Now we all know ‘that guy’ with guts like a garbage disposal who uses ‘bulking’ as an excuse to eat whatever they want, whenever. However eating to gain size shouldn’t grant you a hall pass to simply eat whatever fits in your mouth.
Although there will always be those genetic freaks among us who stay lean on a bulk diet of pizza and donuts, this is still far from ideal. Favouring empty calories from sugar and processed foods over nutrient dense wholefoods is a recipe for metabolic chaos, and will rot your body from the inside out!
THE ARGUMENT FOR A ‘CLEAN’ VS. ‘DIRTY’ BULKING DIET
“Food is information that quickly changes your metabolism and genes.” – Mark Hyman
So what actually distinguishes ‘clean’ food from ‘dirty’ food? Well without getting too far into semantics, for the purposes of this article we will use the term ‘clean’ loosely to define natural, wholefoods and ‘dirty’ to refer to refined, processed foods.
In regards to our bodies biochemistry, it is important to understand that food simply is not JUST food – it’s information. The food we eat, and how it breaks down into amino acids, micronutrients, fatty acids all have an effect on cellular metabolism and modulate gene expression either directly or indirectly. Start displacing natural foods with processed foods and you begin to upset the natural balance. Take the gut for example.
Our gut is home to trillions of bacteria, or microbiota. These bacteria provide the body with information that assist with digestion, regulate immune function and even control weight gain, among other things.
The problem is that the balance between good and bad bacteria is a delicate one. Exposure to high amounts of sugar and processed foods containing additives, toxins and other irritants all damage the gut lining causing inflammation and feeding yeast, pathogens and leading to overgrowths of bad gut bacteria. This can end up causing digestive problems, cognitive issues, weight gain, inflammation, compromised immune functions and the list goes on. If you are training for body composition, then these are all things that you will want to keep in check.
So let’s take a look at some of the other many reasons why keeping the ‘bulk’ of your diet clean whilst training for growth is preferred:
- Filling up on processed foods leaves less room for nutritionally dense foods, providing inferior nutrition.
- Processed foods high in high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, vegetable oil etc. are highly inflammatory, particularly to the gut.
- Simple sugars cause nutrient depletion due to processing.
- Altered gut microbiome affecting everything from brain function and mood, to compromising immune function and promoting inflammation and obesity. Consuming sugar can also feed yeast and bad bacteria.
- Sugar provide empty calories.
- Reduction in nutrient absorption due to intestinal inflammation and irritation due to substances like gluten, dairy and sugar.
- Reliance on calories from processed foods high in refined sugar in the diet can create an unhealthy relationship with food and increases psychological dependency due to drug like cravings.
So although it is relatively easy (and highly recommended) to get lean on a wholefoods diet, the real challenge for those trying to put on size is often getting sufficient calories to grow whilst still eating clean. The secret however lies in selecting foods that are not only nutritionally dense, but calorically dense at the same time.
Before we begin, a word of caution: do not kid yourself into thinking that since you are eating clean foods you will not get fat! Nutrient timing and energy balance will always be king in terms of avoiding unnecessary fat gain and maximising your muscle building potential. My advice, keep a food diary and track your daily intake of protein, fats and carbs and find what works for you by trial and error.
THE TOP 10 FOODS FOR A 'CLEAN' BULKING DIET
Great tasting and calorically dense, coconut fat is a great source of saturated fat and possesses anti-bacterial and anti fungal properties. This is due to it’s high lauric acid content which helps kill off bad bacteria, yeasts and pathogens in the gut.
In its structure, coconut oil are what is called MCT’s or ‘medium chain triglycerides.’ Meaning the fatty acids have shorter bonds than most other saturated fats meaning they digest easier, and are absorbed into the bloodstream far rapidly than other fats to be used for energy. Hence why coconut products are highly prized in health and fitness circles, particularly during periods of low carb dieting when energy requirements are still high.
