What does it mean? When do you do it? And how can you get started? It’s one of those vague terms tossed around at gyms. But what does "eating clean" really mean? The answer to that varies from individual to individual. To some, it might be a New Year’s resolution to no longer pick up breakfast at the drive-thru and avoided deep fried foods (perhaps not an aggressive goal but for some a very noble one). For others, it might be an extremely precise, exacting dietary regimen in which each nutrient is measured and consumed like clockwork.
For bodybuilders and figure/fitness competitors.. the term tends to lean towards the more extreme, strict interpretation. Some make it a 24/7, 365-day a year lifestyle. Others tighten things up for specified periods in order to reach a particular goal. The level of year-around strictness seems to depend on the lifter’s genetics, metabolism, psychological preferences and lifestyle.
Steps to Clean Eating
I talked to five of the area’s best physique athletes, each of them adept at both the theory behind bodybuilding nutrition and practiced at the in-the-trenches realities of eating and training to reach peak physical condition. Their backgrounds vary but their advice rings out like a unanimous chorus. What works, works.. and these bodybuilding champs are happy to share the steps they take for eating clean.
I asked personal trainer, freelance writer and Kentucky state bodybuilding class winner Steve Weingarten to define eating clean.
His succinct definition was, "consuming, in measured portions, only those foods that contribute to [his] bodybuilding goals."
Natural pro bodybuilder Jeff Williamson said, "Eating clean to me means always eating quality protein at least six times a day, watching closely what type and amount of carbohydrates and fats I am ingesting, and only eating junk food or sweets on a scheduled basis."
Step 1: Hydrate
Water is used to eliminate most of the body’s waste products, both through sweat and urination. If you are just starting to eat clean, increased water intake will flush your body of "sludge” brought on by environmental pollutants, food additives, unhealthy fats, sugary junk and metabolic waste. Intense training (as well as the post-exercise metabolic needs brought on to build muscle and burn fat) require extra water intake.
All of our champions seemed to shoot for a water intake of roughly one gallon daily, even though Jeff Williamson doesn’t measure water intake and Steve Weingarten admits that he doesn’t pay as much attention to it as he should in the off-season.
Kerry Tighe, a personal trainer and mother of two (as well as 2008 Northern Kentucky Figure class winner) added, "Sometimes I drink up to an additional half-gallon if my workouts or daily schedule is super busy or intense. I always suggest that my clients drink at least 2 liters of water per day along with eliminating any drinks that have calories with the exception of Beverly protein shakes."
Autumn Edwards, a personal trainer and high school Spanish teacher (and overall figure winner at the NPC Northern Kentucky) adds that her definition restricts her intake to..
These simple steps will take your eating from haphazard consumption to a lean muscle-building program of eating clean
Step 2: Eliminate junk food
This step may seem remedial to most. Eating clean requires that you get rid of all the junk. Eliminate all of the junk food, simple sugars and fattening low-nutrient, time-saving favorites.
Anthony Chapman, a San Antonio-based real estate appraiser and top-placer in multiple bodybuilding contests takes a no-nonsense approach to those he advises on eating clean. "I first let them know that dieting isn’t as hard as they may think. Preparation is the key. Get rid of all those sweets and stock up on healthy foods." Out of sight, out of mind seems to be the maxim here.
Those that live alone can easily perform a "sweep" of the refrigerator, freezer and cupboards. Fill a trash bag with all of your undesirables. This may take some mental reprogramming. We are conditioned to not want to waste food. Focus on the benefit to your physique that a lean, mean kitchen can ensure. If you have room-mates or children living in the home, it requires more discipline, but hundreds of Beverly champions have made it work.
Nature abhors a vacuum and an empty fridge is also a bad sign. Once you clean out the junk, having pre-prepared healthy meals and ready-to-shake-and-go Beverly protein shakes makes staying on task simple and eliminates unplanned cheat meals that can ruin your chances of success.
