Everything you need to know about training and dieting for natural bodybuilding
Bodybuilding is a sport where athletes lift weights and eat the food necessary to build the utmost physique of a human–for the most aesthetically appealing body possible to shine under the bright lights of a stage. Bodybuilders aim to develop the most proportionally muscular and lean body they can to catch the judge’s eye for a chance to win gold medals.
However, bodybuilding leagues, such as the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) Pro, allow drugs such as anabolic steroids. But natural organizations like the International Natural Bodybuilding Association (INBA)/Professional Natural Bodybuilding Association (PNBA) forbid drug use.
Is it possible to build an extraordinary physique without doping? The finest INBA PNBA athletes prove that naturally building a muscular and shredded body is more than achievable if you follow an efficient nutrition and workout plan. This article will dive deeply into how top-tier natural bodybuilders eat and train.
What Is Natural Bodybuilding?
As the name suggests, natural bodybuilding is bodybuilding without doping. Using drugs such as anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) is prohibited in the sport of natural bodybuilding. And the most prominent natural bodybuilding organization, INBA PNBA, screens its athletes through the most strenuous drug testing standards–the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Any athlete who fails a drug test during season or off-season will be stripped of their title and prize money and placed in the Hall of Shame.
Below is a clip from Generation Iron: Natty 4 Lifedetailing more of the WADA protocols in the INBA PNBA.
The goal of natural bodybuilders is the same as a bodybuilder–build the most aesthetically pleasing body with a lot of muscle, and low body fat, except natural bodybuilders, do so naturally without drugs. Of course, PEDs make achieving this feat much easier. However, the proper nutrition and training regimens make sculpting a top-tier physique naturally possible.
Nutrition for Natural Bodybuilders
Both enhanced lifters and natural bodybuilders follow a similar dieting protocol–they must closely monitor their calories and macros (protein, fats, carbs). However, natural athletes must be more strict and go through a longer bulking and cutting phase since they can’t rely on steroids for fast results. It’s not uncommon for natural athletes to take years off from competing to focus solely on building muscle before entering a show again. Also, natural bodybuilders must be warier in preserving their muscle mass when contest prepping/cutting since PEDs help with that.
Calorie Guidelines for Natural Bodybuilders
Your nutrition starts with your calories as a natural bodybuilder. Although your macronutrient intake is imperative, counting calories is the most critical aspect of gaining and losing weight. To build muscle, you’ll want to go through a bulking phase. And it’s important to cut to lose weight.
A bulking phase is when bodybuilders eat at a caloric surplus for some time to gain mass and muscle. Bulking is typically where natural bodybuilders spend most of their time in the off-season. However, as competition approaches and natural athletes are in-season or contest prepping a few weeks from the show, they’re in a caloric deficit to shred as much body fat as possible.
Generally, you’ll want to eat about 300-500 calories above or below your maintenance. But it depends on if you’re bulking or cutting. Eating 300-500 calories above maintenance calories (calories needed to stay the same weight) will help you build lean muscle while limiting unwanted fat mass. And consuming 300-500 calories below your maintenance calories will cut body fat while preserving lean muscle mass. Gaining or losing about 1-2 pounds a week is a good rule of thumb. Studies show that this is ideal for losing/ gaining weight healthily while preserving muscle/preventing fat gain (1).
Although, during the off-season, natural bodybuilders may eat more than 300-500 calories above maintenance and gain extra fat to put on as much muscle mass as possible. And natural bodybuilders may cut their calories a good bit below maintenance calories when a show is around the corner.
It’s important to mention that the number of calories you consume will vary depending on your goal, weight, body fat, etc. Various calorie calculators on the internet will help you determine your calorie intake requirements.
Macronutrient Requirements for Natural Bodybuilders
After you have your calories dialed in, next, you’ll be splitting your calories across three macronutrients: protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Typically, bodybuilders will follow a high-protein diet with either low or moderate carb levels, depending on if they’re bulking or cutting.
When natural bodybuilders are bulking, they’ll consume more carbs. That’s because carbs are your primary source of energy and muscle glycogen (energy for your muscles). But it’s customary for bodybuilders to cut carbs out when they’re cutting, especially before a show.
Low-carb diets such as keto make athletes appear leaner (which is essential for competition) since carbs retain water. And keto is effective for fast weight and fat loss.
The amount of protein you consume is the second most important aspect of nutrition behind calories. Adequate protein intake is imperative for building muscle mass. In addition, protein can help satiate you, making cutting weight easier.
