Bodybuilders who choose to go the "enhanced" route are always searching for the anabolic drug that will take their physique to the next level. With all of the means at our disposal to increase muscular bodyweight, one simple fact often gets overlooked. Food is the most anabolic substance we can put in our bodies.
What separates pro-bodybuilders from the rest of us? I know that people like to engage in discussions about aesthetics, muscle maturity, and symmetry. However, it's painfully obvious that the primary difference is muscular size. It's amusing for me to hear competitors talk about how great their symmetry is despite the fact that they don't have enough muscle to win a local qualifier. Muscular size is the primary indicator of success in bodybuilding competition. With regular certainty, the largest man on stage wins the show.
Over the past several years, there has been a push inside the supplement industry towards low-calories mass building. We've seen "lean-mass" products appear on the market, with all of the major supplements companies like Met-RX and EAS advocating their MRP's as a way to add lean tissue without gaining additional fat. It is no longer en vogue to bulk-up in the off-season, the industry line that is touted in the magazines these days is that athletes rarely stray too far from their contest bodyweights. With the advent of these new nutritional technologies, it is now possible to be both massively muscled and lean at all times. Horse@#%$!!
The truth is that the pictures seen in the various bodybuilding publications are all taken immediately before or after contests. It is not uncommon to see a bodybuilder put on 20+ lbs the day after a contest! Most bodybuilding aficionados don't have the slightest idea of what these athletes look like 95% of the year. It's mistakenly assumed that these guys always look fairly lean and chiseled. Nothing could be further from the truth.
By attempting to stay lean year-round, you are sabotaging your goals to become as muscular as humanly possible. Athletes who constantly chase more muscle while worrying about body fat levels will never gain the muscle they need to achieve their goals. Let's consider this question: Which is harder to build, fat or muscle? Obviously, muscle. Next question. Which is easier to lose, fat or muscle? For those of you that said muscle, sorry, wrong answer, thanks for playing. Once muscle is built it's a fairly easy proposition to maintain it while dieting off body fat.
I honestly can't fault anyone for following these "lean mass" programs. Being bloated and fat in the off-season isn't any fun. If any of you have had the chance to see Lee Priest in the off-season, you'll know what I mean. The man is nearly unrecognizable from the contest and ad pictures we constantly see in the various publications. Lee doesn't get just a little heavy, he gets fat. I don't think he would be offended if I say he looks like a lop of @#%$. However, when the fat comes off, and it surely does every year, Lee's physique is amazing. If you talk to Lee, and ask him what his secret to success is, he'll tell you. It's food.
So, why all the secrecy and smoke and mirrors surrounding the nutritional profiles of these athletes? One simple reason. Money. Money from endorsements, contracts, and ad work. Say I'm an up and coming national level bodybuilder. I'm eating over 7,000 calories a day. In order to do this, I'm consuming a lot of fatty foods, hell, I'm eating McDonalds and ice cream as much as possible. Why? Because I cannot physically consume that level of caloric intake in clean, low-fat foods. It cannot be done. However, do the supplement companies want their customers to know this? Of course not. Look, it's an accepted premise that all national and professional level bodybuilders take steroids, right? However, it's something that's never discussed in the supplement industry, and bodybuilders get paid to endorse products. So, they lie. My success is based largely on the fact that I use XYZ Protein. I was able to compete 20 lb heavier at this year's Mr. O because I was taking Sportgear prohormones. Whatever. My point isn't that nutritional supplements don't have their place, they certainly do. (We'll discuss that in a feature article in next month's issue of Anabolic Extreme) My point is that professional bodybuilders are used because there is a large segment of the population that would like to emulate that look. If they can be made to believe that look is obtained through clean eating and sports supplements, who's hurt, right?
