Do bodybuilders eat junk food? And can you build muscle and get in shape without giving up your favorite guilty pleasure?
You might be surprised at how well your diet can work with a few luxury foods.
Today, we’re diving into what bodybuilders eat, what you should eat, and if – and how – junk foods in your diet. There’s no question that we all like luxury food, so we will figure out how you can – and should – use them.
What is Junk Food?
Junk food tastes good but has poor nutrition – high calorie, sugar, and salt content with few vitamins and minerals. Think of things like chips, ice cream, and pizza.
These are intuitively unhealthy foods – if your diet is packed with them, you’re probably not going to be in great shape. We’re asking if bodybuilders eat junk foods – and how, when, and what they might do in the diet.
We’re talking about occasional use or as a single addition to the diet throughout the day.
This isn’t the same as constantly eating junk foods and ignoring overall dietary quality. It’s a diet with junk food – not living on junk food as a diet staple. That isn’t good – and we all know it.
Junk food is high in calories and low in nutrients (calorie-dense but nutrient-sparse).
Do bodybuilders Eat Junk Food?
Bodybuilders will eat junk food from time to time – but it depends on the phase of diet and prep. Usually, bodybuilders only eat junk food during “off-season” when they’re bulking, trying to add mass, and don’t need to be very lean.
Typically, bodybuilders will have a huge daily calorie requirement during a bulk phase when trying to add mass. In this stage, many bodybuilders focus on calorie and protein intake.
When these are the main focus, adding junk food can be an easy way to add more calories to a diet without eating multiple meals.
These are typically built around an if it fits your macros approach – where the goal is to get enough calories and the right macronutrient split. The actual “healthiness” of the food isn’t always a priority.
However, it’s probably still not a large percentage of total daily calorie intake during these diets.
Remember: 1000 calories from junk food may only be 1/5th of a bodybuilder’s daily intake. This makes it a relatively small part of a larger diet that may include 4000+ calories of low-mid calorie, nutrient-rich foods.
Junk Food on a Cutting Diet
Bodybuilders on a cutting diet will typically not eat many junk foods. However, they may be useful on ‘refeed’ days once or twice a week.
Junk foods can cause unwanted water retention when low body fat levels.
This can ruin a good prep diet if eaten too often, as the definition and conditioning of the physique worsen, and the hard-earned muscle is hidden behind a layer of fat cells full of water.
Bulking diets are dirtier, while a cutting diet needs to be stricter and rely more closely on clean foods. This means lower salt and sugar intake, more nutrients, and a lower overall calorie intake. Junk food is an inefficient use of daily calories on a cut diet and is more detrimental than bulk.
Bodybuilders like the late Rich Piana have been out-spoken on using junk food to reach calorie needs.
When protein and calories come first, the most important thing is to hit them by any means. For serious bodybuilders, a less healthy diet is a small price for maintaining muscle-building momentum.
Related: Bulking vs Cutting
Making Space for Junk Food
Bodybuilders who eat junk food will make it fit their day plan – where a daily diet can be built around specific foods. If you want to eat junk food, you can eat very lean and high-nutrient foods the rest of the day.
It would help if you focused on daily and weekly averages.
If you work a junk food into your diet, surrounded by a wide range of high-quality proteins, vitamins, and minerals, you will have space to eat more ‘luxury’ foods.
Foods aren’t healthy or unhealthy – diets are. The point is to balance things up daily and weekly. Bodybuilders can use junk foods when they’re irregular, well-planned, or balanced against the rest of the day/week.
How to Use Junk Food for Bodybuilding?
So how can you use junk food to support bodybuilding goals and improve your overall results?
There are a few important ways of using them that you should focus on to limit the negative effects and make the most of the nutrient content.
You make junk food support your bodybuilding goals by fitting your junk food into your diet. Use junk food at the right times, in the right amounts, with the right food choices, and you can get plenty of muscle growth – even if you store some short-term water weight.
1. IIFYM – If It Fits Your Macros
Using a flexible diet with If It Fits Your Macros can provide space for more junk food.
It’s a way of getting the basics of your diet in place and making it stick – perfect for beginners to bodybuilding and its rigorous demands for diet and nutrition.
Making sure your junk food fits your macros may cause transient puffiness or water retention, but it won’t have long-term negative effects. You still don’t want it to be every day, but it has a better role – and works to support goals rather than sabotage them.
2. Plan Junk Food into Your Diet
This is key to building muscle with unhealthy foods – any junk food should be deliberate and planned. Either it should be planned around, or it should be a pre-built part of your diet.
