Bodybuilding is a competitive physique competition which has its roots in strongman competitions of the 1800’s. In 1891, the first bodybuilding competition “The Great Show” was held in the UK. The interest in physical display continued to develop, and in 1940, the first Mr. America competition was held. The first of the more prestigious modern competitions, Mr. Olympia, was held in 1965, and this competition has become the marquee competition within bodybuilding. As the sport developed its competition structure, periodisation of training and nutritional preparation has become more enhanced. Despite the importance of nutrition in promoting increases in muscle mass and definition, very little scientific research exists regarding best practice within the nutritional practices employed.

Physiological demands in competition

Modern competitive bodybuilding consists of a half-day event comprising of (i) Line-Up, (ii) Individual Routine, and (iii) Compulsory Poses. The Line-Up involves all the competing athletes being on stage together, allowing the judges to make initial judgements on the condition of the athletes relative to each other. The Individual Routine affords athletes time to move through a series of self-selected poses, and allows the athletes to be individually assessed while displaying their most impressive features. The final stage is the Compulsory Poses, during this period the athletes return to the stage in groups to complete specific poses that allow further assessment by competition judges. Key features of the athlete’s individual muscles as well as muscle groups that are assessed include the tone, shape, size (hypertrophy/muscular development) and proportion of the muscles, symmetry between both sides of the body, and the level of muscular definition and vascularity.

Seasonal Training

The seasonal structure for bodybuilding consists of two main phases: the offseason and the competitive season. During the off-season, bodybuilding athletes seek to increase their quantity of muscle mass. This increase in muscle bulk is in both a whole-body sense, as well as particular attention being paid to individual muscles that require specific changes. During this phase of training extensive hypertrophic training of multiple sets and high repetition exercises are completed. The training of the competitive season begins 12-14 weeks prior to the first competition. During this period, the primary goal is to reduce body fat levels while maintaining the muscle mass developed during the off-season. To achieve this goal resistance training is maintained at a reduced volume, and cardiovascular training is added to help achieve the calorie deficit required to lower body fat.

Nutritional considerations

The nutritional requirements of bodybuilding vary within each part of the yearly cycle, and depend entirely on the training and body composition goals of the phase of training.


During the off-season the nutritional goal is to have a surplus of energy to support muscle growth, and thus requires overfeeding. There are two main approaches to this goal: (i) clean bulking, and (ii) dirty bulking. Essentially these two approaches are similar but with one obvious difference: both methods seek to provide adequate caloric intake to support the development of new muscle tissue but the difference is in the source of the calories. In “dirty” bulking the source of the calorie is inconsequential, and this results in food choices that may be less appropriate for health in general populations, but which serve a purpose in achieving a surplus of calories necessary to increase muscle mass. “Clean” bulking alternatively involves selection of more nutritious, ‘lean’ food sources to achieve the same calorie surplus. The benefit of “clean” bulking is the restriction on unhealthy processed fats and energy-dense processed foods which helps to minimise body fat increases. The total calorie intake for a bodybuilder in a bulking phase can be in the region of 40-50 kcal/kg of body mass/day. The macronutrient consumption for bodybuilding in a bulking phase should be divided roughly on a calorie ratio of 55-60% carbohydrate, 20-30% protein and 15-20% fat. A 100 kg athlete eating 4500 kcal/day would require 619-675 g carbohydrate, 225-388 g protein and 75-100 g of fat per day. Given the practicalities of consuming such large quantities of energy and macronutrients, athletes often turn to energy-dense, liquid supplements. Alpha Mass is a specialised formulation of high quality protein, healthy (essential) fats and low glycaemic index carbohydrate that can be used to help bodybuilders meet their macronutrient targets and requirements for energy on a daily basis. Alpha Mass also contains key nutrients required for muscle growth such as HMB and creatine.


The pre-competition cutting phase is aimed at reducing body fat levels, which may have been either maintained or increased during the bulking phase. This requires a very strict control of total calories coupled to a calorie deficit. Ideally the body fat reduction would be gradual and fall within either -500 calories per day or -15% of a maintenance diet and will depend also on exercise levels. A moderate calorie deficit will allow for the reduction in total mass to be derived primarily from fat mass, whilst the continuance of resistance training will help to spare muscle mass developed in the previous phase. GUN POWDER and PRO GSH WHEY are two products that are an excellent addition during the cutting phase. GUN POWDER is a low calorie, pre-workout drink that can be used to boost energy levels, and enables a high level of performance despite energy restriction. PRO GSH Whey can be consumed up to twice daily to spare muscle mass and aid in the recovery and adaptation between exercise sessions.


The competition diet consists more of a nutrition cycle rather than a sustained nutritional approach. The nutrition practices employed for an aesthetic effect would be inappropriate as a longer term approach for body composition management. Prior to competition, body fat levels must be reduced sufficiently to compete, so the goal during the competition phase is to ensure that the condition, vascularity and muscle definition are maximised. To achieve a lean, defined appearance, carbohydrate intake is restricted from seven days prior to the competition to deplete muscle glycogen levels. A graduated approach is used with greater restriction occurring closer to the competition. The depletion of muscle glycogen stores is then reversed and large amounts of carbohydrate are consumed to “load” the muscles with glycogen. This provides a fuller appearance to the muscle for competition. The simplest and most practical nutritional method to load the muscles with glycogen is by consuming an easy-to-digest liquid source of carbohydrate, such as Fuel Load. Fuel Load is a low glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrate source that supplies the body with a sustained source of carbohydrate, while also minimising fluctuations in insulin that inhibit fat breakdown and promote water retention.

Water control

Water control is initiated three days prior to competition. Reduction of total body water results in reduced subcutaneous water storage, and allows for a greater display of the superficial muscle. Typically water is consumed at a rate of 300-500 mL per hour at regular intervals (75-100 mL every 15-20min) to an upper limit of 6-7 L per day. This is reduced one day prior to competition to minimal intake, i.e. all fluid consumption is reduced and water intake is to abate thirst only. On competition day, it is common to eliminate water intake completely, but if thirst is extreme, minimal water intake is permitted. To increase the definition and separation of individual muscles, sodium intake is reduced to a level of 1-2 g per day from four days prior to competition. The reduction of sodium is also aids the reduction of subcutaneous water retention.


There is emerging evidence that protein supplementation, particularly essential amino acids (EAAs) and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) consumed during and after high intensity exercise can reduce the feelings of fatigue, and promote muscle protein synthesis and adaptation after exercise. The type, timing and amount of protein can be manipulated to enhance the adaptive response to training. A fast-digesting source of protein such as WHEY TRU, or using isolated amino acids such as ACTI BCAA or ACTI EAA, is appropriate. Higher protein and isolated amino acid intakes may also help to preserve muscle mass during calorie restriction by limiting the catabolic effects of restriction.

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Additional supplements for bodybuilding

The supplements that a body builder uses will depend heavily on the phase of training. The following table outlines the most suitable supplements a bodybuilder should use during the various training phases.