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Having trained with many of bodybuilding's elite and being a top competitor himself with many years' training experience has provided Master's champion Joe Tong with the knowledge necessary to assist other iron aspirants with their bodybuilding goals. As a respected personal trainer this is what he spends much of his time doing.
Along with being well versed in all matters bodybuilding, Joe is a registered cardiac nurse and as one involved in medical practice is witness to much preventable illness and disease. This frustrates Joe. He knows that a sensible program encompassing exercise and correct nutrition can add quality to our years and offset preventable illness.
Being a top ranked bodybuilder, medical worker and proponent of healthy living also places Joe in the firing line of those who might suggest the latter role presents a contradiction in terms, a conflict between his position as health and fitness advocate and his aim of becoming an IFBB bodybuilding professional.
As an elite bodybuilding competitor Joe must take steroids to remain competitive. In the following interview Joe provides his thoughts on bodybuilding 'chemicals', and outlines how to be achieve competitive success, while staying healthy and adding life to our years.
[ Q ] What are some of the ways you dial in your physique for the stage when aiming to get into your best possible shape?
I always take each contest as if it's the
Mr. Olympia to me, as I spend a lot of time laying in the sun and getting
massages, making sure, through super intense training, that I focus extra time on weaker areas that need work.
[ Q ] What are your thoughts on the final week of prep for a bodybuilding competitor? Do you have any recommendations?
This past show really taught me a lot about taking your time and devoting 100 percent to all the small factors like your color,
shaving, music and what you will wear to the show, as you always want to look alive to your fans and not tired and run-down.
[ Q ] You are known for using a scientific approach to achieving top conditioning. How would you apply this thinking when preparing for a show, from the beginning to the final weeks?
Well I get ready 12 weeks out and every two weeks I will change either the diet or the
cardio so I know at what stages these are working or not.
If I'm losing too quick I can say I changed the diet but didn't lose it so fast but when I changed the cardio I started dropping it really fast. So therefore maybe I need to back that cardio off a little bit.
When I got sick at my recent contest (the 2008 Masters USA) I was going to use this time to experiment. I didn't win the contest. The guy who won deserved to win and I knew he had the class. If anything I would have experimented right then to really try to fill out for the next day for the night show.
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[ Q ] The pictures taken at photo shoots are often used all year round, which often conveys an illusion to the public that the competitors themselves are in shape all year round. In your experience for how long do elite bodybuilders stay in top shape?
It depends on the bodybuilder. If we take
Silvio (Samuel), for example: he can do pictures all year round. The guy is always in shape. I remember picking him up in December in Hawaii to guest pose, and the first thing we did was go to eat. He had four deserts.
Click Image To Enlarge.
Silvio Samuel At The 2009 Iron Man Pro.
View More Pics Of Silvio Samuel At The 2009 Iron Man Pro.
The following night we went to eat and of course he had more deserts. The day he stepped up onstage to guest pose he looked phenomenal. So he just stays in shape year round regardless. He is like a
genetic freak. The rest of them I would say, even with
Armin, can hold a lot of
water but can get very hard quickly.
When I went to pick Armin up after he had flown in from Germany he looked soft; two weeks later he was hard. I think when they are doing a show they are in shape a couple of weeks before and about a week afterwards. So there is maybe a three to four week window to do photos per contest for most people.
Click Image To Enlarge.
Armin Scholz At The 2008 Iron Man Pro.
View More Pics Of Armin Scholz At The 2008 Iron Man Pro.
[ Q ] What are some of the important factors when preparing to compete in insanely good shape? Are diuretics necessary?
Yes, competitors use
diuretics, but I don't think you should go overboard with them. Some people don't know the difference between using them and abusing them. A small amount will help but don't overdo it. What's really important is diet in the off-season.
I never really dieted strictly at this time because with my genetics I always got very lean. So I would eat McDonalds every year, Reese's cups every day. That has always been the case and being around Mike Christian that is the way he ate. Even 12 weeks before a contest I would get ready too quick.
