What Foods Do Bodybuilders Eat?

What Foods Do Bodybuilders Eat? Analysing the Pros

What foods do bodybuilders eat? A simple question with a relatively simple answer: Bodybuilders will eat pretty much anything. But successful bodybuilders know what to eat and at what time. This article will take you through everything you need to know about bodybuilder nutrition.

While no two bodybuilders will follow the same diet, there are several staple foods that most bodybuilders eat—eggs, lean meats, fish, vegetables, oats, rice, fruit, and red meat. Diets can change drastically depending on what stage of their training program they are at. 

We will be looking at the foods that bodybuilders eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In addition, we will look at what they snack on, what they have pre and post-workout, and during competition prep. We will also be looking at what some of the most successful bodybuilders eat.

What Foods Do Bodybuilders Eat?

People have a terrible habit of generalising others, having expectations that your job, age, race, or cultural background determines what you like or dislike. Of course, many of those factors will influence likes and dislikes, but the larger the group, the less effective this way of thinking is.

Do British people like Fish & Chips? Many do, but if you asked 100 Brits, you could find 30-60 people who didn’t. The same thing applies to bodybuilders. There is no specific bodybuilding diet that everyone follows, just as there is no typical British diet or older person’s diet.

The entire premise of this article is that many bodybuilders eat the same foods, but I am writing this from a Western perspective; a Japanese bodybuilder might have a completely different diet. So what is the point of this article?

  • Firstly, while no two diets are the same, there are several principles that all bodybuilders follow.
  • Secondly, to give you examples of common foods and ideas for incorporating them into your diet.

Much of the bodybuilding information is confusing, and many people starting have no idea where to start. Hopefully, this article will help new (and perhaps some experienced) bodybuilders better understand what foods they can eat and why they may want to eat them.

Btw, if you want to see what foods Bodybuilders avoid, check out my other article (here)

What Does a Bodybuilder Eat in the Day?

The average weight of a competitive (natural) bodybuilder is around 90-100 kg. Non-natural bodybuilders such as Phil Heath weigh about 110-120 kg. Bigger bodybuilders such as Ronnie Coleman could weigh up to 150 kg. Why is this important? Because the heavier you are, the more calories you need to maintain your weight or gain.

There are three stages to a bodybuilding lifestyle:

  • Bulking (trying to gain weight)
  • Cutting (trying to lose weight)
  • Maintenance

Energy Balance & Bodybuilding

The amount a bodybuilder eats will vary depending on their current goals. Weight loss, weight gain, and weight maintenance are determined by energy balance. A measure of the calories consumed vs the calories expended.

  • Positive energy balance = consuming more calories than you burn (a calorie surplus)
  • Energy balance = consuming (roughly) the same calories as you burn
  • Negative energy balance = consuming fewer calories than you burn (a calorie deficit)

Bodybuilders will consume more calories than their maintenance target when bulking to create a positive energy balance. They will use this to create a calorie surplus for exercising harder and building more muscle mass.

Bodybuilders will consume far fewer calories than their maintenance target when cutting to create a negative energy balance. Doing so will create a calorie deficit, where stored body fat (surplus) will be used to meet the body’s demands.

Bodybuilders will eat just enough to avoid weight loss during the maintenance phase but not enough to gain weight. For example, they may consume more calories on days when they work out to prevent losing weight from the excess calories burned during a gym session.

Natural Bodybuilder Calorie Estimates

Most natural bodybuilders are quite a bit smaller than Pro bodybuilders, and they usually weigh around 100 kg when not competing and 90 kilograms when they compete.

So, we will use these weights to estimate calories for them. Our theoretical bodybuilder is 90 kg, 25 years old, and 180 cm tall. He is highly active (bodybuilding workouts alongside work). So, I used this calorie calculator for the equation.

  • Bulking = 4,620 (aiming to gain 10-12 kg within 12 weeks)
  • Maintenance = 3,620
  • Cutting = 2,810 (based on him weighing 100 kg and wanting to drop back down to 90 kg within 10-12 weeks)

Please remember, these are just examples. Use the calculator yourself, don’t just copy these calorie targets.

Pro Bodybuilder Calorie Estimates

Pro bodybuilders tend to be bigger, around 120-150 kg out of competition; they can also build more muscle during a bulking phase and burn more calories during a cut. So these estimates keep this in mind. Our theoretical Pro bodybuilder is 120 kg, 25 years old and 180 cm tall. He is highly active. I used the same calorie calculator for this equation.

  • Bulking = 5,190
  • Maintenance = 4,190
  • Cutting = 3,570 (based on him weighing 140 kg and wanting to drop 20 kg)

Please remember, these are just examples. Use the calculator yourself, don’t just copy these calorie targets.

