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Guaranteed Ways to Ruin Your Physique
If you believe that “anything worth doing is worth doing to excess,” you’re well on your way to disaster!
Over the years, bodybuilders have shown a marvelous propensity for taking a perfectly good physique and doing something to spoil it, or at least, how it looks.
One problem is that bodybuilders often believe “anything worth doing is worth doing to excess,” and “too much is never enough.” They get anxious. They try too hard. They try the wrong things. As a result, after years of dedicated training and months of intense contest preparation, they do something dumb, snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and live to regret it.
Nor is this syndrome confined to serious, competition bodybuilders. Joe Weider has seen many celebrities and models ruin the quality of their physiques virtually overnight in attempts to do something “extra” to come in looking great for a magazine photo shoot. It doesn’t take much for somebody who looked great the week or day before (and will look terrific again a week later) to show up flat, drawn, and depleted the day of a photo shoot. This commonly happens to bodybuilders at contest time, as well.
Some methods of ruining your physique are easy, quick, and simple; others require a lot of time, hard work, and discipline. But easy or not, the result is generally the same: You don’t look as good as you should, and you don’t achieve the quality of development of which you’re capable.
What exactly are these mistakes that end up ruining so many physiques? Here’s a sampling of the most common:
The human body has limits. It can recover only so fast from hard workouts. Recuperation takes time, and so does building muscle in response to the stimulus of intense workouts. “Overtraining” doesn’t simply refer to training too much and getting tired. It’s a physical state with specific, measurable characteristics. Your strength and recuperative ability are impaired, and your metabolism, ability to build muscle (or maintain the muscle mass you’ve already developed), and even body temperature are affected.
You can become overtrained as a result of doing too many workouts with not enough rest, including too many sets and reps in your workouts, or doing too much aerobic or other non-bodybuilding training in addition to your weight-training sessions.
The cure is simple: To avoid overtraining, make sure you include enough rest days in your schedule (two or three days on, one day off, for example). To recover once you’re in an overtrained state, take a few days off, relax, and give your body a chance to fully recuperate before starting your training again.
Too Much Cardio
Bodybuilders, like just about everybody else nowadays, have turned increasingly to aerobic exercise to help burn off unwanted body fat. Cardiovascular exercise helps in weight control because (1) you burn off fat relatively faster with long-duration, high-rep, light-resistance exercise and (2) this type of exercise kicks your metabolism into a higher gear, meaning you’ll burn calories at an accelerated rate during the periods in which you’re not exercising.
But aerobics isn’t muscle building. On the contrary, excessive endurance exercise tends to reduce your lean body mass. To build and maintain muscle, you need an energy reserve that can be directed into protein synthesis. With high-repetition activities, on the other hand, muscle tissue is often sacrificed to provide additional energy.
You only have so much energy. When you’re already doing one or two weight-training sessions a day, you don’t have a lot of energy left over for aerobics if you want to see any results from your muscle-building program. How much aerobics you can afford to do varies, depending on how much training you’re doing, how hard you’re training, whether or not you’re on a restricted-calorie diet, and so forth. But, for most bodybuilders (or anyone else whose main goal in training is to build muscle mass and strength), 30 to 45 minutes a day is plenty. Much more than this and you unnecessarily increase your risk of overtraining.
Overtraining occurs over a period of time. But you can exhaust your supply of muscle and liver glycogen with a strenuous workout or two—especially if you’re doing a lot of aerobics in addition to your gym training.
Glycogen is stored dietary carbohydrate and it represents one of the prime sources of energy for exercise. When you deplete your glycogen, not only do you lack energy to work out, but your muscles become flat and smaller looking as well.
Glycogen depletion occurs when you work out too hard and too long and don’t eat enough carbohydrate to restore your body’s supply of carbohydrate energy. If you pump up too much or do too much aerobic training before a contest or a photo shoot, the same thing happens. For example, some years ago, a celebrity with a good physique showed up for a Muscle & Fitness shoot looking totally depleted. It turned out he’d played four sets of tennis that morning in the hopes of looking more cut. Instead, he looked flat, drawn, and tired.
It’s true that losing body fat requires a caloric deficit—that you burn up more energy than you take in as part of your daily diet. But allowing your intake of carbs to fall below a certain level is self-defeating. What is that level? The point at which you go into ketosis.
Glycogen not only serves as an excellent source of energy for muscular activity but also is the primary energy source for the brain and nervous system. In addition, the body cannot metabolize fat properly without the presence of carbohydrate.
When you don’t eat enough carbohydrate, your energy levels drop. Your nervous system lacks fuel, so you tend to slow down mentally. Also, your ability to metabolize fat for energy is also diminished. There is a saying that “fat is burned in the furnace of carbohydrate.” Without enough carbs present, fat is incompletely burned and one by-product of this is the production of substances called “ketone bodies.” When your body is producing these ketone bodies, you’re said to be in a state of ketosis.
