In order to maintain health and provide for optimal growth, our bodies require more than 40 different nutrients. These various nutrients can be found in the six primary food components: water, protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals.
WATER: Whether or not you believe live began in the sea, the fact remains that life exists in an inner sea within our body, two-thirds of which is water. All of life’s complex biochemical processes take place in a water medium, which accounts for the fluidity of our blood and lymph system. Water is our waste remover through urine and feces; it lubricates our joints, keeps our body temperature within a narrow range; and last but not of least importance to the bodybuilder, water is the primary constituent of muscle tissue.
Viewed in this way, water might rightly be said to be the most important nutrient for survival as well as growth. While we can survive for long periods without food, a lack of water can result in death in a matter of days.
Although it’s true that our muscles are more than 70 percent water, it doesn’t follow that we should drink gallons of water a day to hasten the muscle growth process. Remember that all excess beyond need is merely passed through the body. It is also true that all of the various nutrients work together, and when one is lacking or deficient, the others are limited in their roles as well. There exists, for example, a vital association between water and the electrolytes potassium and sodium. These electrolytes must be present inside and outside our cells for water to remain in proper proportions in our bodies. So while water may be of great importance, it is not the only nutrient of importance. Use common sense and let thirst dictate intake.
PROTEIN: A certain mystique has arisen around protein in the last decade. Protein-enriched formulas are found in everything from shampoos to skin creams to the food we eat. In his informative book, The Realities of Nutrition, Ronald Deutsch states, “Protein has become the dietary lure to which the consumer consistently rises, like a hungry trout on a quiet morning.”
This preference for protein-rich foods, especially meats, dates back many centuries and spans a great diversity of cultures. Though ancient Egypt is noted for its grain, food historians point out that from the time of Egypt’s Old Kingdom, there was grain feeding of cattle and the force-feeding of birds to make for bigger feasts. Only in time of famine, or in areas where animal husbandry was not known, was this preference for protein absent.
In part, this preference for meat and protein has to do with tradition and status. But protein is also vital to the maintenance of health as a repair and growth substance. The word “protein” derives from the Greek, and it means “of first importance.” But I must emphasize to the bodybuilder obsessed with consuming enormous quantities, protein does not mean “of only importance.”
At the risk of repetition, let me state again that muscle tissue is comprised mostly of water (more than 70 percent) and only a small portion is protein (some 22 percent). And while I pointed out that water drunk to excess will only be passed through the body, protein consumed in excess can be turned to fat just as readily as excess calories derived from fat and carbohydrate sources. One gram of protein contains four calories, just as one gram of carbohydrate does, and it is an excess of calories that leads to bodyfat, no matter what the source.
While some controversy exists regarding how much protein we need in our daily diets, most reputable sources recommend about one-half gram per kilo (2.2 pounds) of bodyweight. To be on the safe side, the RDA Committee (providing for disease, stress and other possible problems) recommends .80 grams per kilo of bodyweight. For a 220 pound bodybuilder, daily protein requirements would be 80 grams.
But the needs of bodybuilders are different because they train heavy and are growing muscle, you say? The fact is that protein requirements are dependent solely on the individual’s bodyweight, not physical activity. Under normal circumstances, protein is not a fuel source, so our need for it is not contingent on activity levels.
And just how much protein do you think is required for miniscule daily muscle gains? If we go back to our example and assume we are to gain 10 pounds of muscle in a year, how much do we gain on a daily basis? Divide 10 pounds of muscle by 365 and we find our daily average gain to be .027 pounds, or only 12 grams, which is less than half an ounce! And more than 70 percent of that 12 grams is water! So how much extra protein do we need to gain 12 grams of muscle a day, most of which is water anyway? Very little, obviously. In another section of this book, we calculated it to be about one extra gram of protein a day for 10 pounds of muscle growth a year. How many bodybuilders gained even 10 pounds of muscle this past year? And how many are guilty of consuming excessive quantities of protein well beyond any and all possible need merely because the purveyors of the stuff said they needed it?
