Full Guide: Nutritional Minimums for Bodybuilders

People are often wondering, what’s the least amount of “insert specific nutrient here” I can get away with?

This is a great question.

Ryan Solomon our intern at Revive & head poster in our free facebook group will be going over this in detail for you.

I’m going to cover minimum nutritional guidelines in FULL (ya know, like “Full” as in hunger because this article’s about nutrients.. HA… Funny right? No? Yeah I really didn’t think so either but I’m over it) , and give you a recommendation on the least amount of protein, carbohydrates, fats, fibre, and water that an athlete (bodybuilders and powerlifters like YOU) should be consuming on a daily basis… and there’s probably going to be more horrendous jokes along the way.. so brace yourself.

So sit back, and enjoy the read!


Protein

Let’s just start with what protein actually does for us, because why should we even hit a minimum protein target anyway?

The main functions of protein [1]:

  1. Enzyme and protein synthesis: there’s 100s of tissues and enzymes that are proteins.
  2. Transport nutrients: they make “smart” carriers, enabling nutrients to go to the right tissues.
  3. A source of energy: they provide 4 calories per gram.
  4. Hormone production: hormones control many chemical activities in the body made of proteins.
  5. Fluid balance: helps control the fluid balance between the blood and surrounding tissues.
  6. Acid-base balance: they can make an acidic environment less acidic, and an alkaline environment less alkaline.
  7. Growth and tissue maintenance: It’s needed to build and maintain tissue. Synthesis of nonprotein, nitrogen-containing compounds: Phosphocreatine is a high-energy, nitrogen-containing compound used to release energy for quick burst activities.

So basically, no protein = no gains….

Like seriously… your muscles are made up protein filaments…

Now that we know what it actually does, let’s look at HOW MUCH you actually need.

Minimum Recommendations

The minimum protein recommendation changes based on if you’re eating at or below your energy needs. Basically, if you’re cutting, you’re going to want to err on the side of having more protein. If you’re at maintenance or in a gaining phase, you don’t need as much protein because you have more energy available, and you’re at less risk of your body using protein as fuel.

  • The minimum recommendation for protein intake when you’re eating AT, OR ABOVE energy needs is 1.2g/kg at the MINIMUM [3].
  • The minimum recommendation for an individual while in a CALORIC DEFICIT is 2.3 g/kg of FFM [2].

It’s important to note that this is g/kg of FFM (fat free mass).


Fat

Just check out the list below about what it does for us.

Functions of Fat [1]:

  1. Source of Energy: Provides 9 calories per gram.
  2. Satiety Control: Since fat stays in the stomach longer, it makes us feel fuller longer.
  3. Flavour: Don’t need to say much about this one… fat tastes good
  4. Provides Essential Nutrients: There are necessary fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E, and K) and essential fatty acids found in vegetable and cereal oils.

Minimum Recommendations

Similar to the protein recommendation, the minimum fat recommendation changes when you’re cutting. This is because to maintain more ideal protein and carb intakes while cutting, fat may have to be dropped. We’re more worried about maintaining adequate levels of protein and carbs because those nutrients are probably more important for muscle maintenance and performance.

Not to mention you can often eat much higher volumes of food with protein and carbs, so the diet may be easier to adhere to because you’ll feel more full. Just imagine; you can have a plate full of veggies, or 15 almonds, I’ll leave that up to you but I know what I’d prefer.

  • The minimum fat intake recommendation while dieting down is 15% of your total calories [3]. 
  • The minimum fat intake recommendation while you have enough calories for adequate amounts of protein and carbs (during maintenance, early on in a cut, while bulking) would be 20% of your total calories [4].

Carbohydrates

Did your eyes light up with a little twinkle when you read carbs?

Because mine sure as hell did, carbs are tasty as hell, plain and simple.

Functions of Carbs [1]:

  1. Provide Energy: Most preferred fuel source of the body. <<< Important for lifters who need that fuel.
  2. Protein Sparing: Allows the body to use carbs for energy, and keeps protein from being broken down into energy.
  3. Oxidation of Fat: To burn fats effectively and completely, some carbohydrate is needed.
  4. Stored Energy: They have two storage forms, glycogen and fat. If stored as glycogen, it can be converted easily back to glucose to use for energy.

Clearly you can see that carbs are important, especially in the realm of bodybuilding and powerlifting.

Minimum Recommendations

This recommendation is once again going to depend on if you’re restricting calories or not.

  • The minimum carbohydrate recommendation for strength sports, including bodybuilding, is 4g/kg of bodyweight [5].
  • If you’re dieting down, 4g/kg of bodyweight just isn’t feasible, because you’d have to lower your protein and fats below essential levels. So, the minimum recommendation when this happens is to have your carbs make up the rest of your calories after you have worked out the minimum amount of protein and fat you need.

Fibre

You guessed it, we’re going to start out with the main functions of fibre (insert bowel movement joke here).

Fibre’s main functions include [6]:

  1. Healthy Bowel Movements: Enough said.
  2. Maintain Bowel Health: May reduce risk of developing hemorrhoids and small pouches in the colon.
  3. Regulates Cholesterol: Merges with cholesterol and excretes it, especially LDL cholesterol.
  4. Regulates Diabetes: Regulates the body’s absorption of sugar.
  5. Weight Control: Helps you feel fuller, longer.

