First off i'd like to say this isn't my guide but, i posted it here for information purposes only.
The goal of bodybuilding is to improve body composition by losing fat and/or gaining muscle mass. If total body weight goes down in the process, the method is generally referred to as "cutting", if total body weight goes up, it's called "bulking", if body weight stays about the same, it's called "recomping".
1.1 Essential Rules
- Workout with weights about 3 times a week.
- Eat at least 1g protein / lb of lean body mass a day.
- Eat some fruit, veggies/salad, and some essential fatty acids (EFAs) every day.
- Above that eat whatever you want, preferably a wide variety of foods.
- Adjust your food intake so that the desired rate of weight loss is maintained.
The recommended rate of weight loss depends on your current body fat level. Generally, the higher your bodyfat, the higher the rate of weight loss can potentially be. The best indication for the rate being too high is if you rapidly lose strength in the gym. In this case, increase your intake and go for a smaller rate of weight loss. In general, a rate of about 1-2lbs per week is recommended.
Any cutting method that follows the above rules is close to optimal, any further details will not have significant effect on body composition. If you already have a meal plan, just check if these rules are followed and adjust if not.
1.2 Measuring Progress and Adjusting Food Intake
- Weigh yourself once a week, always at the same time (e.g. right after waking up).
- Don't panic if your weight stays the same or even goes up for one or two weeks.
- If your weight does not go down for more than three weeks, slightly reduce calories.
- If your rate of weight loss is above the desired value, slightly increase calories.
- The change in daily calories from those adjustments should not exceed 500 cals.
- After adjustment, stay on the new value for at least three weeks before adjusting again.
If you have never done a cutting diet, it's always better to start with more calories and reduce slowly until the desired rate of weight loss is maintained. If you stay patient, you will not have to adjust very often. With more experience, you will not have to count calories anymore, but as a beginner it is probably a good idea.
1.3 Unessential Factors
Since many questions revolve around further details of cutting diets, here is a list of factors that I believe to be of insignificant effect for body composition:
- Cardio and fat burners,
- Meal timing and meal frequency,
- Protein / Carb / Fat distribution throughout the day,
- carb / fat ratio,
- Sodium intake,
- Moderate alcohol intake,
- Use of supplements resp. meal replacements,
- "Clean" food vs. Junk food (sugar and saturated fat).
All these factors should be used as tools to make the diet as convenient as possible. Many people e.g. have an easier time dieting with eating more calories and doing cardio or taking fat burners. Some people like myself have an easier time without cardio and fat burners. In my experience, the end result (body composition improvement) is not significantly influenced. Another example is protein supplements. I e.g. use whey powder to meet my daily protein intake out of convenience. I could just as well get all my protein from other sources. A third example is meal frequency and timing. This tool should be used to reduce hunger as much as possible throughout the day. For some people that means eating 6 times a day, for others it means eating only once or twice a day.
2 Bulking and Recomping
The only factor that changes for bulking or recomping is that the rate of weight change X is positive resp. zero. All other essential rules are exactly the same as for cutting (see sections above).
For bulking, the critical factor is the value of X. Everyone has a different ability to gain weight with a certain ratio of muscle vs. fat gain. This ability is dependent on things like genetics, age, training experience, etc. The ratio will decrease the higher X is, but not in a linear way. The trick is to find the optimal value for X, where the ratio is still close to optimum. Unfortunally, this is solely a matter of experience. My advise would be to increase calories by 500 over maintenance and check if weight goes up while fat gains are still tolerable. If no weight is gained, increase calories again. If fat gains are too high, decrease calories.
For recomping (staying at about the same total body weight), just weigh yourself from time to time and adjust food intake accordingly to maintain that weight. You can e.g. weigh yourself in the morning and just skip your last meal of the day if you're above target weight. You can determine your progress by how much strength you gain in the gym, by taking measurements (e.g. waist size), or simply by looking in the mirror.
