MuscleMag - July 2001 / Issue 229

Poppa's Principles
Part Two: Nutrition
By: Mark "Poppa" Lewis

Welcome to the second installment of Poppa's Principles. You'll remember from the first article of this series that these principles are a collection of helpful hints for bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts along the lines of, but not to be confused with, the famed Weider Principles. Collected from all over, including my 2O-year involvement in bodybuilding and fitness, they can make a tremendous difference in the results you achieve from your bodybuilding endeavors. I have separated them into the categories of training, nutrition and motivation. Here we go with Part Two: Nutrition.

These hints are not listed in any particular order because one can be as helpful and important as any other. Several of the principles in this second installment on nutrition will be recognizable from the first article on training. I propose to relate these "repeats" to each topic as needed. So let's get right to it!

Read food labels from every angle. Maybe I lied about the equality of these principles. This first tip could be the most helpful hint of all. (But read the whole article anyway!) The new food labels that have recently appeared on most foods can be confusing. The government allows enough latitude that food manufacturers can make some very misleading claims. For example, at a quick glance you can easily mistake the percent daily value of fat for the amount of fat in a product. Also, manufacturers can alter serving sizes to state on the label that a food item contains "Total fat -0 g." (That's zero grams of fat per serving.) A fat rating of zero can actually contain 1/2 gram of fat per serving by law. However, the average amount of food eaten atone sitting may be many times the stated single-serving size. That difference can increase the total fat you are eating by a hefty amount.

The American Heart Association recommends that no more than 30 percent of your daily calories come from fat. (I think 20 percent or less is better for both your health and your appearance.) The best way to figure out how much fat you are consuming is to use this formula based on the food label listings (number of fat grams per serving x 9).

e.g.     100 calories in a serving
         1 gram of fat per serving
         1 x 9 = 9 calories
         9 divided by total number of calories per
           serving equals percent of calories from fat.
i.e.     9 divided by 100 = 9% of calories per serving are from fat.

Reading food labels from every angle doesn't involve only the nutrition info on the back or side panel. You need to pay close attention to the entire label. For example, packaged meats labeled 99 percent fat-free on the front should set off an alarm right away. I always get a kick out of 99 percent fat-free ham. Aren't fat and ham pretty much synonymous? You can bet a label like this indicates a manipulation of serving size or a product that is largely water by volume.

The time to read food labels is before you purchase a product. I'm sure the vast majority of you read the cereal box while you're eating your cereal, but then it's a bit late to find out that you bought a high-sugar, low-nutrition product. A wealth of information is available on food labels to the discerning reader. Space precludes detailing all that is to be learned from these labels. That would take an entire series of articles.
Let's just say that once you start reading those labels, you are in for a few surprises!

Eat, drink and be wary. Most people eat two types of food - whatever is available at the moment and whatever tastes good. You should take a special interest in the foods you eat. You need to know what your food is composed of and what effects it will have on you. I feel that food is one of the great joys of life, but you have to learn to eat to live, not live to eat. I admit I partake of some foods just for taste, but these are few and far between. I prefer a lot of bang for the buck when it comes to nutrition. That means foods high in nutrition but low in fat and calories. Eating indiscriminately is a sure fire way to sabotage your training efforts.

To take the fat off your body, take the fat out of your diet. We all know that eating too much fat can make you fat, but don't ever aim for a zero-fat diet. Some fat is essential to good health. In fact it is essential for life itself. Most folks get way too much fat in their daily diets, so lower the amount of fat you eat on a daily basis. Remember that you must consider other factors to make your diet more healthful. You can't overlook total calories consumed when trying to lean out and eat well.

Eat less fat, less sugar and more fiber. As I said, you need to eat some fat, but you probably should be eating less than you currently do. The same goes for sugar. Too much simple sugar, in whatever form, at one sitting sets up your system to store fat, so cut back on simple sugars and lean more toward complex and fibrous carbs. (And be careful because simple sugar has many names when used as an ingredient in foods. Look for any terms ending in "-ose" or with the word syrup in the name.)

Eating more fiber will allow you to consume a greater volume of food as you lean out your physique. You'll also greatly improve your health.

Eat close to nature. An apple is better for you than apple juice. Fresh veggies are better than canned veggies. Unprocessed foods are generally more nutritious than processed foods. Eating foods that are as close to the way nature made them as possible will increase your fiber intake while lowering your intake offat, sugar and additives.

