I have “dieted down” about two dozen times in the nearly 20 years that I’ve been competing. Stop and think about that phrase for just a moment. If you have to diet down to look good, that must mean you’re carrying too much bodyfat to be aesthetically pleasing. In my case—and I know it applies to the vast majority of bodybuilders out there—I’ve always spent far more time in off-season bulking modes than I have in looking good.
Most of us will never, ever be as big as we want—thus the need to spend most of the year devouring outrageous quantities of food and training as heavy as possible. Despite nobly intending to add only pure muscle, most of us inevitably accumulate excessive amounts of bodyfat. The clean cuts and striations and the road map of veins we all have become buried deep below layers of blubber and water. Essentially, we don’t even resemble bodybuilders except in the vague sense of our overall size and shape.
At some point we decide it’s time to get ripped, whether for a contest, a photo shoot, a vacation or some other compelling reason for looking great. We embark on a long and often miserable diet, which can mean anywhere from eight weeks to six months of strict eating and a lot of the activity most of us meatheads despise even more than Pilates—cardio. Eventually, we manage to burn off all that ugly fat and reveal the chiseled muscularity beneath. And just about anybody with a decent amount of muscle from a few years or more of hard training will look pretty damned impressive ripped and tanned. You’ll feel great, too, not only from the sense of accomplishment and the attention and appreciation you’ll start to garner but simply from being lighter and in better condition—a nice side effect of all that dreaded cardio.
So what do we usually do next? After reaching our personal pinnacle of physique perfection, we turn right around and jump back into off-season mode. Often in as little as a week or two after we looked incredible, we’re back to looking incredibly smooth. It’s a big reason so many of us get something akin to postpartum depression after contests. For our appearance to take such a sudden nosedive is a real bummer, and the stupidest part of it is that it’s all totally under our control. We choose to get out of shape so fast, as if we were deprived of junk for so long that we’ve earned the right to be a total glutton for days or weeks on end.
Having been on that particular psychological and physical roller coaster many times, I finally said enough is enough. I’ve always envied guys and girls who stay in shape all the time. I don’t necessarily mean contest condition but maybe 10 to 15 pounds over that—decently lean, but not having to do soul-sucking bouts of cardio and dieting on only enough carbs to feed a field mouse. If all I have to do is give up eating junk—except for maybe twice or three times a week—and the reward is to look and feel a lot better than I normally do, I can live with that. Because we all have different metabolisms, it may require a bit more work and sacrifice for some than for others. Being in shape all the time, however, is something I’m very excited about now that I’ve finally made up my mind.
Will it impede my gains? Perhaps to a small degree, but after 25 years of training I’m pretty close to as big as I’m ever going to be, if I’m not already there. I can continue to work on weak areas and refine and season what I have.
What about you? Are you out of shape most of the year and ashamed to be seen shirtless? Do you miss having cut abs and crisp muscle separation and wish you could have them all the time? You can. It’s up to you. Bulking up is not mandatory. Most of us choose to do it most of the time simply because it’s not so tough to eat as much as you want and then some and pare down your cardio work to nearly nil. But if you decide you’ll put only clean, quality foods into your body and not a whole lot more than it really needs, you can look like a true bodybuilder for as much of the year as you like. If that’s what you’ve always wanted, what are you waiting for? IM