Use as a base for dressings, drizzled on cooked meats or straight from the jar pre workout for a source of quick energy. Also poaching or stir-frying meats in the milk and cream are a delicious way to put a clean spin on meats.
#2 ACTIVATED NUTS
Nuts are another high fat food that are micronutrient dense and full of prebiotic fibre. As a great snack to have whilst on the go, I tend to use them in between meals at times to quench carb cravings. In fact, hand me a jar of peanut butter and a spoon and it’s likely you won’t get it back unless you pry it from out of my cold dead hands!
In saying this I would advise against overdoing it, as they are high in omega 6 fats which if not balanced with omega 3, can drive up inflammation in the body. It is also easy to over consume calories unwittingly.
Activating nuts by soaking in water to which you have added a pinch of celtic sea salt, then drying prior to eating reduces levels of phytic acid in nuts which can interfere with absorbtion of micronutrients such as magnesium, zinc, b vitamins and other vitamins and minerals.
Have a handful of nuts with breakfast, or spread the butters on meats & vegetables in place of salad dressings, mustards etc. Add to a protein shake in between meals to help increase satiety and get extra calories.
A recent study conducted by researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in Missouri, investigated the anabolic properties of fish oil in 25-40 year old males.
Surprisingly, what they found was that even with as little as 4 grams of fish oil a day for 8 weeks (1.5g of DHA/1.85g EPA) there were significant improvements in insulin signaling and muscle protein synthesis via activation of the mTOR pathway.
Cold water, oily fish such as wild salmon are your best bet to boost your omega 3 intake. As they dish up a double whammy, coupling omega 3 fats and quality protein in every serve. Not to mention, high levels of B complex vitamins, vitamin D and selenium as well.
Bake, steam, grill, BBQ and if you aren’t a fan of fish, then I would highly recommend supplementation with a high quality fish oil to ensure you meet your daily quota of Omega 3 fatty acids.
Technically a fruit, Avocados are an ideal source of dietary fat as they are high in heart healthy monounsaturated fats, fibre, along with folate, potassium, antioxidants and possess anti-inflammatory properties.
Prized for their creamy texture, a whole avocado will provide you with approximately 23g of fat and 271 calories.
Fresh avocados are great mashed, sliced or diced up and added to salads or spread on meats. Seasoned with salt and pepper, a pinch of dukkah or a light drizzle of lemon juice. Delish!
#5 OMEGA 3 ENRICHED EGGS
As one of mother natures original superfoods, just 1 jumbo egg packs a tidy 8g protein, 6g fat and 90 calories.
Whole eggs are a one of the richest sources of choline, a critical micronutrient required for proper methylation, liver detoxification and cognitive function. Eggs also contain plenty of selenium, B vitamins, vitamin D and are high in leucine - the most anabolic of all the amino acids as it is the primary driver of muscle protein synthesis.
So should you eat the egg yolks? Well yes! Indeed that’s where the fat is, but it’s also where the goodness is. So disposing of the yolk, is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Scrambled with a handful of greens added, boil in their shell, or fix yourself a quiche if you are feeling just a little bit fancy.
#6 GRASS FED & GAME MEATS
Red meat has received a bad wrap in recent years, but the truth is that it is grain fed and processed meats e.g. salami that are responsible for all the bad press. This is due to a skewed omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acid ratio which drives inflammation in the body, setting the stage for disease.
On the contrary, grass fed meats (particularly game meats) are much higher in omega 3 fatty acids, rich in B12, iron and zinc which makes them ideal for the clean bodybuilding diet.
Game meats such as kangaroo, venison, boar, camel and crocodile are growing in popularity here in Australia and readily available in most supermarket chains. However specialty game butchers are easily come by in most major cities by a quick google search.
Rub with herbs and spices, marinate, bake, steam, grill, BBQ or invest in a slow cooker to save time on food prep by making a Sunday roast a weekly ritual making enough for leftovers.
Next to rice, potatoes would have to be next in line for the title of nature’s original comfort food. Sweet potatoes in particular are particularly palatable and just 1 cup provides approximately 173 calories and 29g carbohydrates.