Diets that deliberately induce ketosis (zero- or very low-carb diets) have gained popularity because (1) they cause a rapid initial loss of water from the body, which can be mistaken for loss of body fat; and (2) there tends to be an associated loss of appetite in this state.
But the so-called advantages of this type of diet are illusory. What a ketosis diet really does is make you lethargic (low energy) and stupid (because of inadequate fuel for the brain and nervous system), and it prevents efficient metabolism of body fat. Therefore, it makes sense that anyone on a serious diet—whether bodybuilders preparing for contests or individuals on general weight-loss programs—should make certain to avoid ketosis by including a sufficient amount of carbohydrate in their daily diets.
Incidentally, if you’re on a restricted-calorie diet and want to make sure you’re eating enough carbohydrate, there’s an easy way to determine this. You’ll find a product called “Ketostix” at almost any drugstore. These are test strips that turn pink when dipped in the urine of an individual who is in ketosis. When the strips don’t change colour, no matter how strictly you’re dieting, you know you’re eating enough carbohydrate.
Eating too little carbohydrate isn’t the only diet mistake you can make. Eating too few calories can also be a problem. The body needs sufficient food, not just for fuel, but also to build and sustain body mass and as raw materials for any number of complex metabolic processes. Depriving the body of necessary nutrients—including amino acids, vitamins, and minerals—can have a seriously deleterious effect on how you look, how you feel, your energy levels and your overall health and well-being.
The more extreme your diet is, the more difficult it is not to lose muscle mass along with body fat. Not only that, but when you reduce your caloric intake past a certain point, your metabolism tends to compensate by slowing down in response, making it that much more difficult to lose body fat efficiently.
Overdieting makes your body think you’re in a state of famine. When no food is available over a period of time, it makes sense that the metabolism tends to slow down drastically to prevent starvation. If you aren’t able to obtain sufficient energy from your daily diet, the body protects itself by conserving all the energy it can. Additionally, in a famine situation, your body will increasingly try to burn muscle for energy rather than fat. After all, fat represents long-term survival, while muscle is the substance that burns energy, which can be lethal in times of famine. Metabolizing muscle not only gives your body a source of energy but also gradually cuts down further on your expenditure of calories.
Obviously, the goal of bodybuilding-type weight training, whether you’re interested in physique competition, building the best body possible, or just working out for general fitness, is to create a strong, healthy, and muscular physique. Starvation isn’t the way to accomplish this. Neither is malnutrition. To look strong, fit, and healthy, you should be strong, fit, and healthy. And that means making sure you obtain sufficient calories and nutrients in your daily diet.
Bodybuilders like being big. That’s why they train in the first place. Too often, however, they confuse putting on bulk (fat and water as well as muscle) with simply increasing their lean body mass. That can be a problem, as we’ve seen, because the more weight you try to lose in a relatively short time, the higher proportion of this loss in body mass will likely be muscle.
Nonetheless, it’s a fact that bodybuilders as a group are the most effective dieters on the planet. Even diets that are unsuccessful in bodybuilding terms (for example, where the bodybuilder gets lean but not cut and defined) are extremely successful compared to the efforts of most people dieting for weight loss.
But bodybuilders often have trouble maintaining this weight loss after the diet for the same reason that other dieters do: Their contest-preparation diets are too strict and severe for them to stay on indefinitely. And once they go off the specific weight-loss diet on which they’re relying to get in contest shape, they don’t replace it with some type of long-term weight-control program.
If you lose weight on a diet, it’s almost inevitable you’ll gain that weight back once you go off the diet. Therefore, bodybuilders, or anybody else interested in year-round weight control, need to rely on some kind of weight-control program all the time. This kind of diet has to be something you can live with, something that doesn’t make you feel deprived. Actually, it’s more a matter of control than deprivation. You have to have some clear idea of what and how much you’re eating to have a chance of permanent weight control. Eating low fat whenever possible is important. So is eating many small meals instead of a few big ones. And so is keeping a general food diary at least some of the time to keep your eating program on track.
But however you achieve this, remember that the more you gain, the more you have to lose, and the more you have to lose, the harder it will be to maintain your lean body mass while lowering your overall body fat levels.
In recent years, bodybuilders have learned that drinking a lot of water not only is healthy but also increases the efficiency of a wide variety of metabolic processes involved in building muscle and burning fat. But when bodybuilders are trying to get lean and defined for contests, guest appearances. or photo shoots, they do an about-face and suddenly start to see water as the enemy, believing that, to look their best, they need to eliminate as much water from the body as possible.
Actually, the idea that “holding water” is the result of too much fluid in the body—fluid that needs to be “flushed out” somehow—is a myth that is prevalent everywhere from backstage at the Mr. Olympia contest to the most elegant Beverly Hills health spa.
In actual fact, water retention isn’t a problem that occurs when there’s too much fluid in the body, Rather, it’s one of having too much water in the wrong place—namely, under the skin. In fact, the major cause of this happening isn’t too much fluid, but too little! Dehydration is actually a major cause of water retention, but no matter how often you tell bodybuilders this. many have trouble believing it.
