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As someone who’s helped legions of people (har har) lose fat, get lean, and build muscle, it’s no surprise I also get asked about preparing for natural bodybuilding and bikini competitions.

After all, there’s a lot of overlap between natural bodybuilding and getting fitter as a recreational weightlifter.

While I’ve never done a bodybuilding show or coached serious competitors, I’ve gotten “photoshoot lean” several times, like this:


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The truth is that getting down to “stage condition” is very, very difficult, and requires more discipline, perseverance, and masochism than most people are willing to endure.

It also takes far longer than most people expect.

Even when the contest is over, there are hurdles to leap, like avoiding bingeing while also navigating the emotional turmoil of looking in the mirror and seeing yourself get fatter.

That’s why I invited repeat-guest Dr. Eric Helms back on the podcast. Not only has he coached countless athletes over the years, but he’s competed numerous times himself, so he definitely knows the ins and outs of contest prep and recovery.

In this episode, we talk about . . .

  • Misconceptions about what prepping is really like 
  • What it takes to go from someone who looks athletic to someone who can step on stage
  • Post-show “rebound” and dealing with the emotional “fallout” of getting fatter
  • The physiological downsides of prepping (even when you’re doing things correctly)
  • How to give yourself the best chance of success
  • And more . . .

So, if you want to learn more about what it takes to prepare for a natural bodybuilding show, give this episode a listen!

Time Stamps:

13:27 – What should people know before dedicating themselves to weightlifting competitions? 

18:13 – What are the key differences between exercising for a competition and exercising recreationally?

36:55 – What are some of the physiological downsides when doing competitions?

49:29 – What are your best pieces of advice for getting jacked with the best outcome?

1:01:57 – How do you bring hormone levels back to normal?

Mentioned on the show: 

Eric Helm’s Website

Iron Culture Podcast

Nutrition Coaching Global

Eric Helm’s Instagram

Books by Mike Matthews

What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!


Mike: Hello, dear listener. Welcome to a new episode of Muscle For Life. Thank you for being here with me today. I’m your host, of course, Mike Matthews. And this episode is all about bodybuilding as a competitive sport. Not as I go about it. For example, I am a lifestyle bodybuilder, I guess you could say, not a competitive.

But as I have helped legions of people, I get it over the years, lose a lot of fat and gain a lot of muscle. I also get asked fairly often about natural body building. And I’d say that probably that term applies more to men. Whereas women are often asking about bikini competitions and specifically people reach out usually to ask either if I think that they should get into it.

So this is gonna be somebody who has done a lot of lifestyle, body building has gotten into great shape and just likes the culture and wants to go deeper into it, or just wants to see what they can do with their body or somebody who has already started the process and wants to know how to best go about it.

How to best prepare for a natural body building slash bikini show. And while I do my best to share the. Best practices, the evidence based methods that people use to do as well as they can in natural body building slash bikini competing. I haven’t done it myself because while I have gotten pretty lean for photo shoots, AB veins and not much body fat anywhere on your body, right?

If you’re pinching your skin, get to a point where you really are just pinching skin, mostly. Everywhere. And that’s great for taking cool pictures and getting likes on Instagram, but even that, which to be specific, I would say I’ve gotten down to the six or 7% body fat range. And that, again, it looks cool, but it also comes with a price.

It comes with a bit of lethargy and decreased performance and motivation in the gym. And for me, a kind of semi persistent low-grade hunger that was just obnoxious or at least feeling like I just wasn’t eating enough food. I just felt like my body, despite my calories being okay, let’s say around 25 to 2,600 per day was my maintenance.

The last time I was that lean, I just felt like my body wanted more food. And I also notice. Less sex drive. And unfortunately there is no hack to get around any of that. Most of the side effects that come with being very lean are driven by the fact that you do not have a lot of body fat. And the only way to reverse them is to have more body fat.

And you’ll learn more about that. And many other things in today’s episode, my point is, so I’ve gotten lean, I’ve gotten very lean. I’ve gotten shredded by most people’s standards, but I’ve not gotten body building lean because that means getting down to a true, probably 5% or so. And as you’ll learn about in this episode where.

You have striated glutes. If you’ve never seen striated glutes, striations in your glute muscles, you have not been body building lean. And that takes a lot more time and work and pain than where I’ve been in the 7% range. And if you go looking around online for information on what it’s really like to do that, what it’s really like to get that lean and to do it while preserving muscle.

And of course, that’s just the physique side then of course there’s posing, but that’s a separate topic altogether. First you gotta have the physique, you’re probably gonna find what I’ve found, which is a lot of just rose colored accounts of people preparing for shows and talking about how it really wasn’t that big of a deal.

And they just make it look like a cake walk. And in some cases, the reason for this is what they’re not telling you is they’re not natural. So for example, take a guy. If he just takes enough testosterone while he’s preparing for a show, he’s not taking all the other drugs that many bodybuilders take just testosterone alone can make a huge difference.

It can be the difference between a rather grueling experience and a rather. Mild or even enjoyable experience because getting down to that stage, lean look, getting into stage condition naturally is very difficult and it requires a lot of discipline and perseverance and masochism really. And a lot more than many people are willing to endure.

And it also usually takes a lot more time than people expect. And then there is. Post contest phase, because that has its own obstacles. Because at that point, now you’re trying to get your body back to normalcy, not just your body composition, because you can’t maintain stage lean. Everybody knows that, but also your hormones and just the internal inner workings of your body need to recover from what you’ve done.

And I wanted to record a podcast on all of those things and many of the other aspects related to natural body building. But as it’s something that I haven’t done myself, I figured why not get somebody who has done it? And if I’m gonna get somebody who has done it, I’m gonna get the person I know who has done it best.

And that is Dr. Eric Helms. And not only has Eric coached countless athletes over the years, including many bodybuilders. And female and bikini athletes as well. He has also competed a number of times himself and done it. If you head over to his Instagram, I don’t know the handle off the top of my head, but if you search Eric Helms and go scroll back and see some of his pictures from his most recent prep, that’s in my opinion, as good as it’s gonna get as a natural bodybuilder.

And he’s someone who also understands the literature and he really lives this stuff. Is in it every day and he knows the true ins and outs of contest prep and contest recovery. And those are the things that we talk about in this episode, including misconceptions about what contest prep is really and what it really takes to go from looking good.

So let’s say to, athletic to someone who can step on stage, Eric talks about the post. Rebound that often happens. And also how to deal with some of the emotional fallout that comes with getting fatter, because that is your primary goal as a natural body builder. Once your season’s over, you’re gonna have to get fatter because if you stay too lean, your body will never fully recover.

And Eric also shares many of his best tips for your best chances of success in the sport of natural body building. Bikini competing. Also, if you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my health and fitness books, including the number one best selling weightlifting books for men and women in the world, bigger leaner, stronger and thinner leaner stronger as well as the leading flexible dieting cookbook.

The shredded chef. Now these books have sold well over 1 million copies and have helped thousands of people build their best body ever. And you can find them on all major online retailers like audible, Amazon, iTunes, Cobo, and Google play, as well as. In select Barnes and noble stores. And I should also mention that you can get any of the audio books 100% free when you sign up for an audible account.

And this is a great way to make those pockets of downtime, like commuting meal, prepping and cleaning more interesting, entertaining, and productive. And so if you want to take audible up on this offer, and if you want to get one of my audio books for free, just go to Legion. That’s B Y, and sign up for your account.

So again, if you appreciate my work and if you wanna see more of it, and if you wanna learn time proven and evidence based strategies for losing fat building muscle and getting healthy and strategies that work for anyone and everyone, regardless of age or circumstances, please do consider picking up one of my best selling books, bigger leaner, stronger for men, thinner, leaner, stronger for women and the shredded chef for my favorite fitness friendly recipe.

Eric Helms is back. I’m excited. I haven’t spoken to you on my podcast in some time. Now you reciprocated and had me on yours, but now it’s my turn to 

Eric: get aware. Yeah. Our relationship continues out of a mutual sense of obligation. it’s lovely. 

Mike: one day, one day we may meet each other in person. Actually.

That’d be cool. I’d like to shake your hand at least. And yes I will shake your hand. I don’t wash it. I know. I’m not gonna wash it. and there’s gonna be no face mask. I’m just gonna shake your hand and take my 

Eric: chances. I appreciate your optimism where you think there will be a future. I personally plan to be hanging out with Rick Grimes.

I see him as a good leader and I plan to have a baseball bat and spikes in it. That’s my game plan for the future and thats about the experience. I 

Mike: just got the reference there. I was like, okay, what’s he talking about? Oh, 

Eric: it’s the Nick Grimes. Oh yeah. 

Mike: Walking dead, locking dead. I watched the first season of that show back when it first came out and thought it was great.

And then. Was it, the second season I quit where they were Mo the whole season revolved around them being at a farmhouse. And like the kid had gotten sick or something. And what I felt like what had lost for me is any sort of overarching plot. Like I liked in the first season, I don’t know. Did I say season or episode regardless?