Some good protein food sources include pork, beef, protein shakes, tilapia, and eggs.
As aforementioned, carbohydrates are essential for supplying your body and muscles with energy. And cutting them out can also be beneficial for bodybuilders before a show. So the timing of when you consume more carbs and cut out carbs is essential. You don’t want to reduce carbs while bulking since that could impede your workout performance. And it may be best to consume fewer carbs when you’re cutting to help with fat loss.
The carbs you eat depend on how many calories and protein you consume. But it’s best to get about 40-60% of your calories from carbs, especially when you’re bulking or in a maintenance phase.
It’s best to consume complex carbohydrates (potatoes, whole grain bread, vegetables) compared to simple carbohydrates (pastries, white pasta, candy) since they’re more nutrient dense. Fruits are also a good source of carbs since they’re packed with micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
The remainder of your calories will come from fats (20-30% of calories) after you’ve dialed in on how many calories, protein, and carbs you’ll be eating. The exact amount of grams of fat and carbohydrates won’t be as substantial as nailing your protein target. However, consuming proper amounts of fat is still important.
Fats keep your testosterone and hormones in check, which is essential since many bodybuilders have mentioned a hormone drop during an intense cut. Although, you must be wary of the number of fats you consume when cutting because fats contain the most calories per gram (9 calories/g) compared to protein and carbs (4 calories/g).
It’s best to consume fats from healthy food instead of processed foods. Healthy unsaturated fats include olive oil, almond nuts, and avocadoes. High-protein meat foods like pork have fat as well.
Micronutrients for Natural Bodybuilders
Regarding fitness goals such as building muscle and losing body fat, calories and macros are the most critical aspect of your nutrition. However, for your general health, consuming proper micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) will optimize your health and give you energy, which can help you with your workouts and physique.
There are many beneficial micronutrients that you can get from eating healthy foods, especially fruits, since they’re filled with micronutrients. However, some beneficial vitamins and minerals for natural bodybuilders are vitamin D, iron, zinc, and ashwagandha.
- Vitamin D: Many people are vitamin D deficient from not getting enough sun exposure. But vitamin D is vital for a robust immune system, energy, and testosterone (3).
- Iron: Iron is a crucial micronutrient since it helps transport oxygen throughout your body via red blood cells, which is vital for workout performance.
- Zinc and ashwagandha: Zinc and ashwagandha are two nutrients that can aid testosterone production naturally (3).
Taking a multivitamin can be a beneficial way to get imperative nutrients since it can be challenging to get them from food sources alone.
Supplements in Natural Bodybuilding
Some substances are allowed in natural bodybuilding. However, natural athletes, especially in the INBA PNBA league, need to be cautious of their supplements since WADA has a list of banned substances from the competition. Some of these substances can be included in protein powders, fat burners, creatine, and pre-workouts, so it’s critical for any INBA PNBA athlete to thoroughly check their supplements for any ingredients that may get them banned from competing.
Training in Natural Bodybuilding
As the adage goes, you can’t out-train a bad diet. That said, a quality training program is critical for any competitive athlete. We’ve gotten some insight from INBA PNBA natural bodybuilders’ training regimens. And these athletes train hard with ample volume and intensity. Although natural bodybuilders won’t be able to train with as much volume as steroid users since PEDs allow your body to handle more load than it would otherwise.
And depending on the bodybuilding division, some athletes focus on other muscle groups heavier than others. For example, 3x Men’s Physique Natural Olympia champ William Long says that legs aren’t as crucial in the Men’s Physique category since contenders wear board shorts.
Also, each natural bodybuilder follows their unique workout structure. However, there are some general guidelines and principles the top contenders adhere to. These include:
- Lift in the six to 12 rep range most of the time.
- Lift heavy weights.
- Perform a split routine 4-6 days a week.
- Have rest days.
- Perform 3-5 sets per exercise.
- Perform 5-7 exercises per workout.
- Include barbell compound movements (barbell bench press, squat, row, deadlift) and put them at the beginning of your workout.
*Note: Top natural bodybuilders’ volume and training frequency are high. If you’re a beginner, we suggest starting with a lower volume.
Natural bodybuilding leagues like the INBA PNBA are similar to bodybuilding leagues like the IFBB Pro, except drugs are prohibited in natural bodybuilding. Natural bodybuilders eat a diet filled with whole foods emphasizing calories and protein.
