What foods do bodybuilders avoid?

What Foods do Bodybuilders Avoid?

There are hundreds of resources online telling would-be bodybuilders what foods to eat. There are also a lot of articles talking about what foods to avoid. But how accurate are they? What foods do bodybuilders avoid?

There are no foods that all bodybuilders avoid, all of the time. Some foods and drinks such as junk food and alcohol that bodybuilders may avoid during a cut. But there are no hard and fast rules. Bodybuilders come from all over the world, and their cultures and personal preferences play a larger role in what foods they eat or avoid than their career choices.

In this article, I will discuss what foods bodybuilders may avoid at certain times during their training, and I will give you a better idea of what nutritional choices you need to make if you want to become a successful bodybuilder.

What Foods do Bodybuilders Avoid?

There are a lot of articles out there that talk about the foods that bodybuilders avoid, and sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but they are talking rubbish. One article says that bodybuilders avoid junk food. Do they? Because I’m pretty sure that bodybuilders invented the cheat meal!

Other articles talk about bodybuilders avoiding white bread, sugar, or even fruit! None of this is true. Sure, there may be a couple of bodybuilders out there who avoid bread, but the majority will eat bread without a second thought.

During a bulk, many bodybuilders will eat quite badly. I’m not saying that this is a good idea, and it is becoming less common, but it is very difficult to create a calorie surplus as a bodybuilder if you are eating salad.

The only time when bodybuilders can get quite restrictive with the foods that they eat is during a cut. This is where they are trying to create a large enough calorie deficit to drop their body fat percentage down to single figures.

But not all bodybuilders eat the same foods or follow the same diets. Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay and other prominent Muslim bodybuilders will obviously follow a different diet than many Western bodybuilders, as they can’t eat pork or drink alcohol. Bodybuilders with food allergies will also avoid common foods, and then there are bodybuilders who attempt to follow diets such as Keto or Paleo.

Bottom Line: There are no specific foods that all bodybuilders avoid. Just foods that some bodybuilders avoid for different reasons. But for every bodybuilder who avoids bread, alcohol, or dairy, there will be three or four others who consume them often. 

What Foods to Avoid While Bulking?

The first thing to determine is what form of bulking you will be following, there are clean bulks, dirty bulks, and a hybrid approach. As you can probably guess, the hybrid approach makes the most sense.

Diry Bulks

You purposefully choose calorie-dense foods and don’t worry about the nutrition in a bid to pack on as much weight as possible. The only rule is to keep protein high. These bulks are favoured by people who have been following super-restrictive diets or people who need to gain a lot of weight fast.

  • Pros: Fun, great for socialising with friends and family, you can gain weight fast, not much planning required
  • Cons: Not particularly healthy, comes with a lot of body fat accumulation, which makes your cut more difficult. May lead to bad eating habits in the future

Clean Bulks

With a clean bulk, you are trying to create a calorie surplus using only foods that you deem to be clean. This often involves a lot of chicken, rice, vegetables etc. When people discuss boring bodybuilder meals, it is usually a clean bulk that they are thinking of.

I have a lot of issues with this approach. It is too rigid and it relies on arbitrary measurements of food cleanness. Is bread clean? Is a chicken sandwich clean? Who makes the rules? Because there is no scientific consensus.

  • Pros: Simple to follow (once you have created your own rules), causes minimal body fat increases, often highly nutritious
  • Cons: Boring, could cause orthorexia, following arbitrary rules is kind of silly, high chance of failure. It can be difficult to add on size quickly

Hybrid Bulks

This is a combination of a clean and a dirty bulk that I think provides the benefits of both. You consume the bulk of your calories from sensible food choices, but you still allow yourself a few treats throughout. A sort of If It Fits Your Macros approach.

  • Pros: Combines the effectiveness of a clean bulk with the fun and social side of a dirty bulk, while not affecting your body fat too much
  • Cons: Can be hard to define the limit of what to eat and what not to eat.

