- Staying lean as a bodybuilder takes way more effort than you might think, and any muscle with a low amount of fat in it is lean muscle.
- Bodybuilders, in a sense, are like sculptors or construction workers, although the thing they’re building is themselves.
- Eat, sculpt, inject, repeat — remember that most of them are on steroids.
Let’s not beat around the bust or try to mask anything. Bodybuilders eat so much and stay lean because they train harder than 99% of the population, and they follow stricter diets than 99.9% of the population. They also (well, most do) use a myriad of anabolic steroids, and the combination of those two factors allows bodybuilders to stay leaner year-round.
Here’s how bodybuilders can afford to eat so much yet stay lean!
What is Bodybuilding?
Bodybuilders have mass, but they aren’t necessarily Catholic.
Bodybuilding is a Greek sculptor’s game. It takes time. The sport is strenuous and taxing on the body and only has one goal in mind: attaining large muscle mass and — in most cases — looking more defined.
Whether a bodybuilder is bulking (gaining as much weight in muscle mass as possible) or cutting (getting as lean as possible while retaining muscle mass), they’re trying to grow and retain muscle in each phase.
Bodybuilding is distinct from other sports because it focuses on the sole goal of enhancing muscle size for physical appearance instead of for performance and strength (i.e., powerlifting or football). It’s achieved by inducing hypertrophy through progressive resistance exercise and is for anyone looking to recomposition their body and become leaner.
On a stage, a bodybuilder will be scored by how good they look, taking things like size, aesthetics, and balance into account.
Growing up watching a lot of crazy anime with unbelievable twists, I found that the big reveal in any episode was always easier to receive in Japanese, so I thought I’d break this one to you in Japanese.
Suteroido means, you guessed it, protein powder. Kidding. Steroids… it means steroids.
The shock, the horror.
“No, not my favorite bodybuilder. You’re wrong!”
“He can’t be.”
“CBum is a lifetime natty!”
Eat, sculpt, inject, repeat. I’m sorry to break it to you, kids, but the harsh reality is that most bodybuilders are on anabolic steroids. Most, not all. There are the odd natural — or “natty” — ones who choose the road less traveled, but they’re definitely the minority.
Anabolics come with their own risks, and taking them is considered illegal in most sports. Although, in a sport where the primary goal is to build muscle, it’d be hard to stop all of its participants from taking a compound that increases muscle tissue and lean muscle mass by increasing testosterone production exponentially.
It’s important to note that anabolic steroids increase the effects of all of the variables mentioned in this article: quick muscle gain and, thus, more calories burnt, quicker recovery time, and enhanced muscle protein synthesis.
Calories, Calories, Calories
Bodybuilders focus on overall calorie intake that’s specific to them by using a Total Daily Energy Expenditure calculator (TDEE Calculator). This takes into account how many calories they’re burning due to several variables and, therefore, how many they need to eat in order to either lose weight or gain weight.
Everything we eat contains calories and can be split into three macronutrients.
- Protein = 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates = 4 calories per gram
- Fats = 9 calories per gram
Bodybuilders prioritize eating more protein than any other macro. Now, we know that certain amounts of protein are more adequate at stimulating muscle growth, so there’s no one protein shake supplement that’ll make you gain muscle. Instead, it’s the amount of protein you consume, whether it be through food or supplement.
Bodybuilding diets usually require a meticulous amount of planning and calculations. While the normal human being might only need 50 grams of protein a day, athletes need way more.
Most bodybuilders follow something like this:
- 1g per pound of body weight in order to gain weight
- 1.2g per pound of body weight in to lose weight
Bodybuilders might also end up eating way more protein than this — just to be safe. Now, for lack of a better term, protein is a b*tch for the body to use as energy, as you can see in this study. Therefore, you can eat more calories, but by making most of that protein, you won’t gain fat…
Widerstand, Widerstand, Widerstand
Look at that! You just learned another new word. Widerstand is German for resistance.
“Calories in, calories out” is the name of the game. In order to stay lean, you need to burn more calories than you’re ingesting. So how do bodybuilders do this if they’re eating so much?
Well, besides tracking their macros and total calories, they resistance train like they’re trying to start a fire with just a stick in the ground. The training we do, otherwise known as our exercise activity thermogenesis, only accounts for 5-10% of our total daily calories burned. The calories that are burned from the food we eat account for around 10%.
It’s all specific to each individual. The bigger you are, the more total calories your body burns per day.
We’ve gone through two variables for building muscle mass, total calorie intake and protein intake. But another very important variable is: Resistance training with weights and progressive overload.
So no, high-intensity interval training isn’t the best solution for losing body fat and gaining muscle mass. Progressive resistance training with weights is the best way to induce hypertrophy.
Doing more volume and more load has been shown to increase muscle size and gains. Continuously forcing our bodies to adapt to a new stimulus is what allows the process to keep happening.
This is how bodybuilders train, gradually lifting heavier or doing more volume or a combination of both throughout their training programs. And this leads to the last and final point.
Bodybuilders Are Enormous
You might not realize this at first, but bodybuilders are some of the biggest human beings on the planet. Ronnie Coleman stood at 5 ft 11 in, weighing in at 287–330 pounds! And remember, most of that poundage was muscle.
Now, imagine for a moment, that muscle mass equaled the size of the motor in your car. We all know a big thirsty V8 uses more fuel than a 1.6-liter four-banger. Ronnie has a big stonking V8, while a normal human being has a diesel 1.0-liter three-cylinder engineered for reliability and economy.
Even just by idling (staying alive), Ronnie will use way more fuel (energy). This means Ronnie gets to eat 2 – 3 times more because, well, he needs it. Muscle is metabolically active, and he needs fuel to move and live.
How Do Bodybuilders Eat So Much and Stay Lean?
Most people would think we could have ended this article after the first paragraph. But despite most bodybuilders taking anabolic steroids, hard work, sacrifice, and discipline are still needed in order to look the way they do, like:
- Eating high protein because it doesn’t really give you a lot of energy
- Eating an appropriate amount of total calories and healthy foods so they don’t get fat
- Progressive intensity resistance training to ensure they build muscle
- Drugs and size are two big factors that allow bodybuilders to eat so much