Step 3: Balance carbs and lean proteins
The biggest difference between the typical North American diet and the eating programs of the Beverly champions is in macronutrient balance. The North American diet is based on economics? with cheap sugary, processed high-calorie, low-nutrient sources being more easily stored, prepared and sold for larger mark-ups. To build muscle, we need to shift the balance from empty carbs and calories to lean proteins.
A high intake of protein is the most consistent component of each athlete’s program. Jeff Williamson consumes protein (either from Beverly shakes or food) at each of six daily feedings. "My whole food protein choices are lean red meat, chicken, eggs, and tuna," says Jeff. "...tuna only because it is quick and easy." Steve Weingarten adds turkey breast and bison in among his favorites. Both Autumn Edwards and Kerry Tighe include tilapia to their list of clean protein selections.
In addition to whole food proteins, each athlete relies on Beverly protein shakes to ensure maximum nitrogen retention. For most, this is either two or three shakes daily based on their schedule. As a teacher, Autumn Edwards says, “I have a mid-morning shake as I teach and a post-workout shake. Depending on my goals and the time of day, I will drink shakes with higher or lower carbohydrates and different types of fast/slow acting proteins.”
Kerry Tighe drinks two to three Beverly Protein meals everyday, year round. "I have had Muscle Provider, Ultimate Muscle Protein or Ultra Size everyday for the last 2 years," she says.
Anthony Chapman strongly believes that to build maximum muscle, quality proteins make a huge difference. “I need to supply my body with only the best. This is why I prefer Beverly’s Protein. It tastes great, very versatile, high in protein, and low in calories and fats. If I get too busy and can’t prepare meals ahead of time, a Beverly shake keeps me on schedule.”
Step 4: Energize
Good carbs encourage muscle growth while maintaining leanness. Kerry Tighe emphasized the use of sustained release slow-carbs. “The white refined carbs are what really do me in,” she shares. “They were all a huge part of my diet when I was unhappy with my body composition. When I'm on contest diet I eat grapefruit, old fashioned oatmeal, sweet potatoes and bananas (only in my carb-up meal).”
Steve Weingarten echoes her views on carbohydrates. “My typical carb choices include oatmeal, brown rice, various potatoes, fruit, and Ezekiel bread. My strict bodybuilding diet carb choices are limited to oatmeal (1/2 cup with breakfast), berries and vegetables.”
While a limited amount of carbs is necessary to restore muscle glycogen levels post-workout, well-chosen, slowly-assimilated carbs offer adequate energy without the excessive carb load that leads to increased body fat.
Step 5 Metabolize
An important factor in eating clean is to avoid some of the commonly found fats (hydrogenated fats, saturated fats) and replace them with healthy fats. But be careful what you consume. As Anthony Chapman cautions, “I watch my fat choices all throughout the year. I use non-fat products as much as possible. Reduced fat and low fat is not the same as non-fat. Don’t take any shortcuts.”
Once bad fats are eliminated, good fats must be added in to your diet. Jeff Williamson says, “Most of my fat during my strict or competition diet is EFAs or whatever I get in my lean meat.” Beverly’s EFA Gold can serve as a method to balance the essential fats deficient in most people’s diets. This has a positive metabolic effect, promoting muscle-building while decreasing body fat levels and discouraging the creation of new fat. After EFA Gold creates a solid base, other healthy fats can be added as needed.
Steve Weingarten says “I minimize saturated fat year-round. My fat comes from egg yolks, nut butters, fish oil and macadamia nut oil. I consume these year-round, varying my fat intake from 20% – 35% of my calories depending on my goals.”
Autumn Edwards includes a broad array of healthy, unsaturated fats from sources such as canola, olive, enova, flaxseed and fish oils, avocadoes, almond butter and nuts like almonds, cashews, pecans, and walnuts.” Even though these options are less common, the variety of healthy choices is still impressive.
Five easy steps towards eating clean. You don’t have to be a champion bodybuilder or figure/fitness competitor to follow these guidelines, but doing so just might make you look like one.