I’ve done a lot of talking and reading today in my brain is not working quite well, but in the first season, I liked how there was, if I remember correctly, it was like, they needed to get to the CDC facility in Atlanta or something. And that was the driving goal and they get there and I think it blew up or something.

And so you’re left in this suspense oh shit, what are they gonna do next? And then I saw from there, it was like, oh, so this is gonna be one of those shows that they just drag on forever. Like another lost type of situation where they put together a compelling. First season and then it blew up and they’re like, oh shit, we actually have to come up with a lot more content quickly.

And I know that what’ll often happen is like a pilot, it’ll do well. And then all of a sudden it’s cool. We need the next season in eight weeks ago. And they’re just like scramble time. And anyway, so I lost interest when it was like, eh, this kind of just started to feel like a soap opera.

That was another thing too. I remember it was, I don’t like when shows turn into soap operas, when it’s just about who’s fucking who, and then who’s mad at who, and then you just rinse and repeat that over and over for filler. And 

Eric: anyway, yeah, it basically becomes after the first couple seasons a.

Let me find an interesting group of evil humans who are gonna mess with our main characters, they’ll experience, tremendous loss, but eventually overcome it and retain their humanity. And once again, you’ll learn the lesson that it’s not the zombies that we should be afraid of, but our own nature we take the high road.

Things will be okay. We are the virus. Yeah, exactly. After the 90th, interesting quote unquote group of bad people, it’s yeah, I really did appreciate early on when you’re trying to figure out just what happened and is there a way to re rehab society, which they get away from? Yeah, for sure.

Yeah. Which I 

Mike: understand though, it’s a tough spot again, where the show literally has to go on if it keeps on making money and if it has a following. So it becomes difficult to write a new season that feels as fresh and as original as the first, unless you’re willing to do some pretty extreme, drastic things like.

Game of Thrones did a good job of that up until it got terrible. But that was one of the first shows at least I had watched that was willing to do things that normally you wouldn’t do, kill off main characters and keep you in that 

Eric: they had the advantage of following pre-written books that were written very well.

And then oddly enough, when they outpace the pace of the books, that’s when they went terrible. So who knew 

Mike: it’s one of life’s mysteries, and that we’re not gonna figure it out on today’s episode, but yeah, that natural body building stuff. That’s pretty cool though. So just to quickly preface for people listening, what is this conversation gonna be about?

This idea came about because over the years I have been asked about competing by many people. I. More women than men, but plenty of men as well, who basically were saying, Hey, I’m thinking about getting into natural body building or, I guess like that’s a class of competition or maybe they wanna do physique or bikini, but body composition, they wanted to compete in some sort of drug free physique sport.

Exactly drug free physi sport. Thank you, Dr. Helms. And they just wanted to get my thoughts on what am I getting myself into here? Is this a good idea? And I’ve never done it myself. I’ve gotten pretty lean for photo shoots, not bodybuilder, not step on stage lean, but pretty lean. And so I have some experience to share with that, but I haven’t gone all the way.

Mr. Helms has gone all the way many times and has helped other people do it. So that’s why I wanted to get him. Why Eric, why I wanna get you on the show to help people understand who are considering and really at that point of Hey, this sounds cool. What should they know? And what should they consider before they commit to it?

That’s a question with a lot of subquestions, but we could probably categorize it in terms of food related stuff, and then body related stuff. Maybe you could even say mental, psychological, emotional related stuff. And what does that process look like in reality? And if you want to separate men and women, because they tend to experience it a bit differently, I’m just gonna 

Eric: follow your lead.

Sounds good, man. I think I gotta start relatively meta. So people understand. Why something that can seem very similar. Let’s say like yourself, someone who has set up their life and learned the things they need to and adjusted their behavior, such that they can be lean fit, and look in the mirror and go, Hey, not bad.

That’s what most people are trying to do. And I think if we look at like Instagram or something like that’s a lot of what the quote, unquote, influencers advertise as this will make your life good. Look at me, I’ve got a nice car, attractive, significant other, and I have a muscular and lean body and I’ve got it all the time.

And my life’s great. And Instagram is 100% a realistic picture. My life is oh, not 

Mike: curated at all. Not photoshopped at all. No 

Eric: filters. Yeah. Yeah. So I think I don’t mean to say, if not a then B these people are actually having a terrible life. It’s bad to be lean. You can’t maintain a lean physique or it’s unhealthy to do but I think the understandable drive to get a lean muscular physique is all good.

And don’t at me wrong. I love lifting weights and I love what that has done for my body. And I am actively trying to get it as big as possible and as strong as possible within the realms of the drug free world. So I get it. I think it’s cool. It can be a lot of fun, but I think the motivation going into it is really important.

And even when you have the quote unquote motivation going into it with a little more of a holistic perspective, and I can talk about what I mean by that when you decide to compete. To some degree, you’re making a deal with the devil to where your perspective is gonna shift and you would do things you otherwise wouldn’t.

And. Whether you realize it or not, you are accepting certain trade offs. And the arc of my career is all about not telling people the trade offs you have to make for body building are bad. Therefore the sport is bad, but rather to say we’re all adults, but the issue is that a lot of us don’t have the proper informed consent going into the sport because we have misconceptions about it.

Informed consent comes from the research world. If I’m gonna have you participate in a study, I need to be upfront and explain to you the experiences you’ll have as a participant in the study so that you can give true consent, not like the car salesman style consent of yeah. This new car. It’s great.

Just here you buy it and it’ll be great. And this warranty covers everything, but in actuality, it doesn’t, the car is not exactly what they say. It. And you have buyers regret. And the last thing you want is buyers’ regret when you are taking your body through extremes and potentially irrevocably, changing your relationship with food and your body and mentality and all that.

So informed consent, I think, is the goal. Anytime you decide to do a physi competition and understanding that the decisions you would make to be someone who can walk around with a lean muscular physique that is still healthy performs well, allows you to sleep through the night procreate. If that’s something you want to do and all that good stuff, basically not being in a state of relative energy deficiency and having fully functioning internal, not just looking good externally, the decisions you’d make there, how lean you’d get and what you would do to get there.

And the pace timeframe, and the considerations is encompassed by a very different mindset than I’m gonna get on stage. At X or Y date, and I’m going to try to do as best as I can against the field and look as optimally as I can for the standards of body building on that day. And that is why there can be a lot of negative things that come from body building, just like someone who’s really interested in being strong might make different decisions than they would make on their third attempt on a deadlift on the platform.

I’m trying to get stronger over time. I don’t need this deadlift today to be the heaviest weight I can pull even with extreme rounded lumbar flexion. Cause I know that might increase my risk of injury a little bit, but if you’re on the platform and that gives you a spot at nationals and then potentially going to worlds and your goal is to be the best power for you can be.

And you may pull with a rounded lumbar and that’s fine so long as you have that informed consent. So that’s the meta conversation that someone needs to have at the start is that this is distinctly different than just. Getting beach lean or looking good. If that makes sense 

Mike: and why for people wondering, okay, so what are some of these key differences?

Just take body fat levels. For example, a lot of people, they don’t know what a certain body fat level looks like. They couldn’t look at a picture of yours on stage and correlate that to a reasonable estimate of body fat. So how does, and I would think that at this point, we’re still talking about men and women.

How do things change from, and I’m gonna think with the average person who has reached out to me about this, they take their fitness seriously. So this is somebody who is, they’re probably lifting weights anywhere from four to six hours a week. They are generally watching what they eat. They’re probably following some sort of meal plan, even if it’s just loosely, but eating the same stuff every day.

Maybe they rotate through some things, but they understand portions and they know what they’re doing and they’re in good shape. And so what changes if they want to. Compete. Like why is that not enough basically, like where do they have to take 

Eric: things? Exactly. And what you described is an awesome lifestyle.

Bodybuilder is what I would call that someone who has modified their environment, their behavior, and has therefore received the benefits of being able to walk around with a lean muscular physique and what you might see on a cover of a fitness magazine in terms of leanness or what you might see for your kind of walk around.

Influencer. Who’s not using a lot of Photoshop and filters and who didn’t diet for that. Shoot. What we colloquially would say, like in, in the regular culture, a good example would be like CrossFit competitors at a high level. They look amazing. They’re a lean right. They’re muscular. And there may be some slight changes when they really up their volume.

They get a little leaner just cuz of the. Pure energy expenditure. But for the most part, if we’re talking about, let’s say track and field athletes, gymnasts, et cetera, that is the body fat. They can maintain most of the time, as long as we’re talking about that, actually being the case. Cause there are some who have an unhealthy relationship to be there as well.

And that’s totally common in sport. But if we talk about those who live the life, quote, unquote of body building, like you described, I would say that’s a fantastic kind of off season for a bodybuilder. And the word I use there off season implies that all of a sudden, now we take this lifestyle that you have, where you’re making progress in the gym, you’re eating healthy, you’ve got these behaviors.

You take your fitness very seriously here. What I said, a lifestyle bodybuilder. And now all of a sudden you have seasons. So it introduces a cyclical nature to the sport. And that is an emergent property of the demands of body building. So like you said, the body fat required to actually get on stage is you take one of those lean people that track and field athlete that gymnast that lifestyle bodybuilder.

