“What goes up, must come down.” When ‘70’s music sensation Billy Preston immortalized those words in his catchy tune, he must have been thinking about some of the professional bodybuilders gracing the posing dais these days. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s in vogue again to “bulk up” or should I say, “pork out” in the so-called off-season. This was a common practice from the 1950’s through the 1970’s, but I thought that common sense had prevailed during the bodybuilding renaissance of the 1980’s and that bulking up was as passé as bell-bottom jeans. I was wrong! These days, you’d think that reverse anorexia and dysmorphia were spreading like SARS in the pro bodybuilding community. I mean, in the off season, some of these guys look like they are pitching their tents at the local all-you-can-eat buffet!
Let’s look at the facts. You DO have to eat extra calories and protein to pack on quality muscle. But bloating yourself up with a lot of extra pounds of fat and fluid doesn’t just look bad, it hurts your health, not to mention not doing a thing for gaining muscle mass. My philosophy is that you can get just as BIG as the guys that are porking out, without overeating. That means you can stay leaner and healthier, not to mention looking better, year-round . I mean, who wants to look like a porker for 9 months out of the year? I want to be able to proudly display the results of my training efforts when I have to take my shirt off, without making excuses for my condition! And now, with summer just around the corner, you can’t afford NOT to look good!
Here are some thoughts on those things that help me to stay in my best shape year round, while still gaining muscle…
Tip #1: Consistency is at the heart of any successful program, regardless of what your bodybuilding goals are. The surest way to succeed is one day at a time. That means planning your meals in advance, so that you’re not caught off guard with nothing to eat at regularly scheduled feeding times. That also means planning your training on a calendar, so that at a glance you can see not only you’re your planned workouts are, but the “big picture” ; how all of your workouts are fitting together over the course of a month. It’s amazing what this little habit has done for me. My calendar holds me accountable. At the beginning of each day I look at what body parts I am training that day. At the end of the day, I put a check mark on the calendar, indicating that I have succeeded. And at the end of month, I can tally up how many workouts I did for different body parts, and make adjustments if I need to. If you don’t do this, you are setting yourself up for haphazard results: “Fail to plan, plan to fail.”
Tip #2: Another success factor is having a good training partner. Yes, that’s right. A training partner can help keep you consistent by showing up and helping you stay motivated. Just make sure that you choose a reliable partner that shows up and is truly interested in working out, not wasting time yapping or visiting. It’s more fun training with someone than by yourself, and it will help to keep you on track when you know that you are accountable to someone. What’s that? You say workouts aren’t supposed to be fun? Then get a partner because misery loves company. Consistency is key when it comes to bodybuilding. Training partners help.
Tip #3: Staying lean year round is also easier when you commit to exercising every day. This is a mentality that has served me well. Now, I don’t lift weights every day, but I do some form of exercise every day. On days that I don’t lift, I do aerobics, typically riding the stationary bike, swimming, or running. (Running to the fridge doesn’t count.) Doing some form of activity every day stimulates your metabolism and helps you burn unwanted calories. It also improves recovery time from workouts, as long as it’s not overdone. That’s because anytime you exercise, your blood circulates through your body, bringing muscle-building nutrients and oxygen to your muscles, and improving your body’s ability to eliminate waste products that are generated during weight training.
Tip #4: When it comes to weight training, keep your workouts short and intense to stimulate muscle growth along with your metabolic rate. I find that working out at a fast pace helps me get leaner and more muscular. But how fast is fast enough? I usually perform a set, then rest only long enough to catch my breath before beginning the next set. In that manner, I don’t exceed my cardiovascular capacity by not resting long enough, nor do I let my muscles regain all of their strength before starting the next set. After all, my goal is to fatigue my muscles more and more with each succeeding set until they hit what I call the “growth threshold.” The growth threshold is the point at which the level of fatigue in the muscle is high enough that a growth response is elicited. Your goal during a workout should be to fatigue the target muscles you are training more and more with each succeeding set. In other words, you want the muscles to progressively get more and more tired out, until you reach a point where the muscles are functionally “worn out.” What you are doing is creating overload in the muscles. Creating overload is a good thing, because this is a stress that your muscles are temporarily unable to handle. Signals are sent to the brain that set up the compensation, or growth process during the post workout period, so that in future workouts, you can handle the increased workload.
Tip #5: Rely on your weight training workouts to stimulate your metabolism and keep you lean. Weight training stimulates muscle tissue and muscle tissue is the most metabolically active tissue in your body, burning large amounts of calories, even at rest. If muscle is the currency of the bodybuilder, this is definitely where the “rich get richer.” You see, the more muscle you carry the more calories you burn. The more calories you burn the leaner you get. Get the picture? Train with weights 4-5 times per week. Do cardio on your off days, and on days when you can tag them onto the tail end of your weight training. Personally I like a two-on, one-off, three-on, one-off program, alternating push muscles (chest, shoulders, triceps), pull muscles (back and biceps) and legs. Abs and calves get worked three times per week. (Click here to take a look at my routines.)
