Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Why we won't or can't fix the problem of obesity in America

Anytime the talk of particular age and nutritional habits come up, there's usually that ONE PERSON that chimes in with the fact that their grand-pa is 184 years old, and smokes 2 packs of camel a day and lives by drinking a gallon of bacon grease each day and eats a pound of hot dogs and is "in perfect health".

To me, the short circuit in this argument has always been obvious.

You're talking about someone that grew up in a totally different era, in a different way of life, and set a standard of health via different means than the people living now, who are either dying at a far younger age, or if they do live as long the quality of life is much lower.

According to research led by Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle, Americans often have to cope with a range of medical problems during those extra years of life.

They are "not necessarily in good health", he told the Wall Street Journal.

Obesity, diabetes, kidney disease and neurological conditions like Alzheimer's are all on the rise, both in the US and in much of the developed world.

So while we can expect extra years, they may not necessarily be golden - which is itself a good reason to stay away from the pies.

However, the New England Journal of Medicine, which is made up of kinda smart people, actually don't even agree we're living longer.  As far back as 2005, they were already sizing up the fact that we are scheduled to check out earlier than most of our parents will.  

For the first time in two centuries, the current generation of children in America may have shorter life expectancies than their parents, according to a new report, which contends that the rapid rise in childhood obesity, if left unchecked, could shorten life spans by as much as five years.

The report, to be published Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine, says the prevalence and severity of obesity is so great, especially in children, that the associated diseases and complications -- Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure, cancer -- are likely to strike people at younger and younger ages.

People can debate about the actual numbers until the cows come home, but you really do not have to be a scientist or researcher to understand that technology has changed our way of life in first world countries.  

My dad is now 75 years old.  He grew up walking to school, then would come to work all day in the garden where his parents grew most of the food they ate.  They spent the winters hunting deer, and the summers fishing and working in the fields.  I think he had 4 thousand brothers and sisters, so it was basically a sweat shop for farming, hunting, and fishing.  But that's how a lot of families lived back then.  

My dad is currently around 6' and 230 pounds.  So he's not thin.  But his health is pretty darn good.  So I will be that guy.  My dad still eats like shit, and is overweight, but his health is good (watch his heart explode through his chest next week like something out of Aliens after I write this) and he's still exceptionally active.   He still works his own garden, he still hunts all winter, still goes fishing, and up until just a few years ago, he was still officiating baseball, football, volleyball, and softball games all year.  That's on two knee replacements as well.

The point is, our parents or our grandparents grew up in a time where they usually established a work ethic that became a part of their daily life.  My grandmother is still alive, 96 years old, and she still tills her own garden.  She's thinner than an ironing board, but her brain is still sharp and she's still spunky.  She might eat once or twice a day, and it's usually from her garden and livestock she has raised or someone else brought to her for meat.

When you parallel that to the generation of kids growing up now, it might as well be like they are being raised on a completely different planet.  

Kids go home now to Xbox1, play on their computers or iPhones all day, get very little time to exercise at school, and have a high level of access to calorie dense low-nutrient foods.  

But I don't even need to go back to my parents or grandparents time in order to draw such a strong contrast.  

I grew up riding my bike all summer.  Playing tackle football (without pads), pick up baseball and basketball games, and going hiking through the woods with friends.  We ate what we wanted and as much as we wanted, and still usually stayed pretty scrawny.  I miss those days.  

We didn't have access to a McDonald's and we didn't drink 1,000 calorie "coffees" from any franchise because they didn't exist.  We drank Coke here and there, ate tons of sammiches, and generally every night most of us went home to a family that cooked a very large, complete dinner that usually consisted of beef, chicken, pork, along with tons of veggies, rice, or potatoes.  

I've written a lot about obesity here, and sometimes it has caused a ruckus and sometimes....no it still did each time.  

But the fact is, society actually makes it more difficult on a lot of levels to not be obese, despite the fact that there is a constant outcry to get the obesity problem under control.  

First off, despite the fact that we are currently living in a time where crime is basically at its lowest, people are scared as shit to let their kids go outside and play alone.  Growing up, during the summer the street in front of my house was like a virtual parade of kids all summer who were on their way to "play" or just "do stuff".

The street in front of my house today?  I never see anyone, despite the fact that I know there are lots of families with kids in the 8 to 15 year old age range.  Sometimes I will see a few kids here and there that are forced to ride their bike in a 12 by 12 foot area in front of the house, lest they get kid napped immediately by the thousands of predators just waiting to throw little Johnnie into the trunk.  

I'm not minimizing anyone's pain that has lost a child to abduction here.  I cannot imagine what that would feel like.  However, the odds of your child being abducted by a stranger are about....1 in 610,000. 

This doesn't stop the fear mongering, however.  On my own facebook wall I've had parents chime in with the fact that they basically don't let their kids out of their sight for any reason ever.  And while I commend them for being responsible, in some ways helicopter parenting could be contributing to the obesity problem.  

I'll tie all this together, so just hang in there with me.

Right now, Americans work more than anyone.

We're overworked, and overstressed.  

Recent studies have painted a grim picture of the American working world: Longer days, less vacation time, and later retirement, and — and that was all during the good years of the 1990s.

The last few months have done nothing to ease those conditions, adding job insecurity to the mix as an increasing number of companies lay off workers to "downsize" in the slumping economy.

Those lucky enough to still have a job can expect to be asked to do more, to make up for the "streamlined" workforce.
Not only are Americans working longer hours than at any time since statistics have been kept, but now they are also working longer than anyone else in the industrialized world. And while workers in other countries have been seeing their hours cut back by legislation focused on preventing work from infringing on private life, Americans have been going in the other direction.

Nowadays, most kids are victims to convenience of use.  In other words, its far easier for the parent(s) to make something quick and easy for dinner, rather than actually cook a well balanced meal for the family each evening.  To add to that, because people are often working more hours and are still scraping by, food selection will often be of the cheapest variety.  Lots of processed foods and heat up dinners and pizzas can be the regular in most homes every night.  

