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The Building of a Champion!

At Muscle Mechanics L.A. we believe that fitness is not simply a good idea. Fitness is a lifestyle!

Have you ever wondered what exactly is involved in competing in a figure or bodybuilding contest? There are several aspects that seem obvious, but others that you may not necessarily think about. I am about to give you a brief look at how strenuous the workouts and nutrition can be, how these competitions are not only about building big muscles and that tanning is not only for movie stars.

Diet and exercise are parts of the program that should seem obvious. What is not so obvious, however, is that both have to be designed to take full advantage of the athlete’s strengths, weaknesses, physical abilities and daily schedule, as well as taking into consideration any medical conditions (including food and drug allergies) and/or physical limitations. In addition, there are certain psychological and emotional issues to be dealt with as the body is forced to make radical changes.

Developing muscle is only one aspect of preparing for a figure or bodybuilding contest. Muscles cannot be seen if they are covered in fat, or if an athlete is excessively bloated, so diet and cardio are just as important as weight training when it comes to contest preparation. Pre-contest dieting and cardio will vary from person to person, or from trainer to trainer, depending upon each individual’s needs, degree of knowledge, expertise and experience. Most trainers and nutrition specialists use methods that they have learned over the years then put their own twists on. I have highly developed methods that are tried and true. I know that they work because I have put them to the test on my clients who compete in figure and bodybuilding contests. My clients ~ men and women ~ have won FIRST PLACE in their respective categories in major National Physique Committee (NPC) sanctioned contests.

Most people look at figure contestants and bodybuilders and think that they are always in peak condition, or operating at optimum performance levels. Well, that simply is not true. In fact, most highly developed athletes have at least one or more injuries that hinder their performance. Serious athletes learn to train around these injuries, or to simply work through a certain amount of pain, in order to achieve the results that they desire.

And, despite their appearance, most figure and bodybuilding contestants are actually at their absolute weakest at the time of their contest due to the extreme training and dieting that they have endured leading up to that day. The vast majority of contestants are still in extreme dieting mode when they go on stage, so they do not have a lot of energy stores to help fuel them through the work of posing for the judges and fans. And, yes, posing is work ~ very hard work! In certain cases posing sessions are used in place of cardio for cutting due to the high levels of intensity.

Skin care is also extremely important in the world of figure and bodybuilding competitions. A lot of contestants ~ especially bodybuilders ~ use large amounts of steroids, growth factors and cutting drugs, all of which can cause acne and a plethora of other side effects. There are methods for minimizing those side effects, such as dihydrotestosterone blockers, estrogen blockers, anti-aromatase drugs, etc. Sometimes the side effects can become so pronounced, however, that even preventive measures such as the aforementioned are not enough to combat them, and that is when a comprehensive skin care regimen comes into play. Many figure contestants and bodybuilders elect to perform their own skin care rituals, but I generally send my clients to skin care specialists.

Another part of the pre-contest preparation that is of the utmost importance is tanning. The direct, harsh lighting used on stage at these competitions can be very unforgiving, so the darker someone can make themselves the more their muscularity can be seen. Almost everyone ~ including naturally dark-skinned people ~ will utilize some sort of tanning techniques. Whether it is simply getting a little extra sun, going to a tanning bed or getting a spray tan, nearly all of the contestants competing in these shows have added some color to their skin. Some go as far as having specialty tanning companies custom spray paint them in order to tailor their tan to their physiques.

Sounds like a lot of work, huh? Well, make no mistake about it… it is. A lot of time, energy and effort are spent preparing for these shows. And, the glory of the actual contest is generally over very quickly. Only the few top-ranking contestants in a show will ever earn a penny from all of the hard work that goes into this process, and that is generally from being sponsored to some small degree by one of the supplement companies that claim to be responsible for some of the accomplishments that these athletes have made. The truth is that virtually none of the athletes/models that you see pushing sports supplements and other fitness-related products at events or in advertisements actually use those products.