If you are following a dirty bulk, then avoiding foods isn’t really a big deal. The point is to eat as many calories as possible. That being said, there are still some foods that you should be careful around whatever your bulking method:

  • Alcohol – No benefits to building muscle, and can contain a lot of empty calories. Enjoying a couple of beers during a bulk is no bad thing, but don’t use bulking as an excuse to drink 15 pints each night!
  • Liquid Calories – Same with alcohol, high-sugar drinks are a rubbish way to fuel a bulk as they offer no real advantages. They won’t help you to pack on muscle but will contribute to fat accumulation. Stick to diet coke etc, and get your calories from high-protein foods instead.
  • High-Fat Junk Food – Obviously, a dirty bulk is going to contain a lot of junk food, that’s kind of the point. But even so, be careful with high-fat foods. Fat is very calorie-dense, meaning that a little fat goes a long way. There are more calories in 3 tablespoons of olive oil than there would be in a pack of crisps/chips.

What Foods Hurt Muscle Growth?

No foods hurt muscle growth when eaten normally. Sure, you want to limit alcohol, keep soy to sensible levels, and keep your junk food to a minimum. But this is to keep inflammation low and protect your testosterone production. Even then, the evidence that soy affects testosterone is pretty weak.

Soy is rich in phytoestrogens, which can mimic estrogen in the body and may disrupt the ratio of testosterone to estrogen [1]. But you would have to eat a LOT of soy, and even then if your testosterone levels were functioning normally you wouldn’t see any real difference.

Alcohol can certainly affect muscle growth, but only if you drink often, or binge drink. Most studies find that moderate drinking has no effect on muscle growth or testosterone. In fact, it may even cause a slight (temporary) rise in testosterone.

Junk food can increase inflammation and may harm muscle repair, but it is also a great way to fuel your workouts. Particularly if you struggle to put on weight. The biggest issue is that it could cause you to gain too much body fat. Which can lower testosterone and may harm muscle growth in the long term.

Can You Eat What You Want and Still Build Muscle?

Technically, you can build muscle while eating whatever you like. Provided you are consuming enough calories and enough protein. If you ate a diet that had zero protein in it then you would struggle to build muscle. Also, if your diet was too low on calories you would not be able to build muscle.

But the question is most likely being asked by people who want to follow a dirty bulk, and to them, the answer is yes. But you are going to make things difficult for yourself with that attitude. The dirty bulk works great when combined with performance-enhancing pharmaceuticals, or if you don’t mind accumulating a lot of body fat.

But for most natural bodybuilders, this approach is only going to make the cut much more difficult. The more fat you gain, the longer the cut is going to last. And/or the more intense it is going to have to be.

You should prioritise a high-protein diet, with lots of carbohydrates, and some healthy fats. Eat a varied diet, as this will help to reduce the risk of nutritional deficiencies that can affect your progress. Enjoy some “junk” foods too, and try to be flexible in your choices. Don’t use bulking as an excuse to binge.

What Foods Do Bodybuilders Avoid? Final Thoughts

The biggest takeaway here is that bodybuilders are not a monolith. No two bodybuilders will follow the exact same diet, and the foods and drinks that one bodybuilder avoids may be completely different to his training partner.

Those asking the question are usually either trying to find a trick that can help them succeed or are scared that they are eating a certain food that is ruining their chances of success. Well, I have good news and bad.

The good news is that a successful bodybuilder can fit in almost any food or drink and still win competitions, provided they are disciplined and sensible. The bad news is that if you are not succeeding, then removing wheat (or whatever) from your diet is not going to provide a solution.

Hit your macronutrient targets, focus on the micronutrients too, and be consistent and you should see excellent results. Cutting out bread is not going to suddenly transform you into peak Ronnie Coleman!

About the Author Matt Smith

Matt Smith is the owner of Beer N Biceps. He has a degree in Sports Science, 10 years of experience working in the fitness industry, and has written for hundreds of fitness websites. He is a lover of good quality beer and believes that drinking in moderation can form part of a healthy lifestyle.

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