Kids are now overburdened with mounds of homework, because apparently that's how you make them smarter.  

A Stanford researcher has found that students in high-achieving communities who spend too much time on homework experience more stress, physical health problems, a lack of balance, and alienation from society.

So actually, it looks like schools are in fact doing a great job of teaching kids what life as an adult will really be like.  Too much stress, too much work, not enough time to enjoy family, socialize normally, and grow into a well rounded individual.  

I see this at expos and events I go to, where I've met people with hundreds of thousands of followers who seem perfectly normal posting online, but are socially awkward in person.  

But I'm getting off track here with that.

Right now, there's no one single answer to fixing the problem of obesity in America.  It would require a massive social and ideological shift in order for change to happen.  

Jobs would need to stop asking for 50+ hour weeks.  A huge emphasis on the importance of the nuclear family would have to be put at the forefront again (buh bye feminism), kids would need more time for activity both at school, and at home where parents would need to stop hovering over them and being overly protective.  In other words, they would need to be allowed to go outside and play unsupervised.  I know, that's crazy talk but that's how normal people used to grow up.

And emphasis on educating about food would need to be made starting at a young age by qualified individuals.  I'm against making franchises change their menu because that's wrong to me.  I'm about educating people so that they can make better choices.  

Basically, we'd need to revisit our past in some ways and think that maybe our grandparents and great grandparents generation lived as long as they have because of the dynamics they grew up in, were pretty simple.  You moved a lot, you played a lot, you worked a physical job, you went to Church on Sunday, you ate highly nutritious foods, you let your kids run around the neighborhood, and you didn't spend 30+ hours a week watching TV.

There's really no simple answer here because the complexities in "solving" the obesity problem isn't singular by any means.  It's complicated and layered in problems all the way from food selection to social habits to work, school, and family.

I don't have an answer to be honest.  Education can only solve so much.  

American needs a bit of a reboot button if it wants to fix this particular issue.  It's not a single issue vote.  And I don't think as a society, as a whole, we're going to be willing to push that particular button.  At least, not right now.  

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Earn your offseason

Ahhh, the "offseason".  A time when one can relax a bit on food selection, training intensity, and basically half ass it until it's time to get your game face on.

If that's your attitude, then you can definitely expect to fall short of your strength of physique goals when the time to "turn it on" does come around.

The offseason is actually the "onseason" in regards to improvement for the competitive strength or physique athlete.  The worst thing you can do is treat this time with a lackadaisical attitude that many approach it with once the competition is over.  I too fell into such a mentality, and realize in retrospect that I wasted many years being highly unproductive during the times between competition.

For a lot of people, once the competition is over, there is a certain amount of drive that is lost because there may not be an eye-on-the-prize at that moment.  This doesn't mean one has to get online and sign up for a competition right away.  However, if you do plan on competing again then you need to approach the offseason with the mentality that it's the most optimal time to set yourself up for success on the stage, or the platform.

There's a lot to be said for what you do with this time in comparison that you do with the time leading into competing.  Some of the issues that can, or need to be addressed in the offseason are the following....

Address weaknesses - Any muscular area that is creating a weak link either in your physique or strength movements.  The offseason is the time to put them at the forefront of training so that when competition time rolls around, this is no longer a problem.  For strength athletes that means assessing the musculature that is often the secondary or tertiary mover that is holding you back.  For the bodybuilder or physique competitor, this is where you put that lagging bodypart on the training version of a nuclear meltdown mode for a few months to bring it up to give you balance.

Once in prep, the time to do so has either passed or it will be far less efficient due to either needing the time to specialize in certain movements, or a lack of calories.  Prep time is when focus should be centered around working the movements you will perform in competition, or muscle retention while fat is stripped off for the stage.  This is not the time where energy should be taken away from those things so you can fix something you knew was broken after your last competition.

Address mobility issues - This is another assessment.  Are you immobile, or just too weak to hold a position? Everyone thinks they have mobility issues, but most often what I've seen is that it's the weaker guys that tend to have these problems more than stronger guys.  I'm not saying this is the case 100% of the time, but the guys squatting 225 often think they need to foam roll, and do 17 mobility movements in order to squat, when the fact is, they are probably just too weak to hold the proper position when executing the technique.

However, I'm not bypassing legitimate mobility issues.  So if you have one, use the offseason to address becoming more mobile in whatever area needs that attention. . This should be something that helps with injury prevention.  And injuries are probably the biggest issue in regards to setbacks that  there is.  Time spend in rehab is less time spent improving at whatever it is you are preparing for.  Again, once competition prep time comes around, this should have been taken care of.

Address technique - This is far more paramount for the strength athlete.  If you're in meet or strongman prep mode, that is not the time to be changing around technique and tweaking your movements.  That's a great way to second guess yourself on game day, and end up failing due to overthinking, or falling back into old habits that were causing you to fail.

The offseason is time that should be spent drilling technique every time you set foot in the gym.  It should be second nature by the time you are getting ready for competition.  You should have training blocks during the offseason where technique is drilled at high volume and moderate to low intensity blocks.  By the time you start getting ready for your next competition, your new and improved technique should be an afterthought.  If you're tweaking and playing around with technique during the preparation process then your focus is not where it should be.  And that is executing the movements in the manner you're going to perform them with on competition day.  If you are tweaking your squat every workout going into the competition, what squat is going to show up on game day when it's max effort or max repetitions?

Address specialization - This could essentially be the 2nd part to addressing weaknesses.  Specialization means you're going to be spending the majority of your training time working on improving musculature that is lagging or weak.

For the strength athlete that is weak off the floor in deadlifts, this is the time where they would work on quad size and strength, because that's actually what creates more power off the floor.

However I want to be clear on something here, both the strength athlete and the competitive bodybuilder should have the same goal in the offseason.  And that is, building lean muscle mass.  This is not a time for doing 1 rep maxes for YouTube likes.  Strength athletes should be doing movements that help build the musculature involved in the competitive lifts, and bodybuilders should be specializing in building muscle mass in their weak bodyparts.  It's hard to grow in a calorie deficit, and basically impossible unless you're a noob.  And it's hard to specialize with extra training days a week if you're already doing three or four big training sessions based around the competitive lifts.

