If you're eating nothing but chicken and broccoli all week, read this. Your muscles and your sanity will thank you.
Ahh, the lean bulking diet; say what you want about the merits of trying to add pounds of muscle without adding a single ounce of extra bodyfat, but as a nutritional consultant I can tell you one thing: some of these lean bulking diets are the most meticulous and repetitive things the world has ever seen.
Now, I'm all for having a food preparation routine; it makes things simple and convenient, and it's much easier to track results and avoid falling off the wagon when you know exactly what you're eating at every meal.
The problem with this is, guys get stuck in such a routine that they don't have any variety, and may even be missing out on a lot of nutrients--not to mention calories--that can contribute to their health and growth.
As bodybuilding friendly as it may appear to be, a diet based on egg whites, chicken breasts, brown rice and broccoli does not meet your needs, I can assure you of that. While it may be a "clean" diet, it is most certainly not an optimal one.
Bodybuilders weren't always this damn boring. There are many foods that old-school lifters used to swear by for gaining mass that their contemporaries seem to have forgotten or cast aside, mainly due to piss-poor nutrition recommendations and a foolish fear of saturated fat.
Today, I'm going to revive some of those foods, with the hope it inspires you to make some changes in your own diet; changes that could result in you adding some mass that may have eluded you on your ultra "clean" diet.
Full Fat Grass-fed Dairy
While I'm definitely not a big fan of conventional dairy due to poor production, poor quality, loss of important fatty acids, and high estrogen content, dairy from pasture-raised grass-fed cows is an entirely different animal.
Since these cows are actually allowed to eat what they were designed to eat, their milk quality is vastly superior – containing more actual nutrition like vitamin A, vitamin K (in the more powerful form of K2), omega-3's, and CLA. In fact, grass-fed cows have been found to contain up to 500% more CLA than their conventionally fed brethren!
Now you'll also notice that all of those compounds are either fatty acids or fat-soluble vitamins. That's right, many of the benefits of dairy come from its fat content, regardless of the fact that it is mainly saturated.
Scoff all you want, but these are incredibly important differences. CLA has been shown to be a powerful ally in the fight against cancer, and has been found to greatly reduce tumor growth in animals, and possibly in humans as well.
In a Finnish study, women who had the highest levels of CLA in their diet had a 60% lower risk of breast cancer than those with the lowest levels. Simply switching from conventionally raised grain-fed meat and dairy to pasture-raised grass-fed versions would have placed all the women in the lowest risk category.
The best part may be vitamin K (in the form of K2-MK4). Several studies have found that a higher vitamin K2 intake is associated with a lower risk of heart attack, ischemic stroke, cancer incidence, cancer mortality and overall mortality. Men with the highest vitamin K2 consumption had a 51% lower risk of heart attack mortality and a 26% lower risk of all-cause mortality compared to men consuming the lowest amount!
One of the ways vitamin K2 improves cardiovascular health is its ability to decrease arterial calcification by 30-40%. And this only speaks to vitamin K2's effects of cardiovascular health; it's also crucially important for proper fetal development and bone health, to name a few additional benefits.
One final note that I think will speak to many of you, beyond the health benefits – muscular growth. Researchers compared skim milk to whole milk in the post-training period, to see which would produce greater anabolic effects. They pitted 14oz of skim milk against 8oz of whole milk, to make them calorically equal. Theoretically, the results should be even or in the favor of skim milk, since it had six more grams of protein. The research showed that whole milk was more effective than skim, despite lesser protein content and equal total calories. Another notch in favor of whole-fat over fat-free.
So, for those of you busting your ass to gain some size, why in the world would you choose low-fat or fat-free dairy options? You're trying to sneak calories into your diet, not out of it! Full-fat versions, especially from grass-fed cows, are vastly superior for health, and for growth.
There are several companies that are available nationwide that provide high quality milk from grass-fed cows, like Organic Valley and Whole Foods 365 brand. To find about a company near you, or to see if your current organic milk stacks up, check out this report from the Cornucopia Institute.
While I've gone to great lengths to trumpet the value of full-fat, grass-fed dairy in general, here are some specific food recommendations:
Whole milk used to be a staple of the old-school bodybuilding crowd, and was successfully used by innumerable men in the quest for more mass. It provides a lot of easily consumed calories, a nice blend of whey and casein, as well as a good dose of electrolytes – calcium, potassium, magnesium and some sodium. It also offers a good source of vitamin A, vitamin D, and a few B vitamins to boot.
Full fat cheeses – Cheddar, Cottage, etc.
These are also very high in calories, especially cheddar cheese. Cheddar cheese is one of the best sources of vitamin K2 due to the fermentation process, as well as providing relatively even amounts of protein and fat without any carbs. Cottage cheese is an incredible source of protein, and the full-fat versions are again more calorie dense.
Cream, especially the heavy whipping kind, is extraordinarily calorie dense. This can be a great addition to smoothies as it improves mouth-feel, flavor, and just provides a ton of calories.
