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Despite our talk before Christmas about his needing to chill out on all the cookies and desserts, Randy had continued to indulge his sweet tooth until the first week of the New Year. You may assume that at this point, he looked in the mirror and made a conscious decision to stop stuffing his face with garbage.
Well, not exactly. It just happened that all the holiday treats around his house had finally been eaten, and mostly by him. Randy still lives at home, and both his parents and his younger brother are typical Americans. Their idea of healthy eating is just getting the large fries at McDonald's and not SuperSizing them - though McDonald's has finally put an end to that artery-clogging, obesity-causing promotion.
The best advice I have ever heard about how to avoid eating junk food is to not have any around. It's such a simple recommendation, yet so powerful. As the father of a ten and five-year-old, I deal with this temptation every day. My kitchen cabinets and refrigerator freezer are full of cookies, little snack cakes, Oreo ice cream, those ice cream Drumsticks, Coco Puffs, Shark Tales fruit snacks, caramel popcorn - you get the idea.
When I am dieting for a contest, it's not hard to say no to these empty calories. All I have to do is imagine losing because the other guy was a little more ripped than me. It's not so easy when there is nothing coming up to look good for.
Add cold weather and clothing that is more concealing into the mix, and my attitude toward eating crap turns to, 'what does it matter? I can get in good shape again by the time spring rolls around again.' And so when I look down at my stomach, flex hard, and try to tell myself those rolls are really a six-pack, I can't even lie to myself. It's fat, the same holiday fat that most people tend to accumulate over the winter.
Randy was 210 when we had our little talk in the locker room, and he got up to 214 before he finally put the brakes on his bingeing. With everything going on around the holidays I didn't see him until he had finally started eating cleaner and had dropped back down to 208.
As I soon learned, he had accomplished this rapid weight loss by virtue of the Atkins Diet. Six pounds in under two weeks is nothing to sneeze at, to be sure. However, Randy and I have talked about the importance of carbs many times, and he knew I was not a supporter of this tremendously popular nutritional approach.
The Atkins Diet became such a huge phenomenon for three reasons:
- Number one, it's so easy to understand that any moron who can figure out what a carbohydrate is can follow it simply by not eating them.
- Number two, it gives dieters the feeling that they are getting away with something mischievous by eating such traditionally taboo foods as bacon, pork, real butter, peanut butter, cheese, and cheeseburgers without the buns.
- And number three, weight loss is fairly dramatic, particularly in the early stages.
What most people fail to realize is that dietary carbs attract a substantial amount of water, so cutting carbs out will cause a significant loss in water weight. Since 99.9% of dieters never bother to have a bodyfat analysis performed to find out exactly how their body composition has changed, they assume it was pure fat. To just about everyone, the bottom line is the number they see on the scale. And so it was with Randy.
I met him on chest day, the first time we had trained in almost three weeks. I confess that at first, he did look a little leaner. Actually, he just looked less bloated, and that was attributable to the reduction in subcutaneous water. Randy also looked exhausted. This wasn't so unusual.
As a new car salesman, he worked six days a week and often over twelve hours a day. Even though he wasn't digging ditches or moving furniture, the mental stress of dealing with potential buyers all attempting to get a deal while barely concealing their distrust in him was rough on the kid.
One Southern gentleman actually told him, "The only thing lower'n a rattlenake's belly is a used car salesman."
"Right," Randy had countered. "But I sell new cars." In any case, this fatigue I was observing was not work-related.
I hadn't asked about the low-carb strategy and Randy hadn't told me, but just one work set into dumbbell incline presses and I was already on to him. He was trying to use his usual weights, 90's, but from the very first rep he was struggling and expecting me to pick up the slack for him.
"I'm not lifting your weights for you, junior, put 'em down." Scowling, he let me do my set and then started back with 75's, still not doing spectacularly with what should have been a pretty easy weight for him. I waited until our three work sets were over and then had him hit a few chest poses.
In bodybuilding, we use the term 'flat' to describe a muscle that seems deflated. When you are really flat, such as when you have no glycogen in your muscles due to not eating carbohydrates, nothing really happens when you pose. Rather than 'pop' and bulge, the muscles just lie there like wet Bounty paper towels - the quicker-picker-upper.
"Randy, you are flatter than my wife before her first set of breast implants," I said. "What was your pre-workout meal?"
"Uh, I had a couple chicken thighs, a handful of cashews, and a few stalks of raw broccoli," he replied.
"Interesting," I countered. "And what, pray tell, were the meals before that?" He looked at the floor, just knowing he was in for a scolding.
"Well, breakfast was six scrambled whole eggs with two turkey sausages and some black coffee, I had a protein shake around ten, and then the chicken thighs."
"So you have eaten no carbs today. How long have you not been eating carbs for, might I ask?"
"About two weeks now." I shook my head.
"All workout and no carbs makes Jack a flat boy," I announced.
"You see Randy? You can't even think straight in this stupid carb-depleted state you've gotten yourself into. Your workouts suck, you can't get a pump to save your life, and now you're dropping five IQ points a day to top it off."
"I had to lose some fat, Ron, what the hell was I supposed to do?"
"The show is still almost four months away, so there was no need to do anything drastic. Rushing a contest diet is never a good thing. I suggest dieting in stages, and the first stage is simply cutting out all the junk and switching to clean meals. That right there will help you drop a few pounds in a couple weeks with no loss in muscle size or strength.
In fact, giving your body cleaner-burning fuel all of a sudden often improves performance, just like putting higher-octane gasoline into your car. The main thing is that you need carbs to fuel muscular contractions, and you need them again after training to replace the glycogen you just depleted from your muscles.
Without taking in carbs at those two critical times, most bodybuilders will experience a rapid physical and mental decline. The Atkins Diet is fine for the Average Joe who sits at a desk all day and doesn't do anything more physical than pick his nose, but I will argue all day long that it's a horrible idea for bodybuilders."
"But I don't want to eat a lot of carbs when I'm dieting, right?"
"No, not a lot of carbs. You want to gradually reduce your intake of complex carbs like rice, oatmeal, and potatoes and increase the amount of fibrous carbs like broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, artichokes, and spinach.
If you find you need more calories or your energy levels are dwindling, you can supplement with an MCT oil like Parrillo's Cap Tri. But as far as I am concerned, carbs belong in your diet before and after training all the way up to the show."
"Oh, I almost forgot," Randy said. "Someone brought a few boxes of these to the dealership last week, I don't know why they didn't have them before Christmas, but I thought maybe your kids might want them." He reached into his gym bag and pulled out a box the size of a laptop computer, wrapped in gold foil. I took it from him and read the label with mounting horror. Randy had re-gifted four pounds of Ghirardelli chocolates, knowing he couldn't resist eating them - and certainly knowing I couldn't either.
"Bastard!" I spat through gritted teeth. Randy looked wounded, then reached out his hand.
"Sorry, I can just give them to someone else." I drew the box close to me and covered it with one arm, stroking it with my other hand.
"Don't even think about it!" I hissed at him. Then, to the box containing untold calories and grams of fat and sugar, and scrumptious assorted chocolates, I purred, "My preciousssss."
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