And they go through periods of bulking and cutting phases to progress their physique year after year and prep for shows. Elite natural athletes lift heavy weights with high volume, except not relatively as high as enhanced bodybuilders since drugs such as steroids enable lifters to do more volume.
Natural athletes in the INBA PNBA league prove how well you can build your physique naturally without steroids and other potentially harmful PEDs.
- Mero, A. A., Huovinen, H., Matintupa, O., Hulmi, J. J., Puurtinen, R., Hohtari, H., & Karila, T. A. (2010). Moderate energy restriction with high protein diet results in healthier outcome in women. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 7(1), 4. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-7-4
- Stokes, T., Hector, A. J., Morton, R. W., McGlory, C., & Phillips, S. M. (2018). Recent Perspectives Regarding the Role of Dietary Protein for the Promotion of Muscle Hypertrophy with Resistance Exercise Training. Nutrients, 10(2), 180. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10020180
- Maktabi, M., Jamilian, M., & Asemi, Z. (2018). Magnesium-Zinc-Calcium-Vitamin D Co-supplementation Improves Hormonal Profiles, Biomarkers of Inflammation and Oxidative Stress in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Biological trace element research, 182(1), 21–28. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12011-017-1085-0
Dairy: Yogurt, cottage cheese, low-fat milk and cheese. Grains: Bread, cereal, crackers, oatmeal, quinoa, popcorn and rice. Fruits: Oranges, apples, bananas, grapes, pears, peaches, watermelon and berries. Starchy vegetables: Potatoes, corn, green peas, green lima beans and cassava.How do natural bodybuilders train? ›
Training Tips for Natural Bodybuilders
Muscle groups should be trained twice or more every week. Most reps should be kept in the six to 12 range. Rest for one to three minutes in between sets. Keep concentric movements (putting tension on muscles) to one to two seconds.
Seniors Can Still Bulk Up On Muscle By Pressing Iron Our muscle mass decreases at surprising rates as we get older. But researchers found that people older than 50 can not only maintain but actually increase their muscle mass by lifting weights.What are 5 body building foods? ›
- Eggs. Eggs contain high quality protein, healthy fats, and other important nutrients like B vitamins and choline ( 1 ). ...
- Salmon. Salmon is a great choice for muscle building and overall health. ...
- Chicken breast. ...
- Greek yogurt. ...
- Tuna. ...
- Lean beef. ...
- Shrimp. ...
- Not Stretching or Cooling Down. This one tops the list because the majority of us simply NEVER do it. ...
- You Add Peanut Butter in Your Post Workout Shake. ...
- You Don't Eat Carbs Post Workout. ...
- You Eat Like a Stray Dog After Training.
Interestingly, they only trained, on average, about 5 days a week, for about an hour (plus or minus a little bit) at a time. Yes, that's right - about 5-7 hours total.How long should a natural bodybuilder workout? ›
Most naturals should keep their workouts to 60 minutes or less. Without artificial enhancement, it's tough to recover from long workouts. Long workouts increase your cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that can inhibit muscle gain.Can a natural bodybuilder train 6 days a week? ›
Hitting a muscle three times per week is the optimal frequency for a natural trainee (with a low volume to compensate for the increase in frequency). Train six days a week, doing short, low volume workouts hitting half the body each time.Can I start bodybuilding at 40? ›
You ask yourself, "Is it possible for me to regain the body I once had and put on some muscle at my age?" The simple answer is yes! You can put on muscle after 40, but you will have to take a completely different approach than when you weight trained and dieted as a youth.How many sets should I do for natural bodybuilding? ›
As bodybuilder Lee Haney once said, "Stimulate, don't annihilate." Current research indicates that anything between 3-10 sets per body part, per session, is sufficient to maximize muscle protein synthesis (MPS).
Retirees, take note and flex that bicep: 2017 can be the year you start building muscle again. Repeated research has shown that, through weight training, men and women in their 60s and beyond can grow muscles as big and strong as an average 40-year-old.At what age does muscle growth stop? ›
“Muscle mass peaks around age 40. [Then it] begins to decline due to sarcopenia,” explains Pete Rufo, a performance coach at Beast Training Academy in Chicago. “A major contributor to muscle mass decline is lack of exercise and sedentary lifestyles.What are the negative effects of bodybuilding? ›
Negative Effects. Overtime, weightlifting puts a tremendous amount of stress on your joints, tendons, and ligaments. As a result, many bodybuilders have tendinitis, back pains, shoulder pains, and other forms of joint problems. These injuries, if left untreated, will remain and significantly get worse.Which fruit is best for bones? ›
Food rich in vitamin C such as oranges, orange juice, bananas, plantains, prunes, grapefruits, strawberries, papaya, pineapples, and guava. Fruit juices that contain calcium and vitamin D. Fruits rich in vitamin K such as blueberries, raspberries, plums, grapes, and figs are good for bones.What foods do bodybuilders avoid? ›
- Are you new to fitness and wish to build muscles like Jeff Seid or Steve Cook? Then this article is a must-read for you. ...