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Even before the National's, three days out, I remember having four milkshakes that day. But I think what I have learned is if you really get your diet down, including things like
essential fatty acids, that is the way to do it. I think if you really get that stuff down in the off-season you can make a tremendous difference to your physique.
Last year when I competed I weighed in a little over 190 lbs. This year, even though I was sick, I weighed 210. This was only a year's difference. Next year I'm hoping to weigh between 220 and 225, and I believe these gains will be made through my off-season diet. Armin and I were talking and he told me that I really needed to get more serious about my diet. He told me I got caught up in doing things and only stopped to eat when I could. With him everything else is scheduled around his eating. His eating comes first.
I think if you take that attitude you can make a big difference with your body. But I don't think people usually get that serious in the off-season because it requires work.
When I used to diet, but not for my last show, I used to weigh all of my food out per ounce and everything was always written down. That can be a lot of work when you are dieting and tired, but I think it is well worth it when you see what it can do for your body.
[ Q ] So it is more a matter of considering diet in a regimented way all year round rather than just thinking about it in this fashion a few months out from your show?
Yes exactly, that would be the ideal way to do it.
[ Q ] I understand you are a cardiac nurse working in cardiac intensive care. How do you reconcile what are thought to be deleterious practices (very high protein diets and steroid use) that are expected of you as a high level bodybuilder and the fact you are working in a field that supports and educates people in healthy ways of living to prevent illness?
It's funny because working in cardiac intensive care - where your have cardiac doctors and cardiac surgeons - I would see both types of professionals. The cardiac surgeons tend to be older and have a lot of experience based on what they have learned through med school. So they didn't really know too much as far as dieting for bodybuilding.
My friend who is an anesthesiologist told me that the stuff they learn - for example steroid related information - is maybe one day of education, in med school. He told me he has learned more as a bodybuilder than he has as a doctor.
And as far as diet goes I've been in and have had doctors ask me how I feel following the high protein diet. We've discussed everything and they have told me that the medical community has said that a very high protein diet is very hard on your kidneys. But the doctor himself told me he followed a high protein diet and felt better. So I found that a lot of them really don't know.
Generally I won't talk about steroids at work, first of all because they are going to stereotype me if I do. People tend to think just because you took a pill that is how you built your body. They totally throw out the notion that you have worked your butt off, you have dieted and so forth - and because most people don't know anything about the drug issue.
And as far as diets in general, they are very misinformed. We will have nutritionists come up to see patients and generally the diets that they put patients on are very poor diets.
They don't usually use quality protein with the patients; they use the cheapest thing they can get. I've had numerous doctors tell me that with the drugs too, that they have better drugs but the hospital won't pay for them so they won't be used.
The patients aren't getting the top quality care that they could, and should be getting. If you have a patient who has had a procedure done and was on a top diet he would recuperate a lot faster than on the low quality one.
Click Image To Enlarge.
People Tend To Think Just Because You Took A
Pill That Is How You Built Your Body.
[ Q ] Do you have any examples to illustrate how a good quality diet can help one who is recovering from illness or disease?
Yes. I know about this first hand as I have a client who was trying to get into shape and was also diagnosed with cancer last year. From the time she was diagnosed, that was the time I began working with her. She was to have surgery and then undergo chemo.
The only problem with her chemo was the nausea. Besides that there were no other side effects whatsoever. The cancer was successfully removed and everything was in complete remission. Much of this due to the proper diet and training program I had her on. She is now back training four or five days a week with weights. I am now working with another patient that was diagnosed with cancer.
[ Q ] What are some of the dietary strategies you would use with these kinds of patients?
The main thing with these people is to get them on a balanced diet. I don't follow the diets you see in textbooks where you have the recommended daily allowance (RDA), because as soon as you get back to this you have to ask what it is for.
It is for a person who is generally very sedentary, one who is sitting on the couch, not working and not undergoing a lot of stress. So people don't realize that when they are looking at the recommended daily allowance. And the amounts recommended are just to maintain, not for if you are fighting illness, working out, undergoing highly stressful circumstances. You need to take all of these things into consideration.
