So you wanna bulk up, lose the fat, gain some muscle. But Hans and Franz haven't called in ages, so you've done a jillion Web searches and bought a pile of books, and while some of the information out there is consistent, some of it is not.
I'm not talking here about trying to drop a few pounds so you can get into a bikini. I mean the heavy-duty pursuit of souped-up pecs and iron abs.
But is bodybuilding, with its need to pump protein and dose with mega-supplements, all that bod-friendly? Extreme fitness folks who advocate all kinds of things not normally associated with holistic body care are sure it is, but many disagree. If you're really intent on deltoids maxima, be careful where you get your info.
What the experts say
"People might get into this sport for health reasons, but it's really not very healthy. It's suspected that high-protein diets can be very bad for the kidneys, but I don't know if there's a lot of evidence that bodybuilders end up with kidney failure. When you read a peer-reviewed journal and not something trying to sell you protein powder, you'll find the evidence doesn't support the practice [of eating a high-protein diet]. If bodybuilders take a very low-carb approach, they may not have enough glycogen to support their workouts. A lot of protein powders and drinks are incredibly low-carb and do not meet the recommended ratio."
JEAN LAMANTIA, registered dietitian, Toronto
"The established recommended daily allowance for protein is .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight [for regular folks]. Excess protein supports muscle growth. It's a really hard macronutrient to turn into fat, so you get that leaner look. There's probably not a huge downside. If someone could point out study done in humans that shows a link between high protein and risk for kidney or liver disease, I'd be willing to hear it. One suggestion is that a high-protein diet might reduce bone mass, but that is probably incorrect. Most people would find the diet intolerable for a long period of time, though."
STUART M. PHILLIPS, associate professor, Kinesiology, Exercise Metabolism Research Group, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario
"If you put too much protein into the body, you have to eliminate it, and this is hard on the kidneys. So I don't like a bodybuilding diet. As well, some of the protein [powders] may be processed with products like whey and soy, which some people don't tolerate well and can increase their allergenic potential. This can work against the body and cause inflammation."
SUSHMA SHAH, naturopath, Toronto
"[Bodybuilders] need about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, which needs to be split up into about six meals a day. Muscles are made of protein. It should be accompanied by a carbohydrate. Some people think you should stay away from [simple carbs] like white rice and potatoes, but I believe you should eat these things after a workout because your body has been depleted of sugar. You should have about 1.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. Don't choose a protein powder high in calories. You need good fat like nut butter and flax seed oil. Look for natural products. You need a lot of water, and should be constantly sipping.
MARIA CORTES, bodybuilding champion, Kitchener
"Stick to the big mainstream companies for supplements. There's a lot of crap out there. Right now people should watch out for the nitric oxide supplements . It's one of the top sellers, and there's nothing to suggest it works. Creatine works; the good creatine is made in Germany, where there's more regulation. PubMed is a good place to look for information. Quantity of food is important. You need to eat enough to build with. Eat quality food. The slower the pace you gain at, the more muscle you're likely to get."
JP CLIFFORD, publisher, www.gain-weight-muscle-fast.com, Kansas
"There are plant-based sources of complete protein and of calcium. People still think being a vegan is unhealthy, but as long as you eat a wide variety of foods, lots of colours, lots of raw foods, you'll get what you need. You have to get an adequate amount of proteins and calories. Sometimes I don't take supplements at all. Other times I'll take meal replacement powders. Amino acids can help muscle recovery so you can train a little harder and recover a little faster. Fruit is my big snack. I like to eat six to eight times a day and have a least three high-calories meals. I eat raw and unprocessed. The key is discovering what's out there, like hemp protein, quinoa, kale.
ROBERT CHEEKE, vegan bodybuilding and fitness, Portland, Oregon