Long avoided by the carbo-phobic, many are now coming back to the humble potato due to hype surrounding ‘resistant starch.’
Resistant starch earns it’s title as it is a starch that ‘resists’ digestion in the gut. Meaning that it doesn’t spike blood sugar or insulin like others starches such as those contained in grains, beans etc.
Found in high concentrations in potatoes and green bananas, resistant starch benefits your health by feeding the ‘good’ bacteria in your gut, and by a process of fermentation that produces short chain fatty acids (SCFA’s) - acetate, butyrate, and propionate. These SCFA’s, butyrate in particular, play many roles in supporting gut health including feeding the colonic cells, improving immune function, lowering inflammation whilst promoting insulin sensitivity and increasing satiety between meals.
So how do you increase your intake of resistant starch? Simply cook then let your potatoes cool before eating, as the cooling process increases the concentration of resistant starch. Unles you fancy green bananas of course!
Bake ‘em. Steam ‘em. Mash ‘em. Saute ‘em. Any way you prep them you can’t go wrong with the humble potato.
#8 GRASS FED WHEY PROTEIN
Whey Protein is famous as the most effective way to trigger muscle protein synthesis and kick start the repair process after an intense training session.
In comparison to other popular proteins, such as soy, casein, rice and pea, Whey protein has a far superior amino acid profile and overall leucine content. Thus making it the preferred choice for activating anabolic pathways responsible for growth. The other benefit of whey is that it is also the most rapidly absorbed. If you can find a hydrolysed whey, where the protein molecules are pre-digested, then this absorbtion rate is even heightened.
When shopping for a whey protein, ensure you opt for a grass fed whey with as little fillers and artificial additives as possible. The world’s best quality whey protein comes from New Zealand.
Protein shakes post workout or in between meals with either nut butter or berries for extra calories.
#9 MAPLE SYRUP
If you are lean and are looking for a tasty way to rapidly replenish muscle glycogen post workout, then maple syrup makes an excellent choice!
It is not necessarily nutrient dense per se, but it IS high in calories and it WILL give you a rapid insulin spike to begin driving muscle protein synthesis and shuttling amino acids and glucose into your muscle to speed recovery pot workout.
Now I know at this point there may be those among you who are questioning why I am adding maple syrup here. If I am allowing maple syrup then why not pop tarts? Well although I agree that technically at the end of the digestion process, sugar is still sugar no matter where it comes from, if you can obtain the same end result minus the artificial additives, then which is the more favourable option? At the end of the day, for the hard gainer who wants to grow and needs to get in a caloric surplus, I would much prefer them plough their way through rice porridge and maple syrup post workout than coco pops any day.
Try maple syrup on either white rice or sweet potatoes with cinnamon post workout to rapidly replenishing muscle glycogen stores.
Although rice has long been a bodybuilding staple, quinoa is a nutritious alternative that is just as versatile and easy to prepare.
Technically a seed, in comparison to white rice quinoa is far superior in it’s amino acid profile and fibre content. It also has anti inflammatory properties due to high concentrations of the flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol, making it an excellent choice of post workout carbohydrate.
Replace rice by serving with meats, stir-frys etc and providing you are already fairly lean, add banana, berries and a sprinkle of cinnamon to replenish muscle glycogen after training. Quinoa flakes also make a great alternative to porridge or oatmeal.
- "Nutritional Information." Nutritional Information | Australian Avocados. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2017. <http://australianavocados.com.au/nutritional-information>.
- "Egg Nutrition Facts: Nutrients in Eggs." Egg Nutrition Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2017. <http://www.eggnutritioncenter.org/egg-101/>.
- Smith GI, Atherton P, Reeds DN, Mohammed BS, Rankin D, Rennie MJ, et al. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids augment the muscle protein anabolic response to hyperinsulinaemia-hyperaminoacidaemia in healthy young and middle-aged men and women. Clin Sci (Lond)2011;121(6):267-78
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