As you can see, fibre plays a very important role, and you wouldn’t want to ignore it.

Minimum Recommendations

  • The minimum amount of fibre you should be consuming is 14g/1,000 calories you eat [7]. 

This recommendation is a bit conservative, but I think it’s a great number to shoot for. If you fall a few grams short of this goal a couple of days out of the week, it’s probably not going to have any noticeable effect.

Below are some foods that are all great sources of fibre:

  • Whole grains
  • Beans & peas
  • Nuts & seeds
  • Vegetables & fruits

Final note on fibre: hitting a fibre goal will probably result in you getting the majority of your foods from healthier sources, which is a great idea. These foods will help you stick to your diet, and will insure you’re plenty healthy to make them gainz. I’m a firm believer that the healthier you are, the better results you will see. This may seem obvious, but some people are very concerned about their fitness, and aren’t really concerned about their health, and I believe the two go hand in hand.


Water

Now, I know I don’t need to list off the functions of water because I’m sure you already know it’s importance, but to remain consistent I’m going to give you water’s main functions and who knows, maybe one of these functions are something that you didn’t already know.

The main functions of water include [8]:

  1. Regulates Body Temperature
  2. Moistens Various Tissues
  3. Lubricates Joints
  4. Protects Body Organs and Tissues
  5. Helps Dissolve Nutrients and Other Minerals
  6. Flushes Out Waste Products
  7. Carries Nutrients and Oxygen to Cells

Nearly all major body systems depend on water, and not to mention the average adult male is 60% water, and the average adult female is 55% water [9]. So yeah, we should probably be consuming that stuff.

Minimum Recommendations

This recommendation is going to be kept nice and simple.

  • Drink enough fluids so that your urine is a light colour when going to the bathroom.  

Notice how I said fluids, and not just water. Many popular drinks (diet sodas, coffee, sports drinks, etc) are made up of mainly water, so drinking those will aid your hydration levels as well.

If your urine is pretty clear, then you’re hydrated and good to go!


Concluding Recommendation List:

  • Protein: 1.2g/kg of bodyweight while not in a caloric deficit, and 2.3g/kg of FFM while in a deficit
  • Fat: 15% of calories when you’re digging into the diet, and 20% of calories the rest of the time
  • Carbs: At least 4g/kg of bodyweight, or have it make up the rest of your calories after hitting a minimum fat and protein intake when calories are more sparse
  • Fibre: A pretty safe minimum would be 14g/1,000 calories you consume
  • Water: Have pretty clear urine

NOTE FROM STEVE:

Now why is all of this important?

It’s important for a few reasons; if you have an understanding of what something is doing for you and how much you need to get the most from it, you’ll be more likely to make sure you get the required dose. This is similar to a training programme, if you know what you’re doing but also why, you’ll be more included to stick it out.

Also it needs to be remembered these are minimums for the best results for the average bodybuilder/powerlifter, not the average person. You could be perfectly healthy eating less protein than suggested here, but if you care about muscle and strength then you won’t want to stray below the minimum recommendation.

You’ll also note there is no maximum, because in reality Calories and our minimum requirements constrain the potential maximum we could ever have, and that means we don’t run into issues, you could hit your minimum needs for fats and carbs and allow the rest of your Calories to come from protein & be just fine, if this is your preference. So I just wanted to add this small side note to give some further practical advice when reading this article.


What Next?

Join our free facebook group or add us on snapchat (revivestronger) and ask your question there, I will respond asap. Or if you’re after a fresh training programme we have a free 4 week plan using DUP that you can download for free here.

One more thing…

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References:

  1. Lippincott, Williams, & Wilkins. (2010). ACSM’s resources for the personal trainer. Philadelphia: American College of Sports Medicine.
  2. Helms ER, Zinn C, Rowlands DS, Brown SR: A systematic review of dietary protein during caloric restriction in resistance trained lean athletes: a case for higher intakes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2013, Epub ahead of print
  3. Helms, E. R., Aragon, A. A., & Fitschen, P. J. (2014, May 12). Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. Retrieved April 03, 2017, from http://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-11-20
  4. Bird SP: Strength nutrition: maximizing your anabolic potential. Strength Cond J. 2010, 32: 80-86. 10.1519/SSC.0b013e3181d5284e.
  5. Slater G, Phillips SM: Nutrition guidelines for strength sports: sprinting, weightlifting, throwing events, and bodybuilding. J Sports Sci. 2011, 29: S67-S77. 10.1080/02640414.2011.574722.
  6. Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet. Retrieved April 06, 2017, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983?pg=1
  7. Writer, L. G. (2012, August 05). What Is the Recommended Daily Serving of Fiber? Retrieved April 06, 2017, from http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/recommended-daily-serving-fiber-4262.html
  8. Functions of water in the body. Retrieved April 06, 2017, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/multimedia/functions-of-water-in-the-body/img-20005799
  9. Helmenstine, P. A. How Much of The Human Body Is Water? Retrieved April 06, 2017, from https://www.thoughtco.com/how-much-of-your-body-is-water-609406

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