Even in the offseason, a true bodybuilder has to watch what they eat, or what would otherwise be a powerful, strong physique becomes fat and mush. Some bodybuilders don’t worry about it, the ectomorphs like Dexter Jackson and Flex Wheeler burn so many calories at rest that it’s difficult for them to stay in an anabolic (a state in which the body has more calories than it can use) state.
But for people like Ronnie Coleman, who is a little endomorphic (tending to carry surplus fat) and tend to break down muscle with fat when calories are restricted, offseason diet is CRUCIAL.
So, in this article, I am going to introduce a new concept to you, which may revolutionize the way you eat. It will actually guide you to the right foods, at the right time, so you don’t have to guess what is right for your body.
Simply put, that which is close to nature is the best for you. Fresh meats instead of processed meats, fresh produce, whole-grain bread and rice which is high in fiber, and milk. The choice of whether to get low-fat milk or whole milk depends on your macronutrient ratio (the ratio of carbs to protein to fat), which I will get to in a minute. Now, what these natural foods have to do with the new concept I mentioned, is this: Glycemic Index.
What Is Glycemic Index
Some of you may have heard of it, it measures the effect which certain carbohydrates have on the insulin fluctuations in your body. It’s measured generally on a scale from one to a hundred, with pure sugar (glucose) having a glycemic index of 100. The way carbohydrates affect your insulin is extremely important, and the G.I. measures this. If a carbohydrate (such as pure, refined white sugar) is ingested alone, it is absorbed extremely fast, due to its simple molecular structure. This rapid absorption causes a massive spike in blood sugar, which is a signal to your body’s pancreas to secrete massive doses of insulin. This, in turn, signals your cells to absorb the sugar in your bloodstream.
This is how your body maintains stable blood sugar, by secreting insulin when blood sugar is too high and secreting a catabolic hormone called cortisol when blood sugar is too low. Cortisol breaks down muscle and fat tissue for energy when your blood glucose is too low. The goal of the offseason bodybuilder is to maintain a happy medium between these two: Minimizing cortisol to prevent muscle breakdown and encourage muscle growth, and secrete just enough insulin to keep the cells fully energized without adding excess adipose tissue (fat).
Each meal you eat signals your body to secrete insulin, eating six small meals a day causes your body to maintain a stable insulin release throughout the day. If you ate three very large meals, each one would cause a major insulin spike, which would cause your body to store the excess calories. Simply eating six meals is not enough, though, if each meal is composed of processed food that causes large insulin fluctuations. The way to keep your insulin stable is to consume foods low on the Glycemic Index.
Remember that a high glycemic rating causes large releases of insulin, so foods with a low glycemic rating cause minor fluctuations in insulin, thereby preventing your body from storing excess calories as fat. Also, consuming low glycemic foods prevents the crash associated with foods high in sugar. If you consumed pure sugar, you would first get extremely hyper, then get extremely tired because the insulin release would suck all the sugar from your blood, which would give you no energy available for simple things like brain function and maintaining respiration.
If you consume too much sugar you can actually experience hyperglycemia, or “sugar shock” where your body completely shuts down and goes unconscious. Besides this rather scary side effect, consuming high glycemic foods over a period of time causes insulin resistance, which is an inability for your body’s cells to respond to insulin. This handicaps your ability to absorb nutrients from your food, so without extra insulin, you would surely die. Scary enough? Now, since I’ve scared you away from high glycemic food, let me guide you to the body-friendly stuff, the low glycemic carbs. protein generally (Not All) has a negligible effect on insulin, so it can be ignored for now.
How To Manage Your Insulin To Stay Lean
Example Meal Plan
Carbohydrates: 35 grams
Sugar: 31 grams (from fructose, a slow-burning natural sugar)
Fiber: 4 grams
Protein: 2 grams
Fat: 0 grams
The glycemic index is 54, which means you won’t experience a sugar crash if you eat this alone. The thirty-five grams of carbohydrates make this a good carb source to combine with a protein source for a complete meal. Also, bananas have nearly half a day’s vitamin B6, 600 milligrams of potassium, four grams of fiber, and even some amino acids. In general, a banana is a very heart nutritional snack, just look at any well-muscled banana-eating ape and you’ll understand that.
Calories: 80 calories
Carbohydrates: 22 grams
Sugar: 18 grams
Fiber: four grams
protein: 0 grams
Fat: 0 grams
Glycemic Index is a very nice 38. It’s a good, sweet snack when you want something sweet, and when you don’t have time to prepare anything. The natural sugar (fructose) is converted to blood sugar slowly, so it’s easy on the insulin. Four grams of fiber help move things through, along with having its own natural water to help with the absorption of nutrients.
Carbohydrates: 54 grams
Sugar: 5 grams
Fiber: 8 grams
protein: 3 grams
Fat: 0 grams
The glycemic index is 51, which is even better than the banana. A medium yam has enough carbohydrates for any meal, unless your huge, a good dose of fiber, low in sugar, and no fat. It even has three grams of protein. The absolute best thing about yams though, is they are high in antioxidants like vitamin C and beta carotene. Also a healthy dose of potassium, which is good when you’re trying to limit your sodium intake. Yams should be eaten as often as possible.