There are many fantastic carbohydrate sources out there that seem to have fallen off most bodybuilder's radars. Two perfect examples are potatoes, replaced by sweet potatoes, and wild rice, replaced by brown.
Now those replacements are fine foods, but are they really any better than the foods they're substituted for? Not really.
White potatoes have gotten a bad rap recently, mainly due to their high glycemic index, which is higher than the more celebrated sweet potato. But really, who cares? You aren't eating a white potato all by its lonesome, so that T-bone and steamed veggies with it, along with the pastured butter inside it, will slow its digestion anyway, making that point rather irrelevant.
All the talk about garbage white potatoes and saintly sweet potatoes has been taken a little far. Sweet potatoes are awesome, but white potatoes have more iron, magnesium and potassium than sweet potatoes, and they're one of the most satiating foods on the planet.
They pack a lot of calories into a small package, were a staple of the old-school crowd, and have helped thousands of lifters pack on some serious mass. They're also a good source of 12 vitamins and minerals, and provide 7 g of both fiber and complete protein in each large one.
Wild rice has become a barely spoken word in bodybuilding and even health-conscious circles these days. Is brown rice actually any better? They're both good sources of 8 vitamins and minerals; wild has 3 g of fiber and 7 g of protein in 1 cooked cup, while brown has 4 g of fiber and 5 g of protein. Does anybody see a significant difference there? I would say wild is every bit as good, plus offers a nice change to the palate for your much-neglected taste buds. And really, did a little variety ever hurt anyone?
Old School Protein
Be honest, how much do you really enjoy eating boneless, skinless chicken breasts multiple meals per day, every day? While a fine food, there are so many other great protein sources out there that have been largely forgotten with the explosion in consumption of said chicken breasts.
These sources have micronutrients, fatty acids, and more that chicken breasts don't have, and they just bring some more flavor and variety, as well as calories to help spur growth. You might even enjoy eating meat again.
Many old-school bodybuilders used to absolutely crush whole chickens. Whole chickens, whole milk, and potatoes were the name of the game, and they certainly worked. So why do we just eat plain boneless, skinless chicken breasts today?
I'll grant you that they're very convenient, easy to prepare, go with just about anything, and can last for several days precooked in the fridge (or up to a week for the more daring). But in terms of price per calorie, whole chickens are crazy cheap, provide more total calories and taste loads better. What's not to love?
Breasts, thighs or the whole damn thing. Turkey is a vastly underappreciated meat that arrives in spades come Thanksgiving, but then goes virtually unnoticed the rest of the year. Turkey is a fantastic protein source, a good source of 11 vitamins and minerals, including being an excellent source of the cancer-fighting selenium. Plus, it's just a nice change of pace from eating chicken all the damn time.
Tuna was once a dietary staple, though it seems to have gone the way of the dodo lately. No one talks about it, and even less seem to eat it. It's no longer the pretty girl at the dance, having been replaced by the sexier salmon. Though salmon does have more omega-3's, and that powerful antioxidant astaxanthin, tuna is no slouch.
It's a better protein source, contains over 1 gram of omega-3's per can (amount varies by type), and is a good source of 7 vitamins and minerals. It's also an incredible source of selenium, containing over 3 times the amount in turkey! Finally, it's one of the absolute cheapest protein sources around, though I would recommend the light variety, due to the marked decrease in its mercury content.
Eggs do seem to be making a comeback of late, but I can't tell you how many guys I know who are trying to gain weight and are still knocking back cartons of egg whites. Two whole eggs with six egg whites don't even come close to the caloric or nutritional powerhouse of five whole eggs.
Whole eggs contain the brain-boosting and anti-inflammatory choline, lutein and zeaxanthin for eye health, vitamin A, vitamin D, B vitamins, selenium, iodine for proper thyroid function and more. Whole eggs are one of nature's greatest foods, so why are you only eating the damn whites? If you still think that saturated fat and cholesterol contribute to heart disease – wait, no one still really believes that, do they?
If you can get access to pasture-raised eggs, their nutrient content is vastly superior, with 4-6 times the vitamin D content, 3 times the omega-3 content, and 8 times the beta-carotene content.
Pork chops were something I remember growing up with, and yet they seem to have largely disappeared from the American Diet, probably due to the late 80's/early 90's fear of fat. While pork chops do contain more fat than chicken or turkey, again, who cares? The majority of the fat is in the form of the monounsaturated oleic acid, just like in olive oil, and they're a good source of 10 vitamins and minerals.
Chops are also an excellent source of several B vitamins, as well as the brain-boosting and anti-inflammatory choline. Plus they're tasty, which isn't a crime, no matter what the guys eating six meals a day out of Tupperware might tell you.
Off To The Grocery Store
Consistency is key to any successful bodybuilding plan, but that doesn't mean you should try to live off of a mere dozen or so "clean" foods. There are plenty of tasty, nutritious foods that can help you pack in some serious calories and nutrients while providing some much-needed variety to your palate.
Chicken breasts, brown rice, broccoli, and egg whites are all fine foods, but they aren't your only choices – and especially not day in, day out. Give some of these forgotten foods a shot; what have you got to lose?
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