CARBOHYDRATES: If, in fact, protein has been the most over-emphasized nutrient, then carbohydrates have been the most maligned. The anti- carbohydrate litany began in Britain in the early 1950s, and reached its apex in the U.S., when diet books by so-called “experts” blamed carbohydrates for everything from obesity of schizophrenia! Talk about being estranged from reality. Now let’s debunk the theories of those who rail against carbohydrates.
One of the first things we learn in elementary biology is that life on the planet earth is dependent on the sun. We also learn that all of our food energy begins with plants. When we eat beef, for instance, we derive nutrients that the animal stored by eating grass.
Plants get their energy in a process involving the sun called photosynthesis, which means “putting together with light.” What the sun is putting together are two of the most common chemicals on earth and in its atmosphere — carbon dioxide and water. Plants use oxygen to combine with carbon dioxide and water to form a hydrated carbon, or carbohydrate, as we commonly refer to it.
Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source of our muscles. And for high- intensity training of the Heavy Duty variety or any other type, carbohydrate in the form of the simple sugar, glucose, is the only fuel. When we don’t take in enough sugar through our diet to fuel muscular contractions, our bodies transform the
amino acid alanine, derived from ingested protein or our own muscle tissue, into glucose. So carbohydrates also have a “protein-sparing effect,” which should cause any bodybuilder on a low-carb diet to reconsider such folly. Both our muscles and our central nervous system derive almost 100 percent of their nutrition from sugar.
In addition to supplying energy, carbohydrates supply important building blocks of life. The ribose found in RNA and DNA is made from the carbohydrates we consume. In light of all these facts, how can carbohydrates be poisonous toxins as asserted by the anti-carbohydrate people?
The fact is that carbohydrates can be dangerous, but only when consumed in excess. The body has a certain capacity for dealing with excess beyond need. But this capacity is not infinite, and can be overwhelmed. The same is true, however, with proteins and fats. Proof exists now that excess protein may be the most harmful of all, having been implicated in intestinal cancer, kidney disorders and a host of other degenerative diseases.
Carbohydrates, therefore, are a vital nutrient in the bodybuilder’s diet. In addition to providing the energy necessary for intense workouts, carbohydrates (in the form of glycogen) are stored in muscles, where each gram of glycogen “holds” three grams of water. This is the reason you often feel loggy, and gain an inordinate amount of weight, the day after going on a carbohydrate binge. And living on low-carb diets inevitably results in periodic binges. No matter how hard you try to abstain, the wisdom of the body wins out eventually, and will attempt to “over-compensate” for the prolonged shortage of vital carbohydrates by making you eat everything in sight. This sets up a pattern of failure and frustration for many who equate such binges with moral weakness and personal shortcomings. These binges are the natural result of trying to live on a very low carbohydrate diet, as Dr. L. M. Vincent points out in his book on dancers, Competing With The Sylph. Why not avoid all that by following a well-balanced diet which has up to 60 percent carbohydrates?
FATS: Fats are important fuel sources which provide energy at rest and late in endurance activities, when the body’s limited glycogen reserves have been depleted. Certain vitamins are soluble only in fat, so obviously fats play a crucial role in a well-balanced diet.
Fats are divided into saturated and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are found in animal products and can lead to heart problems when consumed in excess. Unsaturated fats are found mostly in plants and are now thought to be a contributing factor to heart disease as well. We would all do well, therefore, to limit our fat intake to the recommended 15 percent of the daily calorie budget.
VITAMINS and MINERALS: All the various vitamins and minerals are referred to as micronutrients since they are needed in such small quantities on a daily basis. Recommended daily allowances of the micronutrients are measured in milligrams, as opposed to the grams used to measure the macronutrients. Vitamins and minerals combine in the body to form the enzymes that serve as catalysts in countless important physiological processes.
If you are consuming a reasonably well-balanced diet, you are getting all the vitamins and minerals you need. If, however, there is any doubt as to whether or
not your diet is balanced, by all means take a general multi-mineral vitamin supplement. Our daily needs for the micronutrients are quite small, so don’t take vitamins and minerals by the handful thinking your body will use them. Most will merely be passed off, while some, like vitamins A and D, actually are toxic in large doses.