Remember balance, variety and moderation. Maintaining good health requires a balanced mixture of assorted nutrients all consumed in moderation. To grow from those hard workouts, you need to eat a variety of foods. A diet that limits variety can severely affect your health. In the 60's the brown rice diet was quite popular. I never tried it, but my understanding is that, although you ate only brown rice, the quantity was unlimited. That concept tossed moderation out the window right along with variety. Even though this diet would keep hunger at bay while causing weight loss, the downside was boredom. And, oh yeah, a few people died of malnutrition! They didn't starve, mind you. Starvation indicates insufficient food. Malnutrition is a lack of the proper nutrients due to an absence of variety in the diet. Remember the words balance, variety and moderation.

Supplement with care. Even when you're eating a good balance of the right foods, you should supplement to some degree. I firmly believe in a daily multiple vitamin/mineral supplements for everyone. Because of the way foods are shipped, stored and prepared, some nutrients get lost in the shuffle. You need to sup­plement just to be sure you get all the necessary nutrients.

Then you have the special cases. I feel you ladies should consider extra calcium as a preventive measure for osteoporosis. Make sure you get enough vitamin D so that your body can assimilate that calcium. If you are in the menstrual years, extra iron might be a good idea. Some illnesses can also be helped with vitamin/mineral therapy.

Now we come to all the supplements you see advertised in the magazines. (I'll save the editors some trouble here by clearly stating this is my opinion and not necessarily the opinion of anyone else connected with this magazine.) I'm not a big believer in most bodybuilding supplements. I think too many people use them in place of whole foods, and that's a mistake. Though several good supplements do work, the cost often out­weighs the effectiveness. Many years ago I sold Rheo Blair's protein powder, but I no longer believe protein powders are all that necessary. There are cheaper ways to add to your protein and calorie counts. Now the only nutritional product we sell at The Dungeon is MET-Rx. But then again, I don't view MET-Rx as a supplement. It is a food, which should form the basis of one's diet. I don't want this to become an advertisement for MET-Rx or an article in itself about supplementation, so I'll forego further comment on the topic.

Define your purpose. Set your goals. Just what do you want from the food you eat besides good taste and a full feeling in your little tummy? Well, you want your diet to supply you with a balance of the proper nutrients that will ensure good health and support muscular growth. I just defined your purpose for you. (You're welcome.) Now you have to set your specific goals. Do you need to lose fat as you gain muscle? Maybe you can afford to add a bit of fat to your frame without worry. Maybe you are happy with your physique and simply want to maintain it. (Not likely if you're competitive.) Once you set your goals, you must set out to structure your eating to meet those goals. (There's a good excuse for another article.)

Don't lose sight of your goals or your abs. Once you get your goals spelled out in your mind, don't deviate from them. Eating correctly for only four out of seven days a week certainly won't allow you to reach your full potential. That's what I mean by losing sight of your goals. One of the goals many people should strive to achieve is to find their abdominal muscles. Once you find them, don't lose them again. If you do, that's a sure sign you have also lost sight of your goals . . . that is, unless you are in training to be a sumo wrestler!

Each meal will take you one step closer to your goal. Don't miss an opportunity. If you do, it's gone forever. You can never make it up. By skipping a meal or, just as bad, eating a garbage meal, you not only miss going a step ahead toward your goal, but also you can actually move several steps backward. The body thrives on regularity. Any disrup­tion in your eating routine is detrimental to your progress. If you are walking along at a good, steady clip and have to alter your step for any reason, like to jump over a large mud puddle in the path, you need several steps to get your stride and breathing back into sync so that you are once again walking at top efficiency. The same premise holds true for training and diet. Don't stumble through your diet. Stay on course.

K.I.S.S. . . . Keep it simple, stupid. Too many people make the diet part of the fitness equation way too complicated. Good food is the first order of business in a good diet. The only alternative that could possibly be better than whole foods would be engineered food from whole-food constituents combined in a specific array so as to optimize the metabol­ic effects. (MET-Rx is the only product that fits that description.) Fancy health foods are not necessary, nor in my opinion are most of the supplements you see advertised today although some do indeed work. If you want to experiment with a particular supplement, how you go about the trial can make all the difference in the world. More to follow.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. If you hit on a certain eating pattern that sets you on a steady course to your goals, stick with it. You don't need to experiment any further - at least not for the time being.

If it's not working, change it. The Bible tells of Moses and the Israelites wandering around for 40 years looking for the Promised Land. The funny part is, they were lost in a geographical area that could be traversed on foot in only 21days. Now that's lost! But I see people just as lost in their nutritional programs. Are you, dear reader, stifling your training progress through poor eating habits . . . habits that you've been lost in for years? If so, isn't it time for a change? Don't you think you're ready for a little experimenting?

