Importance of Nutrition

Competitive bodybuilding is a strange sport. In fact, some don't consider it a sport at all. Unlike baseball, football, basketball, hockey and soccer, competitive success in bodybuilding is based primarily on appearance, not athletic performance. The vast majority of athletes eat to perform and, if they are smart, to stay well, prevent infection and avoid degenerative disease.

Bodybuilders eat to look good. Everything is visual. But isn't functional muscle superior to mirror muscle? Perhaps a bit of both is best, or in the least, envied by many.

To be objective, competitive bodybuilding does have a performance component. A great posing routine takes strategic planning, superb choreography and hundreds of hours of practice. Ed Corney, Tom Platz and the Austrian "Oak" were all great posers. Posing is an art that requires special talent. You show the crowd what you have in a manner that is pleasant to behold.

Let's compare competitive bodybuilding at the highest level to an elite gymnast preparing for the summer Olympic Games. Both athletes work unimaginably hard and practice their sport with amazing intensity, duration and commitment. Passion in the sport is evident. The mind's eye is on performing (or looking) your absolute best on contest day. Everything revolves around training and preparation for this one single event, meaning that up until that brief moment in time, nothing else in the world exists or matters.

So what is the essential difference between an Olympic gymnast and a bodybuilder training for the Mr. or Natural Olympia? The answer is revealed by examining how each one eats and feels leading up to and on the day of competition.

Both athletes are muscular and remarkably lean. For months prior to the big event the gymnast has been eating substantial amounts of partitioned calories derived from clean sources of carbs, fats and proteins. During the same period however, the bodybuilder has been gradually reducing carbs and fats and increasing both training volume and protein intake. 400-600g a day is not uncommon.

Chances are high that excess ammonia is being produced in the muscle cells of the bodybuilder, leading to a serum build-up in the blood. Excess ammonia is toxic. It causes hepatic cellular damage when insufficient water is available to excrete it. The solution to pollution is dilution.

Bodybuilders also manipulate their potassium and sodium intake. K dominates inside the cell, Na surrounds it. During the last few days sodium intake is intentionally decreased whereas potassium intake is increased after a period of reduction. Water intake is reduced from 1-2 gallons a day to the point of dehydration. Dehydration is the supreme enemy to health and all athletic performance.

Bodybuilders typically reduce carbs to deplete glycogen. When exercise is continued on a carb-reduced diet, fatty acids stored throughout the body are released into the bloodstream and converted to glucose for muscles to burn. The enzyme glycogen synthetase begins to rise.

Mood swings are common during ketosis and energy is flat. Unlike our hunting ancestors, many go schizoid during this period. Symptoms include exhaustion, brain fog, irritability, insomnia and unpredictable outbursts of rage. Not great for relationships but who cares. The net effect is a significant reduction in bodyfat.

You can always tell when a guy is close to a show. Their jaw lines are sunken in like zombies. By their own confession, most feel completely wasted and beat up. Others are miserable and down right nasty. Plagued by visions of ice cream and pastry or just plain food, they long for the process to end.

After the depletion phase about a week out from the show, high glycemic concentrated carbs are typically reintroduced in copious amounts to induce an exodus of glycogen into millions of starving myocytes (muscle fibers). Water and potassium have a high affinity for glycogen, so fluid is drawn into the myocyte from outside the cell causing the myocyte to expand in volume and push out against the thinnest skin in the world.

Perfect, unless you mess up or time it wrong. It's not uncommon for many novice and even professional bodybuilders to miss the mark and look better either the day before or day after the "Big Day".

The gymnast in contrast keeps a steady diet pace right up to the event. Lots of good food everyday to satisfy the palate. The object is to fuel the fire for performance, namely speed, power, agility, balance and endurance. The gymnast eats well before and especially after each workout. The concept is simple. Supply your biological demand. This is the Prime Directive in nutrition science if wellness is your game.

On the day of competition the gymnast is well-rested, full of energy and feeling strong and powerful. He has eaten as "hard" as he has trained to prepare for the "day" and wakes up with glycogen semi-packed in his muscles and liver. He goes to bed feeling well-nourished and satisfied and sleeps well. He suffers not from nocturnal hypoglycemia.

His workouts are progressive as he draws power from the food he wisely chooses. There are no craving frenzies, no midnight werewolf attacks. His workout stress is pacified by sufficient carbs, essential fatty acids and a continuous source of energy and water. Pursue health... and performance follows.

During the last several weeks of training, the bodybuilder is on the edge of starvation and highly catabolic. Thank God for anabolic steroids, amphetamines, diuretics, clenbuterol, thyroxin, insulin, IGF-1 and hGH.

When the last bell finally rings the bodybuilder drags his striated butt out the door looking to eat anything and everything. Typically it's the very worst of food consumed in huge quantity. Pizza, ice cream, donuts, chocolate bars, anything with tons of concentrated fat and sugar. From anorexia to bulimia, what a trip! For months they squeeze their core in as tight as a drum before the show, then immediately afterwards stretch it out like a giant inflated balloon. It's called the "Accordion Effect".

In natural medicine we know this wild extreme is associated with long-term eating disorders, stroke, heart disease, depression, insomnia, drug addiction patterns and prescription drug abuse. Something we can all look forward to.

It's impossible to compete at the highest level in either biological or pharmaceutical bodybuilding, and stay well. Most bodybuilders on stage are the antithesis of good health. They are depleted, lethargic, over-trained and hungry. The diet is simply too extreme in relation to the training intensity and volume imposed on the body.

There's an old adage that says, "Don't muzzle an ox when it's treading out the corn".

If you undersupply macronutrients you undersupply micronutrients. Whole food is essential to genomic stability and the prevention of metabolic syndrome, chronic inflammation, obesity, cancer, heart disease, diabetes and depression. Food influences genetic expression far more than we ever realized. We are what we eat "EATS". So what's eating you?

If we bathe our genes in fresh, whole organic food we can expect to live long and prosper. If, on the other hand, we consume sucrose, white flour, polished rice and refined food as a staple diet for vanity sake, we are bound to wind up in hell. By the way my friend, heaven and hell are right here on earth. The path you choose now determines where you live.

Let your rice be brown, your bread be black and your meat be undercooked. Eat as much fresh raw food as possible. Ravage wild game. Neglect not your organic greens. Take your vitamins.

Eat fish, but more importantly, learn how to fish.

Study nutrition science, emoducate your mind, be persuaded by logic and obey the laws that govern optimum health. Bodybuilding, like all sport in general, is supposed to create health and wellness, not destroy it. The natural bodybuilding lifestyle is the ticket to success. Competition sucks!

Photo by Samantha Hurley from Burst

As always, stay well and live free!