Franco Columbu Diet Guide

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: February 19, 2024

Franco Columbu was a professional bodybuilder who left an indelible mark on the fitness world. His friendship with Arnold Schwarzenegger often united them in training sessions and nutritional strategy discussions.

Franco became a well-known expert and published one of the only books to address the specific dietary needs of bodybuilders. In this article, I will discuss Franco Columbu’s diet principles and share a few examples of his diet plans.

Franco Columbu Diet

Franco’s approach to meal planning was systematic, and he was known for experimenting with his diet while keeping detailed notes about the outcomes. This deep understanding of how diet impacts performance and recovery continues to influence bodybuilders today.

In fact, I read Franco’s book early in my bodybuilding career and used many of his suggestions in my own diet. Now, I’m a Certified Nutrition Coach, and I implement some of the same strategies with my clients.

Who Is Franco Columbu?

Franco Columbu was an influential figure during the golden era of bodybuilding in the 1970s and 80s. Born on August 7, 1941, in Ollolai, Sardinia, Italy, he was known for his impressive physique and strength, earning him the Sardinian Strongman moniker.

Columbu was just 5’5″ tall but stood out with his muscular build and ability to showcase a highly conditioned and symmetrical physique. He rose to fame after winning the prestigious Mr Universe title multiple times.

Columbu’s physique and training were spotlighted in the documentary Pumping Iron. This dedication and hard work led to his becoming a two-time Mr Olympia, a title he won in 1976 and 1981.

Besides his achievements in bodybuilding, Franco Columbu also pursued a career in chiropractic, eventually earning a Ph.D. His knowledge of the human body and nutrition vastly contributed to his success on stage and in his practice.

Columbu passed away on August 30, 2019, but he remains a revered figure in the bodybuilding community and serves as an inspiration to many athletes around the globe.

Franco Columbu

Franco posing on a balcony with his best friend, Arnold.

Franco Columbu Diet Principles

Franco Columbu followed a diet designed to complement his rigorous training regimen. Attention to basic nutrients, healthy food choices, and precise supplementation formed the core of his dietary strategy.

Basic Nutrients

Franco Columbu’s diet was based on a solid foundation of balanced macronutrients and basic nutrition guidelines. He prioritized high-quality protein for building muscle, clean carbohydrates for fueling workouts, and low fat as a secondary energy source.

Macronutrient Definitions

  • Protein: Create the primary substance of muscles and all other tissues
  • Carbohydrates: Provide energy for powering muscles through workouts
  • Fats: Perform essential functions, keeping the body systems running

Columbu’s definition of “high-quality protein” was based on net protein utilization (NPU), which quantifies how much of a food’s protein is absorbed by the body. Moreover, he suggested that the average person requires 1 gram of protein per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight, while bodybuilders require slightly more.

Columbu also recommended consuming a relatively high-carb diet to fuel intense workouts and replenish glycogen stores after training. Moreover, he suggested that one’s carbohydrate intake should change according to your activity level, a practice known as carb cycling.

Franco’s views on dietary fat were that it should be kept at a low level due to the higher energy density than protein and carbohydrates. He indicated that many people overconsume fats due to their prevalence in junk foods.

Columbu did not focus on prescribing nutrition targets in exact calories or grams since each individual’s needs vary. Instead, he paid more attention to the relative ratio of macronutrients. Here are his suggested macronutrient ratios (as a percentage of calories) for the average bodybuilder.

Franco’s Macro Ratios

  • Protein: 25-30%
  • Carbs: 50-55%
  • Fat: 20-25%
Franco Columbu Diet Principles

Food Choices

Franco Columbu’s nutrition guidelines center around consuming healthy whole foods to provide the body with all the necessary nutrients to function correctly. At the same time, he advocates for avoiding overly processed foods, which contain refined sugars and excess calories with fewer nutrients.

Franco’s Top Bodybuilding Foods

  • Fresh Fruits: Excellent source of natural sugars, fiber, and nutrients
  • Fresh Vegetables: Packed with vitamins and minerals but low in calories
  • Whole Grains: Provide sustained energy source and replenish glycogen
  • Lean Meats: Most complete source of amino acids for muscle building
  • Eggs: High-quality protein containing essential vitamins and minerals

With his Italian upbringing, Franco was a big proponent of consuming fresh fruit and vegetables with every meal. Some of his favorites included apples, pears, grapes, and leafy green salads. He also enjoyed potatoes as a starchy carb.

