin K2 (protects cardiovascular health; even reverses arterial calcification), CLA (assists in aft loss, muscle growth, and cancer prevention), and diminishes its overall vitamin and mineral content.
The difference between grass-fed butter and that of the corn-fed variety is drastic enough that one could be considered somewhat of a junk food, while the other a super-food. The same applies to fats derived from all animal foods, including meat, milk, and egg products. Some examples include grass-fed beef vs. corn-fed beef, wild-caught salmon vs. farm-raised salmon, and free-range eggs vs. non-free range eggs.
In each of these comparisons, the animal is either fed its natural food source or an unnatural one (designed to increase profit) and in each case, nutritional value is greatly affected. In the case of animals fed an unnatural diet, the end product is compromised so greatly that it barely even resembles in the same food, being changed from a health-fortifying food source into a health damaging one. Of course, the use of hormones and antibiotics, as well as pesticides and/or preservatives contained within an animal’s food source, will also have a negative effect on the fat within the meat, milk, and eggs that an animal produces, as most of the toxins and chemicals an animal consumes are stored within its fat.
When it comes to oils, refrain from using vegetables oil, canola oil, safflower, corn, and peanut oil, as these oils contain a preponderance of omega-6 fatty acids, of which the typical American diet is already loaded with. Rather, fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, red palm fruit oil, avocado oil, macadamia nut oil, and flaxseed oil are far superior alternatives and provide a plethora of health benefits.
Of great importance is the degree of processing these fats have been subjected to, as this will largely determine their nutritional value. All of these oils should be consumed in their raw, or virgin form, as this helps maintain the integrity and nutrient profile of the fat. Oftentimes, processed fats have been subjected to high temperatures, altering not only the fat’s make-up, but destroying many of the beneficial compounds naturally found within these fat sources.
While the last few paragraphs have been specifically aimed at dietary fat, I want to take a moment to re-emphasize animal proteins, as I only touched on them briefly earlier. In short, the same principles that apply to animal fats apply to all animal products, with an animal’s food source being extremely influential on the nutritional value of the final product. Therefore, all meat, poultry, fish, and eggs should come from animals fed a natural diet.
With diet forming the framework around which the entire bodybuilding lifestyle revolves, it is my hope that by revealing these dietary blunders, you might be spurred on to make the changes you read about here. By doing so, you will not only experience renewed health and vigor, but all the internal workings of your body will begin to function in greater harmony, ultimately leading to an improved and more sustainable physique.