Well, I hope that I have managed to shed some light on the subject of figure and bodybuilding contests for you. The real-life version of these shows is not nearly as glamorous as the way the contests are portrayed on television and in magazines. Being backstage at these events can be quite gritty, so it is important to consider every aspect of the preparation and competition. You should have a very realistic expectations of the outcome when entering into such a contest.

Food: Nature’s Fuel

Going to your local grocery store can be quite intimidating these days. There are literally thousands of products being advertised as the answer to all of your prayers ~ from organic fruits and vegetables to free-range chicken and nutrient-enriched pastas… But, what do you really need to get into excellent shape and stay that way?

First and foremost, I recommend a well-balanced nutrition plan that considers every aspect of your life (daily schedule, workout/cardio times, allergies, likes/dislikes and a host of other factors). This plan is going to be the foundation of your nutritional program, and should provide you with the exact details of your daily caloric needs.

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Your macronutrient (carbohydrates, protein and fat) requirements will undoubtedly vary from day to day, and throughout each day, so your nutrition plan must take those variations into account. Also, different foods provide different types of energy. It is important to understand the differences in the types of energy you will need in order to perform at peak levels for your upcoming activities. For example, if you are going to perform weight training today and cardio tomorrow, your carbohydrate intake will need to be higher today while your fat intake will need to be higher tomorrow. This is because weight training is a glycolytic activity, which means that the primary fuel that will be required to perform this type of activity is glycogen (sugars that are stored in the muscles to be used as energy); cardiovascular training is an oxidative activity, which means that the primary fuels needed to perform this type of activity are going to be fats (omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are best).
In addition to understanding how your macronutrient requirements will vary from day to day, it is important to know that your hourly macronutrient needs will change, as well. Your digestive system takes a few hours to process what you have eaten, so you should plan your meals with that in mind. Ask yourself what you will be doing for the next few hours… If you are going to be sitting behind your desk at work pushing pencils for the next three hours then you will want to eat a small meal that will allow you to do that. If you are planning to go workout for an hour, then follow that with a half-hour of cardio, you will want to eat enough food ~ and, of course, the right foods ~ to fuel you through that. Sounds complicated, huh?

Well, it is. And, that is why so many people get it wrong! Stick to the basics! Eat energizing carbohydrates, such as rolled oats, yams, a variety of beans and rice, and even pasta. Fats in your diet should be primarily from fish, and a variety of plants(flax, evening primrose and borage, for example). Avoid eating foods that are high in refined sugars and saturated fats ~ especially foods, or combinations of foods, that contain both! Eating right doesn’t have to be difficult! You just need to get back to the basics and look at your food as nature originally intended: as fuel!

Supplementation: Keeping it Simple!

Have you ever walked into a supplement store and thought you might be on an alien planet? Or, have you ever tried to make sense out of the supplement ads that make up about 80% of every fitness magazine that you see? Well, my friends, you are not alone!

In fact, most people have absolutely no idea what they are purchasing when they buy supplements. And, the really scary part is that they are going to put something in their body based primarily on the recommendation of the supplement store sales clerk. Keep in mind that the supplement store sales clerks are, most likely, minimum-waged employees, so the chances of them being supplement experts is slim to none.

Muscle Mechanics LA’s number one tip for purchasing supplements is that you do your research. And, that can mean anything from consulting your physician to hiring a sports supplement expert to help you to determine what is true and what is pure hype. My advice is that you do your research long before you make it to the store, and limit your questioning of the store clerks to basic information.

The first thing that you are going to need to determine from your research is what supplements you are going to need in order to achieve the goals that you have set for yourself.  Next, you will need to determine which supplements are safe for you to take. A good example are the nitrous oxide products that are so prevalent on store shelves these days. They contain any number of variations of the amino acid L-Arginine(arginine alpha ketoglutarate, isocaproate, etc.). These forms of L-Arginine are easily converted into nitrous oxide in your body, which causes vasodilation, or an opening of the arteries, veins and capillaries in order to allow more blood flow into a recently worked muscle. However, L-Arginine also has a tendency to aggravate the herpes virus. So, if you have herpes(whether it is genital or simply the occasional cold sore), you certainly wouldn’t want to use any of these products.