And they are probably. About 10% over the stage weight, they need to be, we can talk in body fat percentages, but to some degree, that’s just an agreed upon assumption. , 

Mike: and we’re saying 10% in an absolute sense. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. Just for anybody wondering. Yeah. It’s not oh, you only have to lose 10% of the fat that you have on your body.

Eric: Yeah. Body weight. So let’s say you’re 180 pounds you’re walking around lean. You’d probably gonna have to get close to one 60 to be the that’s, 18 pounds ish. Let’s say you’re a woman, you’re one 40 you’ve hit have awesome changes to your physique.

You like the way you look, depending on the division you compete in, you may have to lose, 15 pounds to, to get into the kind of shape when everyone on the street would be like, oh man, you look great. And then you go, yeah. And I need to lose 15 pounds. So outside of dieting for a competition when I was a personal trainer and if I had that happen and it did occasionally happen, someone already really fit comes to me.

They think they, or they want to lose 15 pounds. That to me is a red flag. My first thing is I wanna have them meet up with an eating psychologist, focused dietician, because they are trying to get to an unhealthy body fat, but that’s actually. The name of the game for physics sport.

So the actual, I think the description is gonna be helpful, cuz it, it tells you what you really need to do. So for men in the body building division and arguably sometimes even in the other divisions, you just can’t see it cuz of their wear wearing board shorts or larger trunks. The goal is to get visible striations, cross the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, cross striations there to see any vascularity, essentially to have the appearance of having no visible subcutaneous fat.

So muscle groups, which you’d never have probably seen striations. And you would see striations. So when you posteriorly tilt the pelvis, when you flex your butt down, like when you hump forward in the body building division, that’s the leanest division. It looks like a Walnut on the back of your body.

It looks like a rib cage instead of a butt. And that is if you’ve never seen that before, it’s weird. And that look. Goes along with the rest of the body, getting really lean the average person. When they see you, when you’re say eight weeks out from a show and you still got another five, six pounds to lose thinks you were peeled and it’s not possible to get leaner.

And if you got on stage like that, it would hurt your placing. And most of the time when I’m dieted down for a show, have this interesting. Occurrence when non in the know people see me. So if I go train in a hoodie and I’ve been dieting for a while, the first thing is they ask me if I’m still lifting cause I don’t fill out my clothes the same way.


Mike: I got that a long time ago when I first got fairly lean let’s call it. I don’t know, 8% or so I had done a proper diet for my first time. And I remember I was wearing a long sleeve, like a Henley type shirt and some people who hadn’t seen me a bit. Yeah. They’re like, did, are you working out in it still?

Did you stop lifting? And then I remember another one, somebody was like, you have a nice swimmer’s body. that stuck with me. I remember that they actually met it as a compliment, but I, I didn’t of, I didn’t take offense at it, but I just thought it was funny. I was like, ah, not exactly.

Not my goal. Yeah. Not exactly what I’m going for, but I get it. 

Eric: I appreciate the intent. Yeah. I specifically remember an oh nine is my second contest prep season. I was somewhere in that eight to 10 weeks out range, I think from either my second show or first show. I can’t remember, but anyway, in the same week and the same gym.

I one time walked in with a hoodie on, cause it was cold. And another time I walked in with a stringer on and one person asked me if I’d stopped training and I was getting back into it and the other person asked me how much weight I had gained because the appearance of leanness makes you look so much bigger.

One of the most hilarious examples of this is if you see videos of natural bodybuilders and you look at the, like the YouTube comments, if they’re wearing like a stringer, or if they’re wearing something that shows off their muscularity, you get a ton of like fake Naty comments, but then the same natural bodybuilder.

If they do a video with the shirt on, and they’re talking about their titles or they’re training, someone’s like, why would you listen to this guy? It doesn’t even look like he lifts. I’ve seen 

Mike: some of that, even on my videos, not fake Naty because I’ve never, again, I’ve gotten lean, but I’ve seen some people, I think it was on Reddit.

Asking Hey, what do you think? Just pictures of me in my best shape, basically. And the general consensus was like probably natural. If he’s using drugs, he’s doing it wrong. Basically. Like he looks good, probably natural. I’ll see it if I wear not a stringer, but just like a cutoff shirt where you can see, I have some muscle on my body and I just do these little talking head videos on YouTube.

It’s not highly produced. I’m not really trying, just sharing information. Then the comments will be different than if I wear like a black t-shirt. And I’ve seen some of those where it’s like this guy doesn’t even lift look at him. 

Eric: exactly. Yeah. So the point is that the appearance of leanness makes you look more muscular.

So the muscularity round is one of two rounds that you’re judged on. You have your symmetry round and competitive body building, which essentially incorporates the flow of your physique. The proportionality really is heavily indicated by how small of a waste do you have relative to your shoulders relative to your quads.

And then has some division specifics. Like they wanna see more Glu development in the bikini division. They want to see more quads and Delta in the figure division for. The men’s division. Obviously, if you’re competing in men’s physique, you’re wearing board shorts, it’s all about the upper body.

But anyway, the point is that the leaner you get so long as you haven’t like completely dieted yourself down to emaciation you look more muscular. So that behooves competitors over time, if you look at the Mr. America competitions in the forties, compared to the Mr. America competitions in the fifties, and then you keep fast forwarding over time, sometime around the eighties, people started getting like what I would call like maximally lean.

If you look at pictures of Danny Padilla or Frank Zane in the late seventies, or then you get to like rich Gaspari, some of the guys, and then basically in the eighties, all of a sudden. Stride glutes hit the scene. And that was since then we’ve had competitors in an increasing frequency who are getting maximally lean.

If you will, to where there is the appearance of no visible subcutaneous body fat. And when you look at the studies on body building competitors depending on what techniques they use and to cross validate that with our cultural zeitgeist of what we think percentage of body fat are for men, truly shredded person is probably between four to 6% body.

And for women you can effectively add about like 8% to those values, but either way cuz the essential body fat women carry a lot of that is internal. You look really fricking shredded. And even in natural body building, you will see some female competitors who do get stride glutes, although it’s less common and it’s a little more difficult because of their body fat distribution and what is considered essential fat quote unquote, you try to lose that and you start just dumping muscle mass.

Anyway the level of leanness required again is probably, honestly, when you’re not carved up, when you don’t have Tanner on, when you’re not smiling on stage, if you were just to walk around it actually doesn’t look good. I would say the average person would want to be maybe five to 10% over a truly crazy shredded stage weight for what they would think looks good.

My wife finds me more attractive when I’m about eight to 12 weeks out and afterwards this is graphic, but it, this gives you an indication about crazy. It is. You can actually see parts of my anatomy of me just standing. If I’m facing away from you. Much like a cat or a dog.

You can see parts of my anatomy that are normally not meant to be seen just for me standing there. Cause I’ve lost so much fat off my glutes. if that makes sense, not attractive, not good. I like that. I got a good image there, man. And you go from having a chisel jaw and defined features.

Oh, that looks good to then being like, whoa, you look like you are you’re terminally ill, yes. The zero body fat on the face and in the neck looks weird. Makes you look older. 

Mike: That’s one of the reasons why, as we get older, we can look older in the face is cuz we lose some of the roundness in the fat that we had in our face.

When we were younger, 

Eric: you don’t have the baby Chub. It’s funky though, man, like you go from looking first, you get younger and then you push it too far and you do start to look older. I think again, that point when you’re healthily lean, when you’re probably at the low end of a settling point, something that’s sustainable with lifestyle modification is probably where most people actually want to be and maybe to put 

Mike: numbers to it, probably what, something around 10% or so give or take for men and maybe around 20 for women.

I think 

Eric: that’s the numbers people give. But in my experience as a broad range, I think those percentages are sometimes do more harm than good, I think in reality, it should almost be behavioral and 

Mike: ultimately, it’s like what in the mirror. I tell that to people and I’d write about that and talk about that, that in the end, you’re never gonna determine exactly what your body fat percentage is, and it’s not that important.

The exact number you want to. Get to the look you want in the mirror, whatever that body fat percentage actually is, doesn’t really matter. There’s maybe some value in for some people tracking it, even if it’s inaccurate, if it’s consistently inaccurate, just so they can see, it’s kinda if you wanna pay attention to your weight and maybe the size of your waste, for example, and just make sure things are moving in the right direction.

But in the end, it’s okay, as a guy, you probably want to have a six pack and you want to have good vascularity. You don’t want to be able to pinch maybe much in your torso region. You start to get into, and this is just my experience, but you start getting down to where you are displaying AB vascularity.

For me, it’s not comfortable for me to maintain that low level of body fat, unless I were to maybe be very active and I’d have to give over a fair amount of time to just walking and burning a lot of energy. But for my lifestyle, That doesn’t quite work. So a little bit fatter than that basically is a sweet spot for me where I have a good abs and I have good vascularity, but I don’t have to try to stay active six hours a day just to stay that lean.

And I get to eat the foods I like 

Eric: and so forth. So ultimately I don’t like telling people how lean they should try to get. And then that’s probably the normal range. I think the leanness should be an emergent property, a healthy, sustainable lifestyle effects. Oh, okay. Yeah. 

