Beginners Nutrition Guide

By Dr. Jimmy Steger

How many calories? How much protein? Low carb or low fat?

Questions like these often swarm about the heads of beginner weightlifters, body builders and first time trainees in the local health club. The intricacies of balancing protein, carbohydrates, fat and water can be a little puzzling at first, however if you understand what each of them can do for you and stick with a few basic rules, you’ll find eating healthy and smart to be a pretty painless process.

To gain muscle you have to eat more calories than you burn. If you train regularly, you will burn between 15-20 calories per pound of body weight per day, depending on your workouts and daily activity levels. If you shoot for about 20 calories per pound of body weight, or 3,000 calories for a 150-pounder, you will be eating enough to keep gaining muscle, but no to much so that you are also adding extra fat to your frame.

All four macronutrients are vital to life, but protein plays the largest role in helping your body recover from strenuous exercise. Protein comprises elements called amino acids, which are used for everything from building muscle and connective tissue to the formation of enzymes. I recommend that the beginner body builder consume a minimum of 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight for maximum benefit. As you become more advanced, in your training, then you will add more protein to your diet. Good quality sources of protein include organic chicken breasts and turkey, white fish, protein shakes, and egg whites.

Carbs serves as a quickly accessible form of fuel for the body during your workouts. To maximize muscle growth, beginners need to take in about 2 g. of carbs per pound of body weight or about 300 g. for a 150 lb. guy. The majority of these should be slow-digesting or what is known as low-glycemic carbs (a measure of how fast these carbs get their sugar into your blood stream). Low-glycemic carbs provide longer-lasting energy and don’t spike insulin levels, which could enhance fat gain at the wrong time of day. Fast-digesting or High-gylemic carbs rapidly raise blood-sugar levels and spike insulin. Sounds bad, but this is actually what you want immediately after workout to better replenish your muscles and boost muscle growth. Insulin will help get blood sugar and amino acids into your muscles and will also jump-start your muscle growth process. Below is a chart that will help you see the difference in high-glycemic carbs vs. low-glycemic carbs.  Remember I do not suggest the use of white rice or white flour for anyone.


  • Plain bagel
  • Rice cakes
  • White bread
  • White rice
  • Baked russet potatoes
  • Pasta


  • Brown rice
  • Whole wheat-grain breads
  • Whole wheat pastas
  • Oatmeal – All
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Apples
  • Apple juice


If you’re serious about getting results from your training, you need to consider not just what you eat, but when.  The most basic rule to gaining good quality muscle is to eat 6-7 small meals a day rather than 2-3 large ones. This will keep your body stocked with a steady flow of high quality nutrients and will also help maintain a steady metabolism to ensure your gains are muscle not fat. Approximately 30-45 minutes before training you should have about 15-20 g. of fast-digesting protein, such as a whey protein isolate shake, and about 30-40 g. of slow-digesting carbs. Within 20-30 minutes after your workout, you should take in 40-50 g. of fast-digesting protein (whey protein shake) and about 60-80 g. of fast-digesting carbs. Besides your pre- and post workout meals, you’ll want to space out another 3-4 meals at 3-hour intervals, finishing your last (which should be made up of almost entirely protein) approximately 15-30 minutes before bed.

For the beginning body builder trying to add more muscle mass, we typically recommend keeping fat intake under about 30% of your total daily calories. You do not want to drop your fat intake to low: this macronutrient is vital in cushioning and lubricating your body’s cells, and also has an exercise-related function. Exercise is fueled by both carbohydrates and fat, the longer you exercise, the more your body will depend on fat, since the body can store only a limited amount of glycogen in muscles and in the liver. In addition, very intense exercise relies more on carbohydrates, while low to moderate  exercise relies more on fat for fuel. When you are resting between sets, you’re burning fat to replenish the energy systems that you will need to be up and running for your next set. The kind of fat you eat is every bit as important as the amount. You should work toward reducing your intake of animal fats, which are saturated (the kind most closely associated with arterial and heart disease), instead concentrating on more helpful fats from sources like extra virgin olive oil, avocados, almonds, walnuts and seeds, and fatty fish such as salmon.

Water, by far is the most important substance we put into our bodies. Babies are approximately 85% water and adults are usually in the 45-55% range, which is one of the primary reasons most American’s age too fast. If we keep our water levels up our skin and body will stay properly hydrating offsetting the aging process.  Water is a colorless, odorless liquid made up of molecules containing 2 atoms of hydrogen and 1 atom of oxygen, however with out it, we wouldn’t be here. It’s as essential to our existence as air, and our bodies are about 70% water. The point is, water is vitally essential nutrient, one you shouldn’t be without for very long during the day, especially as a hard training athlete. The old recommendation for drinking 8 glasses of water per day is no more accurate than most old wise tales. I suggest to all my patients and clients in the gym that you consume 1/2oz water for 1lb of body weight on a daily basis. Yet, being a body builder makes you more than just the average man or woman, as training increases your need for water. If you drink about 1 gallon of pure bottled water a day, you will take in adequate amounts of fluids, as you will also get fluid from the foods you eat and from other beverages. The most important thing is to never feel thirsty.  It’s a sign that your body is already dehydrated.

Until next time, stay healthy!

Dr. Jimmy Steger