The world's greatest dieters: I am not a fan of bodybuilding. My problem with bodybuilding is that it is form without function. This is a strange statement from a man that has written (literally) hundreds of published articles on and about bodybuilding. For many years I was the main training article writer for Muscle & Fitness magazine, at the time the top selling fitness publication in the world. My job was to interview the world's best bodybuilders on how they trained and how they ate in order to appear in contest shape. Certain commonalities emerged that can and should be of tremendous value to the serious athlete looking to lean out.
Having expressed my reservations, competitive bodybuilders are indisputably the world's greatest dieters. The elite competitive bodybuilder has to appear onstage sporting a sub-5% body fat percentile if they have any hope of winning - plus they have to retain all their hard earned muscle mass. Even at local bodybuilding shows, the kind held at your high school, amateurs are routinely and widely attaining sub-8% body fat percentiles. Within the bodybuilding world, a consensus of commonalities has emerged, broad guidelines widely used by bodybuilders worldwide to achieve single-digit body fat percentiles. Here is the basic bodybuilding principles used to shed body fat…
Combine intense exercise with a disciplined diet: In order to force the human body to build muscle certain protocols and procedures need to be adhered to; in order to force the body to oxidize stored body fat certain protocols and procedures need to be adhered to. The first order of business for a competitive bodybuilder is to combine two separate and distinct types of intense exercise (aerobics + progressive resistance training) with disciplined dieting. Dieting without exercise delivers inferior results, exercising without strict dieting delivers inferior results. The training need be intense, consistent and frequent; the dieting need be rigid, specific and timed.
Accelerating the metabolism: Intense physical exercise forces the human body to adapt, grow, improve and ultimately reconfigure itself, all in response to the self-inflicted trauma we call training. One amazing attribute of truly intense exercise is the stimulating effect it has on the basal metabolism. Think of the body's metabolism as the thermostat in your home. When it comes to burning off body fat a fast metabolism is better. Morbidly obese people are (nominally) cursed with slow metabolisms. A slow metabolism is very good at optimizing and stretching calories. The highly conditioned athlete has a raging metabolism that is exceeding inefficient and burns calories indiscriminately and with great abandon. The better the athlete the faster the metabolism. To "build" a sluggish metabolism into a fast metabolism, practice intense resistance training and intense aerobic exercise. You need to do both types of exercise, not one or the other - both.
The first commonality - institute a multiple-meal eating regimen: Spread out the intake of calories. Rather than eating 3,000 calories in three meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner, the bodybuilder would eat six 500-calorie mini-meals, thereby dramatically lessening the digestive task. This strategy forces the body to "gear up" six times a day to digest hard-to-digest lean protein and fibrous carbs. Clean eating creates a metabolic bump. Small amounts of quality food/fuel are taken in frequently, every two to three waking hours. Over the course of a week, the bodybuilder (eating six mini-meals per day) digests and distributes food 42 times per week. With this kind of repeated practice, the body becomes super adept at breaking down and distributing food/fuel.
The second commonality - clean up the food/fuels: Competitive bodybuilders clean up their calories, i.e. they switch out insulin-spiking, fat-creating calories for insulin-dampening/muscle-building calories. Alcohol, sodas, baked goods, sweets, refined carbs, most fruits, all canned food, and all processed food, all fast food, all gone. What are left are natural foods, potent power foods. The bodybuilder eats from a limited menu of reoccurring foods. The goal is food potency. Quality nutrients accelerate recovery and fuels muscle growth while simultaneously stimulating fat loss. Clean calories eaten frequently amps the metabolism.
The third commonality - protein and fibrous intake is always high and constant: The hard-training bodybuilder needs ample protein to heal, recover, repair and grow muscle tissue battered by high intensity cardio and free weight training. Eating lean protein, bodybuilders have discovered, will not add to body fat stores. Every serious bodybuilder makes it a point to take in 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per day every day. Bodybuilder's discovered you can eat (virtually) unlimited amounts of fat free protein, lean protein, and not get fat. Ditto with fibrous carbs. Fiber has low caloric density and a wide selection of possibilities: green beans, onions, carrots, spinach, salad greens, and broccoli…. Lean protein and fiber are the backbone of all competition diets.
The forth commonality - carbs or fat, one or the other: generally speaking, people fall into one of two categories, those that prefer carbs over fat or, conversely, those that favor fat over carbs. Inherent taste preferences and biases need be and can be taken into account. If you prefer carb foods to fat foods, fat intake (other than MCTs) is held to a miniscule 5-10% of calories eaten. Those that prefer fat foods need minimize starch carb intake. The first formalized "cut" diet was the infamous "fish-and-water" diet men like Zane, Draper, Robinson, Arnold and Franco would use in the lead-up to an Olympia competition. As simple as the name implies, the bodybuilder ate fish (or some other lean protein source - Ken Waller used turkey breast) and drank water. This was primal ketogenic, Atkins long before Atkins was invented. Most bodybuilders favor low-fat diets that allow them to eat natural carbs, potatoes and rice, while giving up fat. Dorian Yates once told me that his system had been eating low fat for so long that the slightest fat-binge would make him physically ill. Determine your generalized preference.
Squaring the circle with nutrient dense eating: Generally speaking the classic bodybuilder food meal has four parts: a portion of protein, a portion of fibrous carbs, a portion of starch carbs and some fat - the fat intake is inversely proportional to the intake of starch; take in lots of starch, limit the fat; take in lots of saturated fat (combined with the protein) and minimize the starch. Potent proteins, vibrant vegetables and natural carbohydrates are purposefully eaten in combination with one another. Protein and fiber have a terrific relationship in that copious amounts of fiber dampen insulin and have a rotor-router effect; fiber pushes the sludge of dissolved protein through the innards. Fiber scrapes and cleanses intestinal walls and helps prevent bile build-up. Eat natural foods, nutrient dense foods, potent foods, and eat them in purposeful combinations. Insulin spikes associated with starch carbs (eaten alone) are dampened when starch is eaten with protein and fiber. Fat does not spike insulin.
Recapitulation: Bodybuilders use a coordinated strategy designed to build muscle and melt off stored body fat. Disciplined nutrition is combined with intense exercise. The bodybuilding nutritional template uses a multiple-meal eating strategy. Mini-meals are constructed using "clean" calories; these small, potent meals are eaten often. Food selections are purged of impurities. Protein and fiber intake is high and constant: fat and carbs are inversely proportional. Natural foods, potent and nutrient-dense, are used to power the process. Healing and recovery from intense training are accelerated when quality nutrients are eaten in abundance.
Over time, the intense physical training combined with the disciplined eating morphs the body. The consistent consumption of small, clean, mini-meals, consumed every 2-3 waking hours, amps up the basal metabolic rate. Intense training amps up the basal metabolic rate. These communal consensuses are used to achieve single-digit body fat percentiles on a consistent basis. There is a proven pathway and attaining single-digit body fat percentiles is doable by anyone - but it is exceedingly difficult. Those able to adhere to the Spartan starkness and generate the herculean effort required never fail to attain astounding results.
Three long months of perfect adherence are required: no bobbles, no mulligans, no falling off the wagon, no fresh starts or retakes. Those that can adhere in totality realize sensational results every single time - you are subjecting the body to stresses that it cannot ignore. But you need be freaking perfect. And in that perfection lies the key: this is the cold, hard truth about building muscle and dissolving body fat, like it or lump it.
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 numerous 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.