Mike: I, yeah, that makes sense. So you’re saying like folks on the behaviors and see where that lands 

Eric: you exactly.

Because what ends up happening when you tell people yeah, you, people be able to be 10% as a guy is they chase 10% over and over and over and over and over again. And if they can’t get there, they think their diet’s wrong. When in reality, they might just be trying to achieve something that’s unrealistic.

So the way I advise it is to instead do all the things that we know are good for the fitness lifestyle, eat a low energy density, high protein diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. Keep a high activity, weight trained, seriously, be more mindful when you’re eating, have a consistent schedule with your eating, get enough sleep, do enough cardio to be healthy, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, all the good stuff.

And then see what happens. You could even do a diet and then implement those maintenance strategies and see how you feel. But if you’re hungry constantly, if you’re food focused, if you can’t sleep through the night, if your libido is lower than normal, if you get randomly lightheaded, if you’re constantly anxious, if you find yourself having weird behaviors, when you eat like overly salting foods and you really enjoy eating you live meal to meal, all these behaviors that are associated with probably just simply not eating enough or having.

Probably more specifically and more accurately, not sufficient energy availability for your activities and full physiological function. That’s too lean. Now. It could be difficult to tease out all of that because we live in an biogenic environment that enforces hyper palatable foods, food focus over consumption and lower activity levels.

But if you can be someone who modifies their environment, such that you’re getting a more ancestrally, normal level of activity, if you’re eating mostly single item food ingredients, if you have consistent schedule and you don’t expose yourself to all these external eating cues in hyper palatable foods, then you can get closer to what should be your normal quote unquote settling point.

And for most people it will be a, it certainly will be a healthy body fat. It certainly will be a body fat where you can perform well and live. Now, if you look at that and that as something that is not aesthetically appealing, normally my response to that is maybe we should reconsider what we consider aesthetically appealing in our society.

If it’s inherently UN unhealthy for you and you should seek self worth in other places, that’s where I go. That’s not something I can prescribe to a client, have a better relationship with your body. But I would say that we need to question whether our aesthetic ideals, if they are driving someone on average to be fundamentally unhealthy or not functioning in a physiological normal range, maybe that shouldn’t be our aesthetic ideal.

So in my mind, body building needs to be viewed the same way as hitting a 90 mile hour fastball or a wide receiver catching and being willing to go up for a catch knowing they’re getting get nailed by that strong safety or linebacker that’s an accepted risk, getting on stage with strided glutes or cross derived quads and doing what needs to be to get there is a.

It’s physiological stress that comes with all this additional behavioral and psychological and social stress that is quite unique to body building. And you’re probably not gonna get a concussion from playing body building like you would with rugby or American football. But you may very well struggle with a modified relationship with food.

Now, seeing your body under a different standard, if you can’t separate between what the seven judges tell you as you’re placing and what you need to work on from your self-worth or your normal quote unquote body image that can become really problematic. All of a sudden you feel fat. Anytime you’re not in this shredded depleted state that actually results in poor health.

Those are things we want to avoid. And I think they’re difficult to avoid if you don’t know that they can happen. Also knowing that the process of getting down to that incredibly lean state results in almost a 100% number of people, having a big rebound and gaining a ton of weight post competition. And if you’re not prepared for that, that can feel.

Really socially isolating and scary. A lot of the body building culture is based upon valuing yourself through the expression of willpower. You’re the person who could diet yourself down to this level of unhealthy leanness, incredible shredded to display this physique on stage. That is the athletic feat quote unquote in and of itself.

And then all of a sudden, you can’t stop yourself from having a second dinner at taco bell after the competition’s over. And you feel like all of a sudden you’ve lost your acceptance into this community. You’ve lost your bodybuilder card. The thing that made you special that made you accepted in this group, that was something you were proud of.

Now seemingly vanished and you’re gaining pounds a week of body fat feeling terrible, beating yourself up. And even sometimes going through these cyclical, not true bulimia in the sense that you might be binging and purging, but going on these really harsh diets to quote unquote, correct for the binge that unfortunately prompts the next binge.

And you look up three months after your show. You’re 30 pounds up actually heavier than when you started your prep. You feel terrible. You’re unhappy. You don’t like what in the mirror and you don’t know how you got there, but simply knowing that. Can happen, why it happens, what to do about it, and to under have some acceptance and understand it can make a huge difference in my experience as a coach, just having people with that informed consent and knowing what they’re getting into can make that experience a, not as drastic and magnitude, but B not something that can really disrupt someone’s life to the same degree, but it will still disrupt someone’s life.

Absolutely. And before we get to 

Mike: the positive strategies and how you’ve dealt with those things yourself and how you’ve helped your clients, what are some of the just. Physiological downsides to doing what needs to be done to compete naturally. Like for example, hormone levels, that’s something I get asked about fairly often is am I gonna ruin my hormones?

Or if people understand okay, my hormones gonna take a hit, but for how long, and how does that manifest maybe anything related to energy levels and just, having to deal with the feeling of hunger and how does that generally play out? And let’s assume that you’re doing things correctly, because a lot of what you are talking about, you can probably mitigate, and I’m sure you have good strategies for that.

But some of these downsides, you can’t completely eliminate, right? You can try to manage them, but like you said, if you’re the wide receiver and you’re gonna be jumping up for that ball and you’re gonna get hit you’re gonna get. You can try to not get hurt, but you’re 

Eric: gonna get hit.

Yes. And it’s just like that wide receiver scenario. It’s a catch 22 as wide receivers get taller, faster, more muscular and linebackers do as well. Yeah. They can get out there, catch the ball faster, jump higher to catch it. You can do a deeper flag or whatever, but you also get hit harder. cuz you are running faster.

You’re moving faster. You’re jumping higher. And that linebacker is now the body weight of lineman from a couple decades back. And just like the same thing in body building, we didn’t see stride to glutes in the seventies, sixties and fifties. And it wasn’t necessarily because they weren’t trying or there was a different aesthetic standard.

What was actually happening is the methods to sworn is good. So now that we have learned how to get shredded in an effective way. That allows you to get shredded. So it’s almost like mitigating the symptoms, psychological and physiological to getting leaner and leaner and taking a more, I would say evidence based and holistic approach to, to, to getting really lean.

It allows you to get more suffering, to get even leaner . Yeah, exactly. You use that advantage not to get to the same conditioning standard of the sixties, but feeling pretty good. You use it to get to the modern conditioning standard and probably feeling just as bad for slightly different reasons.

The diet, maybe isn’t as restrictive, maybe you’re dieting for 24 instead of 12 weeks, maybe you have refeeds and diet breaks. So you gotta, you hit the. The pause button on some of these negative adaptations, but ultimately because you’ve decided to compete, these strategies are used to therefore just push for performance further.

So what the hell is going on is this is the big question. I think what most people wanna know is dam it, why can’t I be shredded all the time? And this simply comes down to some of the regulatory systems, which are arguably evolutionary in nature that we have against famine. If you’re walking around with the minimal amount of body fat you can have, and we know that you can go through all the glycogen in your body in one day or two days of activity, then that’s not good.

It leaves you exposed to death. If there’s a, an ice age or a famine or something of that nature. So it makes sense that the, those of us who are alive today carry the adaptations of defending certain amounts of fuel. That is what adipose tissue is among other things. So the etiology of why do we experience these symptoms when we get really lean.

Essentially has two aspects. There’s the short term and long term energy deprivation. And it is the mismatch to what you were trying to do versus the fuel you’re providing. So this comes down to, if you look at research in athletes, as well as the general population, what’s known as low energy availability.

So we often think of either calorie, deficit or surplus, there is also how does our body achieve those states? The metabolic adaptations quote, unquote, that we talk about in the fitness industry, those come from something, we don’t just see a 10% or 15% reduction in our estimated energy expenditure at no cost.

Like where does that occur? If we think about an analogy of, let’s say a brick and mortar business that is going through a recession, their income goes down. So they have to do something to not go under, as a business, as they eat their costs and lose profit and actually go into a net loss on a week to week basis.

So they fire one third of their accounting team. They turn off the AC and the heat when it’s not too cold or too hot, they switch over an motion, sensor lights, and then, you’re sitting there at your office in a desk job and all of a sudden it goes dark and someone has to wave their hand.

You see who you can keep, who’s willing to take a pay cut. You furlough some people, all the stuff that we’re probably actually seeing and experiencing. I’m sure some people are unfortunately nodding their head right now. So that comes at a cost to make sure that you’re not actually bankrupting the company and the same thing goes on with your body.

So yeah, you might be experiencing these metabolic adaptations, but that’s not just some hand wavy thing. We actually see organs get smaller in the course of dieting, which might explain some of that. And if these organs are actually atrophying, that means they’re function changes too. So when you see low energy availability in men and women, we start to see our sex hormones go down.

So in men you typically see a loss of libido. In one case study of a natural bodybuilder temporarily went down to one quarter of his normal resting testosterone levels. We see thyroid go down, we see leptin go down and adrenalin go up. We see a overall tilt of different axes in the body in terms of hormonal status.