Experiment to learn. This precept applies not only to supplementation but also to your whole food intake. Everyone reacts differently to certain foods. Pay attention to how you feel and how much energy you have every day. Then fine-tune your diet to meet your needs. You may not be able to tolerate some of the standard bodybuilding foods. Taste is also a consideration. Such a variety of food is available to us today that you never have to force-feed yourself food you don't like because it's good for you. Remember that keyword: variety! Some folks will never do well on a high-carb diet. They need to go with a moderate amount of carbs and take up the slack by increasing their protein level. In fact, I think most women who train hard may need a little more protein than the men to maintain leanness and size. Incidentally I am opposed to the high-fat diets, if only from a health standpoint.

Rule of experimentation: all things being equal. In experimenting with any aspect of your nutrition program, be sure you change only one element at a time. If you start to take two new supplements simultaneously and all of a sudden find yourself with more energy and the ability to generate more intensity in the gym, how can you tell which of the two supplements is responsible for the change? Changing only one factor at any given time will permit you to isolate its effect. Be sure to allow enough time for any effects to take place.

That which does not kill you makes you stronger. Although this principle leans more toward training, you can still apply it to your nutrition. Whenever you try a change with part of your nutritional program, go all the way. Give whatever you're experimenting with a fair chance to produce results. Put 100 percent into your efforts to design your diet program. The full attention you pay to diet will payoff in spades.

If you can do more, you have to. To be a winner or a champion in any sense of either word, you need to go as far as possible in your chosen endeavor. Stopping short of maximum effort to meet your personal goals will cause you to wind up as an also-ran. If you're into competitive bodybuilding, consider that somewhere right now another guy or girl is eating more strictly than you and training harder than you. He/she may also be more blessed in the genetics depart­ment than you. This maybe a person you are going to be standing next to in the lineup of your next contest. Do you dare leave anything to chance? No. Learn everything you can about your body and how it responds. You need that edge.

You haven't done enough if you don't know what too much is. Where do you draw the line on what changes to make? That's easy enough. Don't draw any lines until you have actually crossed them. The best advice my dad ever gave me came when I was in the third grade and had been threatened with a sound beating by a local bully. He told me to aim for six inches behind the guy whenever I hit him. (That wasn't what I wanted to hear. When I told him of my predicament, I was hoping he'd offer to pick me up after school so that I could avoid the fight altogether!) I took his advice and applied it to everything I've ever done in life. Aim beyond your goal. The results will surprise you. (Oh, by the way, I got thumped good.)
We humans are three sided creatures. Our three sides are physical, mental and spiritual. I've always felt one should strive to improve in each of these three areas. If you don't continue to improve, you stagnate. No matter how much progress you make or how fast you make it, never stop trying to move ahead.

To gain something you have to risk some­thing. Take calculated chances. What could you possibly be risking by experimenting with your diet and supplementation? How about time? We are all very impatient when it comes to our bodybuilding. We want that extra size now! We want that additional strength now! We want to be cut now! Well, I'm sorry but that isn't how it works. Patience is the name of the game here. Every time you make a change in your diet, you risk slowing your progress. You need to pay constant attention to the effects your food and training have on your physique. That big fella who makes movies, Arnold somethingorother, once said bodybuilding is like being a sculptor in that a bodybuilder creates a work of art. But instead of hammer and chisel, the bodybuilder uses weights to sculpt with. You could also compare being a bodybuilder to being a research scientist. Both must constantly experiment and interpret data. As any scientist knows, some experiments result in failure. Any time you make a change in your nutrition you run the risk of that change not being a step forward to your immediate goals. It may possibly be a step (or two) backward, but it will be worthwhile in the long run. Read on.

Learn the positive benefits of failure. You should always learn something from each of your nutritional experiments. (If you don't, you're just not paying attention.) That being the case, can any experiment be called a failure? I don't think so. If a certain change in your eating pattern proves not to help you in your training, you've learned, at the very least, not to use that concept again . . . at least for the time being. Why would you consider using a failed diet principle again? Well, for example, let's say you made a nutritional change that resulted in your becoming slightly leaner and harder. Great! Too bad you were looking for a new diet twist to add a few more pounds of muscle. This change may not have achieved that goal, but you not only learned what didn't work for you as far as size gains are concerned, but you also dis­covered a technique to use when you want to lean out. I would hardly call this experiment a failure. Anything you learn from cannot be considered wasted time or a failure.

