I see a LOT of posts every day about the minutiae of dieting; macros, calorie tracking, food journaling, nutrient timing, feeding the anabolic window, fasting, carb cycling … the list is possibly endless. And, truth be told, I’ve tried some or all of these techniques over the years as I work toward my physique goals.
However, over the last six months in particular, I’ve come to the realization that bodybuilding diets are, in fact, incredibly simple.*
So here’s my wisdom distilled; the four phases of the bodybuilding diet:
- Constantly full
- Not hungry
- Hungry for next meal and on waking
- Fucking hungry all the time
In this phase you are bulking and definitely gaining weight. If you train hard enough, a decent amount of this weight will be lean gains, but some fat is coming too. In my experiences with bulking, so long as I trained really hard, I was able to maintain slightly better than fifty percent of my gains as muscle.
In this phase, you are largely maintaining. You’ll hold your gains, and likely hold your body fat too. Small fluctuations in composition are inevitable week to week, month to month, and care needs to be taken that you don’t drift in to constantly full. However, corrections are easily made, either with modest reductions in calories, or increased training volume or density.
Hungry for next meal and on waking
In this phase, you are leaning out. Paying attention to overall portion sizes and having cut out the majority of your snacking, you are now hungry by meal time and look forward to eating. You’ll also be waking with a decent hunger, and frequently looking leaner and tighter in the morning mirror with that shadowy bathroom light.
Fucking hungry all the time
In this phase, you are pushing for very lean, and perhaps toward shredded–single digit body fat is within your grasp. You are paying serious attention to meal sizes and composition, and start to eat a lot of the same things. You will not be snacking at all, and you’ll be saving the majority of your calories for post-workout so that you can go to bed feeling satiated. All that said, you are pretty much hungry throughout the day, with meals generally leaving you like you wanted more.
Is dieting more nuanced than this? Certainly. Are there specific protocols out there to optimize the process? Without doubt. Are we all different and respond differently to diet and exercise? Of course. However, for most of us, most of the time, paying attention to these basic dietary phases will help you achieve your physique goals.
* If you are a competing athlete, then all bets are off. While this broad dietary advice still stands, you can likely not reach the super-shredded state of a competitive athlete without counting your calories and macros.