Tip #6: Cardio is fine for the heart, lungs and circulation, but do little for body fat levels and overall body composition when compared to the combined effects of weight training and a high protein, controlled-calorie diet. Aerobics are great to improve your recovery from workouts and keep your heart and lungs in good shape for those 400 pound squats!
Tip #7: When it comes to fueling yourself for those 400 pound squats, there’s nothing that beats small frequent feedings during the day. You should be eating like a bull, and not a pig, if you want to get big and lean. Bulls graze all day long. Bulls carry a lot of muscle. Pigs eat too much at one time. Pigs carry a lot of fat. Pretty elementary, right? Eating excess calories does not “force feed” your muscles at all. Once your muscles have all the nutrients and calories they need from a meal, excess calories are deposited as body fat. By eating small, frequent meals during the day, you will stimulate your metabolism more, especially when they are foods that are high in protein, such as chicken breasts, egg whites, fish, turkey, and protein drinks. Protein is a metabolically intensive macronutrient, requiring more calories to digest than carbohydrates or fats.
Tip #8: Eating smaller meals will also help to keep your stomach smaller and tighter. Abdominal distension is a reality for those who are in the habit of gorging themselves. Over time, the stomach stretches. To compound matters, over-eating can result in excess intra-abdominal fat, which further exacerbates the “beer gut” look. Check out the bellies on some of the current pro bodybuilders. Where did the tight, wasp-like waists that the bodybuilders of the 70’s and 80’s go?
Tip #9: Eating smaller meals throughout the day will be easier when you pack your meals ahead of time. Don’t wait until it’s time to eat and start scrounging up food. That leads to no-win situations where your appetite gets the best of you. I usually cook up a bunch of potatoes, yams, rice, beans and chicken breasts on the weekends, then bag up individual serving size portions in Zip Lock bags and freeze them. Then, at the beginning of each weekday, I pull what I need from the freezer, and pack it into my cooler along with fresh fruit and water. I’ll throw I a couple of Lean Body® RTD’s or MRP’s for extra measure, and I am off to the races. I like to eat my own food whenever I can, because that way, I know that I am not getting any hidden fat calories, which is often the case with restaurant food.
Tip #10: Some last words on your diet: Don’t deprive yourself. Look, you can’t eat everything you want, whenever you want because you’ll end up looking like a sack of guano. But, on the other hand, if you constantly deprive yourself of every single food that catches your fancy, you’ll derail your dieting efforts, and you’ll end up binging on the wrong foods, which is an unhealthy behavior. The key word here is behavior, and when it comes to the psychology of eating, what we want to develop are sustainable behaviors, or habits. Food deprivation or the perception of food deprivation is as much a mental thing as it is a physical thing.
Tip #11: Often times, the more you deny yourself a food, the more the craving for that thing grows. That’s why I recommend a cheat meal at least once a week. I can stick with my diet all week if I know that I can splurge a little at one meal on the weekend. That doesn’t mean I scarf down a half gallon of ice cream and a pizza in one sitting either. I always only eat until I am comfortably full, and then I stop. What happens if I crave something during the week? One of two things. First, I make sure that I eat a meal with some protein in it, then I wait an hour. That usually normalizes my blood sugar levels, which is often at the root of any sort of cravings. If that doesn’t work, I go to step two; choosing a healthier alternative to what I want. For example, if I crave ice cream, I will have a low-fat frozen yogurt. If I crave a candy bar, I will have one of those delicious Lean Body® GOLD bars with nuts and caramel. Heck, I’m getting 30 grams of protein and only a few measly grams of sugar, so why not?
Try some of these ideas and keep your physique leaner as you pack on the muscle. You’ll feel better and look better year round. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in one day, so stick with your program. Nothing worthwhile is accomplished over night, and it takes consistency to keep your physique sharp.
Yours for a Lean Body,
Your Lean Body Coach™
About the Author: One of the world’s most well-known and celebrated bodybuilding legends, Lee Labrada holds 22 professional bodybuilding titles, including the IFBB Mr. Universe. He is one of few pro bodybuilders in history to consistently place in the top four at the Mr. Olympia competition (the “Super Bowl” of bodybuilding) for seven consecutive years—a feat he shares with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
He has appeared on the covers of more than 100 bodybuilding and fitness magazines and has been featured on CNBC, FOX, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and ESPN as a fitness and nutrition expert.
Lee was also inducted into the Bodybuilding Hall of Fame, is an Internationally known best selling fitness author, and holds a Bachelors of Science Degree in Civil Engineering. For more about Lee please visit his page here: Lee Labrada’s page.