Q: I don’t know if you covered this in a previous installment of Naturally Huge, but how does a bodybuilder set realistic goals for biceps, calves, chest and so on. I’m 5’9′, medium build and have been training for one year after a 12-year layoff. I’ve set my goal at 17-inch biceps, calves and neck. I’ve made it to 15 inches so far. I’m also trying to get my thighs to 24 inches. I came up with the 17-inch arm measurement because that’s the minimum required to have my name on the ‘Big Guns’ board at the gym. I’m not sure if it’s possible for a man of my size to have 19- or 20-inch arms without the help of steroids. I’m also 37 years old, if that matters.
A: I think it’s great that you’ve set some high goals for yourself. That’s really the first step toward making progress with your physique. Many people just go through the motions in the gym without having a plan in mind. Having a reason for being in the gym motivates you to train harder and strive for more.
I’m also a big believer in taking measurements as a method of charting progress. Some bodybuilders claim that measurements are insignificant, as the judges don’t care what you weigh or how big your arms measure, only how you look. That may be true, but 18-inch arms are still more impressive than 17-inch arms (as long as that extra inch is muscle and not fat).
I take measurements on a regular basis when I’m training to gain size. I measure my chest, waist, arms, thighs, calves, forearms and neck every three weeks. Taking your measurements too often usually leads to frustration because the body doesn’t grow that fast; however, taking them every three to four weeks will motivate you to train intensely at every workout because you know that your gains (or lack of them) will be obvious the next time you do use the measuring tape.
As for your question about what type of gains you can expect, the answer is, Who knows? Don’t set a limit for yourself by believing that you can only build your arms to 17 inches. Keep that 17-inch goal in mind as you train to build bigger arms, but don’t place any limitations on your growth. Arnold used to visualize his arms as mountains, far bigger than the 22-inch guns he eventually constructed.
I read somewhere that you can estimate how big your arms can become based on the circumference of your wrists. I don’t really buy into that theory, however. I think the ultimate size of your arms is determined more by the length of the muscle bellies for the biceps and triceps, the number of muscle cells you have in those bodyparts and, of course, the method you choose for training your arms. You said that you’re coming back from a 12-year layoff. You didn’t mention what your arms measured before you took the layoff, but it’s very possible that you’ll be able to build your arms to the same size they were before. I’m sure you’ve heard about muscle memory, or the ability of a muscle to quickly resume its previous size after a layoff. If your arms measured 17 inches before your layoff, you should be able to build them back to that size faster than if they were never that big to begin with.
Most people don’t understand the bodyweight connection: In order to put more muscle on your body and increase the size of your arms, you must also increase your bodyweight simultaneously. It’s almost impossible to add new muscle size without gaining weight all over your body. The exception is when you’re rebuilding muscle after a layoff or if you’re using steroids. Steroids allow you to add muscle even while eating a low-calorie diet.
So, if you want to gain inches of muscle on your arms and legs, make sure you’re eating plenty of calories to go along with your heavy training in the gym. Get lots of protein (one to 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight) and complex carbohydrates (oatmeal, potatoes, rice, bread, fruits and vegetables). Eat six meals per day, and try to eat every 2 1/2 to three hours.
Concentrate on the basic exercises for building upper-arm mass. Barbell curls, incline curls and seated dumbbell curls are excellent for putting on biceps size. For the triceps focus on lying triceps extensions, dips and close-grip bench presses. Keep the repetitions in the six-to-10 range. For variety try supersetting your arm workouts, alternating a biceps exercise with a triceps movement. That helps increase the blood volume in the muscles and can shock the muscles into more growth.
Another tip for gaining muscle mass is to limit the number of sets you perform at each workout. For building size, I train my body over three days (chest and arms on the first day, legs on the second day and delts, traps and back on the third). I allow myself a maximum of 20 to 25 sets at each workout. Too many total sets will eat into your recuperation and keep you from growing at your maximum rate. Best of luck to you, and keep training hard till you get your name on the ‘Big Guns’ board.
Q: I’m 32 years old, and my goal is to one day compete in a natural bodybuilding contest at about 185 to 190 pounds. In June 2002 I decided I was tired of being obese, so I changed my eating habits a little by just cutting back. I’ve dropped my bodyweight from 312 pounds to 255, but I’m stuck and would like to know how to eat better. I’m confused about low carbs/high protein, lowfat/low sugar and what would be considered low carbs and low sugar. Also, what supplements are good for weight loss, and how much cardio is too much if I keep my protein up?
A: First of all, congratulations on your big weight loss. Losing 53 pounds is an awesome achievement, and you should be proud of taking that first big step in fighting obesity and totally transforming your physique.
As for the information on nutrition, let’s start with the basics. Protein, carbohydrates and fats are all potential energy sources for the body. Protein and carbohydrates each contain four calories per gram. Fat contains more than twice that amount at nine calories per gram. That’s important to know when you design a nutrition program.
