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Welcome To The Freak Show (Bodybuilding 101)
Pt. I: Introduction & Basic Nutrition
-By Victor Lasato


    So, you finally got sick of avoiding mirrors when naked.  Maybe your doctor says you need to start exercising.  Maybe you just want a new hobby.  So you joined a gym, and you’re obviously shopping for supplements or you would’ve never come across this article.  Good for you.  You could be twelve or sixty.  Hell my grandpappy’s almost eighty and he still lifts (of course they call it “cardiac rehab” at that age). Let me guess, your gym membership probably came w/ “one free personal training session,” right?  Take advantage of it, but one session isn’t going to do squat (pun intended).  Seriously though, you made a step in the right direction.  Actually, many steps within one: Improved cardiac output, a reduction in body fat, improved lipid profile, lowered stress, a heightened sense of well being, and most importantly, you’ll look better naked.  What now? Wander the gym aimlessly, taking advice from anyone willing to offer it?  Spend years learning from trial and error; one of the biggest mistakes people make, myself included.  You could hire a personal trainer.  But keep in mind that for the price of five personal training sessions you could become a personal trainer! That’s right, you could go online and purchase all the necessary books and learning aids from any one of the plethora of certification associations, and learn all you need to know to nurture your “inner muscle-bound freak.”  Or if you’re a lady looking to attain that fitness model look, the same theory applies.  OK, let’s assume you don’t have $300 - $400 to shell out, or simply want to start slower.  There are other options.

    It is often said that what the mind believes, the body achieves (if you want a reference try “ancient Chinese or Hindu Proverbs,” some people think my articles are research papers for some reason).  The reason I bring up this saying is that unless you have the money to hire a personal trainer, and a good one at that, you’re probably just going to be spinning your wheels for quite some time.  You could learn about bodybuilding from reading articles like this, posting questions on forums where everyone’s an expert, and most importantly/sadly… trial and error. All those options will yield results… eventually.  Now I’m not knocking Internet articles, there’s a wealth of good, realistic information out there, it’s just difficult to sift through the trash, especially when the people trying to educate you are also trying to sell you something. You’ll notice hyperlinks in this article; links to products that Planetary Nutrition sells.  Future articles will have links with no affiliation to this company at all.  But I get no kickbacks, no free products from the manufacturers or website owners, or any remuneration whatsoever for endorsing a product.  If I endorse something, it’s for two reasons: I use it, and it works for myself as well as hundreds of other people.

    I wasted nine potentially muscle-building years learning from trial and error; using snake-oil supplements that contained god-knows-what, if anything active at all.  Educate yourself.  The pen truly is mightier than the sword… or the biceps for that matter.  One book that does offer rational information geared towards today’s hectic lifestyles is Bill Phillips Body for Life.  While some of the training programs he suggests may be a bit much for beginners, and he clearly wants you to believe that his supplements are superior to all others, the book contains a wealth of knowledge that will save you from succumbing to many common beginner pitfalls. 

    Before you even step foot in a gym, go to the library and take out a book on nutrition.  Make sure it was written in 2004 or later.  With all the advances made in metabolic function, innervation, and mind-muscle connection over the past two to three years, get something new.  Learn how many calories are in a gram of carbohydrate, fat, and protein.  Learn about glycemic index, protein synthesis, and insulin response.  Hell, read the book while doing cardio, if you can (recumbent bikes work great for this).  Bring a highlighter w/ you.  You’ll be able to mark important passages, plus you’ll look cool and have an easier time picking up other college students- even if you’re 40 or older.  Eventually you’ll get to the point where you can just look at a plate of food and guess the calories within 50 or so, and know how much of that food will cause an insulin spike- good if you just came from the gym, or you’re bulking up, bad most other times.  See what I mean?

    OK, you finished the nutrition book. You finished a bodybuilding book or two as well, which should clue you in that you’re going to need some basic supplements.  Being new to bodybuilding, a trip to an Internet site or your local brick & mortar supplement store could leave you confused, broke, and stuck with a bunch of stuff you may not need at this point in time.  But your body’s burning more of everything, not just calories, and producing excess free radicals (cells that become damaged when the body metabolizes oxygen). So you’re going to need some basic supplements to your diet, no matter how complete. In addition, most bodybuilding diets, especially hypocaloric (low calorie) diets, lack many foods that contain the anti-oxidants essential to rid the body of free radicals.  First and probably most importantly, a multi-vitamin: I’ve been using Universal Nutrition's Animal Pak for years, but only during intense training.  Finding the right multi vitamin for you is just as important and individualized as finding the right training protocol.  Next on the list of essentials: protein.  Soy’s a good choice for females in terms of general health, whey (isolate preferably) is essential for all bodybuilders, as it reaches muscles the fastest, while longer-acting proteins such as caseins, milk isolate, and egg white are all beneficial for their anti-catabolic (muscle sparing) effects during dieting and the overnight sleep/fasting period.  After all, your muscles grow when your asleep, not when you’re at the gym. (Physiology lesson to come in a future installment). Speaking of sleep, it’s always a good idea to add some type of Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) to your night-time protein drink to slow absorption, not to mention all the other benefits of EFA's as outlined here.  For more great info on protein and individual requirements, a great article can be found here.   For those of you looking to make maximum gains in minimal time, other recovery-enhancing and muscle-building supplements can be added to your arsenal

    So now you know a thing or two about nutrition.  But you still don’t know much about lifting.  Unless you played sports in high school or college you probably don’t know your way around the weight room.  And if you are a former athlete, please take care to note the amount of time that has elapsed since you last picked up a weight.  The first thing to do is have a doctor clear you for your chosen level of physical activity; be it light circuit-training, or gearing up for the “World’s Strongest Man” contest.

Next Installment:

  •  How to safely get back into, or initiate a strength-training routine
  •  Fine-tuning a training & supplement program to fit your needs
  •  A brief physiology/kinesiology lesson (avoiding injury)


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Bodybuilding 101