Bodybuilding Macros

Provided you are getting enough protein, it doesn’t matter what your exact macro ratios are. Unfortunately, too much time is spent worrying about this. However, a study in 2014 by Eric Helms, Alan Aragon, and Peter Fitschen outlined the ideal macros for natural bodybuilding [1].

  • 2.3 – 3.1 grams of protein per kg of lean body mass (LBM)
  • 15 – 30% of calories from fat
  • The rest from carbohydrates

But what does this mean exactly? Well, the first thing you need to do is find your LBM. Next, find your weight (in kg) and then find your body fat percentage. There are several ways of doing this, but none is remarkably accurate. So instead, I recommend checking something similar to the following chart:

This is just an example, there are much better options online

Once you have identified your body fat percentage, you use that to find your LBM percentage. For example, if you are 30% body fat, your LBM is 70%. If you weigh 100 kg, then your LBM is 70 kg.

Not many bodybuilders will be 30%, though. More likely, they will be around 15-20%. Let’s say 20% body fat and 100 kg. This would mean that the bodybuilder has 80 kg LBM. We’ll say that the bodybuilder is looking to drop from 100 kg to 90 kg. Using the calorie counting app means a calorie total of 3,570.

The macros will look like this:

  • 80 kg x 3.1 = 248 grams of protein per day (992 calories divided by 4)
  • 30% of calories from fat = 119 grams of fat (1071 calories divided by 9)
  • Remaining calories from carbs = 377 grams of carbs (1,507 divided by 4)

There are nine calories per gram of fat and four calories per gram of protein and carbohydrates.

What Do Bodybuilders Eat for Breakfast?

There are many bodybuilding breakfast ideas out there, but there are certainly some foods that are much more common than others. Eggs are ubiquitous, usually scrambled but also in omelette form. Oats are very popular too, particularly overnight oats. But adding them to high-protein yoghurts such as Greek or Icelandic yoghurts is also common.

Fruit and vegetables (depending on the meal) are also prevalent, as are protein or meal replacement shakes. Peanut butter is a common ingredient.

Quick Bodybuilding Breakfast Example

A high-protein meal replacement shake, such as Instant Knockout Complete, Huel Black, or MRE by Redcon1, would be an example of a speedy way to prepare a bodybuilding breakfast. In addition, adding fruit and milk and making a smoothie could help raise the calories.

Alternatively, you could just have a protein shake and a banana. Or reheat some leftovers from the night before. These meals are based on the bodybuilder having very little time to make their breakfast.

Bodybuilding Bulking Breakfast Example

Bulking allows you to eat a higher calorie breakfast than usual, but that shouldn’t give you a licence to eat whatever you want. Still, you can have more fun with your meals than normal. Here are some ideas for a bulking breakfast:

  • Scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, and vegetables on toast
  • Protein powder pancakes with zero-calorie syrup
  • Full English breakfast (got to represent the homeland)
  • Cheese omelette with fried mushrooms on toast
  • Meal Replacement Shake with fruit and milk smoothie

Bodybuilding Cutting Breakfast Example

When cutting, you want to ensure that your portion sizes are smaller while still retaining a lot of protein. This is because high-protein diets help to prevent muscle loss during calorie deficits [2]. Luckily, there are many high-protein breakfast options out there:

  • Greek yoghurt, granola, fruit, and honey
  • Protein shake, banana, and a glass of orange juice
  • Meal replacement shake with a handful of raspberries
  • Two egg omelette on toast

FAQ: How Many Eggs Should I Eat for Breakfast (Bodybuilding)?

If you are cutting, then 2-3 eggs should be OK. If you are bulking, then 3-5 eggs may be better. However, there is no correct answer. You could have zero eggs and still be successful. The appeal of eggs is that they offer a decent amount of protein and healthy fats, are inexpensive, quick to cook, and highly versatile.

FAQ: What Do Bodybuilders Drink in the Morning?

Standard drinks for bodybuilders in the morning include coffee, tea, water, meal replacement shake, protein shake, or BCAAs (though these are pretty unnecessary).

What Do Bodybuilders Eat for Lunch?

What you have for lunch as a bodybuilder depends on what stage of your training you are at. Bodybuilders who are cutting are more likely to stick to traditional lunches, whereas bodybuilders who are bulking will treat lunches as another excuse for a main meal.

What Do Bodybuilders Eat for Lunch When Bulking?

Most bodybuilders batch cook their meals in advance, and when bulking, there will be no differentiation between what meal constitutes lunch and which meal constitutes dinner. So you will get two equal-sized meals; the only difference is when they are served.

