By Joseph Crevier
Bodybuilding dates back to the days of the Greek philosopher Socrates, when strength and physique were viewed as almost godlike features.
It’s no coincidence statues of Greek Gods like Zeus and Poseidon are so sculpted – strength equaled power.
But that doesn’t hold true today. Bodybuilding has become a niche sport that often gets a bad rap from outsiders who don’t understand it.
“If your network or family around you don’t understand, it could be a lonely world because as you get closer to the show, every minute of your day is calculated,” said former USC football player and bodybuilder Rob Kean.
Bodybuilding is a lifestyle. It’s not easy. People do it for all sorts of reasons. For Kean, the competitive nature that he developed in his college football days pushed him toward bodybuilding.
Pete DeAnda ventured into bodybuilding for a different reason.
“I think because I was a chubby kid, it made me self-conscious, so I started training and got interested in how nutrition and weight training can change your body drastically,” said DeAnda, CEO of Nutrition Zone supplement stores in New Jersey.
Whatever one’s reasoning is for bodybuilding, the sport boils down to two main factors: diet and training.
Bulking and cutting
If you ask any bodybuilder, they’ll tell you that lifting isn’t the hardest part, it’s the dieting. A bodybuilder’s diet is extremely structured and varies depending on his or her goals.
An active participant in bodybuilding competitions has a bulking season and a cutting season. While bulking, a male bodybuilder could consume as many as six or seven thousand calories per day, depending on their body type.
Kean, who has a ectomorph body type, struggles to put on muscle mass and maintain his weight.
“Somebody with my body type, if you really want to get big, you probably want to do a tour of drive-thru windows,” he said.
This is called a dirty bulk, meaning the source of calories comes from foods high in fats and calories like a fast food burger and fries. Those with an endomorph or mesomorph body type lean toward a clean bulk with one or two cheat days per week. A clean bulk is utilized to avoid bloating and swelling throughout the body.
An ectomorph typically has smaller joints and is naturally thin and lanky. Kean said there’s probably less than 20 true ectomorphs in the sport of bodybuilding on a national level today, as the sport is best suited for endomorphs and higher-end mesomorphs who are naturally built bigger.
When a competition is approaching, though, bodybuilders begin to cut fat and calories about 16 weeks out, although that time period varies by the individual. During this period, caloric intake decreases, while the bodybuilder still eats around seven meals per day.
Matthew Headdon, a trainer at MUV Fitness in Forest Acres, who has participated in competitions, said he would eat a meal consisting of chicken, shrimp, rice and zucchini in the beginning stages of a cutting period, slowly cycling out the carbohydrates as the weeks progressed. Headdon said as the competition approached, his carbohydrate intake would dip to below 50 grams per day, causing the muscles to flatten as water is pumped out.
“It’s all about the food; it’s everybody’s weakness,” Headdon said.
For women, dieting is even more important during this stage. Women burn fat more slowly than men, so their diet must be even stricter. MUV Fitness trainer Marina Hoffmann is weeks away from a competition and has already begun cutting out carbohydrates and fats completely.
Hoffmann relies on five cups of coffee per day and energy drinks during this period, as carbohydrates and fats are the bodies normal source of energy. This is an agonizing time for bodybuilders, summing up their emotions during it as ‘hangry," a combination of hunger and anger.
Alcohol is also off limits for a bodybuilder looking to put on muscle, according to Headdon.
“Alcohol is estrogenic, it drops your testosterone and it also stops protein synthesis, so all that protein you’re taking in isn’t doing anything,” Headdon said.
This type of dieting is not the healthiest, but it’s not really intended to be.
“Jay Cutler will tell you ‘bodybuilding is not about health,' it’s about aesthetics,” Headdon said.
Cutler is perhaps the most renowned modern-day bodybuilder, winning the Mr. Olympia title four times in five years.
What’s bodybuilding without the training?
Like the diet aspect, training contains two main categories: cardio and weight training. The emphasis on these two aspects vary based on the individual’s body type and what point they’re at in the process.
Kean dispelled the stereotype that bodybuilders spend hours every day lifting weights. In fact, it’s the opposite. Kean said he spends about 45 minutes to an hour in the gym each day actually lifting weights.
“I try to get the craziest pump I possibly can,” he said. “The magic’s happening when you’re at home laying on the couch.”
Blood is pumped into the muscles when training, bringing the nutrients from any food and supplements along with it, which are then absorbed when the workout is completed. Kean finds that less rest between sets leads to a better pump, resulting in a short, high-intensity workout.
A workout popular in the weightlifting community is the five-by-five. This means five sets of five reps at a heavy weight. This technique is utilized mostly during bulking season because it adds strength fast and is most useful with core exercises like deadlifts, squats and bench presses.
These exercises also “fry fat” because of their intensity, according to Headdon, and are vital for male bodybuilders, as they boost testosterone levels. Headdon cut off 5.5 percent body fat in five weeks without cardio, simply by mixing these exercises into his daily routines.
It’s not as simple for female bodybuilders, however.
“The females that do true bodybuilding have to work that much harder,” Headdon said. “Female bodybuilding is pretty freakin’ rad because their bodies don’t want to hold muscle.”
And Hoffmann confirmed that point. She said her daily routine consists of a morning hour of cardio, followed by a training session, then another hour of cardio at night.
The heaviest lifting for a bodybuilder is during the bulking stage, while cardio and reps are increased during the cutting period.
Of course, every bodybuilder is different and their routine will vary. But the one constant in bodybuilding is the process. Bodybuilders say they dedicate their lives to their craft and push their physical and mental limits every single day.
“It’s definitely not a bottle of steroids and a couple workouts, there’s so much more to it,” Kean said.
And for those who challenge that opinion, Kean has one answer: “come join me for a couple days.”