Bodybuilders, expropriating fat-burning tactics from the world’s best dieters.
Arnold (above) sports an 8 to 9% body fat percentile in this photo from back in the Pumping Iron days.
Bodybuilders are the world’s most effective dieters. The novice bodybuilder’s first duty is to build the body, create new muscle by lifting weights and staying in positive nitrogen balance. Once the fledgling bodybuilder has built enough muscle to be worthy of display, the bodybuilder’s next job is to strip off body fat that obscures his newly enlarged muscles from view. When it comes to melting off bodyfat while retaining hard earned lean muscle mass, bodybuilders are without equal.
Bodybuilders have been perfecting dietary lean-out procedures since the 1960s. The generalized bodybuilder approach for shedding bodyfat has been systematized for decades. One thing the early pioneers discovered was that if you starve to melt body fat you also melt muscle. The modern approach must be nuanced as precious muscle mass must be preserved whilst body fat is being oxidized. This is subtle, tricky, complex, and multidimensional. The effective approach is a holistic approach that skillfully blends daily training with strict dieting.
The modern IFBB professional Olympia competitor is not our benchmark. The methods they use, the severity and radicalness disqualify Pros as advise givers. Instead, we take our leanness ques from the thousands of local and regional bodybuilders, 100% lifetime drug-free guys that routinely, regularly, and on a widespread basis attain sub-10% body fat percentiles, all the while retaining lean muscle mass. The methods used are widely known. In the era of the internet, there are no more secrets.
The modern bodybuilder uses a skillful three-way blend of constant cardio, precision nutrition and high-volume weight training to create the preconditions needed to force the body to use stored body fat without melting away muscle. Bodybuilders talk about “building the metabolism.” This is an interesting concept and an interesting way to come at the problem of reducing body fat while retaining lean muscle in the lead up to a contest.
The bodybuilder thinks of the human body as a house or a building and the metabolism is the home or building thermostat. To build the metabolism is to raise that thermostat. When its February and 18-degree outside, you burn a lot more fuel oil when the thermostat is set at 80-degrees than if it is set at 55-degrees.
Overweight, out-of-shape sedentary people, people that do not exercise, have sluggish metabolisms; their thermostats are set low, at 55-degrees, they barely burn any fuel. Obese, sedentary people make very efficient use of their calories. A competitive bodybuilder has a blast-furnace metabolism, his thermostat is set at 85-degress and he is wildly inefficient as he burns through calories. The obese out-of-shape person’s metabolism is like a smoldering campfire, the competitive bodybuilder’s metabolism is akin to a raging bonfire.
How do you keep a raging bonfire raging? You throw ever larger logs of dry, hard wood (clean calories) onto the blazing fire. “Clean calories” burn completely and fully, down to ash, no residual, no partially burned logs left to be stored as body fat. The elite bodybuilder uses a combination of disciplines to amp up the metabolism. An accelerated metabolism burns calories at an accelerated rate. What are some of the bodybuilder’s metabolism-amping procedures?
- Resistance training: every time the bodybuilder weight trains, he gives the metabolism a beneficial “jolt” that cranks up the metabolism. Bodybuilders prefer to weight train more frequently, train longer and lighter using less poundage than strength trainers. More sessions mean more huge metabolic jolts.
- Nutrition: the digestive system must accelerate to digest fiber carbs and lean protein. This acceleration creates a milder (than exercise) metabolic jolt. A bodybuilder eats every 2-3 waking hours, 5-6 times daily. Six mini-meals (or feedings) a day equate to 42 mild metabolic jolts per week.
- Cardio: intense aerobic exercise spikes the metabolism in a dramatic way. The accelerated metabolism remains accelerated for hours after the session. Bodybuilders begin each day with a pre-breakfast fasted cardio session. In the final weeks, the elite add a 2nd daily cardio session for 7-14 intense weekly jolts.
There is a lot of metabolic jolting going on here. The food/fuel needs to be perfect: clean, pure, organic foodstuffs, not too much, not too little, exactly the right kind in exactly the right amounts taken at precisely the right times. Between the near daily lifting and the daily (sometimes twice daily) cardio, the bodybuilders metabolism is being amped up all day long.
Bodybuilder food meals consist of a double serving of lean protein, a serving of fiber carbs and a serving of starch carbs. Starch is never eaten alone. Protein and fiber dampened the insulin spike associated with starch. All refined carbs, alcohol, sugar, anything manmade, have long since been eliminated. Dietary fat intake depends on the bodybuilder and whether he is in pre-competition prep phase or in the off-season seeking to add lean muscle mass.
The competitive bodybuilder jolts his metabolism to some degree, from mild to wild, every few waking hours. The competitive bodybuilder starves his body of food and drink that spikes insulin: simultaneously he floods his body with muscle-building, muscle-sparing lean protein. Pumping the body full of lean protein to preserve hard-earned gym muscle makes perfect sense. Bodybuilders make use of nutritional supplements (particularly protein powder) to attain high daily protein intake required to preserve muscle in the face of continual training and tight, clean eating.
Fiber carbs include spinach, carrots, broccoli, asparagus, onions, salad greens, kale, collards, etc. Fiber is tough to digest – a good thing. Fiber carbs scrape arterial walls of sludge and gunk, slows digestion, and does not cause insulin to secrete. A high fiber intake is the perfect compliment to a high protein intake. Protein alone creates bile and sludge and can cause health issues; use fiber to scour intestinal walls of protein gunk. While the bodybuilder’s protein and fiber intake are always high, dietary fat and starch are modulated and manipulated depending on short- and long-term goals.
What is the takeaway lesson for a normal person serious about training, fitness, and fat loss? Do not starve to lose fat. Build the metabolism. Start by improving the quality of the calories ingested. Use clean calories derived from locally sourced, seasonally appropriate proteins and produce. Protein and fiber carbs form the eternal nutritional backbone of the bodybuilder’s diet.
Protein supplementation is used to hit daily protein benchmarks. Fasted cardio is SOP. No matter how much cardio you do, no matter how often or how hard you lift, it can all be undone with bad eating. Clean up the eating, add some supplementation, hit cardio every day, lift 4-6 times a week and settle in.
Three full months of complete adherence to the “bodybuilding lifestyle” will transform you beyond your wildest imaginings. Amping the metabolism using bodybuilder tactics is the most widely known and practiced method of its kind. If you have the time, energy and inclination, thousands of drug-free bodybuilders have already successfully blazed this path. Adhere to this highly disciplined time-intensive approach in all its complex totality and incredible results are all but assured.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.