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The Basics of Bodybuilding Nutrition

Notice I said “slightly” and “quality.” I don’t mean gulping down everything in sight. And all calories are not created equal. If your body requires 2500 calories per day, both to carry out its normal day-to-day functions and gain new muscle weight, and you eat four bags of potato chips and six candy bars, then I guess you’re taking in enough calories to gain weight. But how much of this will be new, lean, hard muscle tissue? Not much. The majority will be deposited around your waist and internal organs as fat. Junk food is composed of what nutritionists call empty calories. These foods simply do not provide the vital nutrients needed to build new muscle tissue.

The Basics of Bodybuilding Nutrition

The Food Groups


This group contains everything from milk to cheese to yogurt to cream. Although ice cream also fits in here, it’s a treat you should limit to perhaps once a week and in small amounts. Dairy products are very nutrient dense. The foods in the dairy group are high in vitamins A and D, riboflavin, calcium, phosphorous, fats, and protein. While they contain valuable nutrients (protein, vitamins and minerals) dairy products can also be high in undesirables (saturated fat and simple sugar). Low-fat dairy products are available, but there are good reasons to limit their intake, as we’ll learn later.

Fruits and Vegetables

Nothing fancy here. Most vegetables consist of the roots, stalks and leaves of the plant. Fruit, on the other hand, is the fleshy, pulpy part of the plant that surrounds the seeds. Many foods considered vegetables such as tomatoes, squash, peppers and cucumbers, are actually fruits. No matter what your definition of fruits and vegetables, they are among nature’s greatest foods. They are loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and good healthy carbohydrates. Your goal is to eat anywhere from four to six servings per day.


This group can be considered the “bodybuilding” group, because it contains all the high-protein foods such as meat, poultry, fish, beans and nuts. Besides being high in protein,sources in this group tend to be high in iron and B vitamins.


This group contains whole grains, breads, cereals, flour, pasta, cornmeal, oatmeal, and all the other grain products. This group is high in such nutrients as B vitamins, iron, fiber, and complex carbohydrates.

Oils and Fats

This group contains all the edible animal and plant oils, butter, margarine, honey and fats. Like the dairy group, this group is a mixed bag. While the good fats are vital for optimum health, the saturated fats and especially trans fats should be avoided if possible. Even the good fats can pack fat around your waist if consumed in excess.

Ultra Crap

While you need to consume foods from all the other groups to maintain good health and build superior muscle, items from this group should be kept to a minimum or eliminated altogether. The ultra-crap group contains such villains as candy bars, potato chips, refined sugar and flour, candy, processed meat, donuts, cakes, pastries, soft drinks, and deep-fried anything! These foods are all considered low-density because they contain a low percentage of good nutrients in relation to their high calorie content. Also included in this group is alcohol. If your sport is sumo wrestling then perhaps you can feast from this food group. But if it’s a lean and muscular physique you’re after, you should avoid these foods entirely!

Source: Robert Kennedy: Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, The Complete A-Z Book On Muscle Building. 2008 Nick Evans:Bodybuilding Anatomy. 2012 Arnold Schwarzenegger: The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, 2013

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