So cortisol goes up, testosterone goes down, we’ll see hunger, hormones. Get. Such that satiety won’t set in post-meal and you have a resting higher concentration of hunger hormones, and we’ll see drops in subconscious physical activity. So non-exercise activity thermogenesis, you’ll see reductions in energy expenditure during sleep.

And this all comes down to what’s called again, low energy availability. And the way you actually determine that was you would look at your total activity and then you’d look at your calories taken in relative to your lean body mass. And then you look at see what is that mathematical relationship?

And there’s consistent data showing that below certain thresholds and cutoffs, which are probably more realistically ranges and dependent upon your non-exercise activity, like what is your lifestyle activity? There are certain ranges where you start to see things like izing, hormone, pulsivity change and women, which is a predictor a early warning system.

If you will hormonally for when you’re gonna see menstrual cycle disruption in a amenorrhea, essentially what I’m getting at is that through the process of creating a calorie deficit, and then there’s a metabolic adaptation, some things, only one person gets fired off the accounting team, right?

Then you might have to cut harder. You do more cardio, you reduce your calories, which necessarily changes your energy availability status. Cause now you’ve increased your exercise activity. And or decrease your energy intake. So that mathematical relationship changes to increase energy expenditure, decrease energy intake, and therefore reduce energy availability per kilogram of lean body mass.

It means, okay we’ve gotta trim the fat even further. Now we’re gonna actually fire another person from accounting, and we’re gonna go to those motion sensor lights. And this plays out as us experiencing all these quote unquote negative adaptations. And these adaptations are all. If you look at them, either behaviorally or physiologically, they all appear to drive us to want to eat more and move less.

So it’s essentially fighting our progress and you can. Get these adaptations to happen real early. If you do a crap ton of cardio and do eat very little, or you can get them to happen at a slower pace, if you eat more, do fewer cardio sessions take diet breaks, et cetera, but there’s an inherent trade off that no matter how well you gain planet, you’re either slowing down the rate of fat loss and then, eventually getting to a similar place and maybe not the same, or you’re getting your fat loss really quickly.

But in saying I want all these negative adaptations immediately. Now there is basically, we’re just playing the efficiency game. If I use these diet breaks, if I use these re feeds, if I only lose, say 0.5 to 1% of my body weight per week, rather than crash dieting, I don’t accumulate these adaptations to the same speed and I stay above some of these thresholds.

So I won’t experience these problems immediately if I just take a more conservative approach to the diet. But ultimately because you’re getting leaner and leaner, it’s semi unavoidable. I mentioned leptin earlier. Leptin is one of those kind of, first step triggers in terms of the cascade, that results in all those symptoms I mentioned, and as leptin.

Drops off and everything else seems to follow. And leptin has a pretty strong relationship with body fat. Why? ADI post tissue actually secretes leptin. So it’s not just about energy availability of your activity relative to your intake. It’s also at a certain point, you get to the point where your body fat is so low, that the only leptin that really is in the system is when you eat something.

So you might feel okay during a meal. , even if you brought your calories back up to, to maintenance, let’s say you’re trying to maintain 5% body fat as a male or 12% body fat as a female. And I’ve done this, I’ve experienced this. One of the reverse dieting thing was really popular.

People would try to stay lean, increased food, decreased cardio in a very kind of step wise controlled manner. Besides the fact that 95% of people couldn’t do it, they just fall off the wagon. Those who were successful, they didn’t alleviate these symptoms. They still were incredibly food focused, no libido didn’t sleep through the night, et cetera.

And that simply because they essentially. We’re trying to have the business. If we go back to the analogy, operate at non recession levels with recession level staff. So you make these changes to your accounting and you do these things with your AC and your heater and all this stuff because you have to save money, but all those things also have negative side effects.

They piss off your workers. They make peoples of work efficiency, go down. They’re sitting there, waving their hands to get the lights, to go back down, forgetting where they were in their work and they have to start over. So they’re stressed, they’re cognitively distracted. So essentially you’re trying to keep all of that there and not bringing your income back to a place where it was previously, but somewhere, maybe slightly below it.

So you’re now dealing with these subclinical issues. And until you actually get your body fat back up to what we described as probably being the low end of your settling point range, where you don’t experience that food focus and all those things, will you get that company, that building your body back to full normal, healthy functioning physiology?

So that’s the whole, cause of all this 

Mike: stuff makes sense.

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The shredded. And so now let’s shift gears toward mitigating the downside. You’ve talked a bit of the, about the strategies you like to use, but I think at this point you’ve done a really good job laying out. All right. If you are serious about this, and if you want to give yourself the best chances for success on stage there, you’re gonna have to pay a price.

You can’t say you want that and then try to bargain over the price of it. There is a price to be paid, and I think we have a very good picture of what that price is, how then for those people listening, who are okay with that, and they say, Hey, I wanna see what I can do. I wanna see how lean I can get.

I wanna see how jacked I can look and I’m willing to pay the price. What are some of your best pieces of advice for making that price? As low as possible, maybe is a way to put it. 

Eric: Yeah. Try to get the best deal out of it as you can. Yeah. The great way of framing that. So I think there’s a number of things you can do.

One, you can’t address the fact that you have to get shredded in the end, you will get shredded. So the other option we have, I mentioned, there’s that short term and long term energy deprivation. The long term is you gotta get diced. Can’t change that, or you don’t do well on stage. We can change the acute energy deprivation.

The original kind of approach were these eight to 12 week diets. And this went back to an era in body building where steroid cycles were actually still cycles. If you looked at the drug using side of the sport, people would often sometimes not take antibiotics at all in the off season and then take them for prep.

And then, over time and over time on the enhanced side of the sport, it’s gone from, okay, I do some cycles in the off season and then I do a different cycle during contest prep to now like it’s blasting cruise. Like I’m always on some low level because if I wanna be five, 10 and 250 pounds on stage, I have to pretty much always be on super physiological levels of hormones.

The eight to 12 week contest prep is a side effect of the length of some of these steroid cycles. And it doesn’t have a whole lot of relevance for a natural bodybuilder. In fact, I would say it is counterproductive. It’s really difficult to get from the kind of quote unquote normal levels of leanness to the extreme levels of leanness needed to be competitive in eight to 12 weeks.

And the only way to do it is to crash diet and that accelerates rates of muscle loss, and it accelerates all these adaptations and it puts you below those thresholds where you start to see disproportionate negative side effects of low energy availability almost. Right out the gates. So a better approach is to probably take almost twice as long, if not longer and do things straight up.

First thing is just don’t lose body fat as quickly. Cause it doesn’t require as much of energy deficit. So don’t do too much cardio. So I, a reasonable rate of weight loss is probably between 0.5 to 1% of your body weight per week. And I would probably only be closer to that 1% earlier on in the diet, when you have more body fat to lose, there’s only so much you can metabolize at any given time before it starts, eating a lot into glycogen, inducing, fatigue, negatively affecting your training or actually having you lose muscle mass or lean body mass, which can come from organ atrophy or that can come from actual.

Lost both of which are not things you want. The first thing is just diet on more calories, have a reasonable activity level and cardio amount, but don’t drive activity too crazy high. I normally recommend it’s just a really basic rule of thumb. Not based on any studies, say 50% of your total resistance training volume should probably be where you want to cap your cardio energy expenditure.

That’s purposeful cardio. There’s nothing wrong with just increasing your step count and getting your lifestyle activity up. But I would probably not go above say 10 to 15,000 steps per day. And that should probably be proportionate to where you start it. If you’re a. A desk worker who trains and you get 5,000 steps per day, going to 10,000 steps per day is a lot, that’s a hundred percent increase.

You might even get a foot injury or something like that. So I would probably increase it 10 to 20% in any one go at most. So simply losing weight. Slower is a really important thing, which necessarily requires a longer contest prep. And logistically what I would recommend is instead of picking a very specific show, I would take a handful of shows that are all maybe no earlier than five months from when you start and then be open to having an open-ended contest prep.

So if there are enough shows in your region or within distance that you’re willing to go to. Have some backup options so that if you do find you’re just not getting lean on time, you don’t have to crash diet and disproportionately induce those symptoms, but rather just extend your diet a little longer.

And this allows you the luxury of also doing things. If you get lean early, you can start increasing calories and reducing the gap and actually coming in at maintenance calories, regaining some muscle mass, reducing some of these negative side effects, which ultimately seems to improve the way you look, improving your ability to synthesize and store glycogen, which improves the appearance of fullness as these enzymes.

Down regulate as you’re eating fewer and fewer carbs. So it basically gets you into a much healthier spot resulting in a better look. If you worst case scenario, quote, unquote, get ready early and eat up into the show. Even if you are overly conservative, but more likely than not, especially as a first time competitor, you’ll need more time than you anticipate, and you’ll be better off having some backup shows.

Mike: Five months just to highlight that. And that’s the, it’s a great first point to make, because I’ve been asked many times about that eight to 12 week. People see that a lot on Instagram and if you’re gonna do it right as a natural competitor, think in terms of, yeah, a couple more months, like up to five months and just for anybody wondering.