Have a training block in the offseason that is designed for overall hypertrophy, but also one designed for addressing a particular bodypart that is holding your strength or physique goals back.

 Recover from injuries and implement preventative measures - Again, this could be an extension of the mobility part, except that maybe you don't need to do mobility, you just need to give the joints a break from pounding a heavily loaded bar in fixed mechanical positions for those movements.  I once had a hip injury that no matter how much I rehabbed it, got any better.  Everytime I squatted it would flare up.

I tried everything under the sun and worked with two physical therapists to fix it.  Nothing helped.  Eventually, I just stopped squatting and left it alone for a few months.  When I went back to squatting it was fine.

Part of assessment, especially when it comes  to overuse and chronic pain from training, is to be smart enough to know that you need to stop doing certain movements, and let go of the notion that you have to marry yourself to them.  There's nothing more bewildering to me than someone so stupid (ahem, me) that they won't stop doing a movement that causes them pain, because they've convinced themselves that they will shrink or lose all sorts of strength if they stop doing it each week.

If you're a very advanced lifter, and have spent years and years building a foundation, it will take all of about 2 sessions of bringing a movement back before it feels natural again.  And if you're smart, it will take all of about 4-6 weeks to be back at your baseline level of strength for it.  The body is smart, and does not forget.

This is also the time to sit down and figure out, if you can, how you ended up injured.  Is it overuse?  Stop doing it so damn much.  This whole mantra that has taken over in regards to strength that you have to do the lifts 10,293 times a week is baffling to me.  If you're playing the long game, then part of that is understanding that longevity means not putting the gas pedal to the floor all the time.  That's a great way to cut your lifting career short.  Just ask Ronnie Coleman.

Remember training gives and takes.  And the type of training you are doing, if it is extreme, will end up taking a lot more than it will give back.  If slow and steady does indeed win the race, then understanding how moderation works is imperative.  This doesn't mean not to train hard, or train heavy, or train with low volume, it means finding balance among those things that keep inching you forwards, without putting  you on the ropes later because you got silly and stupid with your training ideology.

Implement conditioning and eat properly - Once again, once people think "offseason" they can often become a sloth in regards to conditioning, and undisciplined when it comes to their habits at the dinner table.

If training in the offseason is going to be as productive as possible, then your work capacity needs to be high.  After all, this is the time when growth should be taking place due to extra calories.  If  you're gassed after a set of 5 reps on the squat, then you're short changing yourself in regards to growth.  You need to be able to recover from balls out sets within a few minutes, and do another if possible.  And possible another.  For decades 20 rep squat workouts were the staple for growth.  If you want to throw up at the mere thought of doing a set of 20 reps on squats, then what does that say about your work ethic and work capacity?  How about two sets of 20 reps?

Without some level of conditioning then doing a significant amount of volume, or doing gut busting sets is going to be a wash.  This doesn't mean you need to turn into a marathon runner at all.  But you should at the bare minimum have two or three days a week where 20 minutes of your training is dedicated to improving your work capacity through cardiovascular work.  That can be a fast paced walk, sled pulls and pushes, or sprints.  But it needs to be something.

This should also be a time where you keep your bodyfat in check, or get it in check, and implement the 90% rule in regards to whole, nutritious food.  Here's an idea - earn a cheat meal in the offseason.  Most people equate cheat meals during a dieting phase only.  But your surplus in the offseason should still be made up of whole foods and not processed garbage.  Force yourself to earn your cheat meals in the offseason as well.  I know, that's an alien concept but if you're going to diet down later on then you've used the offseason to implement the ideology that cheat meals still need to be earned.

Conclusion - The offseason in some ways is actually far more valuable and important than the time being spent just preparing for competition.  This is where you continue to work on your foundation of strength and muscle mass, implement techniques for injury prevention, address current injuries or nagging pains, address weaknesses, and set the stage for a better performance come competition time.

This is a time where you should be training as hard as possible and eating in a very disciplined manner in order to make sure those things come to fruition.  Don't treat your offseason like time off.  Use it wisely and destroy your old performance easily when it rolls back around.

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Training nutrition revisited

I've done a myriad of protocols for pre-peri-post training nutrition over the years.  Most of which follows the usual thought of moving carbs and proteins in at various times in order to enhance recovery and promote growth.  I mean, that's what all the fuss is about right?  That's the debate involving what to eat or drink prior to and post training.

During prep, I did a lot of studying on enhancing this even more since I was using the exogenous ketones in that time to keep training intensity high, and not feel brain dead all the time.  Especially in the last 4-6 weeks prior to the show.  I wanted to come out of the show and take advantage of post show rebound growth, and have the best plan I could write out in order to do this.  Some of these protocols I used for the show (shouldn't be hard to figure out which ones), and others I'm using now in offseason mode.

This isn't a huge deviation from what I've done previously, but there are some details I thought were worth sharing.  Let me preface this with I'm not going to go back and forth all day about minor details.  I implemented a plan that worked.  It WORKED FOR ME.  There.  That's done with.  If you don't want to implement it and argue that's certainly your right.  I'm simply offering it up since I get asked these questions a lot, and  to give some insight as to how you COULD implement this into your nutritional paradigm in regards to enhancing the training effect.

So let's get to it.

Pre-workout -  60-90 minutes prior to training

Casein pre-workout with a banana and some peanut butter.  This combination, especially if it is micellar casein, which causes no insulin response, is great for a few reasons.  Casein tends to be a slow digesting protein, so while you're training you're going to have a full spectrum of amino acids still getting into the bloodstream.  Bananas are a low glycemic index carb, but it doesn't even matter since we're adding in some peanut butter which would bring down the GI score of any carb ingested with anyway, but I still like playing this on the safe side to keep blood sugar levels from bouncing off the wall before you train.  So with this combo, I kept insulin and blood sugar on the down low.

