How to eat when you are training your ass off

Dinner for one: Arnold above slamming calories back in his Mr. Olympia days

Performance eating is nutrition with a purpose. The purpose being to amplify and accelerate the training effort. Nutrition can be the athlete’s best friend or worst enemy. Skillfully used, precision eating improves the result derived from training. Just as training is sculpted to aid in the attainment of a specific goal, nutrition should be sculpted to aid the training.

There must be goal clarity before there can be nutritional clarity. Everything grows from the highly defined goal. The athletic elite set highly specific goals into highly specific timeframes. Let’s look at a hypothetical example: if the class reunion is in three months, why not set up a ten-week periodization plan with a goal of shedding 15-pounds of body fat – this while pushing our bench press personal best upward by 25-pounds.

This seems a worthy and motivating goal. Here is how it would lay out for a 200-pound, 40-year old, moderately in-shape business executive. Commencing this 10-week periodized cycle, the athlete weighs 200-pounds and has a 180-pound strict, paused bench press…

Week  bodyweight    bench press top sets             cardiovascular exercise

(after warmups)

1          200                  135 5 x 5 reps             three 30 min. sessions 70% of ARHR max

2          198.5               135 4 x 6 reps             four 30 min. sessions 72.5% of ARHR max

3          197                  135 3 x 8 reps             five 32 min. sessions 75% of ARHR max

4          195.5               135 2 x 10 reps           five 35 min. sessions 75% of ARHR max

5          194                  150 5 x 5 reps             five 37 min. sessions 77.5% of ARHR max

6          192.5               150 4 x 6 reps             six 40 min. sessions 77.5% of ARHR max

7          191                  150 3 x 8 reps             six 42 min. sessions 80% of ARHR max

8          189.5               150 2 x 10 reps           seven 45 min. sessions 80% of ARHR max

9          188                  165 3 x 6                     seven 45 min. sessions 80% of ARHR max

10        186.5               180 3 x 3                     seven 45 min. sessions 80% of ARHR max

Reunion week

11        185                  205 3 x 1                     three 30 min. sessions 90% of ARHR max

This periodized plan was used by one of our acquaintances to get in shape for his 25th anniversary class reunion.

The world’s most effective dieters are competitive bodybuilders. Even at the local level, amateur bodybuilders, lifetime drug-free bodybuilders, are routinely attaining sub-5% body fat percentiles. The procedures they use are (generally) formulaic and involve the skillful intertwining of disciplined nutrition with hardcore cardio and bar-bending progressive resistance training.

To make the competitive bodybuilder’s quest more difficult, body fat need be stripped and melted without “dieting away” all the hard-earned gym muscle. Muscle cannibalism is no joke. When starved, the body will cannibalize its own muscle tissue. Crash dieters can lose 100-pounds and still stay fat: the body, sensing starvation will preferentially eat muscle over body fat. Therefore, a man can drop his scale weight from 300-pounds to 200 and still possess a 35% body fat percentile. How does the athlete lose body fat while retaining muscle? Performance eating!

Performance Eating Guide:

  • Avoid starvation diets: lean protein and fibrous carbohydrates do not spike insulin and should be consumed in copious amounts. Protein and fiber are preferentially partitioned into the construction of muscle or used to fuel activity. Dietary fat does not spike insulin. Complex starch carbs spike insulin: bodybuilder’s eat starch in combination with protein and fiber: food combining dampens the insulin surge nominally associated with starch.
  • Jettison junk: eliminate all manmade food, all industrial foods that come in a can, frozen foods loaded with trans-fats, sweets, sugar, grain products, pastries, pasta, junk food, fast food, chips, pizza, etc. etc. No one can be considered serious about performance nutrition if they consume “dirty” calories and empty calories. Alcohol needs also be eliminated. If a drink is taken, go for clean spirits, avoid beer.
  • Protein and fiber carbs: protein and fiber go together like ham and eggs, Mick and Keith, guns and dogs. Protein is undigested amino acids and muscles are made of amino acids. Fiber carbohydrates do not spike insulin (nor does protein) and is calorically insignificant. Fiber acts as intestinal cleaner, scraping walls of gunk and sludge buildup associated with ample protein intake. Optimally, every serving of protein is eaten with some type of fiber.
  • Carb-centric or Fat-centric: competitive bodybuilders are of one mind on eliminating “dirty” foods and the need for ample protein and fiber carbs. Some bodybuilders prefer starch carbs over fat; other bodybuilders prefer dietary fat over starch carbs. Pick one or the other: bodybuilders learned that they can get ripped augmenting protein and fiber with either fat or starch – not both.
  • Meal timing: the classical bodybuilder diet is based on a multiple-feeding strategy wherein the day’s allotment of calories is broken out into smaller amounts. Six 500-calorie meals being superior to three 1,000 calorie meals. Consuming the days calories in smaller chunks eaten at equidistant intervals makes great sense and has proven effective. The problem is the pure hassle: six feedings a day equates to 42 feedings per week!
  • Alternate meal timing: what if you can’t cope with creating 35 to 42 mini-meals per week? The intermittent fasting approach, first postulated by my friend Ori Hofmekler, offers a legitimate alternative. The day’s calories are ingested within a window of time, 2-5 hours long. The foods need be clean and potent. Seek out natural, organic, nutrient-dense foods and deftly prepare them. The smaller window can be effective if the food is potent.
  • Supplements: supplemental protein makes sense. A protein shake contains 35-grams of protein (two chicken breasts) with no carbs or sugar. You don’t have to cook or chew a shake. Creatine monohydrate has had staying power. The introduction of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) provides a high-calorie/clean-calorie source of “good” dietary fat. MCTs are showing great scientific promise as mental acuity enhancers.
  • Combing hardcore exercise with hardcore nutrition: exercise is the foundation. Without ass-busting training, bodybuilding-style nutrition becomes just another diet strategy. Expert nutrition underpins the bar-bending lifting and copious cardio. If the eating is precise enough and the exercise intense enough, muscle is built while body fat is mobilized and oxidized. Continual monitoring is combined with performance eating and savage training.

The key to success is adherence. Can you construct and adhere to a realistic and sensible game plan? Can you generate the training consistencies and intensities required? Are you ready to make a serious commitment to disciplined performance eating (and supplementing) that enhances and accelerates the transformational process?

Success, in every instance, is directly proportional to the trainee’s ability to adhere to the dictates and tenants of the process. It takes radical change to shock the body out of its cocoon of complacency. The body craves hemostasis, the status quo. The body will not undergo a dramatic transformation in response to submaximal efforts: only herculean efforts will suffice.

Intense physical effort needs to be backed up, underpinned, with high performance performance eating. You don’t put kerosene in your 427 Cobra, you use high octane racing fuels. You will be surprised how quickly you muscle-up and lean out once all the interrelated elements are recognized, integrated, locked down and practiced with the requisite consistency and intensity. It really is simple: performance eating need back up power training.

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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.