Diet and Nutrition

Bodybuilding Principles with Shelby Starnes – Vol 1

Sure, you can always pick up unsolicited advice from your local locker room guru, but what are the chances of it actually being good advice? Unfortunately, the odds aren’t in your favor.

That’s why we gave renowned nutritionist and successful bodybuilder Shelby Starnes his own column to answer your training and dieting questions. You see, unlike the big guy at your gym, Shelby has worked with hundreds of athletes who are looking for the same thing as you: a ripped, muscular physique.

In this installment, Shelby tackles dairy for dieting, how much time you really need to get shredded, fasted cardio, and motivation techniques to help you get your lazy butt out of bed and into the gym.

Read it, learn it, and apply it…and then print out a copy and give it to your locker room guru.

Dairy for Dieting? The Good and Bad of the Cow

Q: I’ve read that some people don’t like to include dairy products in their cutting diets. I realize this could be because of lactose intolerance issues, but what if someone can process dairy and doesn’t care about the minor bloat?

Also, I recently read an article that said although milk has a low glycemic index, the insulin response is still huge. Is this why people don’t like dairy? What if someone just had one or two cups of milk in their oats for breakfast or in a PWO shake?

Finally, would it make a difference if the person was cutting or trying to put on mass? Does taking a lactase enzyme capsule with the dairy product make a difference?

Shelby: The different types of dairy that one might include in a bodybuilding diet include milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, and Dairy Queen Blizzards. Okay, that last one is a bit more fantasy than reality, but a little treat every once in a while never killed anyone (unless you’re a rock star and that little treat is a cocktail of heroin, cocaine, and speed).

The protein in these dairy foods is roughly 80 percent casein, and 20 percent whey. I’m sure the readers will recognize both of these as very high quality proteins, with casein having a relatively slow digestion rate, and whey a bit faster. They both contain a high amount of branched-chain amino acids, including leucine, an amino acid with a number of metabolic roles that is also the key trigger to protein synthesis in skeletal muscle.

Dairy foods are also a great source of calcium, which not only serves an important role in bone health but may also aid in fat loss (although the direct mechanism is not yet known).

So dairy foods definitely have a lot of good things going for them and are responsible for building tons of muscle over the years. Heck, dairy is how we grow from 8-pound infants to 30-pound nuisances in only a matter of months.

What are some of the negatives of dairy?

Lactose, the milk sugar found in dairy products, is probably the biggest downside. Some people simply can’t digest it very well, and some are allergic to it.  Those that can’t digest it very well can take a lactase supplement to aid in digestion, but if you’re eating dairy, you’re still consuming calories (from the lactose) that in my opinion would be better “spent” elsewhere, such as on a higher quality complex carbohydrate like oats or rice.

When calories are limited, such as in a strict pre-contest diet, you want to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck with the ones you do eat. In such an instance, I would rather consume whey protein and/or casein protein on their own (in a product like AtLarge’s Nitrean) and get my carbs elsewhere. You’ll still be getting all the benefits of dairy (the great amino acid profile, the calcium, etc.) but without the “trash calories” from lactose.

If you’re using a zero carb diet, then you’ll definitely have to forgo all dairy (except a whey isolate or casein isolate).

For those looking to lean out but not necessarily get on stage or for those looking to gain lean weight, foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt can definitely be part of the diet. Just remember to count the carbs, and take a lactase supplement if you have an issue with lactose tolerance.

One final note: many claim that dairy products cause them to bloat or make their skin thicker. This is most likely due to a combination of a food allergy, intolerance, and/or the higher sodium content in dairy products, which may cause them to hold more water than they might be accustomed to.

The Fat Loss Countdown: When Should You Really Start Dieting?

Q: I’m ~45 weeks out from my first comp. While I do have the competitive spirit, my goal is primarily to prove to myself what I’m capable of and to present my absolute best on stage, leaving nothing behind.

For a first-timer that has a good handle on diet and a good progressive routine, how would you determine how many weeks out the trainee would begin contest prep dieting?

Shelby: True competitors are always on a contest prep diet.  By that I mean that they’re always eating with the next competition in mind, whether it be their “off-season” or “pre-contest” phase. You want to give yourself every advantage over your competitors that you can, so you need to be committed to your goals year round.

As for how many weeks one should devote to fat loss, it would depend on how much fat there is to lose.  Most bodybuilders will diet for 12 to 16 weeks leading up to a contest, but that’s assuming that they aren’t too out of shape to begin with (perhaps 12-15 percent body fat at the most).

For someone that has let things slide a little more (no visible abs even in the best of lighting) a longer prep would be a good idea. I suggest 20 weeks or even more, depending on how things look.

A good rough guide would be to give yourself at least one week for every percent of body fat that you carry, so 14 weeks if you’re about 14 percent body fat.  You won’t get down to 0 percent at the end, but losing roughly 1 percent per week is a good rate of fat loss if things are set up properly.

You also want to be ready a bit early for your show, if at all possible. I like to have my clients close to stage-ready by two weeks out, so we have some “wiggle room” to play around with to see where they look best in terms of fullness, flatness, etc.

Remember, you can always be ready early for a bodybuilding show, but you never want to be ready late.

Also, keep in mind that the longer and slower you diet, the more chance you have of retaining all your muscle (assuming you’re dieting properly).

