This is a contentious subject, with opinions differing between people of all areas of expertise. Irrespective of this, bodybuilding is dependent on a combination of factors. Bodybuilding cannot be achieved through any one aspect alone. The right amount and selection of training, diet and supplementation, recovery, mindset, and genetics, will determine your ability to achieve a desired physique. It is important to understand that the foods you eat are what will be supplying you with the energy to go hard at the gym and the right foods will help increase your muscle building potential.
As the saying goes, you need to stimulate, not annihilate the muscle for it to grow. Bodybuilding tears down muscle tissue through weight training. Muscle fibres are damaged during intense weight training involving the right amount of resistance and repetitions. The fibres grow bigger and stronger through adaptation. As muscles adapt to the stress you impose on them through training, you must progressively increase the intensity. Using the same resistance and intensity, the muscles have no incentive to respond, and they stop growing.1
For muscle to perform at its best, the right amount and types of nutrients must be consumed at the appropriate times.2 The right balance of macronutrients, (protein, carbohydrates and fats), and micronutrients, (vitamins, minerals and trace elements) is essential.3 The right consumption time for these nutrients can be found in many specifically related articles on this site. As a quick summary though, it is important to make use of the training window, a period of time where consumption of certain foods and supplements can prove to help with extra gains in muscular size, strength and power. For example a delay of supplementation of more than two hours can significantly reduce protein synthesis and muscle glycogen replenishment. Consumption of a carbohydrate/protein supplement in liquid form after training is effective in enhancing your body’s anabolic processes. Pre-training supplementation is also a factor to consider.
As we are working to fatigue in the gym to ensure that our future workouts are of high quality, adequate rest and recovery is needed. This rest and recovery will also help to permit muscle adaptation and growth from your bodybuilding training. Optimal growth occurs when adequate rest of the muscle is achieved; ie not working the same muscle group on consecutive days. Ensuring at least 48 hrs of recovery time will help you perform better at the gym so you can reap the benefits of maximum growth.
We've all had experience on how a good nights sleep can improve our mental and physical performance. 8-10 hours sleep is suggested for athletes involved in intense training.4 Lack of sleep is associated with a number of problems including diabetes and increased insulin resistance, decreased cognitive ability and attention, changes in growth hormone and cortisol production, decreased healing ability and changes to appetite, hunger and consumption. All these factors can negatively affect your ability to recover from workouts and achieve your ultimate goal of building quality muscle.
You cannot do anything to alter your genes. From conception, your DNA blueprint has been set. Whilst your genetics can place limits on your strength and size gains, everyone can make impressive gains in strength and size.
Regardless of the level of bodybuilding in which you aspire, whether it’s purely recreational, or competitive to the highest level, you must maintain a positive mental attitude. You can’t take a half-hearted approach of you will be easily defeated.
Perception may vary about how much nutrition accounts for in the overall equation. Thus in this writer’s opinion, the importance of the above interconnected facets of bodybuilding would be ranked: nutrition and supplementation 65%, training 20%, and recovery 15%. In summary, nutrition and supplementation is the most important aspect of bodybuilding, followed by training and recovery.
1 Natural bodybuilding by John Hansen, p. 35
2 Nutrient Timing by John Ivy, Ph.D., and Robert Portman, Ph.D., p. 7
3 Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding by Robert Kennedy, p. 179
4 Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements, Jose Antonio, PhD, Douglas Kalman, Phd, RD, Jeffrey R. Stout, PhD, Mike Greenwood, PhD, Darryn S. Willoughby, PhD, G. Gregory Haff PhD. p. 128