Listen to your body. It will tell you everything you need to know. Okay, so you've made a change in your nutrition program. How do you evaluate the results? Simple. Let your body tell you. All you have to do is ask a few questions and make some simple evaluations. The trick is to pick up on the not-so-obvious feedback as well as the obvious feedback. Here's a simple example. If you add calories to your diet and gain weight, you have the proper feedback con­cerning weight gain. That's the obvious feedback. But did you gain muscle or fat? A body-composition check will tell you what your weight gain consists of-the-not­so-obvious feedback. This is a simple example, but it does show everything you need to know about your progress will be illustrated by your own physique. You may need the scales, a mirror and some fat calipers to extract and interpret the information, but it's all there just waiting for your objective analysis. As time goes on, you'll get better and better at analyzing this feedback.

Look for feelings, findings and failings. This little axiom will prove to be invaluable in interpreting your test results. Anything that affects the body should show up in one or more of these three ways. That includes dietary changes.

Here are some examples:

Feelings: Do you feel more or less energetic?

Findings: Do you find difficulty in achiev­ing a pump during your workouts?

Failings: Do you fail at generating the necessary intensity in the gym?

Taking note of this body feedback is all a part of listening to your body.
(Did I mention that all these principles tend to intertwine?) What works in theory does not always work in practice. The big objective in bodybuilding circles for a long time was to eat massive amounts of protein. Then everyone seemed to be saying carbohydrates should make up the bulk of your calories. Now many trainees are pushing high protein again. What's a body to do? Well, regardless of what theory is currently in vogue, you have to find out what works best for you. And what works best for you may not only not fit the popular theories, but also it may not work for you all the time. You may find you gain size on a high-carb, medium-protein diet. Then you may require high amounts of protein with medium carbohydrates in order to lean out before a competition. Whatever you find works for you is what you must do. Plan to do some experimenting.

What does not work in theory may work in practice. Nearly everyone seems to have his or her own approach to diet. (Lord knows I've heard of some pretty strange ones!) Usually the basic diet theories form the basis of the program, but then we all have our little eating quirks that laugh in the face of nutritional science. For instance, if I want to look tighter on Wednesday, I just eat some peanut butter on Tuesday. That'll do the trick. You'd think the sodium content would smooth you out, but it has the opposite effect on me. Make haste slowly, but make progress steadily. You can read a lot into this statement, but primarily you have to understand you can't rush either the muscle building process or the process of cutting up for a contest. I always discourage trainees from force-feeding to gain size and from extreme diet measures to cutup. Taking your time with these processes will ensure better results and a healthier body. Remember, patience is the name of the game.

Use delayed gratification. If patience is the name of the game in this sport, that patience must go hand in hand with consistency. This precept has a lot to do with not losing sight of your goals. (Remember that one?)
Bodybuilding is unlike any other sport in that you must "play" it 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. There really is no off-season, just a different set of rules to play by at different times. You spend most of your time trying to gain fat-free muscle mass. Then, every now and then if you compete, you play the "lose as much fat as possible while retaining all your muscle" part of the game. Bodybuilding is not like baseball where a player can walk down the street without anyone knowing what sport he's involved in. Since this is a 365-day-a-year activity, you need to be mindful of your nutrition 365 days a year. That's where delayed gratification comes in. Most people are tempted with high-fat, unhealthful foods every day of their lives. The principle of delayed gratification applies when you look at the offending food and ask yourself if eating it is really worth the consequences. Is five minutes of eating pleasure worth the added fat and calories? Is it worth the hours of guilt you may be setting yourself up for by break­ing your diet? Although you may not be diet­ing down, any smart bodybuilder is very careful about nutrition year round. Delayed gratification is one way to keep sight of your goals.

Use visualization. Everyone has heard this principle, but its importance cannot be overlooked. You have to be able to vividly see in your mind's eye the results you wish to obtain from your efforts. Not only will this visualization keep you motivated, but it will also give you a gauge to check your progress by. If you have a clear mental image of how you want to look, you can tell if your current eating regimen is getting you closer to that goal.

If you conceive it and believe it, you can achieve it. Never say die. Commit yourself 1OO percent to your training and nutrition goals and I guarantee you will surprise yourself. I've never seen any bodybuilder who has actualized his/her full potential, though some have come close. Steve Reeves never reached his full potential for size, and he did pretty well in the sport!

Find the diet principles that work for you, apply them consistently, making appropriate changes along the way, and believe in what you are doing. Aim for continual self-improvement. No stagnation for you! Don't worry too much about your destination. Keep your mind on the journey. More on that next month in the final installment of this series, which will be devoted to motivation.

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