Another carbohydrate source for Columbu was whole grains, including whole wheat bread, pasta, rice, and cereal. Eggs were his preferred source of protein, including egg whites and egg yolks for additional nutrients. His other protein came from lean meats in the form of fish, poultry, beef, veal, or liver.

​It might surprise you that Franco also enjoyed alcohol almost every day, but his secret was moderation. He typically had a glass of wine with lunch and a beer in the evening to relax. The only time he avoided alcohol was two weeks before a contest.

Another surprising fact is that Columbu eliminated all dairy products from his diet when he discovered they caused him to retain water under his skin. He recommended that most adults avoid dairy, but this is a contested viewpoint among nutrition experts.

Franco Columbu Diet Plan

Franco was known for his impressive definition and chest separation.

Supplements

In addition to whole foods, Columbu supplemented his diet with vitamins and minerals to ensure no nutritional gaps. He also used digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid (HCl) to help his body break down the higher protein intake of a bodybuilder’s diet.

Columbu pointed out that the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) for preventing deficiencies in average people are typically too low for bodybuilders. But he also urged not to rely on supplements as a replacement for whole foods and instead use them in a supportive role.

  • Vitamins and Minerals: A targeted approach to support overall health and workout recovery
  • Digestive Enzymes: Carefully chosen to assist with healthy digestion

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Franco Columbu Diet Plan

Fans often reached out to Franco Columbu asking for dietary advice. So, he created several diet plan examples specifically for bodybuilders seeking to build muscle or burn fat.

Franco does not provide exact quantities for every food as each bodybuilder’s nutritional needs depend on their weight and workout routine. Instead, he provides examples to hit the desired macronutrient ratio for each meal.

It’s important to note that these are only a small sample of the various plans Columbu provides in his book.

Average Bodybuilding Diet

Columbu used this diet plan for any non-competitive bodybuilder training for up to one hour, 5-6 days per week.

Meal Foods
Breakfast 2 eggs

1 slice of bread

1 glass of orange juice or a serving of fruit

1 cup of coffee

1 glass of water

Lunch 1 serving of meat

1 baked potato or serving of pasta

1 glass of wine or beer

1 glass of water

Snack 1 serving of fruit, nuts, or seeds
Dinner 1 serving of fish

Salad with vegetables

1 glass of wine or beer

1 glass of water

Fat Loss Diet

Franco Columbu suggested this diet plan for a competitive bodybuilder with an endomorph body type trying to lose weight before a contest.

Meal Foods
Breakfast 3 eggs

1 slice of pineapple

1 cup of coffee

1 glass of water

1 hydrochloric acid tablet

Pre-Workout 1/2 to 1 lb of fruit
Lunch 1 serving of fish

Salad with vegetables

1 glass of water

2 hydrochloric acid tablets

Dinner 1 serving of fish

Salad

1 glass of water

2 hydrochloric acid tablets

Muscle Gain Diet

Franco Columbu suggested this diet plan for a competitive bodybuilder with an ectomorph body type trying to gain muscle in the offseason.

Meal Foods
Breakfast 4 eggs

2-3 slices of bread

1 glass of orange juice

1 cup of coffee

1 glass of water

Pre-Workout Large quantity of fruit
Lunch 1 serving of chicken or steak

2 baked potatoes

Salad with vegetables

2 slices of bread

1 glass of water

Snack 1 serving of nuts or seeds
Dinner 1 serving of fish

Brown rice

Salad with vegetables

1 glass of water

Bodybuilder’s Nutrition Book

Dr. Franco Columbu authored the “Bodybuilder’s Nutrition Book” to address the dietary needs of individuals passionate about bodybuilding. In his book, you can find more details about his dietary principles and nutrition recommendations.

Dr. Columbu’s experience as a champion bodybuilder and an expert in sports medicine lends credibility to his nutritional advice. I’ve read the Bodybuilder’s Nutrition Book cover-to-cover and consider it a valuable resource for athletes seeking to optimize their diet for better performance and muscle development.

Franco Columbu’s book is available on Amazon and several other popular book retailers.

Franco Columbu Diet Book

This is the copy of Franco’s book that I bought back in 2012.

Or feel free to browse some of my other fitness-related articles below to find more free information on diet, supplements, and workouts.

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