To Eat Toast or To Not Eat Toast: Is Fasted Morning Cardio Superior?

Q: I believe you’re a fan of cardio in the A.M. As a person who hates mornings, is morning cardio necessary or is it acceptable to do evening cardio when prepping? Also, do you prefer fasted cardio or getting some food in first?

Shelby: Ah yes, the good old fasted cardio debate.  I have always done my cardio in the morning on an empty stomach, and when the amount gets really high (over an hour), I’ll start adding in P.M. sessions, either directly after weights if it’s a training day, or just in the evening if it’s a rest day.

The argument for A.M fasted cardio is that in the morning, after an overnight fast, your body is slightly glycogen depleted and insulin levels are low, so fat will be the primary fuel source for cardio (at least for low to moderate intensity cardio).

The argument for “anytime” cardio is that the aforementioned variables don’t really matter; fat loss is simply a matter of calories in vs. calories out, and doing cardio later in the day will produce the same results given that the diet is the same.

In my experience though (and the experience of hundreds of my clients over the years), A.M. fasted cardio IS superior, not only for the reasons mentioned above, but for the following as well:

1. Morning cardio is a great way to start your day; it releases endorphins that make you feel better both physically as well as mentally.

2. Getting it done first thing makes it less likely to be something you’ll skip later.

3. Morning cardio (especially high intensity) raises your metabolism for hours afterwards, so you’re not just burning calories while you’re on the machine – you’re burning calories even while at rest.

If you absolutely cannot get your cardio done in the morning, the next best time would be post-workout (but prior to your post-workout meal), as this is another time when you are glycogen-depleted (and already at the gym). Make sure you bring your post-workout meal to the gym though, so you can immediately replenish after the cardio is complete.

Some might worry about potential muscle loss when doing fasted cardio, but if total diet is in line then the chances of catabolism are very low.  If the human body was so fragile that it lost muscle doing some physical activity before eating, we never would have survived as a species.

Bottom line: Will doing morning fasted cardio make or break your progress?  Probably not, but it will give you better leverage in your journey to physique perfection.

Motivation: Just How Badly Do You Want It?

Q: My question is about motivation. Obviously the bodybuilder lifestyle is one which requires a lot of motivation and dedication. Whether you’re stepping on stage or want to look sharp on the beach, you have to commit to some pretty serious training and eating habits on a consistent basis.

How do you deal with self-motivation? What gets you up early to prepare food and do everything you gotta do to get big and ripped for that stage? Do you ever battle with your motivation and what would your advice be for the average guy trying to make these significant lifestyle changes for a better body?

Shelby: Motivation is the source of long-term success with anything in life.  If you have a strong enough “why” guiding your actions, you will figure out the “how”. In other words, if you want something bad enough (like a better physique), you’ll do whatever it takes to get it.

Often times this means putting off short-term pleasures (like pizza or skipping cardio) for long-term satisfaction (like better health, more muscle definition, etc.). It’s like saving money for something you want; you can’t keep spending it all on petty wants if you intend on amassing anything substantial.

Here are some tips that I’ve found helpful for staying motivated:

  • Remind yourself frequently of your long-term goals. Write down on a note card what you want to accomplish in the coming year (or month) and keep it near you at all times.  Read it when you wake up and before you go to bed at night.  Read it when you feel pressure to deviate from your diet or workouts.
  • Enter a contest or set a goal with a deadline.  Having something concrete to work towards makes it much easier to stay on track than just floundering about aimlessly.
  • If you’re getting ready for a competition, remember that every opportunity you have to cheat on your diet (or cardio or whatever) is an opportunity for your competition to gain an edge on you.  If you want to win, you won’t allow them that edge!
  • Tell others about your goals. You’ll be less tempted to slack off when others are watching and rooting for you.
  • Track your progress. Seeing the results of your hard work (from weekly photos, measurements, or whatever) is a great way to keep yourself motivated to continue.
  • Hire a professional. Much as with telling others about your goals, hiring someone to help you achieve them forces you to be accountable for your actions.  It also ensures that you’ll be using the most efficient methods for reaching your goals.

These methods have helped me immensely over the years.  If you’re looking to make a serious change in your life and need help with the motivation to do so, I would recommend implementing at least a few of them.

Got a question for Shelby? – Send him a note at  askshelby@wannabebig.com and be on the look-out for the next installment of his Q and A!

Written by Shelby Starnes

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Bodybuilding Principles with Shelby Starnes – Vol 1 discussion thread.

About Shelby Starnes

Shelby is a successful National-level Bodybuilder & Powerlifter and has helped hundreds of athletes get into the greatest shape of their lifes.

  • 2009 NPC Central States Championships – 1st place Middleweight and Overall
  • B.A. in Psychology with Departmental Honors – estimated completion May, 2008
  • 2nd place 198-lb class – 2004 APF Michigan State Powerlifting Championships
  • Overall Novice Champion – Motor City Bodybuilding Championships, 2005
  • 2nd place open middleweight- Motor City Bodybuilding Championships, 2005 (nationally qualified)
  • 5th place middleweight – NPC Junior Nationals, 2006

Whether you are a competitive bodybuilder looking for pre contest/off season assistance or simply just striving to achieve a specific physique, Shelby is available to set up custom diet and training programs to suit your goals.

For more information on his diet and training programs and prices, see here.