Despite the talk we had before Christmas about his needing to chill out on all the cookies and desserts, Randy had continued to indulge his sweet tooth until the first week of the new year. You might assume that at that point he looked in the mirror and made a conscious decision to stop stuffing his face with garbage. Well, not exactly. It just happened that all the holiday treats around his house had finally been eaten—and mostly by him. Randy still lives at home, and his parents and his younger brother are typical Americans. Their idea of healthful eating is getting just a large order of fries at McDonald’s instead of supersizing them—though McDonald’s has finally put an end to that artery-clogging, obesity-causing promotion.
The best advice I’ve ever heard about how to avoid eating junk food is don’t have any around. It’s such a simple idea, yet so powerful. As the father of a 10-year-old and five-year-old, I deal with temptation every day. My kitchen cabinets and freezer are full of cookies, little snack cakes, Oreo ice cream, ice cream novelties, Cocoa Puffs, fruit snacks, caramel popcorn—you get the idea.
When I’m dieting for a contest, it’s not hard to say no to those empty calories. All I have to do is imagine losing because the other guy was a little more ripped than I was. It’s not so easy when there’s nothing coming up to look good for. Add cold weather and clothing that’s more concealing, and my attitude toward eating crap turns to, “What does it matter? I can get in good shape by the time spring rolls around.” But when I look down at my stomach, flex hard and try to tell myself that those rolls are really a six-pack, I can’t lie to myself. It’s fat, the same holiday fat that most people accumulate.
Randy was 210 when we had our little talk in the locker room, and he got up to 214 before he finally put the brakes on his bingeing. With so much going on around the holidays, I didn’t see him until he’d finally started eating cleaner and had dropped back down to 208. As I soon learned, however, he’d accomplished his rapid weight loss by virtue of the Atkins diet.
Six pounds lost in less than two weeks is nothing to sneeze at, to be sure, but Randy and I have talked many times about the importance of carbs, and he knew I was not a supporter of the tremendously popular nutritional approach developed by Robert Atkins, M.D. The Atkins diet became a huge phenomenon for three reasons: 1) Any moron who can figure out what a carbohydrate is can follow it simply by not eating them; 2) it gives dieters the feeling that they’re getting away with something by eating such traditionally taboo foods as bacon, pork, real butter, peanut butter, cheese and cheeseburgers without the buns; and 3) weight loss is fairly dramatic, particularly in the early stages.
What most people fail to realize is that dietary carbs attract a substantial amount of water, so cutting carbs out will cause a significant loss in water weight. Since 99.9 percent of dieters never bother to have a bodyfat analysis performed to find out exactly how their body composition has changed, they assume they’re losing pure fat. The bottom line is the number they see on the scale, right? And so it was with Randy.
I met him on chest day; it was the first time we’d trained in almost three weeks. I confess that at first he did look a little leaner. On closer inspection, he just looked less bloated, and that was attributable to the reduction in subcutaneous water.
Randy also looked exhausted, which wasn’t that unusual. As a new-car salesman, he worked six days a week and often more than 12 hours a day. Even though he wasn’t digging ditches or moving furniture, the stress of dealing with potential buyers who were all attempting to get a deal while barely concealing their distrust of him was rough on the kid. One Southern gentleman actually told him, “The only thing lower’n a rattlesnake’s belly is a used-car salesman.”
“Right,” Randy had countered, “but I sell new cars.” In any case, the fatigue I was observing was not work-related.
I hadn’t asked about the low-carb strategy, and Randy hadn’t said anything, but just one work set into incline dumbbell presses and I was on to him. He was trying to use his usual weights, 90s, but from the very first rep he was struggling and expecting me to pick up the slack.
“I’m not lifting your weights for you, junior; put ’em down.” Scowling, he let me do my set and then started back with 75s, still not doing spectacularly with what should have been a pretty easy weight for him. I waited until our three work sets were over and then had him hit a few chest poses. In bodybuilding, we use the word flat to describe a muscle that seems deflated. When you’re really flat, such as when you have no glycogen in your muscles due to not eating carbohydrates, nothing really happens when you pose. Rather than pop and bulge, the muscles just lie there like wet paper towels.
“Randy, you are flatter than my wife before her first set of breast implants,” I said. “What was your preworkout meal?”
“Uh, I had a couple chicken thighs, a handful of cashews and a few stalks of raw broccoli,” he replied.
“Interesting,” I countered. “And what, pray tell, were the meals before that?” He looked at the floor, knowing he was in for a scolding.
“Well, breakfast was six scrambled whole eggs with two turkey sausages and some black coffee, I had a protein shake around 10, and then the chicken thighs.”
“So you have eaten no carbs today. For how long have you not been eating carbs?”
“About two weeks now.”
I shook my head. “All workout and no carbs makes Jack a flat boy,” I announced.
“You see, Randy? You can’t even think straight in this stupid carb-depleted state you’ve gotten yourself into. Your workouts suck, you can’t get a pump to save your life, and now you’re dropping five IQ points a day to top it off.”
“I had to lose some fat, Ron. What the hell was I supposed to do?”
“The show is still almost four months away, so there was no need to do anything drastic. Rushing a contest diet is never a good thing. I suggest dieting in stages, and the first stage is simply cutting out all the junk and switching to clean meals. That right there will help you drop a few pounds in a couple of weeks with no loss in muscle size or strength. In fact, giving your body cleaner-burning fuel all of a sudden often improves performance, just like putting higher-octane gasoline into your car.
“The main thing is that you need carbs to fuel muscular contractions, and you need them again after training to replace the glycogen you just depleted from your muscles. Without taking in carbs at those two critical times, most bodybuilders experience a rapid physical and mental decline. The Atkins diet is fine for the average Joe who sits at a desk all day and doesn’t do anything more physical than pick his nose, but it’s a horrible idea for bodybuilders.”
“But I don’t want to eat a lot of carbs when I’m dieting, right?”
“No, not a lot of carbs. You want to reduce your intake of complex carbs like rice, oatmeal and potatoes gradually and increase the amount of fibrous carbs like broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, artichokes and spinach. As far as I am concerned, carbs belong in your diet before and after training all the way up to the show.”
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Randy said. “Someone brought a few boxes of these to the dealership last week. I don’t know why they didn’t have them before Christmas, but I thought maybe your kids might want them.” He reached into his gym bag and pulled out a box the size of a laptop computer, wrapped in gold foil. I took it from him and read the label with mounting horror. Randy had regifted four pounds of Ghirardelli chocolates, knowing he couldn’t resist eating them—and certainly knowing I couldn’t either.
“Bastard!” I spat through gritted teeth. Randy looked wounded, then reached out his hand.
“Sorry, I can just give them to someone else.” I drew the box close to me and covered it with one arm, stroking it with my other hand.
“Don’t even think about it!” I hissed at him. Then, to the box containing untold calories and grams of fat and sugar, and scrumptious assorted chocolates, I purred, “My preciousssss.” IM