  • Bolognese with pasta
  • Chicken, rice, broccoli (for the romantics out there)
  • Tuna with pasta and vegetables
  • Roast beef sandwich with a protein shake

What Do Bodybuilders Eat for Lunch When Cutting?

While I promise that it’s not all rice, chicken breast and veggies, that is undoubtedly the most common lunch I’ve seen bodybuilders eat during a cut. Again, the idea is to keep protein high while reducing the number of carbohydrates and fats. As a result, smaller lunches (than during a bulk) are more common.

  • Roast chicken sandwich with a protein shake
  • Sushi (surprisingly common with PTs/bodybuilders in Central London)
  • Meal replacement shake (high in protein, low in calories)
  • A smaller portion of the meals above (bolognese with pasta, for example)

What Do Bodybuilders Eat for Dinner?

Dinner is the largest and most important meal for most people; it is also the meal where most protein is usually consumed. You don’t need to overthink this; consider what you typically eat for dinner. Is it healthy? Is it high in protein? Are there too many calories? Or not enough?

What Meal Should I Eat for Dinner When Bulking?

Lots of protein, lots of carbohydrates, some healthy fats, and big portion sizes. Eating large portions of high protein and nutrient-dense foods is better than eating lots of junk food. Though, having some cheat meals is not a bad idea.

  • Steak, rice, vegetables
  • Beef chilli with rice
  • Chicken tikka masala
  • Beef massaman curry

What Meal Should I Eat for Dinner When Cutting?

Your best option would be to eat the same foods as you would during a bulk, but in smaller portions and with some intelligent substitutions. For example, swapping regular cheese for low fat, using leaner meats, and adding more vegetables and less meat/grains to your meals can also help. To illustrate this, I’ll use lower-cal versions of the same meals I used for the bulk.

  • Chicken, rice, vegetables
  • Turkey chilli with rice
  • Chicken tikka masala (less rice)
  • Chicken massaman curry

What Do Bodybuilders Eat for Snacks?

By now, you can probably guess what type of snacks bodybuilders prefer. High in protein, nutritionally dense, and delicious. The number of calories and the carb and fat ratios will change depending on whether the bodybuilder is in the maintenance phase, bulking, or cutting.

What Snacks Can I Eat When Bulking?

As with all other meal choices on a bulking diet, there is a temptation to use this as an excuse to eat junk food. Which is no bad thing when done in moderation. But it is also an excellent opportunity to increase your protein and nutrient intake. Here are some non-pizza suggestions:

  • Protein bars
  • Protein shakes
  • Meal replacement shakes
  • Hard-boiled eggs

What Snacks Can I Eat When Cutting?

As calories are scarce, particularly towards the business end of a cut, finding ways to increase the number of fruit and vegetables in your diet is a smart move. Fruit and vegetables are low in calories, and many are high in fibre, making them great for staying sated during a diet.

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • High protein yoghurts (Greek, Icelandic)
  • Protein bars

Bodybuilding Snacks for Travelling

Any bodybuilder who thinks that hard-boiled eggs and tuna sandwiches are appropriate snacks for public transport is a certifiable sociopath. The trick with snacks for travelling is to ensure that they don’t smell, can be stored and transported easily, and require no real preparation.

  • Protein bar
  • Fruit
  • Some veggies (carrot sticks, celery, cucumber batons)
  • Meal replacement shakes
  • Dried fruits
  • Nuts
  • Sandwiches, rolls (no tuna!)
  • Jerky/Biltong

High-Calorie Bodybuilding Snacks

There are many high-calorie bodybuilding snacks, and this list could have gone on indefinitely. So, I’ve stuck to healthy snacks that are also high in calories:

  • Dates
  • Dried fruit
  • Protein bars
  • Meal replacement shakes
  • Peanut butter
  • Protein flapjacks
  • Granola
  • Beef jerky/Biltong
  • Fruit juice

FAQ: What is a Good Snack for Bodybuilding?

Protein shakes, bars, flapjacks etc., are all great options. As are meal replacement shakes, they contain 20-40 grams of protein and are usually around 400-500 calories. Dairy can be a good shout, particularly if you are bulking. Fruit and vegetables are also great options.

FAQ: What Should I Eat for Evening Snacks to Build Muscle?

Ideally, you want foods that will not be too hard to digest and foods that can help you to fall asleep. Better sleep can improve recovery and help to boost muscle. Any foods that contain the amino acid l-tryptophan are good options.

Dairy products, chicken and turkey, oats, nuts and seeds, whey or casein protein shakes. For example, a chicken sandwich with a glass of milk might be the perfect evening snack for building muscle.

What Do Bodybuilders Drink?

As with anything, what a bodybuilder will drink depends on their goals. If on a cut, bodybuilders will be looking to avoid as many liquid calories as possible. Diet drinks, water, green tea, and coffee are great options. Protein shakes, and meal replacement shakes are the exception. This is because they can be used instead of meals or snacks.

