If you are getting into bodybuilding then you need to understand that what you eat is just as important as what you exercise. In other words, you can lift as many weights as you like but if your muscles are not getting the fuel they need to grow, you are wasting a great deal of effort.
Protein is a MUST for Bodybuilders
With just a little research into an effective bodybuilding diet you will quickly discover that enough protein is one of the most (some say the most) important parts of your nutritional intake. In short, protein is the building block of lean muscle - a lack of protein means your muscle building potential is much lower.
There are many opinions on how much protein your body needs each day and it may depend on your bodybuilding goals. Typically you might consider taking around 1 gram of protein per pound of your body weight each day.
Check the Food's Nutritional Info Before You Buy
There are plenty of foods in your local supermarket or grocery store that contain a useful amount of protein. Today's regulations that ensure food product manufacturers display the nutritional content of their product make choosing your groceries a breeze. However, before you go running off to buy every high protein food you can find, a certain amount of care must be taken. Take the time to read through the food's nutritional information table in it's entirety. Not only are you looking out for the protein content but you also need to consider fat content, sugar content, carbohydrates, and so on. If your goal is to grow lean muscle then it is a good idea to avoid too many products high in simple sugars, calories and refined carbohydrates.
Recommended Quality Protein Sources for your Shopping List
You are now ready to hit the supermarket in search of quality protein food sources. These are foods that are high in protein but not so high in other elements that will hinder your lean muscle targets (i.e. calories, carbs, etc.):
MEATS: If you enjoy eating meat then generally 3 meats are recommended. The favorite is chicken (the number of recipes you can find on bodybuilding forums show this). Chicken is very lean and cheap. Similarly, turkey is actually slightly leaner then chicken and has higher protein percentage. Lean beef (look for cuts that are really red without any visible fat when possible) is another great source of protein.
SOY: The vegetarians amongst you will no doubt be aware of the protein content of soy products. Soy beans are pulses and so they contain a good helping of protein. Soy beans are used to make soy milk, tofu and many meat substitutes, many of which taste like the real thing. This not only helps vegetarian bodybuilders but also people with a lower tolerance for dairy products.
MILK/DAIRY: 'Skimmed' or 'fat free' milk is another good source of quality protein and can be consumed as it is (think homemade shakes or in your breakfast cereal) or in so many dairy foods. You need to take care with which dairy products you choose but there are always options for the dieting conscious. You can eat fat free versions of your favorite yogurts, ice-creams (watch out for other ingredients), cheeses (cottage cheese is always highly recommended), and more.
EGGS: Raw or cooked, eggs are another staple in a lot of bodybuilder's diets. Many people will avoid the yolk of the egg and simply eat the white, discarding some quality protein. It's true that the yolk of an egg contains most of the calories but it also contains most of the eggs nutrients as well as some protein. Why not save a few of the yolks!
FISH: Fish is an important source of protein and many bodybuilders live off cans of tuna. In fact I knew one guy who would mix in a can of tuna with his cereal every morning - not really my idea of a tasty start to the day.
AND MORE...: There are plenty of other foods high in protein such as nuts (good for vegetarians) pulses (another good source for vegetarians), cereals, and so on. Take some time to research other foods on the internet - there is a massive amount of information on websites, forums, newsletters, and so on.
Is Protein All I Need to Focus On?
No. Protein, although a vital part of a bodybuilder's diet, is not the be all and end all. Bodybuilders also need the energy to physically perform their exercises and this comes mostly from carbohydrates, or more specifically, complex carbohydrates. This is a subject of another article so watch this space. You need both a higher protein intake to 'rebuild' your muscle and the appropriate complex carbohydrates to fuel your workouts.
Build a high quality protein source shopping list then hit the grocery store!