How does that experience go in terms of a lot of the negative side effects that are going to hit you at one time or another, and I’m sure that in your career and in your experience, you’ve done it, you’ve done it wrong. And so in your experience, and this is with yourself and with your clients, what does it look like?

So let’s say it’s five months to get stage lean. And if we use a, just a scale of one to 10 in terms of severity of side effects, cause I can hear some people maybe thinking that if I could just get it done in maybe two or three months and it’s gonna be just as bad anyway, in the end, I might just wanna try to blast through it as opposed to prolonging the suffering.

But I don’t think that’s what you mean exactly in terms of the experience. 

Eric: Yeah, there’s a disproportionate element there. So if I made up some Mor arbitrary numbers, the experience of what I’ve had as a coach in a, in individual is that when you try to do it fast, you ramp up the discomfort and those negative side effects a lot.

Let’s say it’s eight outta 10 for three months. But if you were to extend it by twice, it doesn’t go in half. It goes to less than half that. So it maybe starts at a discomfort level of one or two with one still being discomfort. But it’s on the scale, but it’s not much. And then it slowly ramps up to where it sucks no matter what in the end, but that mean that’s actually something to consider is that it depends what you’re used to and where your sources of stress are individually perceived.

If just tracking your food intake, hitting a certain step count and having a more structured lifestyle is something that is really. Stressful then that could, even if it is eating more and doing less cardio and not experiencing physiological side effects, that might just be a psychological stress that is now extended for twice as long.

And it may not be worth it for you. And if that’s the case, I would say it may be that you’re not ready to compete cuz competing, like the equivalent scenario would be like, ah, I love my sport, but I don’t like going to practice every day. That’s the shitty part of body building is that you don’t get to leave the sport on the field, whether the playing field of the practice field, every meal is part of your prep.

And it’s this marathon the old adage, it’s not a sprint it’s marathon, but it’s a marathon that you’re running the entire time to some degree. So there’s always gonna be some low grade level of stress. So learning to live a lifestyle of prep is something that is really an important skillset to have before you take that deep dive.

And some of these things, as you get more and more competitor experience will become things that don’t register as stress anymore. Like you’ll get so used to eating in a certain way, training with a certain schedule, moderating your training during prep versus not et cetera, et cetera, finding what ways to make cardio, not a pain in the ass, like podcasts or low impact activities or whatever.

You just find a lifestyle, remove some of those low grade kind of behavioral and logistical related stresses. And then you can more better see the benefits from just not dieting as hard, because I do think it’s disproportionate. You can diet hard and fast and you get substantially worse feelings than you do dieting slower.

And there’s also, there’s no correction. If you diet as hard as you possibly can for 12 weeks and you’re not shredded. Now what, but if you give yourself an open-ended prep and you take, as long as you need to get shredded, you’ll get shredded. And yes, like you said, it will extend the suffering to some degree, but it’s disproportionately less suffering per unit of dieting time is the mathematical way to put that and better outcomes with 

Mike: your physique too, right?

Eric: Yes, exactly. The best outcomes with one’s physique occur when you are as lean as possibly can be with the least amount of muscle loss. And in my experience where that happens is when ideally this is if I could wave my magic wand for every person who diets that I’ve worked with, I get you ready three to six weeks before the show.

And then we systematically increase calories and decrease cardio to get you. As high in terms of energy intake as we can, without you actually gaining body fat. And that produces the best looks on stage the most predictable car bloating, best feelings, the most energy, the most likelihood of retaining any loss muscle mass, cuz your training performance improves.

So to what degree they can, those negative physiological adaptations reverse. You might see an uptick in the hormones related to stress, balance, and hormones that also have anabolic functions, increasing glycogen levels, all kinds of things that can aid us as someone who’s trying to compete in physique sport.

And there’s not like a lot of debate in this. If you were to look across from like the practical arena, if you look at the anecdotes, there’s not a section of highly successful bodybuilders in natural body building who are like, nah, man, I still die in eight to 12 weeks. They’re even the ones who are not necessarily on board with the kind of evidence based movement.

And they’re like, ah, I think I know best for being in the trenches. They still die at a long time. You just will not find bodybuilders who win because they’re shredded. Not just cuz they’re genetic freaks, but, and get away with not being quite shredded, who diet for really short times time periods. Like in my mind, it’s my response would, if there weren’t such consequences to doing it, I’d say, okay, try it out. Good luck. Cause there’s just so few people that actually get shredded. And I think it was the people who got shredded in the nineties or the eighties with these eight to 12 week diets were the exception rather than the norm.

And now. Biggest thing that’s changed is the dieting times have elongated. And now at the amateur level, like in the top five in a big show, they’ll all be shredded. So I think of course correlation’s not causation, but it’s definitely in my practice, the things that have changed that have allowed people to get shredded.

If I was to put one thing above them all is simply longer dieting times. Yep. 

Mike: That makes sense. So I think that’s a good overview of some of the big strategies limiting your cardio, not crash diet. Limiting your weight loss to 1% of body weight per week, at least in the beginning phases. And then reducing that accordingly as you get leaner, if you don’t have any other big top of list items to share on this side of the equation, we can move over to the other side, which is now coming out of it.

And you had mentioned reverse dieting earlier, and that’s, again, something that I get asked about fairly often, because it’s a popular concept, not just in the body building natural body building scene, but it’s just in the body composition space. And I remember when I first heard about it, didn’t read a little bit about it.

I thought it was interesting that just as you described it step wise, very exact method for increasing calories. When coming out of a cut. And as time has gone on, and your work has influenced me on this as well as several other people seems like it’s probably not necessary to do it like that.

It’s more just and I’ve tried it myself both ways where I’ve not stepped on stage, but again, gotten pretty lean and then did the whole, like a hundred calories raise daily intake by a hundred every seven days or so. And sure, fine. You get back to maintenance and then I’ve done it the other way where I’ve just jumped up to maybe about 90% of my calculated maintenance and just let my body weight settle and see where I’m at and adjust from there and experience any downsides to the ladder.

Anyway, those are the ideas bounced around in my head now is for people who are like, okay, I get it. That’s how I can go about getting there, but now how do I not do the big rebound and how do I bring my hormones back to a healthy level, least as quickly as possible. And I would also be curious as to your thoughts and I’m throwing a lot of stuff at you hear, but bear with me.

I’d be curious as to your thoughts on how do you deal with some of the psychological stuff that you talked about, the curse of being shredded. For example, when you look in the mirror and anything other than strided 

Eric: glutes looks fat. Yeah, man, that’s, there’s a lot there and there’s a, that’s, it’s very understandable when you consider the experience of this, why there’s so much focus on the post contest period and what to do about it.

And it’s a challenging one, cuz even when you can make a very logical, rational case for what makes sense physiologically based on what we know and what we’ve experienced, anecdotally, it still ends up. Being in conflict with what we really want. And so managing that cognitive dissonance is a huge part of this, which I’ll talk about, which you alluded to.

And when you brought up that, that changing perspective on what shredded now is, or even lean or normal first, we need to get to, okay. We know the ideology of why we experience these shitty things. And it’s really important to know they’re normal and they’re temporary, almost all of the data we have.

Suggests that well, sure. Your testosterone might go to one fifth of what it was as a male, or you might experience the complete loss of menstrual cycles a few weeks or months, depending on your approach into your contest prep. When we observe people who return to normal eating behavior and they return to similar.

Body fat levels to what they were. Pre-contest diet, all these values return to baseline. And that’s been shown in case studies and in some of the group level data we have on physique competitors. And when that does not happen, there seems to be indications of them trying to stay lean, post contest or too lean you could say.

And there’s some work that I can think of a specific case study on a figure competitor who tried to have a very reverse diety style, moderate increase in calories, post competition. She didn’t get her period back for a year and a half. And I can also think of some data out of Dr. Bill Campbell’s lab showing that the individuals whose body weight barely increased in the eight to 10 weeks post show, trying to stay lean also did not see an increase of any meaningful amount in RM.

Leptin or thyroid. So the unfortunate reality is what we’ve seen from studies outside of the physics sector is that for the quote unquote metabolic adaptations, to go back to normal, there has to be body weight regain. And this almost surely is related to the fact that adipose tissue secretes leptin.

Mike: And you can’t hack that with like refeeds for example, just 

Eric: no, yeah you’re basically all of the the reverse dieting strategy of trying to increase. First I should be fair. Let me steel man, reverse dieting is spectrum of definitions. I’ve seen the more extreme ones where you’re adding, five grams of carbohydrate, ultimately with five grams of fat every other week from where you ended your diet and then just cutting out one cardio session a week as well.

And that’s crazy that keeps you in a deficit for. Six to eight weeks, depending on what you’re doing at the end of your diet, or I’ve seen the more moderate ones like you were saying, you go up a hundred calories a week and then I’ve seen the ones that are really only reverse dieting and name where maybe you increase your calories right off the gate by, 20% and then cut your cardio in half.

