I’m sure that many of you know that iron runs through my blood and I competed in amateur bodybuilding for a number of years.
My roots were obviously in the physique competition arena and truly helped shape the person you see here before you. In case you’re not familiar with who I am, check out my fitness evolution here. Needless to say, I adopted a lot of the eating habits of bodybuilders and used them to manipulate my body mass to build myself up.
So for this week’s Diet Diagnosis I’m looking at some of the common practices that bodybuilders use in their diets in the quest for the ultimate (looking) body. Keep in mind; I said some of the common practices, as not all bodybuilders follow all of these extreme diet measures. But in my experience what I’m about to discuss is quite commonplace!
True bodybuilders will usually have an “off” season when their training is geared more towards packing on muscle mass and lifting hard and heavy, with serious compound weight training movements. Competing athletes tend to have an off-season between shows, and guys or girls that I call hobby or disco bodybuilders are usually “off” in the winter. This way when they get fat from pigging out, their long sleeves and winter clothing covers them up. So true – been there, done that!
The kind of food that’s eaten in the bulking phase, in my experience, is generally not as healthy as it should be. Many bodybuilders are simply after protein and calories and lots of them. Carbs? Sugars? Saturated fats? Who cares, eat everything in sight and then eat more! I’ve seen guys make protein ice cream shakes, eat 20oz steaks with a pound of potatoes and just literally gorge. Calorie amounts over and above 10,000 per day are possible. My post workout shake used to be over 1,000 calories and I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I used to eat an entire chicken margarita pizza AND a pint of Ben & Jerry’s for dinner! Just saying it now makes me full bloated.
The “on” season is when bodybuilders try to shred up, and lose all the excess fat to reveal that hard earned muscle tissue they just tried to pack on. I can tell you it’s a real pain in the ass, and almost torturous. To go from eating at will, whatever you want, in excess, to a ridiculously strict and spartan diet really sucks.
During this phase your training also switches gears to more isolation and shaping exercises. I’ve never met a competitor that wasn’t miserable while dieting. It generally entails lots of steamed chicken, fish, plain veggies, and brown rice – all very carefully measured and portion controlled. What’s the problem? Well, that’s all you eat for months! And I can remember being so psycho that I wouldn’t even eat a crouton, or a potato chip. That’s just nuts. I’ve even heard of people that won’t brush their teeth because they think the toothpaste has sugar in it and will screw up their blood sugar levels!
Look, I can’t argue with results. Bodybuilders have eaten this way for decades and achieved nearly miraculous results. There’s some science that points to overeating eliciting a huge hormonal response, including high levels of testosterone, which means bigger muscles. Haven’t you noticed when obese people lose weight many of them are jacked and full of muscle? Would I look as I do had I not followed some of the mega calorie eating plans that bodybuilders follow? I have to be honest, I’m not really sure.
What I can say is that this way of eating is specific to bodybuilders. So if you’re not looking to compete and make your training basically your job, don’t bother with it. Both phases are very hard to maintain and neither can last more than a few months. Plus the long-term effects on your metabolism and health aren’t clear.
For me it’s very hard to believe that it’s healthy to overload your system for months with too much food, only to restrict it for months in an attempt to manipulate body-fat to sub human levels. Remember though, most body-builders only look really great for a few weeks before they start to gain weight again. The dieting is just too strict to maintain for most.
DIAGNOSIS: Great for Bodybuilders, Absolutely Nuts for the other 99% of us!