A Review of Arnold
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A review of Arnold's diet
shows that the fundamentals of eating really haven't changed much in the last
30 years, at least for those at the top.
"I don't want to get too comfortable. I'd
rather stay hungry." - Arnold Schwarzenegger
Times have changed since
Arnold Schwarzenegger ruled the bodybuilding world throughout the '70s. Once
upon a time, before we'd been privy to countless "revolutionary" diets and
"Hasta la vista" was still associated with trips to Acapulco, Arnold was just a
bigno, hugeguy in a fringe sport who occasionally showed up as a
guest on late-night television. But an analysis of his diet, considered 'crazy'
back in the day, shows that perhaps he and his Speedo-wearing buddies were a
few decades ahead of their time.
As an athlete growing up,
I was starved for good information on sports nutrition. Back then, we all had
nutrition as a subject at school. And while it wasn't exactly accurate by
today's standards (do we really need 3 servings from the red meat food group?),
at least we learned that food has calories made of proteins, carbohydrates, and
fats and that how much of each you eat affects your performance. But
misunderstandings were rife. Perhaps fueled by inaccurate science or industry
lobbyists, it was hard to find the straight dope on what an athlete was
supposed to eat. High carb, low carb, TV dinners, tuna casserole, or Space Food
Stickseven my coaches didn't know what we should eat. One thing seemed
certain, however: Arnold and his cronies had it all wrong. They were nothing
but muscle-bound charlatans, and soon enough their muscle would all "turn to
fat" and they'd be dead of heart attacks well before middle age.
A quick cut to 2004, and
Arnoldwell into middle agedidn't look worse for the wear while
speaking to the Republican National Convention. Slimmed down substantially
since his Terminator days, he looked fit, trim, and vivacious. And he's not an
anomaly. I recently saw Lou "The Incredible Hulk" Ferrigno at the gym. He
hasn't gotten fat, nor has he trimmed down. Somewhere past 50, Louie still
looks a lot like, well, the Incredible Hulk. Certainly, someone was wrong about
their diet. So just what did those guys eat? Let's take a quick glance back in
Protein. When I was
a kid, my cousin, Chris, a bodybuilder, taught me about eating a lot of
protein. "Arnold says you need a gram per each pound of body weight," he said
on our way to an all-you-can-eat fish buffet. In fact, Arnold recommended .5
g/lb. per day for "average" people and 1 g/lb. for athletes. Pretty consistent
to what you'll hear today.
Whole foods. I
lived in LA, so occasionally I'd get firsthand reports on Arnold. My friend Ray
once got to have dinner with him. Hearing that he ate "a huge amount of beef"
was no surprise, having been filled in by my cousin, but I did learn something
new when Ray told me that he said that "bread was poison." Arnold wasn't
anti-carb, except when cutting up for a competition. But he was pro whole
foods, acknowledging that nature knew how to make foods more digestible than
scientists did. What they knew was how to make foods change color. This simple,
or rather archaic, rule to live by was an anathema to a society in the grips of
the prepared food revolution. Arnold was having none of it.
Many meals a day.
"You see something, you eat it," said another of my bodybuilding friends to
someone who'd asked how he got that big. "You eat all the time." Arnold knew
three squares a day wasn't going to cut it, no matter what the FDA was
championing. And it wasn't just the fact that he needed 5,000 calories per day
to maintain his size. They knew about the importance of insulin spikes,
digestion times, and other variables that could be helped by eating more
frequently. Smaller meals allowed you to train harder. The harder you could
train, the better the results, provided you had enough fuel in the tank.
Even my athletic friends thought I was weird for the concoctions I'd throw into
a blender in high school. But the boys down at Gold's Gym said the best way to
get enough nutrients was to buy bulk protein and make shakes, so I immediately
jumped on the bandwagon. These were often clumpy and none too tasty, a far cry
from oh, say, Beachbody's Whey Protein Powder shakes. We, however, did what
Arnold did and would have happily quaffed down motor oil if someone had told us
it would make us strong.
Fats. Arnold didn't
shy away from fat, recommending good fats, like nuts, but also bad fats that
you get from dairy and red meat, things he ate in abundance. But certainly
these recommendations had to factor in his size and the amount of exercise he
did. If you do this, his level of fat intake no longer seemed outrageous. More
and more we are realizing the importance of fatty acids. And not just omega-3s.
Even saturated fats, which can be deadly if consumed in excess, are essential
for maximal testosterone production and not something you want to cut out
The bottom line is that
this little group of fringe athletes probably understood the relationship
between proper eating and human performance better than anyone in the world,
and that the answers could be relatively simple.
"Exercising without eating
the proper foods is like plowing a field and not putting any seed into the
ground," said Arnold. "Nothing would grow out of it."
This little bit of
validation from those oiled-up freaks posing on the beach is more a lesson in
the obvious. Arnold and the boys lived in a cutting-edge world of trial and
error. Their eating habits reflected this approach. They made in retrospect
what look like sound scientific decisions, even though they conflicted with the
conventions of the day. Their approach is an example of the fact that the most
effective way to accomplish something is not to wait around for others.
Sometimes the answer is to just get out there and do it.