- 20-30 minutes prior to training

I use the 3.0 keto-os.  Which has leucine in it, which is the branch chain amino acid for activating mTOR, the primary muscle building pathway in the body.  So now we're activating muscle protein synthesis half an hour before training, and getting the benefits of including exogenous ketones, which give us another energy source in addition to glucose for training.  For those in a highly depleted state, like being in contest prep, the reason they tend to notice a huge lift in brain fog and have focus again is that, from what we're seeing is that the ketones go towards energy for the brain.

Which would explain why you go from being like a zombie, to suddenly having that drive and focus for hard training again.  But even if you're not carb depleted or in prep, you're still getting the benefits of reducing inflammation with BHB, which means faster recovery time between workouts, which means you can train more, which means you have more opportunities to stimulate growth.  Not only that, but inflammation is related to just about every illness known to mankind.  So if you want to improve your health, it's a great overall addition to your diet.  If you don't give a shit about all of that, don't buy it.  I don't care.

Peri-training -

During training, I started to hyperdose BCAA.  I know there's been a lot of back and forth on the net about the benefits of BCAA, and I'm not sure why.  There's a mountain of studies that have shown that using BCAA helps stimulate muscle protein synthesis, helps reduce soreness and promote recovery and a more highly anabolic environment.  I have actually found that using around double the recommended dose (around 40 grams instead of 20) does in fact make a difference in recovery time and reduced soreness from training.  Now for a while, I was using cyclic dextrin during training, but I ended up realizing that if my carb intake was high, the truth was I wasn't going to go through all my muscle glycogen and liver glycogen during a training session that was only 45 minutes to an hour and fifteen minutes long.  Are they going to get depleted?  Yes of course.  But you can replenish your glycogen stores just fine and your body is actually in a more primed state to do so post workout.

Second, I just prefer having something that has a "taste" to it during training.  I drink over a gallon of water a day as is (and at times more than 3 gallons a day during prep), so having something that has "flavor" to it is mostly a personal choice.

Post-workout -

Which leads us to post workout nutrition.  Now the thought for a long time has been that as soon as training is over you have to slam your carbs and protein in order to recover, and replenish glycogen stores immediately post training.

Net protein balance is an absolute requirement for muscle growth to happen (net protein balance is when muscle protein synthesis is greater than muscle protein breakdown and is a MUST for growth).  But muscle protein synthesis is elevated for up to 24 hours or longer post training, and glycogen synthesis  is elevated for up to six hours post training before returning to baseline.  Not only that, but fat oxidation is also increased in a post workout state.  So post workout your body is actually in a fat burning mode.  There is the debate that you're turning off this time of fat burning if you ingest carbs immediately post training, however the counter argument to that is carbs post workout go towards nothing but glycogen replenishment, and that fatty acids fuel normal resting requirements.  I'll come back to that.

Now to insulin sensitivity post workout.  Insulin sensitivity is high post workout.  And whey protein alone spikes insulin very efficiently, and insulin is what we need in order to reduce muscle protein breakdown.  Whey isolate also increases muscle protein synthesis.  So it's pretty easy to conclude that post workout, you can wait while fat oxidation is high, then get in your post workout shake sans carbs and find a positive net protein balance while keeping the fat burning furnace high.  I also recommend a mixture of 50/50 isolate and casein post workout (25 grams of casein and 25 grams of isolate) as isolate is a fast digestion protein that gets the amino acids into the cells quickly due to it's high insulin response, where as noted before with casein, it's a slower digesting protein that will feed the cells amino acids for several hours afterwards.

Now we've set the stage for a few things

- Longer period of fat oxidation post workout, so this means an increased time in fat burning mode
- Achieving a positive net protein balance with the inclusion of whey isolate by reducing muscle protein breakdown, and increasing muscle protein synthesis.
- Using a slower digesting protein to prolong the anabolic environment.

The flip side of this is for those who want to gain weight, or are in offseason mode where fat burning is not a primary objective.  In that case, 50-100 grams of carbs coming from waxy maize or cyclic dextrin is a great idea, as it clears the gut fast and replenishes glycogen stores very quickly.  But even for those who are trying to get leaner, you still need to replenish glycogen post training, but this can be done so efficiently in the six hours post training when the body is in a state for increased uptake of glycogen.  It really all depends on goals and what you're trying to maximize in your training or body composition.

So here will be the counter argument about all of this.  And I will say I'm on board with either and will give my two cents, and then be broke as fuck.

Truthfully, you can do either regardless of whether you're trying to get lean or gain mass.  At the end of the day you're still going to need to be in a calorie deficit to lose fat, or a calorie surplus to gain mass.  However, you can tweak this process a bit in order to eek out slightly better results for both.  Obviously eliminating 50-100 grams of carbs (200-400 calories) will help with getting into a calorie deficit.  However, those quick digesting carbs are far more likely to be stored in the muscle post training, and then you could just as easily manipulate your carb intake for the rest of the day to find the desired deficit you need.  The addition of those 200-400 calories will obviously be a great idea for someone looking to add calories for mass gain.

See?  No reason to be dogmatic.  It's possible both approaches work.  I know, that's effin crazy, but it's true.

Experiment with BOTH to see what YOUR results are.  Don't argue.  Try both out.  People have gotten lean doing it both ways, and people have gained mass doing it both ways.  Tweaking it for yourself will help you to understand which works better for you, and your goals.

For the novice, most of this is irrelevant.  Get a good meal in 90 minutes prior to training and within 1-2 hours post training.  For the advanced lifter, these things will make a difference in recovery and growth.

Conclusion -

Lastly, this protocol has worked VERY WELL for me.  So while I'm including studies, I really am done with going back and forth over the net arguing about all of these nuances.

Here is the REAL DEAL - you're going to have to experiment to find out what works FOR YOU.  Period.  Citing study after study without ever applying methods or ideologies into your training or nutritional paradigm is just mental masturbation.  And it's annoying.  Feel free to copy and use my plan, or play around and design your own that you find results with.  People THAT, and that alone, is the best way to find out what works most efficiently FOR YOU.