Spaghetti (one cup cooked):
Carbohydrates: 42 grams
Sugar: 2 grams
Fiber: 2 grams
protein: 7 grams
Fat: 1 gram
The glycemic index on spaghetti is even lower, only 41. I like spaghetti for about an hour and a half after I train, which is a little over an hour after my post-workout shake. Spaghetti for dinner is good because it keeps you full longer which can help keep you from going into the kitchen for a little late-night snack. It also doesn’t spike your insulin at all, so it’s good to stay lean.
Spaghetti is a much better carbohydrate source than rice, many bodybuilders mistakenly choose to eat a lot of rice thinking it is naturally good for them. Spaghetti has about twice the fiber and way more protein than rice, its G.I. is also much lower. White rice will actually spike your insulin, and brown rice is only slightly better.
Cheerios (2 cups with one cup of skim milk):
Carbohydrates: 57 grams
Sugar: 14 grams
Fiber: 6 grams
protein: 15 grams
Fat: 4 grams
The glycemic index of cheerios in milk is about 57, without milk it’s 74, so be sure you put skim milk on your cereal. Milk slows about everything down, so it’s good to down high glycemic foods with milk. Even still, I wouldn’t recommend munching cheerios late at night, because the G.I. is just a little high. Eating them in the morning can help refill muscle glycogen and your body’s energy stores, instead of being stored as fat which is what will probably happen late in the evening.
ALL-BRAN cereal w/ extra fiber (2 cups with 1 cup skim milk):
Carbohydrates: 93 grams
Sugar: 12 grams
Fiber: 52 grams
protein: 21 grams
Fat: 4 grams
The glycemic index is about 30 for this, it’s one of the lowest glycemic foods I know. It’s also an unbelievably awesome source of soluble and insoluble fiber, very good for the heart and for those who have gastric distress from too much protein. Mixed with milk, it even gives you some protein, and is almost devoid of sugar in comparison with the fiber and complex carbohydrates.
An excellent choice for those trying to stay lean, you can eat it any time of the day, but drink 8 ounces of water with each bowl to help move the fiber through your body. Also, don’t consume two cups at one time, one cup is plenty, and even half a cup is a good enough dose of fiber for most of us nonveggie eaters.
Quaker Oats Old Fashioned Oatmeal (1 cup dry cooked in water):
Carbohydrates: 52 grams
Sugar: 0 grams
Fiber: 8 grams
protein: 10 grams
Fat: 6 grams
This is a personal favorite of mine, simply because it’s so cheap and so convenient. The glycemic index is 49, which is fine for all general purposes, and it has no sugar, a good dose of fiber, some protein, and even a good blend of unsaturated fats. You can’t go wrong with the old fashioned oatmeal. A good way to eat oatmeal is to cut up egg whites and mix it together, then you have your carbs, protein, and unsaturated fats altogether. Makes meal planning simple. Also, you can mix it with milk instead of water to add protein.
Carbohydrates: 35 grams
Sugar: 30 grams
Fiber: 1 gram
protein: 4 grams
Fat: 14 grams (9 grams unsaturated)
Hungry? Why wait? Ok, Snickers Bars aren’t exactly bodybuilding food, but the glycemic index is only 41, which means you won’t get a crash as you would from other candy bars. Also, it contains mostly unsaturated fats because of the peanuts.
I don’t wanna paint a rosy picture for you though, Snickers bars have no vitamins and minerals, and the fat is still high. Still, their cheap and convenient, and actually taste like candy (not like health food flavored to taste like chocolate/candy). Good for an occasional snack when there’s nothing better around, sits in your stomach well and makes you feel full. It even provides you with good, long-lasting energy.
That’s a little list of good, insulin friendly foods. Most are convenient and high in nutrients and fiber too. I’d say this is a great list for any new bodybuilder trying to figure out which foods are the ones he needs to eat.
The Macronutrient Ratio
Now, on to the basic makeup of your diet, the macronutrient ratio. In the offseason, I believe in a good, balanced ratio of nutrients, 40% coming from carbohydrates, and 30% from fat and protein. My diet generally consists of six meals, each of 45 grams of protein, 60 grams of carbohydrates, and 22.5 grams of fat. This results in 3,736 calories. Of course, it’s not always that exactly, it varies a few grams on each count but it never waves from the basic 40-30-30.
The only meal that I change purposely is my post-workout meal, which (when I start mass gaining in three weeks) will be about 89 carbs, 52 protein, and 6 fat. This is because fat is nonessential right after training, but carbs and protein are extremely important after a workout to refuel the muscles and jumpstart recovery.
The reason for this balance of macronutrients is simple. I’ve tried the low-fat diet, and I felt hungry all day, even if I compensated for the lack of calories from fat with calories from carbs/protein. Lowering my fat intake has made me feel weak in my workouts, and given me a general feeling of lethargy and laziness. I have also tried the low carb diet, in this diet, I felt like absolute shit. I had no energy, constantly craved spaghetti and ice cream, and my strength fell through the floor.
I have even tried a low protein diet, with only 100 grams of protein a day, while this didn’t affect me as quickly, after several weeks I noticed my recovery going down and my strength slowly going down. So, I have settled on a good balance of all three nutrients, which keeps my hunger at bay all day long and keeps my strength up.
That’s my take on stayin’ lean and gettin’ big, you gotta eat good, wholesome food, and stay away from burgers and fries and that shit.