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So You're Natural and Want to Grow?


We’ve all read the magazines such as “flex” and “muscle and fitness” discussing the best ways to put on weight and increase strength. What is not mentioned half the time, however, is the amount of supplementation that must occur as well. It’s a tough sport to begin with, and the stakes are even heavier if you want to compete or train as a natural bodybuilder. To clarify, the term “natural” refers to staying clear from any illegal drug or synthetic supplements used to generate muscle and tissue growth. I’m referring to the guys who train day in and day out with no additional help. Over the past years, I’ve experimented with various types of training habits, and have come across some key components which should shed some light on ways to successfully train at a natural level.

To start, you must first eliminate the brainwashing that all these muscle magazines put in your head. All this talk of drop setting, high rep volume, massive protein intake with little fats, and carb loading as if you’re training for a marathon, are all great ideas, but there is one problem; it’s called over training! These seemingly innovative methods are a great asset for those uninterested in the “natural” way to success. For those, however, who are willing to sacrifice and work the extra amount of time, you need to be very careful as to what you read and observe. The first thing to consider when training is your diet. No matter how much you do or don’t lift, your diet is the most underlying factor that can change your physique. For those who don’t know, steroids keep your body in an anabolic state, which permits you to throw a lot of food, no matter the type, and still have gains. If not on them, you must reconsider what the magazines tell you about your nutrition.

The question I hear the most is, “so what do I need to eat and how much to get 250 lbs?” Well to start, I don’t know many natural guys at 250 lbs and lean, so if that’s the look you’re shooting for, hang it up now. What people need to start doing is eating like they should, not how they are told. It is imperative for natural guys competing to stay at or around 20-25 lbs of competition weight, especially if you have an endomorph frame (very large and in charge). To eat clean, it is hard, but I will lay out some key adjustments to maintain through your day. First, steer clear of heavy simple carbohydrates such as: white potatoes, pasta, white bread, rice cakes, white/yellow rice, or any other carb that is high in the glycemic index. The ONLY time allotted for such food is post-workout, when your glycogen stores are depleted. Here, there is a 45 minute window to be put into the body to load up glycogen storage. When not used as post-workout, these simple carbohydrates have a direct effect on spiking our blood sugar, thus, storing massive amounts of calories as body fat. Instead, use complex carbs as your energy intake throughout the day. Eat foods such as whole wheat breads (Ezekiel bread), oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potatoes, or red potatoes. These are broken down and used as energy to you while training. Use these carbs mostly until you are approaching bed time. Rule of thumb teaches us to cut carbs from our diet after 5pm, however, anytime that is up to 2-3 hours before bed time will suffice.

For protein, get ready because this is where discrepancies occur the most. Try and obtain at least your body weight (lbs) in grams of protein per day (Ex 195 lbs guy needs 195 grams of protein) Be very careful not to over-consume protein. The registered dietitians recommend .8-1.2 g/ protein per given body weight in kilograms. I believe this is a tad bit underrated, so I recommend body weight in pounds. If, however, you are consuming more than the recommended value, get ready to buy new pants. Protein is digested slowly with help from the liver, but like anything that is too much at one time, it will be stored as body fat. A good indication of too much protein will be a neon color or urine when you use the bathroom. Every meal should constitute some sort of protein in it, rather it comes from: eggs, chicken, steak (London broil, flank, or round), beef (93/7 lean), tuna, turkey, or even legumes (white or pinto). Sticking to a heavier and denser protein after a lift is crucial for the muscle to soak up like a sponge. Don’t ever stop eating! This is the best advice I can give to you guys. The weekend is when we begin to cheat the most, so don’t waste it all on one day of bad eating, for this is how the mechanics of training get screwed up. Keep each meal spread out 2-2.5 hours in the morning, for this is the best time for nutrients to be absorbed. Don’t be victim of taking large breaks in between big meals, for this kills the metabolism and will for sure store massive amounts of body fat. Our metabolism is running slow until that first meal in the morning, so make sure breakfast is the first on your agenda upon awakening. Keep your carbs and protein in balance, and try to have at least 60% of your daily intake coming from carbs. Another key factor I have learned is to drop down a carb meal or two on days you are not in the gym, for these extra amounts of carbs serve as no purpose, and it will keep you leaner and harder. This includes the Sunday brunch at Cracker Barrel too; just because you’re there doesn’t mean you can order the entire left side of the menu. Natural guys don’t have days off and can’t afford to skip training days; it’s a lifestyle that must not be overlooked.

This brings me to my next point; fats are not always a bad thing. As long as they’re in moderation, you are granted access. Time of consumption, however, is a key component in this. You must have a little fat in order to put on muscle; otherwise your body will be put into a catabolic state. Fats are not to be taken in with carbs, so if you’re that guy spreading peanut butter in your oatmeal, stop whining about abdominal fat storage. It slows down the digestion of good carbs, and must only be eaten with vegetables and protein. Aim for 15-20% daily intake from fats. As mentioned earlier, meals in the evening don’t necessarily need high amounts of carbohydrates, so exchange them with vegetables (green beans, broccoli, asparagus, peas, celery, salad) and good fats (olive oil, almonds, walnuts, natural peanut butter). This concept of eating routines can be used all the way through dieting for a show, as long as portions are monitored.
My last piece of info is just a wake up call for those who are pretty much following what I have already said. If your objective is to be at 230 lbs, you need to eat like a 230 lbs man! Too many times, I see guys telling me what they’re eating, and it’s not enough. It’s imperative to eat heavier in order tom get heavier. Watch yourself on weekends and don’t slack off. If you think you are, keep a journal and simply compare it to what you eat through the weekdays and find the correlation. To train is easy, but to train with knowledge and understanding is wise. It’s imperative to keep in mind the tremendous feeding effect your body will go through if you try and eat clean. To summarize for those who already forgot:
  • Eat every 2-2.5 hours morning/ spread to 3 hours in evening/ eat breakfast always
  • Protein = body weight in grams/ eat every meal/ dense protein after lifts
  • Carbs = Hit hard through day/ take in complex only unless after lifting
  • Fats and protein, NOT fats with carbs
  • Eat enough on weekends/ don’t eat meals high in fat to replace a skipped meal

The information is not a guarantee that you will put on 25 lbs of lean muscle in no time. Let’s be realistic, this is slow process, especially if you’re naturally training. Maintain good eating habits and avoid listening to “roided-out Joe” at the gym and what he does, because EVERYONE is different. People digest food differently, and these ideas I have mentioned are a simply template to follow. Obviously, they would be altered dependent upon contest schedule, but if you’re just trying to grow, it is a helpful insight to what you’re looking for. If you train hard, and eat enough and clean, you will see your results.

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