I hope to hear back from anyone who implements this and talks about their results.  My suggestion is to give a protocol a try for an extended period (at least 8 weeks) before you come to conclusions about it, and to also have your DIET AS A WHOLE, dialed in before you come to those conclusions.  What you eat from sunrise  to sundown is more important than this particular window of nutrition.  This particular paradigm is merely a piece of the puzzle.  It's an important one, but if the rest of your diet isn't on point it will be nearly impossible to gauge how significant or insignificant the results from implementing these strategies will be.

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Getting my cherry popped - My first bodybuilding experience

Sorry I've been away so long.  There is a reason I haven't been writing much.  Mainly because I was preoccupied with getting ready for a bodybuilding show.  

So let's get right into it.

My origins into lifting were about bodybuilding.

I think I bought every Flex and Muscular Development ever published for about 15 years.  Plus all the other ones like MuscleMag and Ironman as well.  

Dorian Yates was the guy who, when he came on the scene, I really identified with.  

His work ethic, discipline, his love of hard work and having a reason behind everything he did really resonated with me.  He went against the grain on so many of the things he did because he was a thinker in regards to his lifting and nutrition, and obviously it paid off for him, and I think he did ok.

Later I found myself more interested in powerlifting obviously, and got into the world of bloat eating and everything being about pounds on the bar.  Not that there's anything wrong with that per say, but it really is about as different from bodybuilding as ice skating is from hockey.  The only two things those have in common are the ice.  And the reality of it is, the only things powerlifting and bodybuilding really have in common is that barbell and dumbbells are both used.  And even then, that's not always the case with bodybuilders.

My love for bodybuilding never really died.  It just lessened over the years.  With that lessening came far more interest in perfecting my knowledge about powerlifting, and how to properly execute the big three, programming for them, and about as much as I could cram into my pint sized brain about it as I could.

As with anything, as you immerse yourself into one endeavor, knowledge of the other will wane.  Or at least fall behind.  Such happened with bodybuilding and bodybuilding style training.  

But over the past two years, my interest in powerlifting began to wane, and my first love of bodybuilding became apparent again.  

The world of bodybuilding I left looked totally different than the one I was getting a glimpse of now.  Which would be expected in the social media age, but there were even more massive differences than one would even expect.  

I mean, I've been aware of men's physique competitions for a while now.  Guys getting onstage without having to show their legs was well....weird to me.  Whether they had leg development or not, it was still a really weird deal to me that someone would be in a contest where "physique" was in the name, and he could have been sitting down in a cubicle chair with grandma's hand made throw blanket on his legs, and still win.  

There were lots of other things as well.  Bikini competitors have taken over competitions where they pack in by the millions and what used to be a day long event of looking at bodybuilding has become a 9 million hour marathon of watching women's bikini divisions where honestly, 90% of them have no reason being up there.

Before I piss off a bunch of bikini competitors, there's tons of physique guys and classic physique guys that really have no business being up there either.  And despite the crybaby whine fest I read online when someone writes this, and goes on and on about how people can do what they want to do (yes they can), and that if they set a goal and go out to achieve it, that there's nothing wrong with that.

And I agree.  But not in this case.  

And the reason is because the guys who dieted their ass off for 10, 12, 14+ weeks (oh and the women that did so too), that had to lose 20, 30, 40+ pounds in order to be in good enough condition to actually compete to win, have to sit backstage all day long while those 12 million bikini competitors go through the 3,255 classes that they all have.  Everyone in the audience does as well.  

It makes for a very long and grueling day.

I mean, you only need attend a show to know this.  But it's even worse, when you're back there waiting all day, wanting to get onstage to compete and have to wait while some chick that I can't tell has lifted a day in her life or dieting for 19 minutes parades around, for basically the sole purpose to say she did a show.  Let me state that PLENTY of bikini competitors were in shape, and looked awesome.  But there were plenty that I couldn't tell spent 12 minutes in a gym and zero time pushing away from the buffet line.  

But at this point I'm semi ranting and that's not what this piece is really about.

As with most paradigm shifts in life, most of us have that one moment, where we decide we're going to make a change.  There is usually some shark bites up to that point (a shark doesn't just eat its prey on the first bite, it takes a "taste" at first, to make sure that hey, this shit is good to eat), that leads to that choice.  

I had a couple.

A few years ago I was attending a meet in Springfield, Missouri and the walk from the hotel to where the meet was being held, was a decent hike.  Walking to the meet, I had to stop in the parking lot and lean against a car to catch my breath.  This was at my heaviest bodyweight ever (I believe I was pushing 290 at this point), and while at the time I made a joke about it, I remember thinking in my head how fucking pathetic it really was.  

On the walk back, same thing.  Had to stop halfway in order to let my back stop aching and catch my breath.  

Those two moments weighed on me for a few days.  I hated it.  I hated how I felt.  I hated training.  I hated how boring and monotonous it had become.  Doing the same shit week in and week out.  A squat, a bench, a deadlift, or some variation of those and I was just bored and fucking burnt.  

But most of all, I just didn't feel like me.  

I grew up playing sports.  For years I was sparring partners for MMA guys, and being in shape was something that always made me feel good.  Being able to do sprints and walk without my  feet hurting and doing high rep leg work was shit I missed.  I also missed feeling lean and athletic and really just overall....muscular.  

Despite the fact that so many guys in powerlifting think they are jacked, most are really just fat guys.  And hey I love my powerlifting friends, but I was one of those fat guys too.  And being fat is not being jacked.  

There's a really big gap between those two things.

And I missed being jacked.  And I hated being fat.

The second shift was when I went in and got my blood work done.  Of course, some people are going to say it's related to gear.  But it wasn't.  I mean, unless a replacement dose of test puts you on pace for an early heart attack and shit, it wasn't that.  It was my eating, my lack of "moving" and those layers and layers of fat that covered what underneath I suppose was muscle. 

I had to fix this.  I don't really give two shits about what I squat or deadlift if I'm headed for my deathbed before 50.  My eating had become undisciplined and my conditioning had taken that utterly stupid fucking motto of "anything over 5 reps is cardio" that is so proudly boasted by the lazy as fuck crowd.

