I had met Randy over two years ago, which meant he had been a firsthand witness to my disastrous spring 2003 prep for the Orange County and New England bodybuilding contests, held in Anaheim, California and Boston, Massachusetts, a week apart. What had happened was that about three weeks out from the Orange County, the first of the two shows, I had weighed around 212 pounds and was very happy with the way my physique had shaped up.
Happy, that is, except for the nagging concern that I absolutely had to have striated glutes. Few people outside of proctologists and pornographers think about butts as much as we bodybuilders do, and in our case we are obsessed with stripping any and all fat off of our gluteus maximus muscles until it resembles a skinned rabbit (though if I ever saw rabbit ears sticking out from the sides of my ass, it would be cause for alarm).
We all know that women are forever dissatisfied with their derrieres, constantly thinking that they have expanded in size while they were sleeping, or that some pair of pants of skirt gives onlookers the impression that their butt is roughly the size of a Mini Cooper. But bodybuilders take it to a whole other level.
Considering that most Americans have either flat, wimpy butts that sag and droop like wet dishrags, or enormous pillows of dimpled cellulite wide enough to show a movie on, you would think we would be grateful to own glutes that are hard and strong, and that don't jiggle when we jump up and down (oh come on, like you've never looked?). But no, when we are preparing for a contest, we don't feel 'in shape' until our glutes have more grooves and notches in them than Jenna Jameson's headboard.
In 2003, the obsession caused me to go crazy with cardio, doing nearly two hours of intense interval-style running on a Precor elliptical runner every day and jacking up my nervous system so badly that I was only sleeping about four hours a night. The result was that I burned muscle faster in those last three weeks than an SUV with a V-8 engine burns gas in stop and go city traffic with the A/C on full blast. I sucked down to 197, and I sucked on stage. Now Randy was running the risk of repeating my mistake.
"What are you down to now?" I asked him, a little less than two weeks out from the show.
"184, but you should see my hams," he replied, dropping his pants. I forgot to mention we were in the middle of the gym workout floor. A housewife in her forties who dressed like she was 20 nearly walked into a pole checking him out.
"You have some good separation back there," I agreed, "but your legs are withering away. Have you been doing more cardio than you told me last time?" Randy had picked up a Stairmaster for his home so he didn't have to go to the gym to do cardio. That was great, but it also meant that if he started going psycho and feeling like he needed to do cardio in the middle of the night, he only had to drag his ass over to his garage.
"I started doing it after work when I got home, yeah, for an hour."
"You realize you're going to be a middleweight, right?" I told him. He had pulled his pants back up and was looking at me with irritation. The housewife with the belly shirt showing her navel ring frowned. I think she had been ready to go grab some dollar bills out of her purse to stuff in Randy's bikini underwear.
"No way, by the time I carb up I should be about 195," he assured me. "I'm just a little flat right now." I shook my head.
"Dude, that's what so many novice competitors think. They overdo the cardio and training in general leading up to a show, and lose a lot of muscle. But they are in denial. They tell themselves they're flat, and they think a few bowls of rice and some sweet potatoes are going to magically fill them out ten or fifteen pounds. It doesn't work that way, I'm sorry to break it to you. And you also forget that when you drop your water the night before the show, you will lose anywhere from five to twelve pounds by the time you get on the scale to weigh in."
"What? Get outta here." Clearly Randy thought I was messing with him.
"Oh, trust me. You want to see some shocked and angry people? Wait until everybody weighs in the morning of our show. Nobody ever accepts that the weight on the scale is accurate, and amazingly, everyone always thinks it's light. I have seen guys come close to punching out the poor sap who has to stand there and record the weights because they are so mad at the weight they lost. But think about it. If our bodies are seventy-five percent water, not drinking anything for twelve to twenty-four hours can result in a pretty dramatic loss in bodyweight."
"Kinda like when fat people go on the Atkins Diet and get all happy when they lose so much weight so fast, but it's almost all water from eating no carbs all of a sudden?" At least Randy was thinking, not just letting his emotions cloud his brain.
"Exactly," I said. "So whatever you happen to weigh even the day before the show, count on losing another five to ten pounds by the time you get there. What you need to do is chill out on the cardio now and do less than before, not more, or else you're going to waste away to a stick figure. This is bodybuilding, not body-disappearing, dumbass."
"But I'm still not lean enough," he complained.
"Okay, that's true. But you are very close to where you need to be," I said. "It's your first show. Nobody expects you to be as ripped as a pro. And you have less than two weeks left. Realistically, you can lose a maximum of four pounds of fat in that time, but you could also lose four to eight pounds of pure muscle mass if you continue doing what you're doing. You were doing a good job most of this diet, losing about a pound of bodyweight a week, just like John Parrillo advises, but you have started becoming your own worst enemy.
Limit the cardio now to no more than an hour total a day, and you need to stop it completely at three or four days out. I would also bump up your protein with an extra scoop of Optimum Whey protein powder with every meal to help preserve your muscle mass while you whittle away the last bit of bodyfat. How many liver aminos do you take with each meal now?"
"Five," he said.
"Bring that up to eight. That will give you a little more protein, but more importantly, the iron and B-vitamins your body needs at this most stressful time. Also, reduce your training volume with the weights by a third. You're not going to be putting on any muscle between now and the show, so there's no need to go crazy in the gym."
I forgot to mention that because I had been more careful not to overdo things, I was definitely not going to be one of the men to beat Randy in the light-heavyweights. At 12 days out, I was still 217 pounds and would probably weigh in around 205 or so. This had eased the mood between Randy and I somewhat, as he no longer harbored resentment toward me in advance. Of course, I had plenty to worry about myself.
One of the guys in my class had been posting on that message board I call "Muscle Madness," and his screen name was "TooLarge4U." Uh oh! Then again, everything is relative. Too large for who, exactly? To the average person, any guy over 200 pounds with a six-pack was considered a freak.
Of course, if he was too large for Ronnie Coleman, we were all in deep doo-doo. As always, nobody would really know who stood where in the scheme of things until we were all out there on stage. All I knew was that Randy was going to look a whole lot better if he did less, not more, over the next twelve days. Meanwhile, I needed his opinion on something. I turned and studied myself in the mirror.
"Randy," I said. "Be honest. Do these pants make my ass look big?"