I've seen so many genetically gifted bodybuilders fail in the quest to achieve greatness. 9 times out of 10 the culprit is nutrition. Specifically, the problem is not consuming enough calories. I can't tell you how many times I've had an athlete come to me who has hit a plateau. I modify their nutrition slightly and they are growing again. People, you are not going to achieve brutal muscle size on 3,500 kcal a day!! I don't care what anyone else tells you, I've seen it fail and I know it doesn't work. All successful national and professional level bodybuilders eat all day long. In the off-season their only concern is getting those meals in and eating enough protein. Anyone can train intensely given the right circumstances and knowledge. Any fool can jab themselves with steroids. However, there are very few people in the sport of bodybuilding that are consistently able, day in and day out, to eat their 6-8 meals a day and consume enough calories to reach anabolic extreme. (Please refer to the Ian Harrison interview in this month's issue for Ian's thoughts on off-season bodybuilding nutrition).
What are your goals as a bodybuilder? Is it your goal to have an aesthetically pleasing physique, staying relatively lean year round? Or is it to carry as much muscle as your genetic potential will allow? One goal is not nobler than the other, but they certainly require different strategies. While it is possible to stay relatively lean year round once a desired level of muscle has been achieved, it is not possible to do this while trying to gain the muscle initially. Unless extraordinary circumstances are present, muscle cannot be added and fat lost at the same time!! The conditions necessary for this to happen are so rare and require so many drugs that it's not worthy of discussion in this article. Muscle is gained by eating over and above what is required for maintenance. Fat is lost by eating less than what is required for maintenance. It's virtually impossible to gain muscle without adding some concomitant fat, conversely, it's almost impossible to lose fat without losing concomitant muscle tissue. These are the irrefutable facts.
We see a lot of huge professional bodybuilders in the off-season that would not be characterized as "fat" in the normal sense of the word. They are fat only by bodybuilding standards. As I'm writing this, it's Wednesday, November 17, 1999. Last Saturday I was lucky enough to see Ronnie Coleman in Sacramento, CA. Ronnie competes close to 260 lbs at a height of about 5'10". When I saw him, he was weighing in at about 305 lb still appearing to be fairly lean, just weeks after his wins at some major European shows. The whole time I was at this event, Ronnie was eating. Burgers, fries, you name it, he ate it. In a few months, he should well over 320, eating everything in site in his attempt to add more muscle. This is 60+ lb over his competition bodyweight. It's also what is necessary to continue to grow.
Dorian is one of the people responsible for the new era of freakiness seen in bodybuilding today. I was fortunate enough to see Dorian a few times in the off-season during his competitive heyday. I was able to sit and have lunch with Dorian through a friend of mine immediately after he announced his retirement from competition. Among the myriad of subjects that were discussed, off-season nutrition certainly was one of the most interesting. Does anyone remember the 1995 Night of Champions when Dorian guest-posed at roughly 300 lbs? That was nearly unheard of at the time. Many said that he was too fat and out of shape and that would never be able to come down for the O. Not only did Dorian lose the weight, he crushed his competition. Dorian's philosophy was that his off-season appearance was inconsequential. What mattered was what he looked like when he stepped on stage. During the off-season, his nutrition centered around two simple factors: total caloric intake and total protein intake. Nothing else mattered.
The Role of Drugs in Diet
Before we continue on, I'd like to make it clear that the nutritional strategies that are discussed in this article are not designed with the health of the athlete in mind. Additionally, the plan we will outline will be of benefit only to bodybuilders using significant amounts of growth promoting drugs, specifically heavy androgens. In a future issue of Anabolic Extreme, we will examine the various high-fat, low-carb diets, which I feel are particularly effective for natural athletes. Please bear in mind that any numbers or figures discussed in this article would apply only to bodybuilders that are fairly advanced and using a significant amount of steroid. Nutritional strategies would vary for beginners or natural athletes. I can always be contacted via the site and try and answer as many emails as possible. I'm also available for consultations and on-line training.
Obviously, something is going on here that is allowing these guys to consume an enormous amount of calories and not have it go straight to their ass and gut. If a natural athlete were to eat in this fashion, he'd soon be getting a visit from a sobbing Richard Simmons. The drugs these athletes take not only have an anabolic effect, but have some effect on adipose tissue as well. So, out of the myriad of drugs these athletes use, which are responsible for keeping for them both large and lean (relatively!) at the same time?