I decided on the drive home from that appointment that things would change that day.  

I sat down and wrote out my diet, wrote out how I would start my base conditioning, and scrapped all the training that was based around powerlifting.  I wanted to have fun again.  I wanted to get back into shape.  I wanted to feel good again, and look good again.  I didn't give a rats fucking ass about hitting some one rep max anymore.  I'm not demeaning powerlifting in any way by writing this.  I am saying this was about MY life.  And my training, and what I wanted and needed to do.

I had zero plans to do a bodybuilding show.  I just knew I was tired of how I felt, and disgusted with how far I had let myself fall in regards to health.

Once I had everything in place, I was machine like in my plan.  I would allow the occasional cheat, but with my goal setting completely rearranged, I rarely got off track.  I didn't even crave junk.  Shit man, I had spent years eating all I wanted.  Anything I wanted.  I'd had enough of it.  I enjoyed having a plan again, and one that was a means to an end.  Or at least, led me into something I could wake up to everyday and be happy about.  And the current state wasn't it.

A few months in I had some convos with my good friend Trevor Kashey who said he'd work my diet for a while if I was open to it and I was more than happy to let him.  Trevor is probably one of the smartest diet guys I know, he just doesn't have the following or name a lot of people have because he likes to stay under the radar.  But to say he knows his shit is like calling the grand canyon a ditch.  

So he shot me over his plan and I put it to work.  

It was boring as fuck.  Same few foods all day long.  And I had zero problem with this.  I'm not one of those people who bitch and cry with their first world problems about not having enough variety in their diet.  Boo fucking hoo.  That really annoys the shit outta me.

Anyway, I ate the same shit everyday for months on end, and I got leaner and leaner and leaner.  And no, don't fucking ask for the diet.  Go hire Trevor, as this is what he does for a living, and get him to help you.  

After a while, being the thinker that I am (yes I do think) I started to make some changes myself as I hit plateaus.  I would let Trevor know this and he never had an issue because he trusted I knew what I was doing and knew my body.  

Once I got down into the 240's, and was in decent enough shape (Trevor still said I was fat), my friend John Meadows chimed in one day to me and said "you're looking pretty good man.  You know, you should do a show."

Let me explain something to you about John.  He's really nice.  No, he really is.  But he has this way of talking you into things like your grandmother does.  Like getting you to plow her a garden or build her a new fence.  But she asks or tells in a way that prods you along to do it, and makes you feel kinda good about doing it.  Until you're knee deep into it, exhausted, realize it's really hard work and and then you think to yourself "fuck you, Grandma."  

Don't worry we'll get back to that.

So I was like "yeah, that'd be cool.  To actually do a show.  Why not?  I grew up on bodybuilding.  Do a fucking show.  Why not?"

So it just so happened that Muscle Mayhem, the biggest NPC bodybuilding show in the midwest was about 10 weeks out at that time.  

Hey, 10 weeks!  That's like, a normal kinda bodybuilding diet type thing.  

Why not? What could be so bad?

Let me preface this with the fact that this of course, was my first show.  So by no means is everything I will write here some veteran penned prose.  This is just my account of what I did, what shit felt like, and what everything was like for me.

Once I registered for the event and paid for my NPC card, I knew I was locked in to doing this.  So I sat down and plotted out my diet and strategy for training and cardio and went to work.

I had a goal.  Not only that, the goal would require me to slather up in the salad dressing in my draws and pose in front of a crowd.  Something I had never done, and was exceptionally nervous about.  But I'm down for doing shit I am nervous or scared of doing because that is indeed how you grow, get better, and reward yourself with new experiences.  And that's what living really is to me.  Doing the shit you never thought you'd do.  

Within reason, I mean.  

My training had already changed months ahead of going into this thing.  I had torn a pec doing dips quite a few months before, and my pressing strength has still never really returned to full capacity since then.  And honestly, that's ok.  It really is.  Which was another great thing about making this transition.  No longer was my "worth" as a lifter based around pounds on the bar.  

The bad thing was, all those years of powerlifting had left me mostly in a forgotten state about performing movements for "bodyparts" in very particular ways.  You see, training to "isolate" (yes I'm aware you can't REALLY isolate off any area completely) a certain muscle group requires far different mechanics and execution than just training to move weight through space.  In fact, because there are so many different movements you need to be able to do in bodybuilding to maximize this effect, the amount of knowledge to do so is infinitely larger than for powerlifting.  

So I had to go back to sort of relearning and unlearning at the same time.  I had to relearn a lot of things that I used to do, and unlearn the powerlifting way of doing a lot of things.  

Routine wise, I had a rotation of movements I cycled through based on what I felt like I needed to improve upon.  Now being 10 weeks out, the truth is, I was going to walk into the show basically with what I had.  Especially once the calories started to drop.  At those points, you're just doing your best to hold on to the mass you've spent all that previous time building.  However at 10 weeks out, calories are still high enough to train exceptionally hard and make some minor improvements here and there.

Since my arms suck, I generally hit arms two or even three times a week for quite a few weeks.

I did an absolute metric shit ton of hamstring work, and even more lunges.  As I felt my hams and glutes were probably quite a bit behind where they needed to be.  

For quite a few weeks, training was usually twice a day, with a conditioning or steady state session thrown in as well.  So it was a LOT of work.  

As the weeks went on, and the calories slowly came out, I reduced training down to once a day, but still trained 6 or 7 days a week for the most part.  Of course, two of those sessions were usually arm training and those are not hard to recover from.  

As the show drew closer, I then reduced volume a bit, but added in some intensity techniques (I was already doing them but not quite as often) for those sets to extend them as far as possible.  That generally meant 1-2 true working sets but with strip sets AND rest/pause work in both sets.  

