Mike Mentzer, ‘Balancing Your Muscle Building Diet’, Heavy Duty Nutrition (1993), 9-10.


The majority of bodybuilders I meet at my numerous exhibitions and seminars all over the country still seem to think that protein is needed in tremendous quantities to build muscle. The fact that muscle is only 22 percent protein suggests that our protein requirements are not nearly that high. And just because muscle is more than 70% water doesn’t mean we should begin drinking gallons and gallons of water a day to hasten the muscle growth process either.

What would happen if we were to drink such large quantities of water? We would go to the bathroom a lot to eliminate the excess water. In the case of consuming excess protein, however, we aren’t so lucky, since protein contains calories which turn to fat when consumed in excess. The point I am trying to make here is that our bodies possess specific needs for all the various nutrients each and every day. We don’t force more utilization of nutrients by taking mega- doses. Nutrients consumed beyond need are excreted, in part, and the rest is turned to fat.

How should we divide our caloric consumption between the macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) so that we gain just muscle without fat? Remember that our first dietary concern is total caloric intake. The calorie dimension represents a kind of dietary budget within which we much fill our nutritional needs. Figure your daily caloric needs based on the outline above. No matter what our daily caloric intake happens to be, it is important that we fill our diet budgets wisely.

Many reputable nutrition scientists, along with the Senate Subcommitee on Nutrition, recommend our daily intake be comprised of 60% carbohydrate, 25% protein and 15% fat. While I have read of other scientists who suggest a little less carbohydrate or a bit more protein, I have not come across one who does not say that carbohydrates should make up the bulk of our caloric intake. I am aware there are faddists who recommend high protein diets with low to zero carbohydrate. These are weight-loss diets, however, and since they are unbalanced, they’re universally regarded as dangerous. The only other people who recommend ridiculously high protein intakes are those selling protein products.

During World War II, the U.S. Government assigned the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, a non-governmental, scientific body, to define the nutritional requirements for Americans. The Board’s research led to the publication of a report known as the “Recommended Dietary Allowances.” The recommended allowances were not intended as definitive nutrient requirements, nor were they meant for any particular individual. The RDA’s were intended as an informed guideline for essentially normal, healthy individuals to formulate a sound diet meeting their nutritional needs. The RDA’s have since been periodically reviewed and revised to keep up with advances in nutritional knowledge. The data acquired by the Board led quickly to the formation of a food plan known as the “Basic Seven Food Plan.” But this turned out to be unnecessarily complex, so in 1956 the Department of Agriculture published “The Essentials of an Adequate Diet,” which described a simplified Four Food Group Plan.

Since bodybuilders often weigh more than the average person, and are more active, they may need more calories, carbohydrates and thiamine (a B vitamin). Thiamine is abundant in carbohydrate foods, so don’t worry about taking a supplementary B vitamin tablet. This food plan will ensure that, within your particular calorie budget, you’ll be getting all the nutrients you need for the maintenance of health (the first requisite for building muscle) and for muscle growth itself.

The four food groups listed below are composed of common food items that make important nutritional contributions to our diets. They are as follows:

1. Cereal and grain foods — Baked goods, cereals, bread and flour products are rich, but inexpensive, sources of carbohydrates, minerals and protein. They also contribute some vitamins and a small amount of fat.

You should have very little trouble getting the recommended four daily servings from this group. Bodybuilders cannot afford to skimp on cereals and grains because they provide plenty of carbohydrates, the primary source of fuel for high-intensity muscular contractions. My daily breakfast is comprised almost entirely of foods from this group — I usually eat a couple of bran muffins and some whole grain toast.

2. Fruits and vegetables — Fruits and vegetables, along with potatoes, are very nutritious, providing plenty of vitamins and minerals, along with bulk in the form of cellulose and energy from the carbohydrates. Four or more servings from this group should be included each day.

3. The high-protein group — This group includes fish, meat, eggs, poultry, and even vegetable items such as dried beans, nuts and peas. Along with protein, these foods provide B vitamins and iron. Two or more servings from this group should be consumed each day. (A basic serving of meat is considered to be 3.5 ounces — not much!)

4. Milk and milk-group products — Milk and cheeses are important because they’re a particularly rich source of protein, calcium and riboflavin (vitamin B2). However, milk is very high in calories and saturated animal fats. If you like milk, and drink more than two glasses a day, try to drink the skim or low-fat variety. Two servings a day from the milk group is enough.

The recommended servings from the Four Basic Food Groups will supply the bodybuilder with all the necessary nutrients — no matter how big he is or how hard he trains.