these are the best of the best in their category—for offseason and contest prep

Best foods: these are the best of the best in their category—for offseason and contest prep

Chris Aceto

I’m sure you’ve heard this cliche of nutritional wisdom: “Eat a wide variety of foods to get the best array of vitamins, minerals and nutrients.” That’s great advice because there is no such thing as a single perfect food. In the realm of bodybuilding nutrition, you need a mix of proteins for growth and different complex carbohydrates for energy. You should also include plenty of vegetables and fruits to obtain phytochemicals, which are small nutritional compounds that provide antioxidant properties, support immunity, fight muscle inflammation and supply numerous other health benefits.

That said, I’m often asked which are the “best foods” for bodybuilders. The answer depends on what you are trying to accomplish and what you are looking for. Check out my list of the best bodybuilding foods. I’ve given you my choice for the best food in each category for getting cut and for adding quality mass. Of course, you should include other foods in each of these categories, too, but relying on these “best foods” as the cornerstone of your nutrition program will take you a long way toward your bodybuilding goals.


For Getting Cut | Turkey Breast

Drastically lower in fat than even the leanest cuts of red meat, turkey breast lets a bodybuilder pack in the protein with as few calories as possible. Eight ounces provide roughly 45 grams (g) of protein and only 2 g of fat, while the same amount of lean beef would provide 15 g of fat, yielding at least another 117 calories.

For Adding Mass | Flank Steak

Muscle building requires two major components–calories and protein–and you’ll find both in flank steak. Although low-fat sources of protein are best for dropping fat, there’s room for dietary fat in mass-gaining plans. Moderate amounts of dietary fat can be beneficial. Fat helps spare glycogen stores, exerting an anticatabolic effect, and it can upgrade the ability of the body to manufacture additional muscle glycogen. The saturated fat in red meat is also important for testosterone production. Red meat is dense in creatine, iron and vitamin [B.sub.12]–important muscle-building nutrients.


For Getting Cut | Pollack

Fat-free or near fat-free precontest diets are extremely effective in removing bodyfat, because dietary fat, more so than carbs, is extremely efficient at making its way to bodyfat stores. Pollack, like turkey breast, is very low in fat and high in protein, plus it’s low in calories, making it ideal for getting cut.

For Adding Mass | Salmon

Many bodybuilders think of salmon as a contest fish because it contains omega-3 fatty acids. Reports indicate that omega-3s can support fat burning, and they can. These fatty acids are primarily effective, however, when a bodybuilder has significantly leaned down already, meaning salmon is best consumed when a bodybuilder is near the end of a diet. For mass building, you can’t beat salmon. Omega-3 fatty acids fight muscle inflammation, help spare the loss of glutamine and increase the storage of glycogen–all of which indirectly support protein synthesis, the fancy name for muscle growth. These fats also protect against muscle breakdown, which can have a significant impact on growth.


For Getting Cut | Broccoli and Cauliflower

These low-calorie veggies provide compounds called indoles, which can lower estrogen levels in the body. Estrogen helps facilitate the storage of bodyfat. Broccoli and cauliflower are often found packaged together, or you can buy them separately and combine them as you choose. Honorable mention for best vegetable goes to asparagus, which exerts a diuretic effect to temporarily enhance muscle definition.

For Adding Mass | Peas and Corn

OK, peas and corn technically fall into the complex-carb category more than the “vegetable” category. They share many of the attributes of veggies, such as fiber and phytonutrients, but they yield many more calories than other veggies, so they are a natural for mass gainers. Still, keep in mind that mass-seeking bodybuilders often neglect vegetables, believing them to be “diet food.” Actually, the body needs vegetables to enhance digestion and as a source of fiber, vitamins and minerals to keep the immune system healthy and to help the body properly use the amino acids and complex carbs it is getting. With the advent of shakes and the desire for more protein, a complete lack of vegetables may be one of the biggest shortfalls of many would-be mass-gaining diet plans.


For Getting Cut | Strawberries

Yielding only 50 calories for a full cup, strawberries head the list. Their fiber content will help you feel full, allowing you to eat less and keep calories under control. Strawberries are also high in vitamin C and other nutrients. Cantaloupe comes in a close second. An entire small-size melon yields approximately 150 calories–about as many found in four rice cakes.

For Adding Mass | Raisins and Figs

I’ve yet to write up a hardgainer’s nutrition plan that didn’t include raisins–usually in the first meal of the day, mixed into oatmeal, Cream of Rice or Cream of Wheat cereals. I include them for the carbs. One-half cup of raisins yields 60 g of carbohydrates, the top source of energy for muscles during training. Raisins are not only dense in carbs, but they don’t bloat the stomach. They are also rich in powerful antioxidants. Mixed with hot cereal, they make an ideal pre- or posttraining snack.

Figs are also concentrated in carbs and provide the body with benzaldehyde, a cancer-fighting compound, as well as ficin, a digestive enzyme that aids protein digestion. Frequently, cancer-fighting compounds are also anti-inflammatory in nature and support immunity, which assists in muscle recovery.


For Getting Cut | Slow-Cooking Oats

A full cup (cooked) yields only 25 g of carbohydrates–and, compared to 25 g of carbs from a fast-digesting source, oats are less likely to make you fat. Oatmeal is high in fiber, which slows down digestion. This helps you feel full, warding off hunger, and it also helps control hormones and enzymes, such as insulin and lipoprotein lipase, which might affect the storage of bodyfat.

For Adding Mass | Pasta

Hard-training bodybuilders will want to start with a daily carb intake of at least 2 g per pound of bodyweight and move up to 3 to 4 g. To get in all those carbs, you need to eat foods that are dense in carbs, and pasta fits that description. Even though many people think of pasta as a “refined” carb composed of white flour, it’s not. Most pasta is made with semolina flour, which is better than white flour due to its mineral content and digestibility. Semolina breaks down slowly, providing steady fuel for better recovery. Three level cups of cooked spaghetti or elbow macaroni provide 120 g of carbs.


For Getting Cut | White Bread and Bagels (with Jam)

This category is tough, as the best answer may be any refined carbohydrate–fat-free cookies, fat-free cake or even fat-free ice cream. When you are trying to get ripped, cheating–eating a high carbohydrate snack on occasion–can trick the body into believing the diet is over, which helps give a kick to a slowing metabolism. The caveat: these cheat snacks are effective when the body has already dropped a serious amount of bodyfat. That’s the period when metabolism tends to slow. If you are cheating straight out of the gate–the initial few weeks of a diet–then you will only slow the fat-burning process.

For Adding Mass | Various

Keep it simple: there’s nothing wrong with a burger and fries every once in a while. There’s definitely no special cheat food for gaining mass. If you are a hardgainer, you can eat five clean meals a day and one meal that is much higher in fat. The daily net fat intake will remain fairly reasonable. On the other hand, if you struggle with bodyfat. I don’t recommend eating high-fat foods. Include them only on rare occasions.

There you have it: the best of the best. Base your bodybuilding diet on these foods and other quality bodybuilding foods, and you’ll make even better progress toward your goal, whether you’re trying to get cut or striving to gain muscle.

To order Chris Aceto’s training and nutrition books, including Championship Bodybuilding and Everything You Need to Know about Fat Loss, visit or call (207) 782-3121.

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