As calories hit an all time low the last month or so, you are basically a zombie.  And loading plates just isn't something you really want to do, and machine work really becomes your best friend.  This is often why you will see videos of lots of guys in prep mode just doing machine work for the most part.  Barbell and dumbbell work is exceptionally taxing, and when you are dragging ass all day long, moving a pin in a stack takes a lot less energy then moving plates and dumbbells around.  And once again at that point, you're just trying to hold on to whatever muscle you built in the offseason, and machines will suffice just fine for that.  Training is still "hard", relatively speaking.  It's as hard as your mind and body can muster up.  But you make adjustments due to exceptionally low energy reserves. 

Trust me when I tell you that the last few leg workouts often took half the day of me talking myself into doing them.  Surprisingly enough, some of them would be really good.  But the very last few leg training sessions were mentally very hard to get up for.

Diet wise, I didn't get stupid.  I slowly lowered carbs by about 25 grams a day every few weeks.  Down until I got to about 150 grams total a day.  That was my rock bottom intake for prep until peak week, where I did 50-75 grams a day for three days during glycogen depletion.  

My conditioning/cardio work was mostly HIIT style work until those points.  And then it all turned into steady state work because the energy for sprints and training just isn't there anymore.  Or at least, it wasn't for me.  Hell, the steady state cardio was even hard at that point.   

Peak week - the biggest mind fuck ever

So for months on end you slowly watch your body rid itself of excess fat and get to see all the veins and striations come in.  It's slow, but it happens.  

During the week of the show, most people have what is called "peak week" where you manipulate water, sodium, carbs, and protein intake in order to show up your best the day of the show.  The point is to arrive as dry and full as possible.  

Now up until this point, your diet has been really constant throughout the process.  As mentioned earlier, you're just lowering carbs a bit each week so there's nothing dramatic going on.

Well during peak week, all of this shit goes out the window, and you're going to be moving shit around every few days and as you do, your body will change in appearance - sometimes hour to hour.

One hour you might look so amazing you feel ready to hit the stage right then.  56 minutes later, you look like a bloated whale carcass and think "what the fuck, there's no way I'm doing this shit!"

Now everyone has a different method to their peaking, and despite everything you're going to read on the net, there's no "one shoe fits all" here.  I spent plenty of time talking to vets who told me that it took them quite a few shows to nail down their peak week to find what worked best for their body.  Everyone is different, and responds different to different protocols.  What sucks is, when it's your first show, you have zero point of reference.  So you're just going to have to figure out an intelligent protocol to use, that makes sense from a physiological perspective, and roll with it.  

Post first spray tan #toastmode

The best advice I can give here is this - while your body is doing all this weird shit just keep your head on straight.  Understand there is a process to it, and that it's all about the day of the show.  Now about what you look like the day after you did your carb loading and you spill over and look like an Elephant carcass that's been sitting in the sun for a week.

This article could get super long, because I'm exceptionally verbose in my writing so from here I'm just going to give some high level overview thoughts - 

  • Know this about peak week - It's just there to fine tune what you've spent the last 10, 12, 14, 16 weeks doing.  At best, you'll get maybe a 2% better look from it.  But fuck it up, and it reduces it by 10% or more.  I know, I just mind fucked you even more if you plan on doing a show.  But this is why it's important NOT to do some crazy shit during peak week, and that MOST IMPORTANTLY YOU WORK TO GET AS MUCH FAT OFF AS POSSIBLE BEFORE THEN.  So all the weeks preceding it are far more important than that week as a whole.
  • Do NOT obsess over what you are going to weigh on the day of the show.  I didn't.  I was at least smart enough to know that.  No one gives a shit what you weigh onstage.  It's better to weight 10-15 pounds less, and have exceptional conditioning, than to weigh X amount for the sole purpose of saying you weighed that amount for your show.  Not only that, but weighing less, and being leaner will actually make you look bigger than if you're carrying more fat.  I weighed in at 224.9 pounds.  But the truth is, I think I would have been tons better at around 215.  I weighed myself throughout the process and I think I actually looked my "best" a week or two before the show when I was as low as 221.  I may have just been a bit dryer that day.
  • From my understanding however, every show you do, you tend to have the ability to dial bodyfat down lower and lower, so long as you stay on point diet wise.  Maybe this is just about getting smarter with what works for you, and what doesn't.  My guess is, it's a bit of both.
  • To keep continuing on that path - everyone can get into condition.  Conditioning is about willpower and discipline.  If you show up fat on the day of the show it's a reflection of the fact that you did NOT have the discipline to diet properly.  I mean, fuck if you have to just do the "fish and a rice cake" diet every fucking day for 10 weeks then do it.  But there's no excuse for showing up out of shape.  None.  Zero.  If you spillover and look smooth, that's a sign you fucked up your peak.  Forgivable.  Showing up clearly way too fat, where you still look 10 weeks out?  It's a reflection that either you have no idea how to diet (and there's too many resources on the net to help with that, so it's not an excuse), or that you just have no fucking discipline and are mentally weak.  Period.  
  • Speaking of which, you're going to have insane cravings during prep.  I mean that unlike you've never had in your life.  You will want to sneak shit in.  DO NOT DO THIS.  Your body is going to send signals to you to eat with the fury of 40 million Spartan warriors.  And certain times are going to be worse than others.  I can tell you this - when you fight through those times, that is when you will usually see the bigger drops in bodyfat.  So just white knuckle that shit and bear through it.
  • More on cravings - You might possibly find yourself doing shit like, salivating over foods you've never craved before in your life.  I'm not a big cheese fan.  Never was.  However one night at the grocery I stopped in this section where they had these huge blocks of cheese and just looked at them all for about 10 minutes.  I snapped out of it and wondered what the fuck I was doing since I've never really liked cheese.  Cookie however, are a whole different ballgame.  And one dark night at the grocery I stopped in the bakery and opened up a bag of lemon drop cookies and just stood there and smelled them for a while.  Eventually I noticed an elderly lady behind me watching me do this.  She seemed slightly mortified at the whole scene.  Being as cranky as I was, I looked at her, probably fairly menacing, and said..."WHAT?!?!?  I'm in prep!"  Yes, that really happened.  Trust me, you're not quite yourself the last few weeks.
  • Naps saved my life.  I've never napped in my whole life as much as I did the last 6-7 weeks before the show.  Sometimes twice a day.  Which is also because you can't sleep worth a shit at night.  I usually woke up between 3:30 and 4:30 a.m. pissed off that I was wide awake but exhausted.  Sometimes I could go back to sleep, and sometimes I could not.  So I would just go do cardio for 30-45.  Then eat, then know I'd just get a nap in later on in the day.  I also napped to music for some reason.  Usually I like it to be quiet when I sleep, however for some reason I napped better to music playing.  My go to was generally two songs.  "The Last Goodbye" by Black Label Society, and "Hello" by Adele.  Yes I know, you hate that song.  But my girls love it and I would listen to it with them a lot, and the context helped me relax and sleep.  So I don't care what you think.  Since I was the last human on the face of the planet to have heard "Hello" according to my girls, I will link "The Last Goodbye" for you.