The body is mostly water. Muscles are more than 75 percent water. Water flows through us all our lives like a river through its bed. As long as we’re able to drink enough water, the body has no reason to retain fluid. It’s only when it senses a shortage of fluid that the body is motivated to hold onto that which it already has. Just as famine causes the body to reduce its expenditure of energy, drought causes it to retain as much fluid as possible.
Therefore, bodybuilders who stop drinking water several days before a contest are defeating their own purpose. Their muscles tend to shrink as they lose fluid, and then the body begins to retain fluid under the skin to protect against what it perceives as a condition of drought. What happens next? In too many cases, bodybuilders then further upset their fluid balance by using diuretics. This not only further shrinks their muscles but also can cause serious metabolic and health problems. Most followers of the sport are aware that dehydration plus diuretics was involved in the death of a top pro bodybuilder last year. So dehydration is not only ineffective as a means of getting hard and ripped but also can be positively lethal.
What’s the alternative? Keep drinking fluids and allow the excess to cycle out of the body naturally. The night before a contest, a competitor might cut fluid intake in half for a few hours to make sure any excess has a chance to be eliminated, but the following morning, he or she has to begin drinking again or risk dehydration and subsequent water retention.
Sodium is a necessary and valuable mineral. Without enough sodium in your body, your electrolyte balance is disturbed (the ratio of potassium inside the cell membranes to sodium outside), your strength is diminished, and you risk painful muscular cramping.
However, sodium has gotten a bad rap in bodybuilding. This probably began back in the 1970s, when using anabolic steroids was still legal and a number of competitors started using them to excess. The result of this (unwise, legal or not) practice was prodigious water retention, which is a common side-effect of many anabolic steroids. To combat this, the bodybuilders began using powerful diuretics to flush this unwanted fluid out of the body.
What does this have to do with sodium? Well, it’s certainly a fact that excess sodium in the body causes water retention. However, in normal circumstances, any excess sodium would be flushed out as water cycles through the system. But when you’re dehydrated (as you are when using diuretics), this doesn’t happen. Dehydration causes the body to slow down its output of urine. At this point, any sodium in the system tends to be concentrated. And any additional sodium introduced into the body tends to produce a disproportionate effect when it comes to further water retention.
In other words, ingesting even small amounts of sodium becomes a real problem when you’re dehydrated. So bodybuilders taking diuretics quickly learned to eliminate every possible bit of sodium from their diets. But if you’re not dehydrated, if you have plenty of fluid in your body, normal amounts of sodium present no problem at all. So bodybuilders who know enough not to dehydrate, limit their water intake, or take strong diuretics have no real problems with sodium at all and can maintain a normal mineral intake.
Again, to be absolutely sure that a minimum of fluid is retained under the skin, for insurance’s sake, a bodybuilder might well cut down on sodium intake somewhat the day before a contest. But the idea of doing without sodium for days, much less for weeks, is a very bad one.
We live in a kind of “age of drugs,” and many kinds of substances can cause problems to individuals trying to maximize the development of their physiques.
One category of drugs is anabolics, which includes steroids, growth hormone, and other substances, almost all of which are illegal under the rules of the IFBB and its affiliated national federations. Unfortunately, most bodybuilders who experiment with anabolics do so without supervision from a physician, so when serious problems occur, they’re frequently not aware of them until much too late. Some of the more serious side effects are relatively rare but can be devastating to health and the development of a physique.
Then there’s the problem of diet drugs. Anyone trying to lose weight, bodybuilder or not, can be tempted to use chemical substances they believe will suppress appetite, speed up the metabolism, or both. The drugs involved are often some sort of amphetamine, Benzedrine, or some other type of appetite-depressing “speed.” These substances have very powerful effects on the entire body and serious psychological effects as well, and they have additional drawbacks when it comes to bodybuilding. Being on diet pills usually results in your losing muscle as well as fat, and training while under the influence of this type of drug can drastically increase the risk of injury.
Additionally, all sorts of other so-called “recreational” drugs may tempt bodybuilders from time to time. Cocaine is a stimulant that also depresses appetite. Alcohol, marijuana, and various kinds of downers decrease stress and create a temporary feeling of well-being. But all of these substances have a more or less deleterious effect on the body, and the more you use and the longer this use continues, the worse it gets.
Although the bodybuilding public is aware of only a few of the most extreme cases, there have been any number of would-be champions in the sport who have never achieved their potential and successful competitors who haven’t been able to sustain their careers due to drug and/or alcohol abuse. You’d be surprised to hear some of the names involved. Being a champion athlete is no protection against addiction, and no bodybuilder who abuses drugs should expect to achieve any long-term success in the sport.
Serious athletes in all sports often look for some kind of edge or shortcut to give them an advantage over their competition. But bodybuilders should be aware that building a superior physique and maintaining it over the course of a competitive career is only possible when you protect your body from the damage and deterioration resulting from subjecting it to the abuses listed above.