A bodybuilder on a bulk is maybe a little less strict in diet drinks than regular. But it is still seen as a waste of calories to drink full-sugar beverages instead of a diet drink. Alcohol is often restricted, particularly during a cut. But many successful bodybuilders will drink a beer or two during the week. Arnold Schwarzenegger is an excellent example of that.

What Do Bodybuilders Drink During a Workout?

What a bodybuilder drinks during a workout depends on whether a bodybuilder is sponsored or not. If a bodybuilder is making money to promote BCAAs, they may drink them during a workout, but most should be happy with water.

Longer workouts may benefit from high-carb drinks or even a half-protein/half-carb drink, as this can restore glycogen and help to prolong training intensity. Adding electrolytes to the drink can help too.

What Do Bodybuilders Drink Throughout The Day?

  • Diet drinks (Coke zero etc.)
  • Protein shakes
  • Meal replacement shakes
  • Water
  • Coffee
  • Tea

What Do Bodybuilders Eat Before a Workout?

What a bodybuilder will eat before a workout ultimately depends on what time they have their training. Many bodybuilders train first thing in the morning, which means that their pre-workout meal will have to be small. In contrast, a bodybuilder who has the luxury of training mid-afternoon can afford to eat a much more substantial meal. Bulking, maintenance and cutting also have a massive impact on what is eaten before a workout.

What Do Bodybuilders Eat Before a Morning Workout?

This depends on what time in the morning the workout is. If it is the first thing, many bodybuilders may stick to a protein shake and a piece of fruit, or even just a BCAA supplement. I’m not a massive fan of BCAAs, but they can provide protein to prevent muscle breakdown while being very “light”, unlike a protein shake that can sometimes sit heavily during an early workout.

If the workout is at a more reasonable time, such as 8 am or 9 am. Then bodybuilders can get away with a more substantial breakfast. This could include:

  • Meal replacement shake
  • Protein shake with a piece of fruit
  • Eggs with vegetables and toast
  • Greek yoghurt with granola and fruit

What Do Bodybuilders Eat Before a Workout (Bulking)?

If the workout is first thing in the morning, the answer above will be correct. However, if the activity occurs at any other time of the day, the pre-workout meal can be more substantial as you will have longer to digest it.

The common consensus is that bodybuilders will eat a specific pre-workout meal, but this isn’t always necessary. You can use your breakfast or lunch as a pre-workout meal if you train between 9 am and 5 pm. If you train after work, then a small pre-workout meal is not a bad idea, but I would ask how practical it is to eat a specific pre-workout meal at work or on the way to the gym? Here are some options for a pre-workout meal while bulking:

  • Normal meal
  • Protein shake with fruit
  • Protein bar

What Do bodybuilders Eat Before a Workout (Cutting)?

The usual trick is to schedule your workout within a couple of hours of the main meal. After that, you don’t need to add unnecessary calories to your overall total. If that isn’t possible, high-protein snacks are a good option: protein bars, protein shakes, beef jerky, and biltong.

What Do Bodybuilders Eat After a Workout?

One of the biggest myths in bodybuilding is that eating protein immediately after a workout is crucial. This is not true, provided you have enough protein throughout the day. The only time it may be applicable is if you performed a workout without eating beforehand (morning workout).

A 2013 study by Alan Aragon and Brad Schoenfeld looked into nutrient timing [3]. The study found no evidence that protein or carbohydrate timing was important when training unless you were in a fasted state. Does this mean that you shouldn’t bother with a post-workout meal? Not necessarily; it just means that it isn’t a big deal if you can’t eat for a couple of hours after your workout.

This doesn’t make much difference for bodybuilders who are bulking. But it can make a huge difference during a cut because you don’t have to have a post-workout meal and can save yourself some calories. Provided you have one of your main meals at some point afterwards.

What Do Bodybuilders Eat After a Workout?

After finishing a workout, many bodybuilders like to have a high-carbohydrate snack, usually one that is also high in protein. A bowl of cereal and a protein shake is a pretty good post-workout meal as it can replenish glycogen.

Jim Stoppani is a big fan of eating a bowl of cereal post-workout, and he’s one of the most well-known and successful bodybuilding coaches out there. Fruit is another good shout; not only is it filled with nutrients, but it is high-carb and perfect for glycogen replenishment.

A meal replacement shake that is low in fat would also be a good option as it is high in carbs and high in protein. Fat isn’t as bad as people think when it comes to post-workout nutrition, but it isn’t as beneficial as protein and carbs.

What Do Bodybuilders Eat After a Workout (Bulking)?