And then you’re probably at least in maintenance, right? When you finish, if you weren’t on a big deficit at the end. So in the end, you’re right. There’s no hacking it. All you can do is fix the short term energy deprivation. You can get yourself out of a deficit. You can put yourself at maintenance and that will definitely make you feel better, but it cannot, like you said, there’s no hack here alleviate all of the symptoms.

And I actually had a really interesting experience with this 2019, my last prep. I achieved peak condition in June, early June. And then I was increasing my calories all the way from mid-June until my last show in the second weekend in August. So I essentially had. Eight weeks. I think if I did my math reverse dieting.

And then I did what we term the recovery diet, which is something that’s we describe as 3d muscle journey with a different terminology. Even though it might look similar to that, 20% increase in calories and cut your cardio in half, which some people would call it reverse diet. The reason we call it a recovery diet is because the mentality behind it.

Mike: Yeah. The association with reverse diet is, oh, I wanna stay shredded. And I just wanna 

Eric: eat more food. Exactly. And it’s quite literally saying that it’s still a diet, it’s a reverse diet. Now we taper down in, we’re gonna taper out. And the, like you said, if you look at the case studies used to prove the efficacy of reverse dieting, it’s a picture on the left of someone shredded a picture on the right of someone nearly just as shredded.

And then what’s below. Macros and cardio. So ostensibly it means that a win is staying shredded, but eating more and moving less. And I think that makes a lot of sense to someone who highly values being lean and is really food obsessed. They get to have both, I get to eat a lot of food and be shredded.

That sounds amazing. But when you think about that with clear eye vision of someone who’s not in the midst of dieting, , doesn’t have all these food focus related, physiological and psychological adaptations. You realize that’s weird, like you should be hungry sometimes, and then you should eat, but it’s not the normal state to quantify the importance or value of our diet based on macros.

Like you eat whatever you need to eat based on what you want to eat and being hungry or not. And if you think any amount of food that is more than I’m currently eating is good. That probably means you’ve got an issue with your relationship with food. When you really thinking about it. So the ostensibly the goal of body building is to build the best physique, not to like we wanna gain muscle mass, not macros.

So I think reverse dieting is pandering to the negative psychological adaptations from dieting, almost the body 

Mike: dysmorphic side of all 

Eric: of this. Yeah. Hundred percent, man. Yeah. It’s catering to body dysmorphia. And it’s also catering to the idea that your value is higher when you’re a leaner.

I think that’s a problem. I think we really need to view, like I said, body building is hitting a 90 mile per hour fastball. It’s really interesting to see how far we can push the body and see what its limits are, but it needs to be wholly separate from the way we view our self worth. And like you 

Mike: mentioned, even if you do accomplish that, okay, you stay pretty shredded and you’re eating a fair amount of food.

But you’re still not going to undo the physiological downsides and the psychological effects that come from. Even if they just come from the physiological side effects, having lowered sex hormones is going to affect you psychologically and emotionally, even if you generally don’t have psychological or emotional 

Eric: problems.

Right? Absolutely. Yeah. If you look at all the data on people who are kept in a what’s arguably a semi starve state, long term, some of these temporary things that I said return to baseline, they just get worse, because you’re now hanging out in a state that is meant to be this temporary strategy to preserve survival.

If, for example if a woman is not producing estrogen for an extended period of time, then you start to see a drop off in bone mineral density. If you’re a male and you’re trying to build muscle mass in the off season and you testosterone is rock bottom. You’re gonna have a really tough time.

If you can’t sleep more than three hours in a row, and you’re chronically getting five to six hours of sleep, that starts to, we have data showing that reduces life quality and quantity. So all of these things don’t get fixed and they are directly counterproductive to the ostensible goal of body building the position you’re in when you are shredded is the exact opposite of what’s useful for growing muscle mass.

So by doing a reverse diet on that most extreme version where it takes six weeks to get out of a deficit and you’re hanging around at maintenance and slowly increasing maintenance by walking back some of these adaptations, but never going into a surplus, you could spend four months being in a state where.

At best, you’re not losing muscle and maybe gaining some fullness and some acute performance regaining loss muscle, but certainly you’re not growing any new muscle. So I think I can speak to the experiential side of this. Like I said, I did an eight week reverse diet where I essentially increased my calories by over a thousand.

And I cut my cardio in half and my body fat did not go up at all. In fact, I just looked better and my body weight went down a little bit, maybe for some lost, body water retention from my stress level was being so high and I looked better and better. Cause I got more fullness. My performance improved.

I probably regained some lost muscle mass and I got leaner and leaner from an appearance perspective, my performance improved on stage, but I subjectively rated like the hardest part of my diet in that late may early June phase. When I was trying to get into that peak condition, probably around like an eight outta.

Crushing myself to get in, into peak condition. And then when I started raising my calories up, it got down to maybe like a five outta 10, so it got better, but it didn’t go away. Not even at the end, when I was eating 25 to 2,800 calories a day and not doing any cardio that was planned, just keeping my step count up and hanging around about 175 to hundred 78 pounds.

Oh, it’s 

Mike: probably just about maintenance calories, right? 

Eric: Absolutely. I was on maintenance for that whole time. Pretty much, maybe a slight deficit earlier. And if you, if I’d be a great poster boy for reverse dieting, if you discounted how I felt, because you could show my average calorie intake of 1500 or 1600 on the left, my average calorie intake of a thousand more doing some cardio higher step count there, and then doing less cardio and a similar step count on the right and the same or better physique.

And you’d be like, oh my God, her first, it’s amazing. But if I told you I still couldn’t sleep for more than four hours, I was still completely uninterested in sex at all. And that I don’t, my strength was starting to dip at the end. And there’s this initial rise in performance, probably from that acute stuff, getting reversed and then a dip, then all of a sudden it’s hold on.

That’s not conducive at all the body building. What about your Instagram likes. Absolutely. That’s true. I did hit over a hundred K I did get over a hundred K this in 2019. So there you go. I did notice that. I see, there you go. Yes, if you’re leanness, maybe isn’t your self worth, but your Instagram likes then, Hey I guess we can turn that around to being a positive, the 

Mike: end justifies the means, 

Eric: It’s one of those type of things.

Always. That’s always an, there’s nothing wrong with that philosophy. That’s just a universal law, yeah. It’s worked great for American politics. It’s worked great for sociopaths to keep at it. Anyway, the recovery diet and contrast is the goal is not to reverse. The goal is to recover cuz in this sport of body building and in life, we’re trying to get back to an ideal physiological state where we can start making progress.

Given what we know that until you actually regain a reasonable amount of body fat, that the long term energy deprivation needs to go away. In addition to that short term increase in calories, that means we need to actually get into a surplus. The normal response, the reason why people rebound, it’s not because they did it wrong during the diet.

It’s not because they developed an eating disorder. It’s a totally normal response to hyperphasia. So that just means. Basically when you’ve induced an incredible amount of hunger by dieting yourself down to being really shredded. The normal thing to do, if you were just to do this in animal is to therefore increase the amount of food they eat until they get back to a healthy physiological state, and all of this stuff tilts back towards homeostasis. So instead of trying to control that process really rigidly, and then having this almost bulimic kind of style response to it, whenever you quote unquote below your reverse diet, the idea is to rather lean into it and plan for it. Because one thing we know from psychology research is that if you plan for something and do it, that is realistic, it reinforced itself.

So for example, when we used to try reverse dieting back when we bought into it with 3d MJ, for years, I might have someone who finished their diet at 1800 calories and I’d go, all right, let’s go up to 2200 and let’s drop, cardio in half. And they would be maybe around maintenance, maybe at a very small surplus or a slight deficit, but definitely not gaining a whole lot of weight each week.

And they would try to do it. Then they’d have a 6,000 calorie binge. However, alternatively, if they come out of that, they were on 1800 calories and we go, all right, let’s cut cardio out completely, except for one session a week for general health. And I actually want you to go to 2,800 calories. Now, all of a sudden they look at me and they go coach, do you mean to increase my calories by a thousand?

And I’m like, yep. And now they’re actually in a, a 500 calorie surplus. They’re gaining a pound a week, but eating, 2,800 calories and maybe going over a little bit, 3030 500 and only give a range as well. And feeling like the oopsie is in the 3000 calorie range is wholly different than hitting 6,000 and creating this black or white all or none situation.

So essentially we’re trying to tell the person we need to be in a surplus. We need to be gaining body fat. It normalizes that they’re no longer trying to fight against their natural instincts. And the only thing you’re now managing instead of this physiological dissonance, is that cognitive dissonance between what they would like to look like versus what they know is healthy to look like in verse what the current goal is for the coach, but that’s managing less dissonance than when you’re also trying to fight your physiology.

What I normally try to do is I get someone back up to being five to 10% over stage weight in one to two months. So this ends up being the largest surplus. They will experience in their normal annual cycle of training as a bodybuilder. They might be trying to gain. One to two pounds a month in the off season.

But right now we’re trying to gain like a pound a week and maybe a little, even a little more in some cases. So that is an aggressive surplus, but it also seems to mitigate almost all of the binges that I, in my experience, it gives people a very realistic thing to do, increasing your calories by 1000 to 1500 after a show is amazing.

