Excerpted here are some more of the forward-looking insights Mike Mentzer brought to a seminar he gave in Canada in November 1981, a year after the infamous '80 Mr. Olympia contest in Sydney, Australia.
Audience Member: What about food combinations?
Mike Mentzer: That seems to be the most prevalent question lately'food combinations. I don't know a damned thing about it. I've been combining foods haphazardly my whole life, and I haven't suffered that badly yet. A lot of nutrition, it seems to me, is splitting hairs. People get so involved with their nutrition'which is okay; I mean, I'm not judging that. But it's a lot simpler just to eat a little bit of everything and not too much of anything. Train hard. And don't split hairs unless you get off on it. It's up to you. Does anybody here know about food combinations?
AM: You shouldn't eat fruit and vegetables together.
AM: You shouldn't eat fruit and vegetables together.
MM: You shouldn't?
MM: (facetiously) It can be a problem. Okay'a well-balanced diet. The question inevitably comes up: Where do supplements fit in? If you're eating a well-balanced diet, then theoretically you don't need supplements because you're getting all the vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, fats and water you need to maintain health. However, it's often not possible to get a well-balanced diet due to time pressures, family pressures, job pressures'we have to skip meals here. If you suspect that you're not getting a well-balanced diet, then by all means, include an all-around vitamin-and-mineral tablet and/or protein supplement. But don't waste hundreds of dollars a month on useless vitamins and minerals that you're just going to piss out anyway. And you can see it; if you take too much vitamin B, it turns your urine yellow; you're literally pissing away your money. Take supplements when you think you may not be getting a well-balanced diet.
I do take supplements when I'm training very hard before a contest and I'm on a low-calorie diet because once your calories reach a certain low level, you can't get a well-balanced diet. Nutritional scientists say once you go below 1,500 calories, then it's impossible to get all the vitamins, proteins, minerals and so forth that you need to maintain proper health and, of course, build a big, muscular, beautiful physique, which is why we're all here. We all want to be big musclemen.
AM: Are you training more efficiently at a lower fat level?
MM: Carbohydrates are the most efficient fuel for high-intensity training or any kind of anaerobic training. Anaerobic activity, which is what weight training is, demands sugar as fuel. The worst way to get cut up is to lift weights, because weight training does not burn fat as fuel. It's a simple medical fact that's not even open to debate'weight training burns sugar. And if you're not getting sugar from fruits, vegetables, cereals or grains, where is your muscle going to get sugar in order to continue contracting?
John Little: What was all the hype in the magazines a while back saying that if you eat sugar, it would actually weaken your muscles. MM: Answer my question first: If you're not getting dietary carbohydrate and you require sugar for high-intensity contraction, where is your body going to get sugar to continue contracting?
AM: From your muscles. ALL MM: From your own muscle! There's an amino acid contained in your muscle tissue called alanine that is broken down and sent to your liver and turned into glucose. That's why carbohydrates are called 'protein sparing.' Carbs spare your protein from being used for energy. And you can always tell when you start using muscle for energy. I pointed out earlier that one pound of muscle tissue contains 600 calories. One pound of fat contains how many calories?
AM: Thirty-five hundred.
MM: Okay. Now, if you were to start burning muscle for energy, how many pounds of muscle would you have to burn to get the same energy yield from one pound of fat?
AM: About six.
MM: Almost six pounds! You will know when you're starting to use muscle for energy because you will start losing weight very rapidly'like two, three, four or five pounds a day. Look at the discrepancy and disparity there'one pound of muscle contains 600 calories; one pound of fat contains 3,500 calories. To get the energy yield from muscle that you would from fat, you'd have to burn six pounds of muscle! So it's ridiculous to go on low-carbohydrate diets to get cut up, because you will, inevitably, lose some muscle.
The best way to get cut up is to reduce your daily calorie intake to below your maintenance need of calories. Again, if you need 3,000 calories a day to maintain yourself'you need 3,000 calories a day not to gain weight, not to lose weight, but to maintain yourself'and, all of a sudden, you reduce your daily calorie intake to 2,000, then you're going to be 1,000 calories deficient. Where's that 1,000 calories going to come from?
AM: Your fat.
MM: Your bodyfat. That's, what bodyfat is: stored energy. Now these 2,000 calories can be 2,000 calories of pure table sugar, and you'll still get ripped.
Theoretically, you can become highly defined eating nothing but ice cream'as long as your daily total calorie intake is below your maintenance need of calories. Then you have to resort to bodyfat for energy. I'm not advocating that because it's not a well-balanced diet. Eat a well-balanced diet'60 percent carbohydrates, 25 percent proteins and 15 percent fat'but eat a reduced number of calories. It doesn't have to be all protein. I know the majority of my fellow Mr. Olympia competitors woke up every morning during their training period grumpy bastards because all they had to look forward to was tuna fish and water. I woke up in the morning always looking forward to breakfast because I had bran muffins and often cake and cookies, fruits and vegetables.
I ate a wide assortment of carbohydrates; often I would have just carrot cake and coffee for breakfast because I knew I needed that sugar for the workout. But I didn't do it recklessly; I knew what my daily maintenance need of calories was and as long as I stayed below that every day'I kept a daily record of my calorie intake'I could eat that cake with impunity and not get fat. I was getting ripped, as a matter of fact.
I was eating ice cream at least four days a week before the Mr. Olympia contest'again, not recklessly. I knew that I had to get under 2,500 calories a day. I was averaging about 1,800. So I was burning about 700 calories a day in fat. And I was actually burning more than that because I was so active. I was riding my bicycle up to 40 miles a day. And I was getting cut up before my very eyes. Every day I would wake up and see more definition'and the night before I had just had an ice cream cone. I mean, it's ridiculous eating nothing but protein or tuna fish and water to get cut up. Not only is it not healthy and no fun, it's just ridiculous.