If you are bulking, then fitting calories in can be vital. Many bodybuilders will eat five meals instead of 3, with a post-workout meal being a great way to increase your calorie and protein intake.

  • Bowl of cereal
  • Protein shake and some fruit
  • Regular sized meal
  • Meal replacement shake

What Do Bodybuilders Eat After a Workout (Cutting)?

Unless you are training first thing in the morning, there isn’t any particular need to have a post-workout meal. Just ensure that you have one of your main meals within a couple of hours of finishing the workout. For example, a protein shake and some fruit or a bowl of cereal is a perfect post-workout meal for people with low-calorie targets.

What Foods Do Bodybuilders Eat Before a Competition?

Not all bodybuilders train for competitions. Most bodybuilders train for themselves and never step foot on stage. But for the minority who do, here is a quick guide to how bodybuilders eat before, during, and after a competition.

What Foods Do Bodybuilders eat the Night Before a Competition?

The traditional trick that bodybuilders do is eat junk food the night before. A pizza and a bottle of beer are pretty typical. While many bodybuilders experiment with sodium cycling, there isn’t much evidence for this working. Still, eating a high sodium meal the night before is traditional and may make a difference to your physique the next day.

Do Bodybuilders Starve Themselves Before a Competition?

Although this may sound like a good idea, it can leave your muscles looking flat. Most bodybuilders eat a lot of food before a competition. Nothing you eat on the day of the competition will increase your body fat levels. Just avoid high-fibre foods as these can cause bloating. Small meals eaten often appear to be the most popular technique.

Why Do Bodybuilders Eat Carbs Before a Competition?

Carb loading the week before a competition is a well-established technique. Layne Norton recommends front-loading your carbs. So, if your competition is on a Saturday, you would eat higher than usual carbs on Monday and then lower them each day until Friday, when they get a slight increase.

A 2019 study found that carb-loading helped bodybuilders to perform better in competition [4]:

“Carbohydrate loading was associated with an increase in muscle thickness, circumferences and photo silhouette scores in bodybuilders.” (de Moraes et al., 2019)

The typical schedule for carb-loading ten days before a competition looks like this:

  • Thursday, Day 1: Normal carbohydrate intake
  • Friday, Day 2: Low carb
  • Saturday, Day 3: Low carb
  • Sunday, Day 4: Normal carbohydrate intake
  • Monday, Day 5: Very high carb (e.g. 350 grams)
  • Tuesday, Day 6: High carb (300 grams)
  • Wednesday, Day 7: High carb (250 grams)
  • Thursday, Day 8: High carb (200 grams)
  • Friday, Day 9: High carb (250 grams)
  • Saturdaym Day 10: Competition Day

What Do Bodybuilders Drink Before a Competition?

Some bodybuilders will cut water around 18 hours before a competition, drinking enough to swallow their food. This is a complex technique to get right and should be done in the presence of an experienced bodybuilding coach. If you are a first-timer and have never cut water before, then your best bet is to drink minimally on the day of the competition, but not to avoid drinking water altogether.

What to Eat on the Day of a Bodybuilding Competition?

After analysing a few bodybuilder diets, it seems like steak is very popular as a meal for breakfast, then there are a lot of chocolate bars, rice cakes, and fruit. Nuts and peanut butter are also prevalent snacks.

What to Eat After a Bodybuilding Competition?

The most common thing for bodybuilders to do post-competition is to have a big blowout and grab some junk food. After an incredibly intense couple of weeks, this isn’t a bad idea and can help bodybuilders feel human again.

Many bodybuilders believe in reverse-dieting, and while I am not entirely convinced that it works as well as some people say, I do like the idea. But immediately after a competition? Get some junk food and celebrate your hard work.

What Foods Do Bodybuilders Eat? Top 10 Bodybuilding Foods

Many foods can make this list, but here are ten of the most popular foods with bodybuilders. Often it is for health reasons, because they have a high protein to calorie ratio, or because they are cheap to buy. Of course, if money is no option, you could add in many other foods, but most bodybuilders have a tight budget considering how much they have to eat.

Food #1 Eggs

Eggs are an excellent food for bodybuilders, as they can help lower bad cholesterol while raising good cholesterol. This can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease [5]which is good because bodybuilders are at a much higher risk of dying from heart disease. Check out my article on the subject here. Eggs are also high in protein and high in healthy fats. In addition, they are versatile and inexpensive.

Food #2 Lean Meat

Turkey, chicken, and specific cuts of pork, lamb, and beef are good examples of lean meats. Though vegan dieting now has many plant-based options, you will struggle to find a better source of protein than lean meats. They are also lower-priced per gram of protein, and like eggs, they can be highly versatile.

