I’m now past 40, and having more than a couple of decades of experience under my belt, I’m often asked if I “do diets” or help bodybuilders prepare for shows. I don’t, for a couple reasons. The main one is that I’m more than busy enough writing. Second, I just don’t have the patience to create diets and analyze them with people on a regular basis.
I know how to get myself in shape, and that’s good enough for me. Over 23 years of competing, I’ve tried many different methods and figured out through trial and error what works for my body. Even though what I’ve learned won’t apply to everyone, as that’s impossible, I thought it might be interesting to share, since many readers are in the process of shedding bodyfat.
1) I am either on a diet, or I’m not. There is no in between for me. Either I’m eating 100 percent clean 100 percent of the time, or I’m not. That also explains why I lean out so fast once I start my diet in earnest. My body reacts to the sudden decrease in sugar, wheat and dairy products by shedding fat to the tune of a good five pounds in the first two weeks. Unless I have a reason to be in great condition, though, I don’t eat that way. It’s not like I’m a fitness model and need to be ready for a cover shoot at any time.
2) Longer diets work best. In the past I would try to diet for six to eight weeks. It was a disaster every time. I never got lean enough by contest time, and I lost precious muscle. I also used to get pretty fat in the off-season. By staying leaner year-round and very gradually dieting over 16 or more weeks, I found I was able to hold on to nearly all of my muscle and get into better condition than ever.
3) Too much cardio is bad news. We are all different when it comes to cardio. I have known some guys who did as much as three hours a day while preparing for a contest. At times I used to do two hours a day, and it was common for a few years to do two 45-minute sessions a day. Part of that was because I was allowing myself to get too fat in the first place and also because I was trying to lose too much fat in too little time. In recent years I have figured out that 45 minutes of cardio a day during a diet is perfect. I lose the fat and keep the muscle. Your mileage may vary.
4) Don’t change the workouts. When you’re starting to see veins and striations, it’s very tempting to do more exercises and sets. You get so motivated by what you see and by your desire to win that you often want to do more supersets, drop sets and forced reps. That’s just stupid. You’re eating less food, and you’re doing more cardio. You’re not going to grow at this point. Maintaining what you have is about the best you can hope for, so respect the recovery process and don’t start going crazy with your workouts unless you want to lose muscle.
5) I need carbs. Some people swear by keto diets. I’ve tried them, and I hated them. Personally, I do well with carbs. I have them in my pretraining meal, in my postworkout shake, and in my postworkout meal. It works for me, and I still get in shape.
Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding—Muscle Truth From 25 Years in the Trenches, available at www.RonHarrisMuscle.com.