Hopefully everyone is aware of the amazing effect HGH has on reducing body fat. This is one of the few real world effects of growth that has been proven through scientific research. Its effects on lean body mass, at least according to all of the studies I've read, are less than impressive. This isn't what I've witnessed with my own eyes, but I don't even want to open up that can of worms here! However, all of the studies on growth show that it burns fat, with some subjects losing as much as 15% of their fat tissue.
Testosterone has a proven effect on lipolysis (fat release) in adipose tissue. To my knowledge, there has never been a study done using young, healthy males and large doses of testosterone to determine its effects on body composition. For the most part, studies done on growth hormone and testosterone are performed on aging populations and geriatrics, or severely ill individuals suffering from wasting conditions. However, there have been a few studies on younger males using very low doses of testosterone that have clearly demonstrated its effectiveness at reducing body fat.
Meal Planning, Frequency, and Consistency
We've all heard we should eat 4-6 meals a day. I try and have most of my clients shoot for 6-8 meals a day. Why? Well, let's say your caloric intake on any given day needs to be 7500 kcals per day. If you consume this over three meals, each meal will contain approximately 2500 kcal. Realistically, your body is not going to be able to digest this many calories and much of the nutrient value of the food is lost. By spreading these meals over 7 sittings, you're able to effectively digest the food and maximize the benefits of eating at this level. Additionally, your metabolism is going to speed up since every time you consume food, your body has to expend energy to digest it.
Eating more frequent smaller meals has been proven to have positive effects on cholesterol and body fat levels. Now, I'm not telling you that eating 7,500 kcals is unhealthy when consumed in three meals but healthy when spread out over seven. Eating calories at that level is unhealthy, PERIOD!! However, bodybuilding is about achieving a certain cosmetic effect, and the extremes of bodybuilding are only reached through extreme measures. If this frightens you, you need to reevaluate your goals. Again, we are discussing what it takes to succeed in the upper echelons of the sport.
When it becomes necessary to consume calories at this level, life becomes a constant stream of eating, cooking, cleaning, and eating again. Most pro bodybuilders don't have a job outside the sport, the daily regimen that's required to be successful precludes outside work. Meals should be consumed every 2-3 hours with clockwork precision. This ensures a constant supply of nutrients and protein in the bloodstream. Obviously it's nearly impossible to consume 6-8 solid food meals a day, most athletes will take 3-4 of their meals in liquid form. Since these liquid meals are more easily digested than whole foods, it allows the bodybuilder a respite if 7-8 meals are required to get the necessary caloric intake.
So, how many calories are necessary for growth? Every athlete has a different caloric need, based on a variety of factors. At the elite level, athletes have been known to consume 25-30k cal per lb of bodyweight per day. What's important to understand is that the level of caloric consumption should be based on the weight you are striving for, not your current weight. Let's take Joe Bodybuilder. Joe weighs 260 lbs at 6' and has been lifting seriously for several years now. His friends keep telling him to compete at the State level so he's decided to get up to 300 lbs and diet back. However, no matter how hard he tries, he can't add any more muscle. The problem probably lies with Joe's nutrition program. Since he wants to weigh 300 lbs, he might have to eat somewhere in the range of 8,000-9,000 kcal per day to achieve that weight. Most bodybuilders are unable to do this.
If Joe does have the willpower to do this, what should he eat? I've known many elite bodybuilders that eat whatever they want in the off season. Certainly they focus on protein consumption, but after that, everything is fair game. It is possible to eat in a fashion that is conducive to both fat loss and muscular gain but that requires constant monitoring of the athlete and is beyond the scope of this article.
The bodybuilding media has perpetrated the myth that we should be in shape all year long. Realistically, this is ultimately a recipe for disaster in your quest to add muscular size. Staying lean year round is the domain of male models and endurance athletes. If you're serious about packing on as much muscle as possible, go buy that baggy T-shirt and start loading up on the groceries. When you diet off that extra flab, you'll find that you've taken your physique to a whole new level.