Food #3 Tuna

A can of tuna provides you with a lot of protein and many healthy fats, and you can purchase it for pennies. Tuna is a classic bodybuilding food for these exact reasons. Tuna is an excellent source of omega-three fatty acids [6] and is highly satiating. Making it great for dieting and for bulking.

Food #4 Cruciferous Vegetables

Broccoli is popular with bodybuilders because it can be surprisingly high in protein for a vegetable. Still, as a cruciferous vegetable, it can also help inhibit the production of an enzyme called aromatase [7]. This enzyme has the (unpopular) job of converting testosterone into estrogen in the body. So bodybuilders try to limit this as much as possible.

One of the best natural ways to inhibit aromatase is to eat cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and radishes. The fact that these vegetables also have many other health benefits and are low in calories is just a bonus.

Many natural testosterone boosters also inhibit aromatase. Check out the top 10 testosterone boosters (UK) here.

Food #5 Greek Yoghurt

Dairy is beneficial for bodybuilders, and I could honestly have put any form of dairy on this list. But Greek yoghurt will always have a special place in my heart. Of course, I’m talking real Greek yoghurt, not the fake Greek-style yoghurt that supermarkets try and get away with. Authentic Greek yoghurt is very high in protein and healthy fats and low in carbs. You can get the 0% fat version if you are cutting.

Food #6 Mushrooms

As with cruciferous vegetables, mushrooms are here partly for their ability to protect testosterone production, partly for their protein content, and partly for their versatility. They are inexpensive, can go well with many meals, have decent protein (for vegetables), and taste amazing. In addition, they can be sauteed in record time if you are in a hurry, or you can grill them if keeping calories low is essential.

Food #7 Rice

We’ve got chicken and broccoli, and we’ve got canned tuna. How could I write a bodybuilding food list without rice? Rice is ridiculously cheap, but it is also ideal for bulk cooking. Rice is also quite good as a source of micronutrients. The debate around white, brown, or wild rice doesn’t interest me. Using a variety of rice may be beneficial, but ultimately it isn’t going to make too much difference.

Food #8 Red Meat

While lean meats are perfect for building muscle and weight loss, red meats (for this article, I’m talking about non-lean meats rather than processed meats) are excellent for increasing testosterone (thanks to the cholesterol) and building muscle. You may want to cut back during weight loss, but you will find it a lot easier when bulking if you have red meat a few times per week.

Food #9 Oats

Like rice, oats are an excellent carbohydrate source that gets a lot of love in the bodybuilding community. Overnight oats, oatmeal/porridge, or just mixing oats with milk and eating them like cereal. These are a great way to boost your carb intake, but oats are also a great source of fibre, protein, and healthy fats. Nice and cheap too!

Food #10 Beans & Legumes

The final food on this list is beans and legumes. I grouped them because I like to live life dangerously. These are great as a source of fibre, protein, and carbs. They are very cheap, can be added to many recipes, and can be stored in cans for a very long time. Great for bulking and cutting.

Bodybuilding Diet for Beginners

If you are a beginner, it is best to keep things as simple as possible. That way, you won’t become overwhelmed or paralysed by indecision. It can take years of bodybuilding before you are ready to win competitions, so you have time on your hands.

If you are in your 30s, check out my guide to bodybuilding in your 30s. If you are in your 40s, then check out this article.

The first thing you need to do is decide whether you need to gain weight or lose weight. If you think you’re skinny and underfed then a cut isn’t going to help you. If you are overweight but with quite a bit of muscle, then bulking isn’t necessary. 

However, many new bodybuilders won’t need to bulk or cut. As much as I hate to use the term, cleaning up your diet and adding more protein could be the best move for you, at least for the initial 12 weeks.

Five Simple Diet Rules for Beginner Bodybuilders

Here are five simple rules for beginners when it comes to bodybuilding.

Rule #1 Eat Three Meals per Day

I know that many Pro bodybuilders often consume five meals or more per day, but as a beginner, this is a step too far. Just concentrate on eating three meals per day, with two snacks (see rule three). You can then focus on each meal in turn, and it won’t become overwhelming.

Rule #2 Increase Your Protein Intake

Most people do not get enough protein in their diet, and as a bodybuilder, you will require more protein than most. Adding more protein to your meals will help you to build muscle, preserve muscle while dieting, and recover from your training sessions.

Rule #3 Eat Two High-Protein Snacks

If you stick to three high-protein meals, and two high-protein snacks you should be getting more than enough calories to build muscle and burn excess body fat. The ability to build muscle and burn fat at the same time is something that only beginners will experience. Make the most of it while you can.

