If we’re talking about big men, well they don’t come much bigger than Arnold Schwarzenegger.
This amazing hulk of a man from a small Austrian village dominated the world of bodybuilding in the 1970s and was crowned the youngest ever Mr. Universe aged just 20.
With such an impressive physique, everybody wanted a piece of him and he went on to become, not only one of Hollywood’s most successful movie stars, but also nudged his way into US politics and secured the position of Governor of California.
Now that’s a story right there. So what is the secret to sculpturing such an amazing set of muscles like that? Many factors come into play from genetics to sheer mental and physical determination, but in Arnold’s own words, “Exercising without eating the proper foods is like plowing a field and not putting any seed into the ground. Nothing would grow out of it.”
In other words it’s all about what you eat and when you eat it — let’s see how the king did it …
Approach to eating
Even with the advances in science it can still be a little confusing knowing what to eat due to the sheer volume of advice. Back in the 1970s, Arnold pretty much had no advice – but that didn’t stop him becoming a goliath. How so?
His approach was plain and simple — eat, and eat a lot. His diet might be considered unhealthy by today’s standards, but he did have a basic understanding that food has calories made of proteins, carbohydrates and fats and what you ate affected your performance and muscle building.
Arnold kept his diet consistent to avoid gaining fat or losing muscle, but most importantly he ensured he was getting the fuel his body needed for training and growing. And here is how he did it.
Protein is essential for the building and maintenance of lean muscle mass and the approach is the same now as it was for Arnold in the 1970s — if you want to beef up, eat a lot of protein.
How much exactly? As a rough guide, Arnold stated that you need a gram of protein per pound of body weight — daily! You can get your protein from a range of sources including fish, meat and vegetables, but a good way to ensure you’re getting enough protein and nutrients is to buy bulk whey protein powder.
Mix it with stuff in your blender just like Arnold did it – it was an essential part of his diet, so we’d say that’s a pretty good endorsement.
Small regular meals
“I don’t want to get too comfortable. I’d rather stay hungry.” — A Schwarzenegger
In other words, keep that energy pulsing and don’t over eat. To train hard you need a lot of fuel, but eating too much at once will leave you feeling idle as your body demands a lot of energy to digest a big meal. Arnold required a massive 5000 calories a day to maintain his size and his method was to eat a lot of smaller high protein meals throughout the day.
He ate a meal every three hours with a protein content of between 30-50 grams, the protein content reached with a combination of natural sources and protein powder.
Smaller meals helped him to train harder and the harder he trained, the better the results.
Arnold was something of an advocate for fat and recommended good fats found in fish, nuts and vegetables. He also ate a lot of what are considered bad fats, like red meat and whole eggs.
His fat intake was very high compared to many modern bodybuilders who prefer to keep it lean and only eat egg whites and no red meat, but when you factor in Arnold’s size and amount of training he did, then his fat intake was minor in this context and easily burnt off via training.
Skeptics around the time believed Arnold was heading for a heart attack with his fat intake and demanding training routines, but judging by the excellent shape he is still in today, it appears he was ahead of his time and the skeptics were wrong.
This is supported with today’s advances in science and we have discovered not only the importance of fatty acids like Omega 3, but there’s also a growing argument that measured quantities of saturated fats, like those found in butter and meat, are good for us too.
If this science gathers weight, then it would seem that Arnold’s bodybuilding diet was on the money over 40 years ago. That’s not to say go fat crazy — be careful and learn where good fats are found as fat = lots of energy. Saturated fats are found in things like dairy, meat, coconut oil and avocado, polyunsaturated fats in fish, pumpkin seeds and walnuts; monounsaturated fats can be found in olive oil, avocado and nuts.
But avoid the dangerous fats like trans fats, which are found in cheap processed food, margarine and fast food.
Arnold’s diet was rich in whole foods and he avoided processed, man-made foods including bread. Whole foods are rich in all kinds of goodies and Arnold acknowledged that nature knew how to make foods much easier to digest than processed equivalents.
Vegetables for instance are rich in vitamins and minerals easily absorbed by the body. They assist in keeping our bodies pH balanced by neutralizing the strong acid presence in our blood created by the breakdown of proteins, and also contain powerful anti-oxidants, which rid the body of toxins, protect our cells and generally help to keep us strong and healthy.
Strong and healthy is where you need to be if you want to train and build. So without all the nutritional knowledge of today, Arnold simply got on with it and experimented with his diet and discovered for himself what worked. He ate a balanced healthy diet rich in proteins, but also containing a good share of carbohydrates and useful fats and made up his levels by mixing up some bulk protein powder concoctions in the blender.
The fundamentals are the same today, but Arnold’s diet carries weight because of the success it brought him with bodybuilding. Food for thought.