  • The last few weeks you give very few fucks.  Laundry takes a back seat.  So does cleaning.  You look down at the clothes pile on the floor and say "fuck it, not picking that up."  And just put your dirty clothes back on.  Why not?  You're going to train 3 times that day anyway, and if you put on clean clothes for every training session you'd be doing laundry all day.  And you don't have time for that because you're also cooking every few hours and napping between that time.
  • I've never made so many grocery store trips in my life.  "Why didn't you stock up, Paul?"  Oh wait, you think I didn't think of that???  I DID!  I stocked up.  But you're still making a ton of trips.  Honestly, it helped me focus as another task to prepare.  And you better be focused.
  • You will be irritable as fuck.  I mean exceptionally so.  So anyone who interacted with me on the net the past few weeks....I'm sorry.
  • Posing - This is basically what cost me a placing (2nd in masters, 3rd in open) in each division.  Posing is hard.  It's not you flexing in your mirror for some Instagram selfies.  You could be shredded to the bone with the most complete development in the world. If you don't know how to properly show it through posing, you will look lesser than the guy next to you who isn't quite as conditioned or as well balanced as you, but can show his strong points better.  Get someone who can teach you how to pose, and start months out.  I waited too long and thought 6 weeks or so would be enough time.  I struggled with getting my hamstrings to contract properly in rear poses.  I also had a painful right hip flexor that didn't always allow me to contract my right quad the entire time during a pose as it would spasm.  Then I would find myself sort of relaxing all over due to it.  Make no mistake, posing requires a different kind of "conditioning" than cardio or lifting.  It's hard work.  And it makes a MASSIVE difference on the day of the show.  These are not "little" things.  These things make a huge difference on competition day.  Get on posing early and learn how to show your strong points and hide your weak ones.  If I do another show I will not let this be something that costs me a placing.  It will be a major priority.
  • During the last few weeks of prep, the exogenous ketones were a fucking life saver, and what helped lift the brain fog from the starvation fatigue.  I'd take them about 30 minutes before training.  On the days I forgot to do so (and you forget a lot in this time), training was like being Ed Norton in the shower in American History X.  On the days I remembered, training was solid.  Of course strength was shit in the last few weeks, but as long as I got the ketones in, I at least had some focus and more energy for  training.  Then they would wear off of course, and I'd be back to being an extra in The Walking Dead.  I would often hit another serving later in the day if I needed it so as not to forget to keep doing things like bathing, talking, breathing, etc.  Funny enough, a few weeks before this I told Allen Cress, who also competes, about them and got him on them and he basically cursed me for not introducing him to these before.  If you are dieting hard these are a life saver.  If you're interested, here's my link for them....
  • http://liftrunbang.pruvitnow.com/  
  • On show day, make sure to pack yourself a blanket, a pillow, some tunes to listen to, a ton of things to eat like normal meals you ate during prep, but also some snacks because it's going to be a long day - but also because  your eating is part of getting fuller leading up to your time on stage.  Again, that's a process you're going to have to figure out.
  • My training partner, my middle daughter, made fun of my diet face everyday for the last month before the show.  Attaining diet face is a badge of honor.  If you don't have it going into the show, you're definitely nowhere near lean enough.  Not even close.  Shoot for looking like Skeletor.  Or the zombie version of Michael Jackson in thriller.  That should be your goal. 
Diet face on point

  • I can't remember what week I was in, but it was close to the end where I could barely function and would often find myself not knowing what day it was, or where it was I was driving to.  During those times my thought always came back to this.  "Fuck you, John Meadows."
  • As bad you are going to feel on the day of the show, remember everyone else probably feels like shit too.  Be courteous.  Everyone is stressed.  Not just you.  
  • I didn't post that I was doing a show on social media.  I didn't want the attention about it, nor was it a bucket list item.  I went in to win.  I trained and dieted as hard as I could.  My learning experience, and there will always be learning experiences in new things you do, was obviously that I should have spent more time working on posing.  But back to the other part - if you ever plan on competing, have the mindset that you are going in to win.  At one point, a guy that was helping me with some stuff told me "Paul, it's a local show.  It's a huge local show, but you're approaching this like it's the Mr. Olympia."  And that let me know my mindset was right.  If you're going to compete, prepare to win.  Don't compete and waste your time and other people's time so you can say you stepped onstage.  Honestly, I abhor that.  I do.  And I don't care if that rubs anyone the wrong way.  I can't understand how someone arrives at that half-ass mentality.  Either be about it, or just don't do it.  If you want to get in shape so you look and feel better and have a goal, don't make the show your goal.  Set up a photo shoot, or look good for a vacation.  If you are going to go into a show, then it IS a competition.  Even if it's a subjective one, it's still a competition.  And you should be going in with the frame of mind to do everything within your power to win.  Period.  If that's not your goal, do something else.
  • I have so many people I want to thank that the list would go on forever.  But some stand out more than others.  Fred, Eugene, Joseph, John, Swede, Robin, Abby, Tiff, Bryan, Brandon, Eddy, Adam, Ryan, Susanna, Larry, True Nutrition.........tons of others I'm sure I am forgetting.  
Was a great experience.  I might do it again.  Who knows?

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