Nutritional Practices of Competitive Natural Bodybuilders

A new study has come out analyzing the dietary intakes of competitive natural bodybuilders in Britain (1).

The study analyzed the calorie and macronutrient intakes of bodybuilders who finished in the top 5 of the BNBF Finals, as well as the competitors who placed outside the top 5 (DNP).

While the overall dietary and supplement strategies employed by these bodybuilders (and figure/athletic physique female competitors) were not surprising, some interesting differences were noted between competitors who placed versus the ones who did not.

The most glaring one was the carbohydrate intake amongst the male bodybuilders.

Interestingly, the bodybuilders who placed consumed an average of 4.85 grams of carbs per kg of bodyweight (over the entire contest prep) compared to 3.65 g/kg of those who did not place.

Whether this had any causal relationship to competitive outcomes is speculative, however, as the authors note, higher carbohydrate intake can allow for better training performance, which would positively affect physique outcomes.

Since muscle glycogen can be depleted quite easily during weight training (2, 3), consuming an adequate amount of carbohydrates may be crucial to offset lessened training intensity and volume during periods of calorie restriction (i.e. the “cutting phase”).

Conversely, there were no difference in carb intake between the placed female competitors and the ones who did not place.

In addition to a difference in carbohydrate intake, placed male competitors consumed more protein on average than DNP competitors.

Over the course of the entire contest prep, placed males consumed about 3.15 g/kg of protein, compared to 2.7 g/kg of protein by the males who did not place.

While 2.7 g/kg is likely enough to optimize muscle mass (even during calorie restriction), some research has demonstrated a benefit of higher intakes for fat loss (4).

Furthermore, the authors of this study suggest that the higher protein intake may offer benefits such as satiety and a high thermic effect which would assist the athletes during the “cutting phase”.

As with carbohydrate intake, however, there were no differences in protein intake between placed female competitors and DNP female competitors.

In regard to fat intake, there were no differences between placed and DNP competitors for both genders.

For fluid intake, males consumed about 4.5 liters per day, while females consumed 4.1.

Expectedly, average number of meals per day was 6.2 for males and 6.4 for females.

In regard to supplements, the authors noted a tendency for both males and females to consume very high amounts of caffeine, as several of the competitors exceeded 400 mg per day.

This is not surprising, considering most pre-workout stimulants contain anywhere from 200–400+ mg of caffeine per serving.

Furthermore, it would be expected that most bodybuilders/figure competitors would utilize fat burners during their cutting phase, which essentially have caffeine as the main ingredient.

Otherwise, supplement use was pretty standard, with whey protein being used amongst most of the competitors, while BCAAs (which may or may not be warranted), creatine, and multivitamins were used by about half of the surveyed competitors.


What to Take Away From This?

While the authors note several limitations with the study (such as self-reported diet records as well as a small sample size), the most interesting finding is the difference in carbohydrate intake between placed males and DNP males.

As the authors note, the difference between placed competitors and DNP competitors would equate to an additional 75–97.5 grams per day in a 75 kg male.

While it remains speculative as to whether carbohydrates are muscle sparring, it is possible that higher carbohydrate intakes can allow athletes to maintain better training performances (5, 6), which would theoretically translate to better physique outcomes.

Considering some studies have refuted this point (7, 8), more research is needed on the impact that carbohydrate intake can have on training capacity over the long-term.

In regard to the differences in protein intake, there was a small trend for placed males to consume more protein than DNP males.

While the DNP bodybuilders were consuming a very high amount of protein (2.7 g/kg), a study by Antonio et al. showed that consumption of 3.4 g/kg of protein produced more fat loss versus consuming 2.3 g/kg (4).

This presents the possibility that extremely high protein intakes may offer a benefit to competitive bodybuilders/physique athletes.

More research is needed to determine if this is the case.



  1. Chappell AJ, Simper T, Barker ME. Nutritional strategies of high level natural bodybuilders during competition preparation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018 15:4 DOI: 10.1186/s12970-018-0209-z
  2. MacDougall JD, Ray S, Sale DG, et al. Muscle substrate utilization and lactate production during weightlifting. Can J Appl Physiol. 1999;24:209–15.
  3. Tesch PA, Ploutz-Snyder LL, Yström L, et al. Skeletal muscle glycogen loss evoked by resistance exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 1998;12:67–73.
  4. Antonio J, Ellerbroek A, Silver T, et al. A high protein diet (3.4 g/kg/d) combined with a heavy resistance training program improves body composition in healthy trained men and women–a follow-up investigation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015 Oct 20;12(1):39.
  5. Leveritt M, Abernethy PJ. Effects of carbohydrate restriction on strength performance. J Strength Cond Res. 1999 Feb;13(1):52–7.
  6. Walberg JL, Leidy MK, Sturgill DJ, et al. Macronutrient content of a hypoenergy diet affects nitrogen retention and muscle function in weight lifters. Int J Sports Med. 1988 Aug;9(4):261–6.
  7. Sawyer JC, Wood RJ, Davidson PW, et al. Effects of a short-term carbohydrate-restricted diet on strength and power performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Aug;27(8):2255–62.
  8. Paoli A, Grimaldi K, D’Agostino D, et al. Ketogenic diet does not affect strength performance in elite artistic gymnasts. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012 Jul;9(1):34.