What I do is get a patient on a balanced diet, taking all these factors into consideration. I generally also follow a higher
protein diet, unless it's a renal patient (one with a kidney disorder), lower in simple
carbohydrates with mostly complex carbohydrates and ensure they are taking a regular
multivitamin - to me that's just like a car insurance policy - and from there I go into things like
glutamine, which I think everybody should be on, especially when you are facing illness.
Even though it's not an essential amino acid it is the most essential one for your body and the one that is used most often. Dr. Connelly is the one who first stressed the importance of that with burns patients needing such a high level of glutamine. Now there are good things out there such as glutathione. When people overdose, in the hospitals they try to get glutathione into them right away because the body needs that.
They found people with HIV and cancer patients who get a high level of glutathione really are enhanced at the cellular level and have less long term problems.
Some people of course are taking steroids, and will benefit from it, but there those who aren't who will also benefit due to the pollution within the environment. To me, that is an insurance thing too.
So I'm very proactive and try to find things to use with the patient before they really need them. If you can do these things now, they can prevent you maybe later from requiring more things. I think most people wait until something shows up and then search for something that will fix it, instead of in the beginning looking at the whole picture.
Attack the illness right at the beginning before it starts growing. Then you will have a much better chance of it healing better and you being a lot healthier overall.
An ex-girlfriend from Hawaii actually impressed on me this year the importance of leading a healthier life. She got me more into eating a complete diet with a range of vegetables. Gary (Strydom) also used to be on me about that because I like my junk food, but she was the one who new a lot about general health.
When we looked at my age, as I reached 40 a couple of years back, I discovered that I didn't have the energy I had when I was 30. I didn't like the way that felt so looked for things I could do about it now. That's when I began looking at other things:
stretching, taking Pilates, to have an overall healthier life.
Of course the diet was going to be one of the things I had to look at, eating more fish and vegetables. I definitely think I'm healthier now that what I was five years ago. I'm maybe not as strong, but I weigh more and look better, and most importantly of all I'm internally healthier.
[ Q ] So for the bodybuilder, being healthy should be equally as important as training and dieting all-out for bodybuilding success?
You are only here for a short period. But to be honest everybody wants to win the trophy and be
Mr. Olympia or whatever, but when you are 60, 70 or 80, nobody remembers what contest you won. It's only those few people who you might have changed their lives in some way that are going to be there for you.
So for me health is really important because it is not about the number of years you are here but the quality of your life. I don't really want to be here at age 90 if the quality is terrible, but if the quality is good then that is a different story.
You see these people coming into the hospital with a whole range of illnesses more often and I think this has a lot to do with the American culture of poor nutrition. People are eating so much junk. And you see these people coming in, in their 30's and 40's who are so out of shape.
They just don't take care of themselves and their lifestyle is wrong and they are not exercising. John Scott once told me that you need to look at good health as a triangle: one side is your training, one is recuperation and the other is nutrition. If any one of those three is compromised then it will fall apart. It can also be viewed as legs on a chair. It doesn't have to be all three legs, it can be just one (that breaks) and all of the other areas will suffer.
We need to really look at the whole picture. These people in their early 20's don't really realize it, but as I got older I realized it was all about the quality. So at least I was fortunate enough in my 40's to make a difference.
I look at these people in their 20's and think of the major difference they can make to their lives if they start right now; how much more energy they can expect when they are in their 50's and 60's. Don't wait until you are 40 to do it. If you want to do some research and put some time into it, anyone can improve the quality of their lives. There is a lot of information out there. You don't need to be sick.
[ Q ] It is a shame in that since bodybuilders are and bodybuilding is leading the way in health and fitness at a fundamental level, this sport is often cast in a negative light, which might dissuade people from taking it up.
Right. I think bodybuilding is healthy, but it can be unhealthy depending on how you want to do it and how far you want to take it. If you want to get into it at a certain level, then yes you will need to take some risks that might not be healthy.
But I think if we were more honest with it instead of sweeping it under the rug we would say, yes we know steroids are out there, but let's look at it in a logical and healthy way.
If we compete on that level and have to use it then, number one, it should be legalized. And if the government controls it will be better for the individual because then we would have the doctors to go to have steroids better prescribed and have more knowledge around them. We would be able to have regular tests.