Don’t just eat junk food on a whim. If you can make it make sense in your diet, it’s healthier and better for your fitness goals. This could be planning before using a cheat meal or eating junk food for the rest of the day to stay roughly in line with your dietary goals and habits.
3. Focus on Your Habits – Not Just One Meal
The way you think about junk food is important.
If you’re bodybuilding, junk foods here and there won’t ruin your results. It’s a short-term change that may involve some water retention and loss of definition, but only in the short term.
What matters most is the long-term stuff.
Proper dieting and training over weeks and months are key. It’s measured in this long-term daily and weekly intakes – and shouldn’t be a major issue. Don’t get bogged down in the details; focus on making sure junk food intake isn’t a pattern.
4. Refeed with Junk Foods
Scheduled, deliberate refeed days are the perfect time to eat your favorite junk food.
Calorie intake is higher, meaning that your junk food will represent less risk of over-eating and have a smaller overall proportion of your daily intake. This means you can keep up your daily total nutrient intake, eat more, and enjoy some of the less-clean foods you enjoy.
Putting refeed days into diets is a great idea, especially if you’re willing to build your training schedule around your diet and vice versa.
5. Build Better Junk Food Choices
Just because you’re eating junk food, it doesn’t mean you need to default to the worst possible choice. Try to slowly improve the nutrient quality of what you eat when you want a treat/release, and experiment over time.
For example, you might want a massive pizza and fries to hit that savory craving. A better alternative might be a noodle box with a ton of chicken, Pak choi, and a great sauce (teriyaki, perhaps).
You won’t always be able to make these changes – sometimes the craving is specific – but it’s a good way to do better without changing too much.
Bodybuilding and Junk Food FAQ
Do Bodybuilders Eat Junk Food Before a Show?
No – bodybuilders are very strict with their diet during a show, and most will have a specific ‘tried and tested’ set of meals.
The goal is to keep the muscles full and large without causing water retention or ‘deflating’ muscles. Junk food will cause too much water retention and ruin an outstanding physique.
Can You Gain Muscle If You Eat Junk Food?
Yes – junk food may be bad for your health, but it won’t stop you from gaining muscle mass. It’s still just one piece of food and will have its nutrient values, but it won’t ruin your whole muscle-building diet.
Is It Ok to Eat Junk Food and Workout?
Yes – junk food and workouts need to be balanced against each other. The best time to eat sugars is just before, during, or just after a workout.
These timings help you make the most of fast-absorbing sugars and fuelling workouts or muscle growth.
Most people’s main problem with sugar is that they don’t need it. It’s super-fast energy that dumps into the bloodstream while watching TV, causing metabolic damage.
However, when used around workouts, nutrients like sugar and salt are put to work supporting muscle function, so try to fit your junk food into your schedule if you know what you’re craving.
Do Bodybuilders Eat Clean All the Time?
Most bodybuilders do not eat clean all the time – they’ll often cycle between massing and cutting phases to maximize muscle growth. This means there will be times when they have a larger calorie intake and more “junk” foods – though there’s always a balance and plan to food intake.
It’s also important to remember that clean, and junk foods exist on a scale – and sometimes it’s just about eating less clean rather than eating junk.
Best Junk Food for Muscle Building
Almost every cuisine has a form of muscle-building junk food. The best junk foods for muscle building are chicken- or seafood-based and semi-clean.
The best junk food for building muscle is anything that includes lots of protein, salt, and carbs. It’s that simple. Think fajitas or tacos, anything based on seafood or chicken, salty meat-fried rice, pho, and ramen, or even steak mince burgers.
You can make just about any junk food support muscle building if there’s enough focus on starches and protein. If you’re muscle-conscious, try to avoid high-carb, high-fat, low-protein choices like pizza.
Is It Okay to Eat Bad Once a Week?
It’s probably perfect. If you’re smart about it, a single cheat meal every week can help you maintain a very good overall diet while still letting you enjoy your food and help you find a healthy balance between your goals and lifestyle.
A single meal will be around 4% of your weekly calorie intake and won’t even disrupt your diet if you plan around it.
Cheat days are more of a problem and should be reserved for after long periods of dieting when you have achieved an important personal goal.
Conclusion: Our Final Thoughts
Bodybuilders eat junk food sometimes – and can use it to support muscle growth.
What matters is when and how you eat junk foods. You can find moderation for these kinds of foods and ensure that they’re being productive in your diet – and you don’t need to fear their use.
We’ve provided a few ways of fitting it into your diet and improving your results, and the whole point is balance and planning. With a bit of forethought and the right planning, you can make junk food work for you – rather than against you.
This isn’t an excuse to eat junk all the time – but a smart way to incorporate your foods into a diet that still helps you achieve your goals.