- Flax seeds. ...
- Sugar. ...
- Unhealthy Carbohydrates. ...
- Alcohol. ...
- Fried food items. ...
- Fast food. ...
- Spicy food.
Unfortunately, research shows it can also prevent you from separating from your own fat stores. In addition, trans fat increases muscle breakdown and discourages muscle growth. Smart play: “Go for natural brands that are just peanuts,” Gidus advises.
Movements like squats, hip hinges, lunges, and pushups work larger groups of muscles while engaging your joints. They are particularly useful for people over the age of 50. Are you using weights or resistance bands? Try increasing the length of time that you perform an exercise or stretch the bands.What time of day is best to weight train? ›
While weightlifting any time of day is better than none at all, research shows weightlifting in the late afternoon/ early evening has the most benefits. If you work out later in the day, you'll have more fuel to burn as energy, and your body temperature will peak, which is closely related to improved performance.How long do body builders live? ›
The mean age during competitive years was 24.6 years (range 18–47 years). Of the 597 men, 58 (9.7%) were reported dead. Only 40 deaths were expected in this population based on age-matched data, for a standardized mortality rate of 1.34. The mean age of death was 47.7 years (range 26.6 – 75.4 years).How many hours do bodybuilders sleep? ›
All of them picked 8-hours of sleep each night. It really is that important. There's no point in doing hardcore workouts if you're consistently getting less than 6-hours of sleep per night. 8-hours is ideal, while 9-10 hours is even better.
Natural bodybuilding is a bodybuilding movement with various competitions that take place for bodybuilders who abstain from performance-enhancing drugs. This categorically excludes the use of substances like anabolic steroids, insulin, diuretics and human growth hormone.How big can I get without steroids? ›
Key Takeaways. Most men can naturally gain 40 to 50 pounds of muscle in their lifetimes, and most women can naturally gain 20 to 25 pounds. Research shows that you can use the circumference of your wrists and ankles to predict how much muscle you can gain naturally.How many hours should I workout a day for muscle gain? ›
Spending your whole day in the gym isn't necessary to build muscle. Weight training for 20 to 30 minutes, 2 to 3 times a week is enough to see results. You should try to target all your major muscle groups at least twice throughout your weekly workouts.Do natural bodybuilders take whey protein? ›
However, if you're keen to compete in a natural bodybuilding competition, know there are plenty of safe, effective, and natural supplements you can take. In fact, BCAAs, creatine, and whey protein are naturally occurring nutrients and arguably the most effective supplements for natural bodybuilders.What does a bro split look like? ›
What Is A “Bro” Split? As mentioned above, a bro split is simply a training split where a trainee would concentrate on training one or two muscle groups a day. Since you only train a couple of muscles each day, bro splits plans on you training 5 or 6 days per week to hit every muscle every week.Is 45 too old to build muscle? ›
Older Guys Can Still Make Gains
They found that guys between 35 and 50 years old built just as much muscle as those between 18 and 22 years old. DEXA (duel-energy x-ray absorptiometry) scans showed that the college-aged men gained around two pounds of muscle, while the middle-aged men put on 2.5 pounds of muscle.
Yes, you can build muscle after 40. It's not like the ability of your muscles to adapt and grow suddenly stops once you hit 40. In fact, if you're currently out of shape and unfit, you'll see relatively rapid gains in lean muscle mass when you start lifting weights.Can you get ripped after 40? ›
With a little patience and dedication, you can work on getting ripped after 40. Get started with some body-weight exercises at a gym or with dumbbells at home. Try some squats, lunges, sit-ups, push-ups, and weight curls. When you first start working out, stick with 6 to 12 repetitions of 5 to 15 pound dumbbells.Who is the biggest natural bodybuilder of all time? ›
Mike O'Hearn is the largest natural bodybuilder in the world by weight.How much do natural bodybuilders weigh? ›
|Bodybuilder||Actual Weight (lbs)||Max Bulked Weight (lbs)|
- Rapid muscle/weight gain.