Protein is important for bodybuilders because it’s the macronutrient that repairs damaged muscle tissue and is critical in building muscle size and strength. If you’re training heavy and trying to build muscle, you need a little more than one gram of protein for each pound of lean tissue on your body (1.25 grams is what I recommend).
Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred energy source. Your muscles rely on glycogen (carbohydrate stored in the muscle cells) for energy during anaerobic exercise such as weight training. Fat is also a potential energy source, although carbs are the nutrient that the muscles use during a workout.
The popularity of the low-carb diet is due to the fact that most Americans eat too many refined carbohydrates, a.k.a. simple sugars When you eat an excess of such carbohydrates, the pancreas reacts by releasing insulin, which shuttles the carbohydrate calories into the fat cells. Eliminating carbs from your diet causes the insulin reaction to be blunted and fat storage to be minimized.
When obese people eat an excess of simple sugars, they’re more likely to store those calories as fat than a lean person. Obese people have fat cells that are much more receptive to carbohydrates than a lean person’s. Athletes or weight-trained people who are lean will attract those same carbohydrates to their muscle cells instead of their fat cells. All things are not equal when it comes to assimilating carbohydrates.
Obviously, if you’re trying to get leaner, you need to eliminate or drastically cut down on your simple-sugar intake. The simple sugars are digested rapidly and stimulate the pancreas to release too much insulin. You need to constantly focus on keeping your insulin level in check and your blood sugar steady.
Eat several small meals per day, as that’s critical for maintaining a consistent blood sugar level. Have a small meal or a protein drink every three hours to keep your metabolism working and your blood sugar level steady. Waiting too long to eat a meal will only cause your blood sugar level to drop, which increases your chances of storing many of the calories from your next meal as fat.
My recommendation is to eat a diet that’s high in protein, with moderate to low carbohydrate and low fat. The goal is to keep your metabolism stimulated and your insulin level steady (not too high or too low).
For your carbohydrate consumption, follow these rules:
1) Stay away from all simple sugars (refined foods, fruit juices, etc.).
2) Eat complex carbohydrates that contain plenty of fiber (vegetables, oatmeal, brown rice, oat bran). Fiber slows down the digestive process and prevents an overreaction of insulin.
3) With carbohydrates, moderation is the key. Eat small quantities to keep the insulin level in check.
4) Always eat carbohydrates with protein. Carbs eaten alone, even complex carbs, will cause a bigger insulin reaction than when you combine them with protein.
5) Eat the majority of your carbohydrates in the morning and immediately following your workout. Taper off as the day progresses because the fat cells are more insulin sensitive in the evening than during the day.
It’s also important to eat enough fats. A very lowfat diet will actually cause the body to hold onto bodyfat. Concentrate on foods rich in essential fatty acids (monounsaturated fats as opposed to saturated fats), such as high-fat fish like salmon and mackerel, and supplements such as flaxseed oil. Essential fatty acids help the muscle cells to become more insulin sensitive, exactly the type of environment you want for getting lean and mean.
Here’s a sample diet:
Breakfast: 2 eggs, 6 egg whites, 1 cup oatmeal
Protein drink: 2 servings Pro-Fusion, 1 tablespoon flaxseed oil
Lunch: 5 ounces turkey, half cup brown rice, fibrous vegetable (broccoli, asparagus)
Protein drink: Muscle Meals mixed with water, half banana
Postworkout drink: RecoverX in water
Dinner: 5 ounces salmon, vegetable salad with oil and vinegar dressing
The diet provides approximately 2,293 calories, 248 grams of protein, 178 grams of carbohydrates and 63 grams of fat. That comes out to 44 percent protein, 31 percent carbohydrate and 25 percent fat. It has plenty of protein, enough complex carbs to fuel your workouts and just the right amount of essential fatty acids for a healthy metabolism.
You may find that as your body changes and you begin losing more fat while adding muscle mass, you need to modify your diet. At that point you may be able to increase your complex-carbohydrate intake as well as your total calories.
I recommend writing down everything you eat on a daily basis and tracking your progress as you diet. If something isn’t working, take a look at what you’ve been doing and begin to experiment a little. Sometimes, when we diet for too long, the body gets to a sticking point and stops responding. One solution to that problem is to vary your calories so you’re not eating the same number every day. You could eat 2,400 calories one day, 2,000 the next and 2,200 the third day before repeating the cycle. Whatever route you decide to follow, don’t give up. Keep going until you reach your goal. You’ve accomplished some amazing things already. Now it’s time to finish the job.
Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Natural Mr. Olympia and is a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Visit his Web site at www .naturalolympia .com. You can write to him at P.O. Box 3003, Darien, IL 60561, or call toll-free 1-800-900-UNIV (8648). IM