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Serious athletes all over the world tend to make the same serious mistakes with their bodybuilding diets and workout plans. Here are 7 mistakes bodybuilders make, and how to avoid them.

1. Judging by the scales, weight gain version

Gaining 2 pounds of muscle is great. Gaining 0.2 pounds of muscle and 1.8 pounds of fat, not so much. If you are scrawny trying to become brawny, you need to more concerned about muscle mass than about total body mass.

2. Judging by the scales, weight loss version

Losing 2 pounds of fat is great. Losing 0.2 pounds of fat and 1.8 pounds of muscle is not. If you are trying to take off pounds, use methods that measure fat tissue and lean tissue and focus on losing fat while preserving muscle. Very, very few athletes manage to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. Your gym usually will have equipment that can help you measure your weight in terms of fat and muscle.

3. Sacrificing form for power

Suppose you do 10 reps of a 50-pound weight in perfect form. The next time you come to the gym, you are sleepy or you have a cold or you just got chewed out at your job, and you hit the wall at 5 repetitions. You scrunch into bad form to get 5 more reps done.

Your muscles don't care what the muscles around them do. They only care what they do. You are better off to do 10 repetitions in perfect form at a lower weight, or just the 5 repetitions you can do perfectly, than just to try to make your numbers. A perfect bodybuilding diet can't compensate for bad form.

4. Doing the same exercises over and over again

Muscles grow when demands are placed on them. If you do the same exercise over and over again, you will eventually become so efficient at doing it that muscle growth is minimal. Programs such as P90X focus on changing routines approximately once a month so "muscles won't know what's coming at them" for maximum gains for effort. Again, a perfect bodybuilding diet won't build muscle if your muscles are not truly challenged.

5. Working out too often

Muscles need about 48 hours to rebuild strength fibers and to restore the glycogen that pumps them up. Exercising the same muscles more often than every 48 hours, or every 72 hours if you are over sixty years of age, actually causes muscle tissue to break down. You can't compensate for over-exercise with workout drinks.

6. Not getting enough rest

Cortisol breaks down muscle tissue. If you get up before you have had six to eight hours of sleep, your cortisol levels will be too low for you to feel energetic first thing in the morning, but then they will begin breaking down muscle after breakfast—when your muscles should be building up. Getting enough shuteye is essential to building muscle mass.

7. Skipping meals before working out

Exercise primes muscles to respond 50 times better to insulin, the hormone that supplies them with glucose and amino acids. If you work out on an empty stomach and eat later, your muscles won't have the glucose and protein they need to bulk out when they are super-sensitive to insulin. Smaller amounts of glucose (which muscles use to make their glycogen energy supply) and amino acids (which muscles use to make the fibers that power them) will trickle in later, but not soon enough to build maximum mass.

  • Michael Mejia and John Berardi, Scrawny to Brawny: The Complete Guide to Building Muscle the Natural Way (Rodale Books, 2005).
  • Photo courtesy of Joint Base Lewis McChord on Flickr: