This is an excerpt from an article that I wrote 19 years ago that illustrates many of the popular bodybuilding practices of that time. Since I wrote this, I can assure you that all the information was provided first hand by the bodybuilders themselves during direct interviews.
The Workouts and Diets of the Bodybuilding Champions
by Jerry Brainum – 1991
Lee Haney (Mr.Olympia, 1984-1991)
“One of my main bodybuilding philosophies is ‘ if you can’t flex it, don’t carry it.’ I never let my weight rise more than 10 lbs. over my contest weight. I try to keep my body fat level under control all year. If my fat level increases, I’ll modify my diet by lowering my consumption of flour and dairy products. While I’m not a big user of these foods, I’ll still make a conscientious effort to use low-fat versions, such as skim milk.
“I’ll also add aerobics like speed walking, stationary cycling or treadmill walking. I do this 3-4 times a week for 15-20 minutes directly after my weight workout.
“Since I decrease my activity level in the off-season compared to contest training, there’s no need to consume many calories. My caloric intake before a show is 800-1,000 calories higher than off-season It comes to 3,500 off-season, 4,500 pre contest.
A typical eating plan for me while cutting up would be 3-4 whole eggs and 15 egg whites a day, chicken, fish, beans, pasta, streamed vegetables, rice, whole grains, apples, bananas, berries, melon and pineapple. I favor beans because they rate low on the glycemic index. This means they are a slow-burning carbohydrate source that doesn’t shock my system, and they’re also a good source of protein. I like red beans, black-eyed peas and pinto beans.
“I’m very careful about eating fish. One week before the 1982 NPC Nationals, I ate some had fish, which almost caused me to drop out of the contest. I’ve been wary about fish ever since, although I’ll occasionally eat a good piece of fish served at a reputable establishment.
“I eat 5-6 meals a day, spacing them about every 2 1/2 hours. You must adjust your caloric/carbohydrate level to match your activity level. In practice, this means consuming the largest number of calories when you’re most active, such as before a workout.
“Supplements I favor include FRAC (ferulic acid) amino acids, choline and inositol. I also like herbal extracts, such as similax and damiana.
“When trying to get ripped, I add advanced techniques such as supersets, giant sets and quality training (resting only 35 seconds between sets). Aerobics is best for burning fat. Weight training also burns calories, but these calories come from stored muscle glycogen. Doing aerobics allows you to eat more while continuing to burn fat.
“I increase my reps while cutting up, I still do rather low reps (5-8) on explosive exercises like bench presses and squats. On rhythmic exercises, which are lighter, more isolated movements such as leg extensions, hack squats and pulley work, I increase the reps during pre contest training.
“The explosive exercises, consisting of basic, compound exercises, work larger muscle groups and maintain muscle size while dieting. I think it’s ridiculous to use only light weights while cutting up. This results in muscle loss. You have to include a few heavy exercises if you want to retain muscle during a definition program, and the best exercises for this are the basic, explosive, compound movements.
“I think the best techniques available for the average bodybuilder in cutting up use a long-term approach. Don’t get stressed out. Be consistent with both aerobics and nutrition. And don’t make the mistake of equating time spent in the gym with muscularity. Overtraining simply burns muscle glycogen, preventing proper recovery that leads to muscle size decrease.
“Also remember that there’s no such thing as spot reducing. Don’t think that doing lots of abdominal exercises will give you a smaller waist. The best way to get that is through a combination of low-fat dieting and aerobic exercise.”
RICH GASPARI (IFBB World champion, 1986; three-time runner-up, Mr.Olympia)
“Getting a ripped physique requires dong your homework well in advance. Stay within 15 pounds of your contest weight. Doing this prevents loose skin and allows you to look tighter at the show.
“The best method to maintain year-around low body fat involves limiting dietary fat intake. I eat about 55% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 15% fat during the off-season. My carb sources are brown rice, sweet potatoes and oatmeal. Wheat products smooth me out., so I avoid them.
My favorite protein foods use lean red meat, chicken, turkey, egg whites and cottage cheese. I eat red meat in the off-season because it helps me and muscle size. I like a portion of 6 ounces of flank steak or London broil. I suggest not overcooking meat because that destroys amino acids. I never eat more than 46 grams of protein at a time. I’ve found that eating too much protein at a single meal makes me feel sluggish, and I don’t think my body can metabolize more than about 45 grams at time.
“One trick to staying on a diet is maintaining a steady blood sugar level. If you let your blood sugar dip too low, you’ll get intense food cravings that make it hard to stay on your diet. The answer to this problem lies in proper meal spacing. Eating several small meals spaced at about three-hour intervals maintains even blood sugar levels while increasing nutrient uptake.
“But, let’s face it, no matter how well you space your meals, you’ll get an occasional sweet-tooth craving. When this occurs, I’ll eat nonfat yogurt sweetened with aspartame, which doesn’t slow down the progress of my diet, but does nullify the sweet-tooth urge.
“Mixing proteins with carbohydrates makes good nutritional sense. Certain carbs, such as baked potatoes, rapidly enter the blood. This causes insulin surges that lower blood sugar and cause cravings. Eating protein with carbs blunts this effect,thus making it easier to stay on a diets. Carbohydrates also have a protein-sparing action that allows you to use protein for tissue-building rather than as an energy source.
“I like to begin dieting earlier for a show. I drop calories 10-12 weeks out, then start adding calories five weeks before the show. This is the opposite of the method used by many bodybuilders, which involves drastically reducing calories as the contest draws closer. By getting my weight down early, I can fill out for the show, making me look tighter and more cut. It also prevents the gaunt, haggard look shown by bodybuilders who rely on last-minute crash dieting.
“At 15 weeks before a show, I gradually increase the pace of my training, I’ll use a double-split, training twice daily. I also add techniques such as supersets and descending sets. By 10 weeks out, I’m training very fast. I increase the reps on certain bodyparts, such as back, chest and thighs. I’ll go up to 15 reps per set on these muscle groups. With arm training, however, I do no more than 10 sets of 8-10 reps total because any more than this causes me to lose arm size.
“I treat my aerobics in a similar manner to my weight training. that is, I start early. At 15 weeks out, I do aerobics three times a week, at the 10-week mark, I do daily aerobics, sometimes 30 minutes twice a day. As my body gets leaner, I gradually reduce the aerobics. At five weeks before the show, I’ll cut aerobics to once a day, four weeks out, three times a week, and finally I cut the aerobics completely three weeks before the show. At this point, I have little fat to burn and it’s too easy to dip into muscle.
“As far as I’m concerned, getting ripped comes form a combination of diet, training and supplementation.
“As far as I’m concerned, getting ripped comes from a combination of diet, training and supplements.
LEE LABRADA (1989 runner-up, Mr.Olympia)
“I start my diet 12-14 weeks out, and plan to be ready two weeks before the show. This head start lets me know exactly where I’m at so that I don’t have to resort to kamikaze-style approaches to getting ripped Another advantage I find in being ready two weeks early is that I can adjust my carbohydrate intake to let my body fill out and recover any muscle that I may have lost while dieting. After the first three weeks of dieting, I’ll increase my food intake for a few days to give my body a break and prevent a metabolic slowdown. I’ll then return to the diet for anther three weeks, again followed by a short dieting ‘oasis.’
“I don’t eat junk, but I do increase my carbs on certain days while keeping my fat intake very low. I never pig out on high-fat foods. My treat meals usually consists of a bagel with fruit preserves, or nonfat frozen yogurt. I’ll also eat more pasta and yams.
“The key is to never eat many fat foods. My pre contest diet contains no more than 5% fat. The calories vary between 2,400-3,500 pre contest; 3,800, off-season. I never eat fewer than five meals per day, and sometimes I eat six if time permits. If your blood sugar drops too low, you’ll experience food cravings. So I stick to low-glycemic index carbohydrate sources, such as oatmeal, rice, beans and yams.
“I use a supplement called medium-chain triglycerides (MCT oil), about three tablespoons daily. This supplement provides a concentrated source of clean-burning calories that maintains high energy levels, especially while dieting. You can’t get fat too easily from MCT, and it helps your body use branched-chain amino acids. I sue MCT during the early phases of my dieting. I’ll later switch to eating more complex carbohydrates as my primarily energy source. This switch seems to rev up my metabolism and help me get leaner.
“For protein sources I prefer chicken, fish and egg whites. Food supplements include L-carnitine, choline/inositol, and amino acids.
“A few years ago, Berry DeMey and I were in Las Vegas to watch a contest. since we were both hungry, we decided to eat a light snack of baked potatoes.
“Within a short time, both DeMey and I broke into a cold sweat. It got so bad that we had to return to our hotel rooms and lie down. This points to the need to mix protein with high-glycemic index carbs, such as baked potatoes. Eating protein concurrently with these types of carbs prevents blood sugar reaction, such as the kind DeMey and I experienced.
“As far as training goes, much of it doesn’t change, although I do raise the number of repetitions from 6-8 in the off-season to 8-12 pre-contest. The total volume of training increases by 20%. I’m a strong believer in high-intensity training, so I do a few hard sets and move on to another muscle group. Weight training builds muscle. It does not burn fat.
“Aerobics does burn fat and stimulates the metabolism. I do stationary cycling for 30 minutes every other day. If you want to get rid of some fat, 30-40 minutes of daily aerobics produces faster results.
“A major mistake made by bodybuilders involves eating too few calories. Eating 800 calories a day inevitably slows your metabolic rate. As your body adjusts to this caloric level, you’ll find it easy to gain weight if you add additional calories later.
“I suggest that every bodybuilder keep a diet log, recording everything eaten daily. This allows you to fine-tune your diet to suit your personal needs.”
MIKE QUINN (1987 USA bodybuilding champion)
“I now realize that my body oxidizes protein more efficiently than it does carbohydrates. But I still need carbohydrates. My mistake in the past was dropping carbs to 50-100 grams a day, which caused a loss of both muscle and training intensity.
“This year, at 10 weeks before the Mr. Olympia, I’m eating 2,000 calories a day. I follow this for three days. On the fourth day, I add 800 calories of protein and carbs to stimulate my metabolism, the next day I drop back to 2,000 calories.
“I’ve come to realize just how vital a role aerobics plays in my program. Quite simply, to get ripped you need aerobics. I now do 1 1/2 hours of daily aerobics. I break up the aerobics into two 45-minute sessions right after I complete my weight workout. Then, the muscle glycogen stores are empty and the body burns fat faster. I use either stationary cycling or stair climbing. On my off days, when I don’t train with weights, I’ll still come in and do 45 minutes of aerobics in the morning before breakfast.
“Another change I’ve made in my program is adding more rest days, I now train two consecutive days, then take a day off. Last year, I trained four days straight, which led to overtraining. By interspersing two training days with a rest day I prevent my body from slipping into a catabolic state. This is typical of the adjustments you must make while training drug-free, as I am now doing.
“I’m also going to try the method used by DeMey, Gaspari and Labrada – being in shape three weeks before the Mr. Olympia and then raising their calorie intake. I think this produces a tighter, fuller look if timed properly.
“I take 5 grams of amino acids per meal. This comes out to 20 grams of aminos with my four daily meals. I also take a multivitamin-mineral, branched-chain amino acids, and 1 gram of L-carnitine before every aerobic workout.
“In the morning I eat 10 egg-whites, 3 ounces of chicken and 3-4 ounces of oatmeal. My second and third meal consists of a can of water-packed tuna with a cup of brown rice. The final meal is 35 egg whites and 2 ounces of oatmeal. I eat a pint of Gise a day. This is a frozen dessert containing very few carbs and calories and almost no fat.
“As far as training, I do power bodybuilding. The first four workouts are heavy; the next four are lighter. I take more rest between sets on the heavy days. This promotes a higher intensity level and stimulates testosterone release. On the lighter days, taking brief rest between sets raise my growth hormone levels. On the light days, I rest 30-45 seconds between sets, using 50% of my maximum exercise intensity for 15 reps minimum. The lighter days aid recovery form the heavier power days. Training heavy consistently leads to a catabolic muscle state.
“It’s especially vital to cycle your training if you don’t use drugs. Such cycling promotes maximum recuperation between workouts.
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