Have you ever looked at pictures of bodybuilders and wondered how the eff they get those crazy 10-packs? Yeah, me too.
Apparently, in addition to the gym time, it takes lots and lots of food: “When I’m in prep and in season, I eat six meals a day,” says Ariella Grinberg, who lives in New York and has been training and competing in bodybuilding competitions for over two years. Let that sink in. Six. Meals. A. Day.
During prep for a competition (which lasts between eight and 12 weeks), Ariella says the diet dictated for her by her coach is extremely strict. “I weigh everything. There’s not a lot of wiggle room.” (Just look at her intense fridge in the video above and you’ll see what I mean.)
The plan she follows requires precise amounts of carbs, protein, and fat in order to fuel the specific results desired in bodybuilding competitions—extremely buff, lean, chiseled bodies. Even gum can be off-limits because of the potential extra carbs, she says.
In the off-season, Ariella says her diet gets a little more lax—but admits it can be hard to find a natural balance when she’s used to following strict rules. “If I have a box of Oreos in my house now, I can’t stop once I start,” she says. She also has to remind herself during the off-season that “I’m not always going to be shredded and have a six-pack, and that’s okay.”
Despite all the challenges, she emphasizes that this lifestyle is her choice—and she’s all in. “I love competing,” she says. “You do it for a reason and you love it.”
Here’s what a day of eating looks like for Ariella when she’s training:
6 a.m.: Wake up and work out.
First thing in the morning, “I usually do around 45 minutes of cardio,” Ariella says.
7 a.m.: Breakfast.
After working out, Ariella fuels up on breakfast: six egg whites (!!!) and half a cup of oatmeal. She also goes for a cup of coffee with zero-calorie creamer.
11 a.m.: Lunch #1.
Ariella’s next meal generally consists of three to four ounces of chicken or tilapia and green veggies—usually asparagus, green beans, or cucumbers. “A lot of greens have carbs too, so I have to be mindful of that,” she says.
2 p.m.: Lunch #2.
For her second lunch, Ariella has three to four ounces of a lean red meat, chicken, or turkey, 12 almonds (no more!), and more green veggies.
5 p.m.: Pre-workout meal.
Before heading down to lift, Ariella has another three to four ounces of lean protein with veggies or some brown rice or sweet potato. “They’re a slower-digesting carb,” she says, and they help her stay energized throughout a long workout.
8 p.m.: Post-workout meal.
After a strenuous workout, Ariella looks for carbs and protein to help her recharge. She usually goes for another serving of lean protein with three ounces of jasmine rice or brown rice, or four ounces of sweet potato.
In order to keep all these similar-ish meals tasting interesting, Ariella says she loves experimenting with seasonings. “My go-tos are Mrs. Dash’s seasoning,” she says. “There’s a bacon and chive one that I put on my veggies a lot, and a garlic herb seasoning that I put on steak.” She also likes garlic powder and Trader Joe’s Everything Bagel seasoning (which usually goes on her egg whites).
10:30 p.m.: Last meal
To end her day, Ariella goes for egg whites and vegetables, sometimes including a whole egg in the mix for fats. Then it’s off to bed—to do it all again in the a.m.