What Does a Bodybuilding Diet Look Like, and What Can You Learn From it?

First things first, I want to introduce an idea that I am toying with—I think I may actually start another blog, in addition to this one.  Maybe.  I want to help people, but I am coming to a point where I literally cannot afford to answer the emails I receive.  Everyone who has ever known me now feels comfortable asking me diet and fitness questions—and I absolutely love that!  How is this my life, and what did I do to deserve so much trust?!  Keep them coming—I enjoy helping in any way that I can!

However…I sat down recently and timed myself to see how long it took me to respond to the emails I received in one day—an hour and a half later, I still had not even touched my “real” (read: paying) work.  I actually started training people because of this—it’s the only way I can afford to answer all of the questions! But the thing that makes me a good trainer makes me a terrible business owner.  I hate the part where people pay for health, because this implies that health and fitness involve access and privilege and I hate being a part of that machine.  (Sounds like a personal problem, huh?)

So, check back in from time to time and be on the lookout for my new blog, which will feature nutrition and workout tips and articles based on my experience.  Don’t expect me to tell you the best way to work out, or the best way to eat—I will tell you what works for me, and do my best to point you in the direction of how to figure out what works for you.

BUT….since I don’t have a new blog yet, you get to read about how I eat and pick up a few tips about how you can [re]learn how to eat to maintain, lose, or gain weight.  If you get too lost in the words, skip to the bullet points at the bottom.  This one is dense, but I’ll make it as painless as possible.  It answers a basic question I spend way too much time answering: “Sheena, teach me how to eat right…”

Maybe you don’t want to change how you eat—that’s cool too.  But I have created confusion among some of my non-bodybuilder friends, and I need to clear that up.  I often take for granted that people understand what a bodybuilding diet is and what it looks like, but I realize that for the most part people just assume it’s a very extreme diet that leaves me hungry all of the time.  Beyond that, I don’t think many people know what this looks like.  Curious about the secret world of bodybuilding diets?

First of all, there is a difference between a “clean” nutrition plan and a bodybuilding cutting program.  It’s possible to be on a diet that does not involve weight loss—this is what I do in the “off-season,” for the most part.  Now that I am in preparation for a contest, my goal is to “cut” the bodyfat and water, while preserving as much of my muscle as possible.  People tend to think I’m getting bigger, but this is a myth—I’m actually getting smaller, but the illusion of size is created as the bodyfat on either side of a muscle peak goes away, basically making a mountain out of a molehill.  It’s like digging on both sides of a hill—but if I do it wrong, I could risk digging the whole damn hill.  So I’m about to tell you how I avoid that.  In order to lose body fat and preserve muscle, there is actually a lot of science and some math involved.

Weight loss is based on a pretty simple rule of thumb: calories burned must be more than calories consumed.

Once I have my magic number of calories, it gets more complicated.  What kind of weight do I want to lose?  I have to think about how to spread those calories out over the day, how to balance diet and exercise to reach that number, and what kinds of calories will fuel me through my day while allowing my body to lose only the weight I want get rid of.  See, weight loss and fat loss are not necessarily the same thing.

People ask me often if I can or cannot eat something.  Lunches and dinners are the worst because, bless their hearts, no one can satisfy the needs of my diet.  I’m impossible!  “You can eat chicken, right?”  And, “what about nuts, you can eat those right?”  Sure I can.  And I do.  But if you’re asking me at 2:15 if I can eat a handful of walnuts, you’re going to see my frustrated-hungry-embarrassed face.  You’re asking the wrong question!  The right question would be more like, “hey, does your diet specify that you’ll eat a handful of walnuts at 2:15 in the afternoon, assuming that you lift at the same time every day?”

I eat five or six times a day, depending on the day, and according to my evolving knowledge and understanding of how my body reacts to food.  My goals look like this:

  • lose body fat while maintaining muscle
  • avoid being hungry to the greatest extent possible
  • avoid cravings to the best of my ability (note that I see cravings and hunger as separate issues!)
  • fuel my workouts
  • recover from those workouts

A TON of information has to come together in just the right way in order to determine that every morning at 9:30 I will eat exactly 11 almonds (not 8 or 20,  and not peanuts, not olive oil, not avocado…).  Because years of experimentation has taught me that to meet my goals listed above, I need a fat at that time, and my body responds well to almonds at this particular stage of my process—in two weeks it will be different!

So if you ask me if I can eat almonds, the answer is yes.  But I eat them when my meal plan says I will eat them.  I do not do this because I am neurotic, crazy, and anal (ok…maybe I am those things…), but because I have already calculated the timing, based on years of research and observation of my body, for a specific purpose.  The following points apply to my body, but may not all apply to yours:

  • If I eat those almonds at 5:00 p.m., I risk inhibiting my growth hormone production
  • If I eat them at 7:00 p.m., I slow down protein synthesis
  • If I eat too many, I slow down my loss of body fat
  • If I don’t eat them at all, I will burn through my food too fast and be hungrier sooner

My diet may appear extreme, and in some cases it can be.  I would never recommend this to someone not competing.  HOWEVER, it has taught me a healthy relationship with food, because I understand that every single thing I put in my body has a valuable purpose and I know what the purpose is.  I also understand that when I’m not doing this, I will enjoy a damn Christmas cookie.  I am not guilty when I eat ice cream or pizza, because there is a time to eat those things.  The time is not now, and I am comfortable with this.  I understand the science of my body and how it reacts to foods, so I am not afraid to eat when it is time to eat.  I do not subscribe to Paleo, Atkins, Veganism, or any other restrictive plan because I believe there is a time for everything.

If you are interested in learning about your body and how to balance your food, START HERE:

  • How many calories do I need in order to sustain my present body weight? (hint: search BMR)
  • What is a safe rate of weight loss in pounds per week?
    How many calories do I need to cut in order to lose one pound?
  • What is a deficit and what should mine be to lose my safe pounds per week?
  • How many calories do I need to eat each day to make that deficit?
  • How can I spread those daily calories out to best fuel my body?
  • What is a macronutrient and how can I balance mine?

People are shocked to learn that there are magic numbers and mathematical equations that can tell you how to eat!  Go learn it!  I’d rather teach you to fish than give you the fish…Although, I enjoy being employed—so if you’re stumped and you want help, contact me for consulting services.


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