I have used these drugs before and I actually had to go and look up the different tests I wanted my doctor to do, because he didn't know. You want to know what specific blood-work is needed. If we are going to use something then if it was legal and we had the doctors to go to, to get knowledge, we could use it in a safer way. Think of how much better it would be for the people who are using it.
There's going to be steroids in almost every sport there is and the public doesn't want to see it go away. They want to see, and I hate to use the term, freaks.
They want to see freaks in every sport. Whether it is Tiger Woods who is going to hit the ball another 200 yards. He is a freak in his sport. And, sure, in every sport there will continue to be misuse, but if we can apply it in a healthy way, and as long as we aren't hurting ourselves, then I think that is the key.
[ Q ] But bodybuilding can be participated in at an elite level, necessitating drugs, or at a recreational level, with no drug requirement. People do have a choice.
Right. But when you say the term bodybuilding, I think anybody who is working out is bodybuilding. You are building your body somehow. It doesn't mean you are getting onstage and using drugs. But if you are working your body, losing fat, well then you are bodybuilding.
[ Q ] What are some positive attributes associated with bodybuilding training as far as heart health goes?
With weight training you do fortunately strengthen the
heart and when you do strengthen the heart it requires less energy and force to exert the pumping action, so that is going to be easier on the heart muscle itself. You are not going to have the basic long-term wear and tear on the heart.
It's not going to require so much demand if the muscle is stronger to pump the blood. So that's one thing. Then of course you are going to be in better cardiovascular shape.
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Also, with the heart being able to pump more effectively you are going to have nutrients delivered to different areas a lot easier, so if you were to have some sort of injury I think it would be easier for the waste products to be pushed out of the area and for nutrients to be pushed in because the heart working at an optimal level.
And with that you get increased energy levels. And you are including different types of cardio, whether it is fat burning or whatever, and that is going to increase the strength of your heart and energy levels also.
Along with all of this I think you will see an improved attitude including less depression and a more positive way of thinking. And with increased endurance from this type of training you are going to have a more positive attitude overall I think. That will help if you have an injury because you are going to feel better overall too.
It used to be that people were told that weight training would have these mentioned benefits but now it is believed that weight training will actually extend your life.
A recent study showed that this is actually true now. So what they are saying is that the authorities are coming around and admitting it is true. They said it was wrong for a long time but now it is known that weight training does increase your life expectancy. And we are also seeing people, especially women, who are experiencing bone disorders like osteoporosis who are benefiting from weight training.
Osteoporosis is a disease of bone that leads to an increased risk of fracture. In osteoporosis the bone mineral density (BMD) is reduced, bone microarchitecture is disrupted, and the amount and variety of non-collagenous proteins in bone is altered.
Yes. Unfortunately diabetes is such a terrible disease. People with this usually begin having problems with their vision and circulation.
If somebody does have diabetes and he or she begins weight training, and through this uses a proper diet, they will begin controlling their blood sugar levels much better - because not many of them know much about diet.
The bodybuilder, as you said, knows more than the average person or even the person working in the hospital. So once they start getting their blood sugar under control, over an extended period of time, you will see them having less trouble with their circulation, so the side effects from being a diabetic are going to decrease. And this gets back to ones quality of life improving because of the weight training.
[ Q ] How has the bodybuilding lifestyle benefited your life as a whole?
I feel like I see life in general in a more positive way, in that knowing what you put into it is what you will get out of it. I believe more in myself, and what I can do.
[ Q ] What are your long-term bodybuilding goals?
To continue to improve and compete in the Masters Nationals and earn my pro card.
[ Q ] At age 43, how many years you do feel you have left as a competitor?
Now that I'm just getting my diet down - and I have been fortunate to have the help of
Dr. Peter Fong and advice from Jerry Brainum, along with Anthony Almada in this area - I think I'm just coming to the point where I'm ready to compete and realistically I could see myself competing for another three or four years.
As long as I have the desire to continue (to compete) my body definitely is willing. Now I train a lot smarter and don't go as heavy and I listen more to my body.
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