When you start to talk about whole foods, most guys have no clue what you are going on about, probably mistaking you for another one of those raw vegans… If I rather told you that whole food nutrition is what fuelled the beasts of the golden era of bodybuilding such as Vince Gironda, Larry Scott, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, you might be more interested to hear what I have to say.
In this article, we will provide a broad overview of general bodybuilding nutrition, especially what you should be shopping for and why. Don’t get me wrong though; whole foods does not mean you have to eat your foods whole or only foods from Whole Foods Market for that matter. Sit tight and let’s get down to the basics.
Whole Foods Is Not a New Idea, Rather the Old School Way of Eating Which Created Legendary Physiques
One of the most know bodybuilding trainers of all time is the “Iron Guru” Vince Gironda, one of the trainers of legends such as Larry Scott and Arnold Schwarzenegger at their prime. Gironda emphasized wholesome nutrition, and his meal plans would often seem pretty basic. Emphasis was put on raw eggs because of the anabolic fatty acids (CLA) they contain, as well as on fresh meats, cottage cheese, heavy cream and green leaf salads. Meals was often uncomplicated, minimally processed and included prime ingredients such as the examples just mentioned, supplying the maximum amount of nutrition in each bite. Fuel for muscle growth is simple and the more you start to fry it, dehydrate it, pulverize it, mix it, add additives to it, the more the quality of the actual foods decrease.
One exception among the processed foods Gironda held high was liver tablets, which is dehydrated liver pressed into tablets, but only because many find the taste of eating liver unpleasant. The liver is, in fact, the most nutritious whole food on the planet and contains more vitamins and minerals than any fruit or vegetable. Liver tablets were consumed in-between meals to maintain positive nitrogen balance and promote muscle growth. Over the years the popularity of liver tablets has decreased in favor of less nutritious options such as high GI maltodextrin meal powders. Essentially, this is processing and stripping away all the important vitamins and minerals initially provided by mother nature and ending up with a powdered product with a low nutritional value. In other words, this is far from ideal.
Redcon1 MRE: A Whole Food Meal Replacement
Here at Redcon1 however, we “don’t mess with mother nature,” which is why our MRE meal replacement product contains only the best natural foods to fuel your muscles with the quality nutrition they deserve. Nature has already perfected the dietary macros and vitamins and minerals contained in natural foods. MRE is not one of those maltodextrin & whey protein mixes devoid of any micronutrients; we based our product on real whole foods and all the nutrition they naturally contain. We did not separate, isolate or derive them from anything, they are served exactly as they are intended but in easily digestible form. This is also what forms the basis for the whole foods way of eating for growth.
The Benefits of Real Food
Because whole foods come in the exact form that nature intended them to be eaten, they are ideal for our digestive systems to process efficiently. Try to imagine the difference once you drench those potatoes full of rancid vegetable oil and fry them close to destruction, which damages not only the potatoes but also your gut when you eventually chow them down there through your meal. Yes, sorry to break it to you guys but fries are a less than ideal food so to speak.
You ‘can’ build muscle eating junk food, but that could also be compared to scuba diving with only one lung. It can be done but it is less than ideal, and it will be holding you back from reaching your full potential. If you want to grow, you should provide your body the best fuel possible to promote that growth.
Consider these reasons in favor of whole foods:
Processed foods contain additives and preservatives that can hamper your performance
Processed foods contain rancid oils which can disrupt your fatty acid balance and promote inflammation
Processed foods contain hidden allergens for people who are sensitive
Processed foods are often loaded with refined sugar and low on fiber
Whole foods contain lots of phytochemical and other powerful nutrients that can increase your performance
Whole foods contains adequate amounts of vitamin & minerals, removing the need for taking a multivitamin
Whole foods contains more fiber, which is a crucial component to detox and metabolize toxins and excess hormones such as estrogen (buildup of estrogen can cause feminization in men)
Whole foods protects from disease
In other words, the foods you should be avoiding are the ones that have been ‘messed’ with so to speak. Meaning, those that have been overly processed, refined, isolated and artificially infused with preservatives, sugars or rancid oils. This is often done to make the foods taste better as well as last longer on the shelves in the supermarket; however, this also makes them a lower quality option regarding nutrition.
The Foods to Avoid
Unfortunately, the types of food you should avoid, are often the majority of the premade foods in your supermarket, including almost all of the drinks and sodas unless they are completely sugar-free. These processed foods are also the products that sell the most in local markets, this, however, does not mean they are the best choices. People simply do not have the knowledge to make healthy choices for themselves, so they focus on the foods that taste the best, which is often the sugary processed ones.
Some examples of processed foods to avoid are the following. Of course, there are much more than the ones below, but this should give you an idea:
Prepared Pizza Sauces
Yogurts with added sugars
Sugar: The Worst Nutrient
We got a beef with sugar. Many people and even some athletes argue that sugar is still a good source of energy for working out, and yes it is true that it is a concentrated source of glucose which is adequate fuel for the body. However, long term high sugar consumption will wreck your insulin sensitivity, potentially causing all kinds of problems such as higher amounts of visceral fat (belly fat), blood sugar imbalances, low testosterone and eventually even diabetes. Sugar is no joke.