Rule #4 Eat Fruit and/or Vegetables with Every Meal

This isn’t so much a bodybuilding rule as it is a rule for everyone. Most of us get nowhere near our recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables. By creating a rule where each meal has to have at least one fruit or a vegetable portion, you can get yourself a step closer to your goal.

Rule #5 Follow the 80/20 Rule on Weekends

The 80/20 rule is a little overused in my opinion. The idea is that if 80% of the foods you eat are healthy and 20% are unhealthy you should stay on track to reach your goals. What I would say is that for most of us, Monday to Friday is quite easy for avoiding junk food. A 90/10 rule would be just as effective. But weekends are a different matter. If you can keep your ratio of good to bad foods at 80/20 on Saturday and Sunday, you are going to do much better than someone whose diet falls apart at the weekends.

Famous Bodybuilder Diets

While it is never advisable to copy the diet of a Pro bodybuilder exactly, it can be beneficial to have a rough idea of how they ate, what diets they followed, and any peculiarities they may have had. Therefore, I have selected some of the most successful and notable bodybuilders: Schwarzenegger, Coleman, Haney, Yates, and Heath.

What Foods Did Arnold Schwarzenegger Eat?

 Arnold’s diet has changed multiple times throughout the years, but when he was at his physical peak in the 1970s, he would eat six meals per day. In his excellent YouTube video, Aseel Soueid estimated that Arnold’s calorie intake for each day was 3,263 calories. 

Arnold claimed that you should eat one gram of protein for every lb you weigh. According to Men’s Health, this is 216 grams of protein per day.

What Did Arnold Schwarzenegger Eat During the Day?

 Most of Schwarzenegger’s foods appeared to be pretty plain during the day. His breakfast (see below) is as dull as you can imagine, while lunch would be a sandwich, and dinner was the reasonably simple meat, veg, and potato. 

Arnold had his wild side when it came to food, with many stories of him and his training partners ordering crazy amounts of food at restaurants after training. But it is sometimes difficult to work out what was typical and what was done for the cameras or impress his friends. For example, did Arnold eat three steaks every day? Almost certainly not. 

How Many Meals Did Arnold Schwarzenegger Eat?

 Arnold ate six meals per day, though some of these meals would qualify as snacks to most people. For example, he would have breakfast, a mid-morning snack, and then lunch. This would count as his pre-workout. He would then travel to the gym, have his workout, and then it’s on to meal number four – his post-workout protein shake. 

Meal five, his afternoon snack, consisted of nuts and fruit (again), and then he would have his evening meal, which would consist of meat, potatoes, and vegetables or salad.

What Did Arnold Schwarzenegger Eat for Breakfast?

 There are many articles online that answer this question. They all say that Arnold ate three eggs, oatmeal, and a glass of orange juice. Remember, though, Arnold ate six meals per day, so you could technically count meal two as a second breakfast. Anyone who has watched Lord of the Rings just sat up straight in their chairs. According to Aseel Soueid, the second meal of Arnold’s day was nuts and fruit.

What Foods Did Ronnie Coleman Eat?

 It’s interesting how bodybuilding has changed over time. Of course, much of this is to do with better nutritional knowledge and advanced training techniques. But a large part of it is also due to the increased pharmaceutical help available to modern Pros. 

Ronnie Coleman ate many more calories when he was competing. Gymbeam claims that his daily calorie intake was over 5,500 per day, with 546 grams of protein. However, some people online claim that it was sometimes as high as 600 grams per day. Anyone who has ever tried to hit 200 grams of protein will have nothing but respect for this insane figure.

What Did Ronnie Coleman Eat During the Day?

 Like Arnold, Ronnie ate six meals per day, but Ronnie was consuming almost double the calories in these meals. Another similarity with Schwarzenegger was Ronnie’s rather plain food choices. Lots of “clean” meals and not a lot of fun. Potatoes, chicken, rice, and beans. But there were also some enjoyable foods, such as fries. 

What struck me was the complete lack of fruit and vegetables in his diet. Other than the beans served alongside the rice, there aren’t any. In this YouTube video, you can watch Ronnie eating these foods and get a complete rundown of his daily calories.

How Many Meals Did Ronnie Coleman Eat?

 Six meals, but two of those meals were just protein shakes. He’d have a large breakfast at 10:30 am, a pre-workout protein shake at 12:30 pm, followed by his workout and then a post-workout shake. A meal at 4 pm, dinner at 7 pm, then a final meal at 10 pm. He might also have additional protein shakes much later at night. I assume that this odd schedule was due to his police career, or perhaps he was just a night owl?

What Did Ronnie Coleman Eat for Breakfast?