Okay, now that you have determined what you need to take, and what you can safely take, you need to decide what you actually need, and what you can do without. Sports supplements can be very expensive, so it is important that you keep your spending within a comfortable budget. If you find that you are spending more than you can afford, then you will probably be forced to cut back. So, if you have been wasting money on stuff that you do not need, you could be cutting yourself off from the supplements that could actually do you some good.

Don’t waste your time and money on supplements that do not work or may hinder your performance. Shop smart!

Creatine: Another View

Creatine monohydrate is used for a wide variety of reasons by people who are looking for an even wider variety of results. Its primary point of interest in bodybuilding has almost always been creatine’s ability to volumize muscles at the cellular level by drawing moisture into the actual muscle cells. However, there are other uses for creatine that are of equal importance.

Creatine monohydrate makes up approximately one-third of the molecule Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), which combines with glycogen to be used for energy during training. So, by supplementing creatine, you are giving your muscles a head start in their endeavor to replenish spent ATP. This gives your muscles a quicker recovery time between sets of exercise, which should give you energy to do even more work.

The cycling on and off of creatine has been a bitter debate amongst bodybuilders. Some say that you must cycle off in order to allow your body’s natural production of creatine to return, which is supposed to allow you to experience new gains in size and strength when you cycle back on to supplemental creatine. Others say that it does not matter whether or not your body is producing creatine as long as it is getting it, and that any gains that you realize from the new cycle are simply recouping what you lost during post-cycle.

To date, there have been no definitive studies to validate either argument. I will tell you this, however: I have tried both methods of creatine use and have found that both can be effective. But, I do not believe that cycling creatine makes any difference when it comes to overall muscle strength and/or size, nor in the replenishment of ATP.  In my opinion, creatine monohydrate is one of the most important supplements in the bodybuilders’ arsenal.

~It has no proven negative side effects.
~It is an excellent muscle-volumizer and ATP replinisher.
~It is very affordable. Creatine is so inexpensive now that anyone should be able to fit it into their budget.

L-Glutamine: The Pros and Cons

L-Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid found in skeletal muscle. It is found in a variety of protein sources, as well as supplements, and is one of the primary amino acids found in whey proteins, which are probably one of its most easily assimilated sources.

In bodybuilding, L-Glutamine is most popular for its ability to buffer lactic acid and help the body with muscle recovery. Lactic acid is one of the culprits of “the burn” that you feel during exercise. So, being able to reduce that excruciating pain can be very useful to the bodybuilder in that he/she can perform more exercise or more intense exercise without being forced to stop from the burn. Of course, if one is able to reduce the time that it takes for the muscles to recover from a workout then healing/growth will also come quicker.

Recent studies, however, have shown that lactic acid may not be the “bad guy” that its reputation implies. It has been found that in endurance athletes, especially cyclists and runners, that lactic acid may be utilized by the body as an alternate energy source, actually helping the athlete to continue despite the excruciating pain that results from such a heavy build-up of lactic acid in the muscles.

L-Glutamine also has muscle-cell volumizing properties that can be very useful to the bodybuilder in that any increase in muscle size is almost always welcome. The volumizing effects of L-Glutamine are not nearly as dramatic as those of creatine monohydrate, but are significant enough to be mentioned in this article.

So, should one use supplemental L-Glutamine in their nutritional regimen? That certainly depends upon the specific goals of the athlete, and whether or not the athlete will be obtaining enough from natural sources. As with any supplement on the market, the perceived need is what drives the consumer to purchase it. So, I recommend that each individual consider his/her goals and determine the need for supplemental L-Glutamine from there.

I opt to use L-Glutamine in my arsenal of supplements due to its muscle recovery properties. My workouts are so intense that I do perceive a need for added L-Glutamine to assist my body in its attempts to heal itself. I take 5 grams of L-Glutamine before bed each evening and upon waking each morning. I believe that it is very effective in helping me to recover and subsequently grow.