- Enlarged breasts (in men)
- Facial hair growth (in women)
20-30 total reps per exercise per workout (using heavy weights) is adequate for gaining strength. 50 reps or less per exercise per week works fine for strength gain in beginners. On the other hand, 50-100+ total weekly reps works better, especially in more experienced individuals.Is Natural Bodybuilding healthy? ›
Natural bodybuilding puts the focus on more than participating athletes' superficial appearance and performance in competition, but also their health, fitness, and general well-being. So apart from the risk of injury that comes with every sport, natural bodybuilding is not harmful to your health.What is the best reps for building muscle? ›
Reps for muscle growth
In order to get bigger and stronger, you must ensure your muscles work harder than they are used to. Generally, between 6-12 reps for 3-6 sets will help to build overall muscle size.
When it comes to natural bodybuilding, Lyle McDonald is certainly seen as an authority. He estimates that the maximum amount of muscle you can add during your lifetime is around 18-22kg (40-50lbs). He states that it would take around 4 years of perfect training and diet to reach this potential.Why is natural bodybuilding hard? ›
Natural bodybuilding is a very slow and time-consuming process. Unless you are born with some super human genetics, your 'gains' will not be visible before a couple of years of hard training and diet. Even after that, your 'gains' will still be limited to your gym 'selfies'.Is natural bodybuilding healthy? ›
Natural bodybuilding puts the focus on more than participating athletes' superficial appearance and performance in competition, but also their health, fitness, and general well-being. So apart from the risk of injury that comes with every sport, natural bodybuilding is not harmful to your health.How long does it take to become a natural bodybuilder? ›
A novice adult lifting weights three hours per week can expect to gain four to 15 pounds per year without the use of steroids or hormones. After two years of lifting this person should expect just three to 10 pounds of annual gains. After five years this growth will slow to about two to seven pounds per year.What is the biggest natural bodybuilder? ›
What is this? Mike O'Hearn is the largest natural bodybuilder in the world by weight. He is also famous as an actor, model, and personal trainer.Do natural bodybuilders take steroids? ›
Since natural bodybuilders avoid using steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, they seek to optimize their training, diet and rest regimes to maximize natural anabolic hormone production, thereby accelerating recovery and increasing hypertrophy and strength.
Pro bodybuilders in California make an average of $83,000 annually, while in Florida, they earn about $72,000 a year. In Nebraska, pro bodybuilders make an average of $56,000 a year. For top-tier bodybuilders, the earnings are much higher.Do natural bodybuilders take supplements? ›
Therefore, natural bodybuilders rely exclusively on their diet, training, and supplements approved by the world anti-doping agency (WADA) to achieve peak physical condition.How many sets should I do for natural bodybuilding? ›
As bodybuilder Lee Haney once said, "Stimulate, don't annihilate." Current research indicates that anything between 3-10 sets per body part, per session, is sufficient to maximize muscle protein synthesis (MPS).Can natural bodybuilders build muscle? ›
Natural bodybuilders may not be able to put on as much muscle mass as steroid users but they build muscles that are long lasting and sustainable. Besides building muscles that last, they have a better overall health and faster metabolism.Do bodybuilders need more vitamins? ›
Making sure you take a high-potency multivitamin/multi-mineral formula may help ensure the presence of those essential nutrients necessary for thousands of metabolic reactions. Bodybuilders, athletes, and people that lead active lifestyles need even more nutrients than the average non-active person.How much time does a bodybuilder spend in the gym? ›
Interestingly, they only trained, on average, about 5 days a week, for about an hour (plus or minus a little bit) at a time. Yes, that's right - about 5-7 hours total.What are the negative effects of bodybuilding? ›
Negative Effects. Overtime, weightlifting puts a tremendous amount of stress on your joints, tendons, and ligaments. As a result, many bodybuilders have tendinitis, back pains, shoulder pains, and other forms of joint problems. These injuries, if left untreated, will remain and significantly get worse.How do bodybuilders not get fat? ›
Some bodybuilders even do cardio while bulking, this translates into them being able to eat nearly twice as much what a regular person eats daily -and yet put on virtually zero fat and all muscle. Bodybuilders are focused on building muscle and the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism.How do bodybuilders burn fat? ›
A cutting diet is usually used by bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts to cut body fat while maintaining muscle mass. The key distinctions with other weight loss diets are that a cutting diet is catered to each individual, tends to be higher in protein and carbs, and should be accompanied by weightlifting.