3 Weight Training
Weight training refers to intense (anaerobic) strength training in this guide. This applies to all three variants of bodybuilding (cutting, bulking, and recomping). There are many methods of weight training, a typical 3 day split program is assembled here (the numbers refer to number of exercises):
Day1: 3 x Chest, 2 x Biceps, 1 x Abs
Day3: 4 x Legs, 2 x Shoulders
Day5: 2 x Back, 2 x Triceps, 1 x Traps, 1 x Abs
For each exercise, do one light warmup set, then go up with the weight on the next 2-3 sets, and do one or two heavy sets to failure or close to failure. For the smaller exercises (e.g. biceps), the number of sets can also only be 3-4 though. Repetition numbers should be in the range of 15-6. For the exercises one could e.g. do (in the above order):
3 x Chest: BB Presses, DB Incline Presses, Dips
2 x Biceps: DB Curls, Concentration/Cable Curls
1 x Abs: Situps
4 x Legs: Squats or Leg Presses, Leg Extensions, Leg Curls, Calf Raises
2 x Shoulders: DB presses, Seated Rear Lateral DB Raises
2 x Back: Pullups, Cable Pulldowns
2 x Triceps: Skull Crushers, Cable Pushdowns
1 x Traps: DB Shrugs
1 x Abs: Leg Raises
These are of course only examples, there are plenty of other exercises that can be used as replacements. There are also plenty of other workout plans such as HST, German Volume Training, etc. What's most important is that the training is intense and that all major muscle groups are involved throughout the week.
4 Psychological Tips and Tricks
- It is possible that you will not "see" changes in the mirror unless your bodyfat is rather low. Don't panic, as long as the rules are followed, everything is right on track.
- If at all, only assess your physique right after a workout. At other times it's too dependent on water retention, and the mind will play tricks on you (telling you your progress sucks, etc.).
- Have a cheat/pig-out day once in a while, where you eat what you want. I had one every week on my last diet. Don't feel guilty about it, as long as the rules are still followed (total intake still leads to the desired rate of weight change), everything is allright.
- Don't take the whole thing too serious. It's better to not care about it so much. See it more as being the coach of another person, rather than yourself.
5 Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How do I determine how much calories I should consume?
A: You can just go by what you currently eat and reduce from there as described in the guide. Alternativiely, use a calorie calculator like the "Total Metabolism Forecaster", see link section.
Q: Is it important to get the same amount of calories resp. macros every day?
A: No, it's OK to eat a little less one day and more the next.
Q: How do I determine my lean body mass for calculating my protein intake?
A: You have to take your total body weight and subtract your fat weight. If you e.g. weigh 200lbs and your bodyfat is 20% (=40lbs), your lean body mass is 200lbs - 40lbs = 160lbs. If you don't know your bodyfat, just take a guess. When in doubt, just eat a little more. However, if for some reason, you can't eat as much protein, just eat a little less, most people will still do fine.
Q: Does it matter where I get my protein from and what are good protein sources?
A: Generally, it does not matter. You can get your protein from meat, fish, eggs, cheese, protein powder, etc. Although there are differences in quality (regarding muscle sparing effect), they can easily be made up for with just a little more quantity.
Q: I work out less/more than 3 times a week, is that OK?
A: Yes, as long as all other essential rules are followed. Some people get away with less, some do better on more.
Q: I lost a lot of weight in the first few weeks but weight loss has slowed down, why?
A: The initial weight loss was probably mostly water loss. Stay at the current intake for at least another 3 weeks. If weight loss stalls, slightly reduce calories as described in the guide.
Q: What about keto diets?
A: Principally, keto diets (very low carb diets), as long as they follow all rules, would be fine. IMO, some people have a problem preserving muscle mass on a keto diet. For other people it works great. I don't think keto diets provide a significant advantage other than maybe being more convenient for some people.
Q: What about post workout nutrition?
A: I would not intentionally starve myself of protein after a workout. A meal containing some protein or a shake is perfectly fine.