AM: What bodyfat percentage would you recommend for normal training'not for competition?
MM: I'm in the process of losing bodyfat now, and I'm going to try and keep my bodyfat at 4 to 5 percent during the year, and then before a contest try to get down to 2.5. It's much easier staying lean'as opposed to getting fat between shows and then having to drastically reduce your diet and kill yourself and lose muscle mass.
When you've got to diet severely, you invariably also lose some muscle mass. It's better to do what Clarence Bass suggests: stay lean all year and try to build muscle'you don't have to add fat to build muscle, by the way'and then zero in six to eight weeks before each contest. I'm not sure what the proper number is'maybe 6 or 7 percent. But it can be done. Get the bodyfat off and then eat an adequate, well-balanced diet that contains a maintenance number of calories, and you can do it. The worst thing to do is to get 40 pounds overweight, then go on a drastically reduced-calorie diet'down to, you know, one baked potato and one egg a day'which inevitably results in a splurge after the contest and the adding of the 40 pounds of bodyweight.
Look at any bodybuilder who goes on a zero-carbohydrate diet for a contest'what happens afterward?
AM: They get fat.
JL: They get fat. It's inevitable; it's a protective mechanism. The body doesn't want you to lose all its bodyfat. As far as the body is concerned, it's starving, dying. And it's going to protect itself again in the future from that same process by getting fat, putting on as much fat as possible. The best thing is to get lean slowly, and then maintain that lower bodyfat level sanely by eating a well-balanced diet. This going up and down all the time puts stress on your nervous system. Stay lean, and then zero in for a contest.
MM: But don't you find you're stronger at a higher bodyfat level?
MM: No. Absolutely not. Bodyfat does nothing in the way of offering an advantage to body strength. It hinders body strength. They have found that intramuscular fat'fat between muscle fiber'actually hinders contraction, makes you weaker. The leaner you are, the stronger you'll be. You should stay lean as much of the time as possible.
JL: What about the stories that were being bandied about that track athletes would eat a candy bar in order to give themselves a quick energy boost before a race? Is that still true?
MM: No. JL: Or does it bring you down to a lower level than before you ate it?
MM: Well, not a candy bar, because a candy bar actually contains more fat than sugar. In part, the speed with which the sugar is taken up into the bloodstream is slowed down by the fat it's contained in. But sugar does not give you a quick energy rush. The energy you're actually living off is your stored glycogen. In fact, it's your stored glycogen that is responsible for the water'remember it's 70 percent of your muscle's composition'staying in your muscles. How does that water stay in the muscle? Stored glycogen, which is sugar, contains three grams of stored water. Now, during a period of about three days on a low-carbohydrate diet, as you're continuing your weight training and burning up that stored sugar for energy, what happens to that sugar once it's used up for energy? It leaves the muscle. But'remembering the chemical bond between sugar and water'once the stored sugar leaves the muscle, what happens to the water that was stored with it?
JL: It leaves also.
MM: The first couple of days on a low-carb diet you'll notice that you go to the bathroom a lot. That water is not coming from fat. Fat is only 15 percent water; muscle is 70 percent water'you're actually losing your muscle mass on a low-carbohydrate diet. And I have a theory that that's the reason bodybuilders have gotten so heavily into steroids'because of this diuretic effect of a low-carbohydrate diet.
If you look back about 10 years ago to the advent of the low-carbohydrate diet on the bodybuilding scene, it very closely parallels the emergence of steroids on the bodybuilding scene. And I think what bodybuilders were doing, unwittingly, was using steroids'which retained water'to offset the diuretic effect of the low-carbohydrate diet. The bodybuilder was doing his curls and not getting a pump because he was getting no carbohydrates. And he found out when he took two more Dianabol pills, he retained that much more water and he could still get a pump. It's just a theory, but it's a plausible one.
You've got to have carbohydrates to build muscle, and you've got to have carbohydrates to maintain muscle. If you're looking to build mass, you've got to have a large amount of carbohydrates in your diet. Not an untold number'again, 60 percent of your daily maintenance need of calories. And, when you're trying to lose fat and maintain muscle, you need sugar in your diet. As long as you're eating a reduced calorie diet, you can eat as many carbs as you want and still get ripped.
Theoretically, you can eat pure table sugar and be as ripped as a Mohamed Makkawy. I've gone beyond the 60 percent that I mentioned. Before the Olympia I was eating almost 80 to 90 percent carbohydrates. Tom Platz, who looked unbelievable at this year's Mr. Olympia'he was probably around 2 percent bodyfat. In the last three days before the contest he stayed at my home in Palm Springs to get some sun, and I couldn't believe my eyeballs when I saw him: His skin was like tissue paper! He was eating 400 grams of carbohydrates a day, but he was performing a lot of aerobics, and he was getting fewer calories than he needed to maintain himself. It can be done.
Editor's note: For a complete presentation of Mike Mentzer's Heavy Duty training system, consult his books Heavy Duty II and High Intensity Training the Mike Mentzer Way, available through the ad on page 173 of this issue, from Home Gym Warehouse, (800) 447-008, or by visiting Mentzer's official Web site, www.mikementzer.com.
John Little is available for phone consultation on Mike Mentzer's Heavy Duty training system. For rates and information, contact Joanne Sharkey at (310) 316-4519 or at www.mikementzer.com, or see the ad mentioned above.
Article copyright ' 2004 by John Little. All rights reserved. Mike Mentzer quotations that appear in this series provided courtesy of Joanne Sharkey, ' 2004 and used with permission. IM