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The Evolution of Sports Nutrition

First, let me say what an honor and thrill it is for me to be writing for IRON MAN. I can vividly remember as a teenager, riding my bike more than four miles each month to get my hands on the most recent issue. It was an oddly undersized publication compared to other glossy magazines, but the content was pure gold. Training information from the likes of Vince Gironda, Arthur Jones and John Grimek. Interviews with Frank Zane, Serge Nubret, Steve Reeves—and the list goes on and on. The publishers at that time, Peary and Mabel Rader, had an open forum for those in pursuit of “physical culture” (I bet most readers under 40 have never heard that term.) I hope to help carry on the proud tradition of Iron Man as the training and nutrition “intellectual marketplace” of the bodybuilding industry.


7302-eat9Bodybuilding has changed tremendously since 1977, when I started on my path of this lifelong obsession. Training schedules evolved into those emphasizing more recuperation between sessions for the same bodypart. Advanced routines back then often called for each muscle group to be trained three times a week in a six-days-per-week rotation. The overtraining from those routines condemned me to a year of constant soreness and many unexpected naps in college classes. Clearly, we have found a better way, although training each bodypart only once a week may not be the answer.

Supplementation has evolved. Ask anyone who was training 30 years ago what protein powders were like—largely indigestible and tasting like an April Fools prank crafted of dirt and chalk. The gasses produced surely contributed to the thinning of the earth’s ozone layer.

There have been major advances in nutrition on many levels: the post-training window for replacing carbohydrates and protein and the practice of eating frequent, smaller feedings of protein several times a day rather than eating three squares. We also know that when you’re trying to get lean, too many daily feedings negatively alters the glucagon-to-insulin balance and so provides for a poor biochemical environment for fat loss (more on that in a future article). The list is endless.

The bodybuilding community has largely lost sight of holistic nutrition. Current bodybuilders get a good part of their nutritional education from the ads of supplement companies. That’s not an attack on sport nutrition companies. Quite the opposite; many companies sell quality products that help make our training efforts more productive and are convenient. Make no mistake though—ads are designed to sell you something, not be educational.

The bodybuilders of 30 years ago frequented old-fashioned health-food stores that sold organic fruits, vegetables, grains, cold-pressed oils, whole-grain breads and cereals and so on. It was part of the bodybuilding culture to be concerned about your overall health and well-being. It was prior to the establishment of today’s huge, specialized sports-nutrition industry, where products are a mouse click from your door, Back then, if you wanted to pursue nutrition and supplementation to improve your bodybuilding, you did it with general health food, wellness and longevity concepts.

In earlier decades our diets seemed to prioritize eating brown rice rather than white; organic, whole-grain breads rather than bagels from the local deli; fresh fruit rather than a sugar drink for an energy pick-me-up. Bodybuilders made it a priority to eat vegetables a couple of times a day because it was good for our health. Phytonutrients, polyphenols and pigments in different fruits and vegetables were not yet identified by science. We simply knew that oranges had vitamin C, carrots had pro-vitamin A—beta-carotene—and bananas had potassium.

Millennial, Generation X and Gen Y bodybuilders (meaning, people who are currently 20 to 46 years old) appear to have a general understanding of macronutrients—at least protein and carbohydrates. For instance, it’s common rule of thumb that strength athletes need one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. Almost everyone knows to cut carbs when trying to harden up and to increase them when trying to add bulk.

Only recently has the value of certain fats been discussed in bodybuilding publications, but in practice very few bodybuilders incorporate those essential nutrients into their daily diets. Many still believe the antiquated notion that dietary fat directly correlates to bodyfat. Quite the opposite: Fat burns better in the biochemical flame of fats rather than carbs. Understanding and using fats wisely is a huge tool in improving your training outcomes and many barometers of your health.

How many people in bodybuilding know that nuts should be eaten raw rather than roasted and should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator? Who knows that “ORAC” values are the measure of a food’s antioxidant power and why that is important to health and, ultimately, muscle growth? What about grass-fed beef (it’s not the same as organic beef) being one of nature’s most anabolic foods? It’s lowfat, low cholesterol, high in conjugated linoleic acid and high in omega-3s, for starters—and how about the hypothesis that, in excess, omega-3 fats can slow muscle growth much in the way that aspirin can.

Where am I going with this random ranting of facts? It’s simple. Bodybuilding nutrition and supplements make up maybe 5 percent of the world of nutritional science. If there are 2,000 nutritional products aimed at bodybuilding, there must be 40,000 products in the health, wellness and longevity categories. Many of those items have crossover properties that can help you get lean and big and live longer to enjoy your muscles. I’m also setting the stage for future articles, which deal with common misconceptions in bodybuilding nutrition and explore what foods and supplements from the world of holistic nutrition can help you accomplish your bodybuilding goals and feel better in and out of the gym.

—Ron Noreman


Editor’s note: Ron Noreman ( is a partner in Kamler, Lewis & Noreman LLP (, a certified public accounting firm that specializes in tax representation and management of professional athletes, nutritional-supplement companies and weight-training-equipment manufacturers. He has been a competitive bodybuilder for 35 years and won numerous titles, is the founder of Alchemy Nutrition and offers contest-prep coaching and holistic-nutrition consultations. He has also formulated antioxidant supplements for prominent vitamin companies and served as design consultant Nebula and other equipment manufacturers.

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