Once you give up sugar and stay away from it for awhile, your body’s metabolic processed will rebalance themselves, and you will find those blood sugar dips don’t come around anymore, as well as not needing to rely on a jolt of soda to give you that boost in daily energy.
All in all, an inability to being able to stop eating sugar is the same as any type of addiction and is so hard to stop because sugar disrupts normal energy function in your body and hijacks your reward system. You become dependent on it for energy and feeling good. The subject of sugar in the diet could cover a whole article in itself but let me leave you with one interesting study that might get you to think again before reaching for that candy bar. In a study done on rats, sugar was shown to be more addictive than cocaine.
What You Should Be Shopping For
To make whole food shopping easy in the supermarket, focus on the produce sections containing fresh meats, fresh vegetables and fruit, nuts, seeds and whole grains. There are some borderline processed foods though that are ok because they still maintain all their nutrition. Some good examples are peanut butter (which is also one of the best bodybuilding foods), applesauce, carrot juice, and oat flour.
In above examples the form of the foods has just been changed, the nutrition is still there. This goes in line with the idea of eating whole foods, just make sure that no extra sugar has been added to them. Our recommendation is to make products such as nut butter yourself to make sure you get good quality. All of the previously mentioned processed foods can all be done with just a blender and the raw ingredients in your home.
Examples of good whole foods based snack foods are:
Cold cooked potatoes
Frozen fruits and vegetables are generally ok in a whole foods based diet, however, keep in mind that the frozen products tend to be the cheapest and that also means they are using the lowest quality ingredients from the start. It is better to buy fresh to make sure you always get the highest quality foods you can possibly buy. Your body will thank you for it.
However, make sure your fresh produce is not too old, as soon as it is plucked from the soil or tree it starts to deteriorate. Local farmers markets are the absolute best places to go shopping for food since the produce is the freshest there. Another option is to look online for companies that deliver fresh organic produce and meat directly to your door by courier.
The following are some good examples of whole food stable foods. The idea is to combine at least 1 food from each group to form the basis of each meal:
Whole food sources of carbohydrate:
Whole food sources of protein:
Whole food sources of healthy fats:
Full-fat dairy (raw if possible), almond or cashew milk
Whole food sources of fiber:
Vegetables (emphasis on green salads)
Pick and arrange the foods depending on the dietary macros you are currently aiming for. I like to keep carbohydrates restricted for cutting body fat and only used them as needed for exercise performance. Protein and healthy fats should form the majority of your calories unless you are looking to bulk, in which case you should add a source of carbs in each meal.
Another important aspect we have to address is organic and non-GMO:
Focus on Organic Labels
Organic foods tend to be more expensive since they involve the use of milder (organic) pesticides only, such as mineral based ones or caffeine. Organic grow operations also operate in a more renewable fashion that does not deplete the land and requires less energy. Also, animals raised organically to be sold as organic meat contains no artificial growth hormones or steroids. Not only is this better for the world as a whole, but also for your body.
Conventionally grown crops that are not organic are often sprayed full of strong chemical fertilizers that have adverse health effects in humans when consumed. In fact, many of them are potent anti-androgens and xenoestrogens, especially those growth-promoting hormones that are injected into conventionally raised meat. These types of compounds can give men low testosterone levels when consumed in excess, promoting estrogen dominance. If you’re an serious athlete, trust me when I say that low testosterone levels can spell the end to your career unless dealt with quickly. Also, organic farming ends up with a product that contains less toxic byproducts such as cadmium, which in the long run will keep you in better health.
Focus on Non-GMO Labels
GMO stands for genetically modified organism, which is basically when we humans have genetically engineered a type of crop in a laboratory to produce higher yields or to make them better at resisting certain diseases. The problem that arises is that we try to outsmart mother nature, which is proving to bring out new issues in these foods because consuming them can have side effects on your long term health.
The following are some examples of foods that have GMO versions being sold in the US:
Animal studies done on consumption of GMO foods has been shown to come with many serious health risks such as immune system imbalances, infertility, insulin resistance and accelerated aging.
Still, companies grow and sell these foods to you in the name of higher revenues, simply because it is hard to prove that eating these foods was the cause of you developing these issues many years later. GMO foods are banned in many other parts of the world such as Europe, which should be enough to make you think that this is indeed one serious issue. It is simply not worth the potential risks, so always go for non-GMO marked products.
All in all, remember these points next time you go shopping:
The sooner the plant goes from the soil/tree to your plate the better
Focus on whole foods that retain all their original nutrition without adding extra sugars, preservatives or oils.
Stick to organic and non-GMO
Avoid food groups that almost always contains added sugar such as sodas and other readily made drinks
Split and base your meals up into categories and pick one food from each group to form the basis of the meal, such as fresh meat, eggs & dairy, vegetables and combine with a natural carb source as needed for performance (wholegrain & fruits).
For quick snacks that are portable, focus on fresh fruit, nuts, and seeds. Or even better would be our MRE product which offers the wholesome nutrition of a full meal in the convenience of a liquid drink.
Bodybuilding nutrition does not have to be complicated, it is rather easy and most often our modern processed foods that make it hard. Remember, quality in everything is what brings out amazing results, this also applies to muscle mass. The legendary Vince Gironda always promoted good nutrition as being 85% of the work for building impressive muscle. Quality training and quality nutrition are critical to success.