 From what I can see, Ronnie ate “grits” for breakfast. For us non-Americans, this looks like a savoury porridge made from cornmeal rather than oats. Perhaps it’s nice, but it seems like the blandest food on earth in all the images I’ve seen. He also had an egg-white omelette and a cup of coffee. He may also have covered the omelette in hot sauce or BBQ sauce. Aseel Soueid said this while recreating the breakfast for his YouTube video

What Foods Did Lee Haney Eat?

Researching Arnold and Ronnie was very easy. They are two of the most famous bodybuilders in history and have done a lot of interviews between them. Despite being the most successful bodybuilder of all time, Lee Haney has fewer articles and interviews than either of them, and most of his diet information all comes from the same source. I couldn’t find, for example, what his daily calorie target was or his macro ratios.

What Did Lee Haney Eat During the Day?

Unlike Ronnie Coleman, Lee Haney placed a lot of emphasis on fruit and vegetables. Having fruit with his breakfast, lentils with lunch, sweet potatoes, spinach, salad, and various other vegetables. Lots of chicken breast and a large number of eggs. There doesn’t appear to be much red meat or fish in his diet from looking online. But the problem is that there are about 50 articles all using the same diet plan example!

How Many Meals Did Lee Haney Eat?

Lee Haney would eat six meals per day while bodybuilding, sometimes seven. None of the meals seems to be that big compared to Ronnie Coleman’s, but they are more evenly sized. Meal #4 is the most interesting. It appears to be carbohydrates and nothing else: Rice, sweet potato, and spinach. I got this from this article by totalshape.com.

What Did Lee Haney Eat for Breakfast?

According to this article, Lee Haney ate almonds, nuts, fruits, oatmeal, and eggs for breakfast. Unfortunately, I can’t find any other articles that discuss alternative breakfast options. 

What Foods Did Dorian Yates Eat?

Dorian Yates now follows a mostly plant-based diet, and it appears to be doing him wonders. But back when he was competing, he went through a lot of meat and a lot of eggs! He was a big believer in high protein, but he also believed that carbs were crucial for training. 

What Did Dorian Yates Eat During the Day?

 Yates appears to have fueled himself primarily on oats, chicken, eggs, and vegetables. With protein shakes thrown in for good measure. 

How Many Meals Did Dorian Yates Eat?

Dorian Yates ate six or seven meals per day. First, he would have breakfast, then a pre-workout shake, a post-workout shake, lunch, another shake, and dinner and an evening meal.

What Did Dorian Yates Eat for Breakfast?

According to this article by Aaron Johal, Dorian Yates would eat oatmeal, egg whites, whole eggs, bananas, and jam on toast, with a cup of tea. Muscle & Fitness says that he also had a protein shake.

What Foods Did Phil Heath Eat?

 Phil Heath is one of the most successful bodybuilders and an excellent choice for this list. Not only is he highly decorated, but his diet is the most modern, as he is still competing. 

What Did Phil Heath Eat During the Day?

 Tilapia, yams, steak and rice, egg whites, nuts, and chicken with rice. Phil Heath seems like a nice guy, but his diet is ridiculously dull! Check out his YouTube video where he goes through his entire day’s food. It will make you feel a mix of awe and sadness. 

How Many Meals Did Phil Heath Eat?

 According to this YouTube video, Phil Heath ate eight meals in one day, but I’m not sure how representative of an average day in his life it is. He says that he can eat anywhere between 5,000 and 9,000 calories daily. 

What Did Phil Heath Eat for Breakfast?

Phil’s breakfast appears to be: Two cups of egg whites and one cup of rolled oats or Ezekial cereal. However, in another video, he is eating more calories. He has steak, eggs, and oatmeal. 

What Can We Learn from Pro Bodybuilding Diets?

Firstly, the diets of the top Pro bodybuilders are incredibly bland and unappetising. If you are trying to count calories and macros, it is easier to eat bland foods and avoid variety. So it appears that one sacrifice of success is an exciting diet. 

It’s also interesting how many ex-bodybuilders now follow plant-based diets. For example, both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dorian Yates eat almost vegan diets. I also, personally, find it interesting how softly spoken and thoughtful each bodybuilder is when they talk about their diet. 

Most of the stereotypical “bro” foods are there, which is no surprise as these legends of bodybuilding are emulated by hundreds of thousands of amateurs. 

What Foods Do Bodybuilders Eat? Final Thoughts

 What foods do bodybuilders eat? Bro foods. High protein foods, potatoes, rice, oats, lots of fish, and not as many fruit and vegetables as you thought. Modern bodybuilding is an odd mixture of incredibly technical food choices (particularly before a competition) and weird traditions and stereotypes that probably need examining! For example, do tilapia really “thin the skin”, as Phil Heath states? Who knows, but it has led to thousands of bodybuilders buying the grossest fish imaginable. Still, it’s been fascinating to delve into this world.

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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