Hoisting iron is hard work. So if you're going to hit the gym to weight train with the notion of developing a hard body, make sure your body is ready for the effort.
"Body builders are just people, and they have similar needs [to] most athletes," says Boston-based Nancy Clark, a certified specialist in sports dietetics and author of "Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook. "They need adequate protein to build their muscles. And they need adequate carbohydrates to fuel their muscles, fuel their workouts. And it's good to have some essential fats, healthy fats, because they make the body work better."
The formula is pretty simple: Increased muscle mass results from the accumulation of small amounts of protein in response to each bout of exercise combined with nutrient intake [source: Tipton]. What "nutrients" you choose, however, can make a big difference.
Clark is a proponent of eating whole, and wholesome, foods -- as opposed to supplements -- since our bodies benefit from the synergistic effects. For example, the vitamin C we consume through fruits (or natural fruit juices) helps us absorb the iron found in whole grains.
"My thing with body builders is that they tend to be obsessive compulsive, for whatever reason, and they're looking for the perfect diet," says Clark. "I tend to think of a diet that has 85 to 90 percent quality, and 10 to 15 percent whatever else, works. If they wanted to have a piece of birthday cake, that would be OK, too."
Conversely, body builders should keep in mind that just because they're more active, they can't eat whatever they want. "I don't believe in the good food/bad food model," says Clark. "I believe in moderation. Certainly high-fat, high-processed food isn't good for anybody."
"Even athletes die of heart attacks," she says. "There are a lot of marathoners who've gone out for a run and dropped dead in their tracks. No one is immune."
In other words, a diet that consists of sugary cereals for breakfast, greasy burgers and fries for lunch, processed chips for a snack, and frozen meals for dinner isn't going to provide the optimal fuel for your workouts.