And it scratches the itch you have, and it’s certainly not going to induce massive rates of fat gain. It will induce fat gain, but it’s helpful. And I find it mitigates the cravings. It makes you feel a lot better. Training performance comes back quicker. And in general, when we did the reverse diet, we would see besides the psychological effects of setting someone up to fail physiologically and performance wise, it would take months for them to get back to, a position they were at the start of their prep in the off season.

And now it seems to take weeks cuz it, it matches up with what’s actually happening physiologically. So I think. The reverse diet is really helpful. If you’ve got multiple shows and you’re trying to stay lean, it’s just 

Mike: encouraging for anybody considering, or whoever who have decided they wanna do this, that you can spend months dieting down and you can do everything you can to make it as healthy as possible.

But in the end, you’re getting yourself into an unhealthy state and you’ve taken many months to do that. But if you then come out of it properly, that you can quickly get back 

Eric: to healthy. Yeah, exactly. And I think this is also tells you how important it is to body build for the right reasons. Some people, the example you gave is an awesome position.

Someone who’s reasonably lean has their lifestyle down and they go, you know what? I seem to have a predilection towards this. Maybe I could compete in it. It’s gonna be a challenge for them, but what you don’t want to be as the person who’s currently unhappy with your body and your goal is to fix that with the body building show, because.

As we stated, the goal was basically to get back to where you were pre-contest as quickly as possible. If, and ideally if that is a reasonable maintenance settling point, and then, we might push that body weight up a little bit as we try to gain muscle mass and enforce larger surplus in the off season.

But. If you started at a place that you hated and you’re using body building to quote unquote, fix something, and this could be more of an existential fix than a physical one as well. I’ve seen that as well. Someone gets a divorce, you know what? I’m gonna do a body building show. I’ve 

Mike: heard from a number of women over the years that got into competing for those reasons seems more so with women than men from people I’ve spoken with.


Eric: yeah, and I think unfortunately, That is the case. And also, unfortunately I’ve started to see it more and more in men. And I do think that probably has something to do with social media, putting probably not equal, but more pressure on males. Like we’re getting to experience, some of the the social pressures to look a certain way due to Instagram that has been present for decades or that centuries.

It’s certainly 

Mike: harder. If you care about Instagram and you want to build a following and you want to get that gratification, then it’s hard. As a guy than it is as a woman. For sure. And so the pressure with that is I gotta have, I have to be absolutely shredded. I, I should compete, 

Eric: I can’t say I know what’s harder or easier but nonetheless, if you are trying to leverage your physique.

Mike: Oh, I think you can just look at it, just look at how many women fit women that have big followings versus men. It seems like it’s just easier to get more attention on 

Eric: social media. So my point was just that being on Instagram and having the social pressure to look a certain way is starting to give men a bit of a taste of what’s been around for women in the general population for a while, which is a unfortunate that, that, that pressure was there and the first place for women and B.

Now, I think it’s even more unfortunate that it’s, there’s another source for it. And then now it’s affecting men as well. So I think it’s just really important that you. When you start, if you decide to get into physics sport that you’re doing it as, Hey, this would be cool. This would be fun. I wanna see how far I can take this rather than solving something, fixing something and not being happy with where you are in life and seeing body building as a solution because.

As cool as it is. And there may be some positives that come from it. Don’t get me wrong. It’ll improve your self-efficacy. It’ll improve your ability to manage details, manage stress. If you can make it through a hard spell at work or, a difficult regular life stress period, while doing prep a global pandemic, maybe.

Absolutely. Then you’ll be able to handle that stuff even better when you’re not, half starved. So I can definitely say that body building has given me a ton of positives. Don’t get me wrong. I think my effort I can put into my academics, my work, my relationships, my quote, unquote growth mindset, the whole philosophy of progressive overload, managing stress and getting better.

And moving forward, I learned from the sport of body building and has made me a better human, but. I was also fortunate that when I got into the bodyline, I thought this would be cool. Not man. I hate what I see in the mirror. I need to fix that. Cause I think I would have a much more negative experience and I’ve unfortunately seen and met a lot of people who have, so the recovery diet is almost predicated on the fact that we wanna get back to where you started.

That’s the healthy place. This is the performance place, but now performance for next time is probably in most cases gonna result in us, improving our physique, gaining muscle mass, not sure as how ain’t gonna happen when your testosterones is that of a castrated male. A unit. Exactly. Great. 

Mike: One last question for you.

And this is, and I’ve experienced this to some degree. Again, I haven’t gotten bodybuilder lean, but I’ve gotten pretty lean. And I like to think that I’m fairly balanced emotionally. I don’t place too much importance on if I have AB veins or not. And I don’t have too much of my identity wrapped up in my muscles, but even I have experienced this and I’m sure you have too.

When you get really lean and you just like it. Yeah. Like you, you alluded to this earlier where you might not even be able to explain it. You just like it, it just feels good. I don’t know what to say. You look in the mirror and you’re just like, yes, this is great. Absolutely. And you get used to that and then you have to give it up.

If you want to get back to healthy, how have you, and what do you do? What works for you? Maybe it’s not one solution for everyone, but what works for you? And then what has worked with your clients to help deal with the, even if it’s just the womp 

Eric: swamp of it, yeah, man. Dude, you asked me to be on this podcast to talk about this.

And I talked about my experience this last season. I still experienced it, knowing everything that I know, having authored and written books, eBooks, and done videos and written articles about arguing for the recovery diet, arguing for regaining the fat to a reasonable level quickly. It is still something I experienced mild depression as my body fat levels go up because man, it just, I think it would it’s probably the.

To a different and lesser degree as when you peak for a power lifting meet, like you were crushed and you’re ready to stop training. But at the same time, you were also hitting numbers that if you did it man, I’m the strongest I’ve ever been right now. And your numbers inevitably drop after that power lifting meet, and the same thing, like you say in bolt is not always running that, that time.

Like it’s not, you can’t take a random Thursday and ask him to run that, that world record time, there’s sometimes during the year he might even be running a 10, and that’s just the nature of athleticism is you hit these peaks. And after every peak, as Dan, John says, there’s a valley and that valley does suck, but it sucks a whole lot less if you know it’s coming and for the physique athlete, I think some of the strategies that I found most helpful are to take a shift away from what you look.

That’s difficult. You spent maybe 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 months to look a certain way or needing to look a certain way. If you’re doing multiple competitions, even once it’s achieved. And then like you said, really enjoying the fact that you look that way, like this is fucking cool. This is amazing. I put a decade in my case of plus of work into this, and now I finally achieve something that I’m proud of.

And then you don’t wanna see it go away, but if you can go right, the way I improve in the off season is by making progress. I need to gain muscle mass. Okay. If I gain muscle mass, we know that’s highly associated with improving my strength. I’m more contract Al tissue means more force output, which means a heavier squat bench, deadlift row lateral raise, curl, whatever, whether that’s a 10 rep max, five rep max, 20 rep, max, et cetera.

So one thing I really recommend to my athletes and that I did myself was start wearing hoodies to the gym. Again, stop focusing on your muscle mass, start thinking about performance and think about process and qualitative goals. Like one of my goals was I wanna sleep through the night. I want to get eight hours of sleep goddamnit 

Mike: I can sympathize with that.

Yeah. You’ve been my sleep is fortunately much better, I had reached out to you for anybody listening. I, there was a period where I was having trouble sleeping through the nuts, having trouble staying asleep. And in the end it probably actually just came down to, general stress. But I had reached out to Eric for any advice Hey, I’ve tried all the obvious things.

And so I can relate to that. It sucks when you know that feeling when you first wake up. And immediately you’re like, I think I’ve been asleep like an hour and a half. This does not feel right. And you just know it’s gonna be one of those 

Eric: nights. It sucks. Yep. And one of the things that seems to be associated with that is low energy intake relative to your output.

And it may or may not be the case if you’re listening and you’re thinking if you have a sleep problem, but if you were sleeping fine, you dieted, you stopped sleeping fine during the diet. You can take a fair guess. That’s probably related to that or the secondary stress related to it. So if you can increase your calories, improve your sleep quality, start focusing on performance and really start putting more energy into the things that maybe you neglected because to manage the stress of contest prep that often goes concurrently with taking a little bit less on other aspects of life.

And sometimes that has social costs that could be being a little less present in your relationships necessarily having or wanting to not go out, to eat as much. Yeah. Or literally not 

Mike: present, cuz you’re like I don’t wanna watch you guys eat a bunch of food I can. 

Eric: Exactly. So I think it’s really important.

The way I recommend to my athletes is. I want people around you to not know your prepping, except for the fact that your body’s changing, because you chose to participate in this ridiculous sport of body building. Other people shouldn’t have to suffer for it, be an adult about it. Don’t get annoyed when that everyone else wants to get pizza and you can’t have it, they didn’t choose for you to do a contest prep.

You did. So don’t have a sense of entitlement, cuz you’re doing something quote unquote hard. Like you’re choosing to starve. There’s people who are literally don’t have access to food in the world. So I give them that perspective. Unfortunately though, that means that they’re doing a lot of things to manage some of their knee-jerk reactions, be a good spouse, father, son, whatever.

And they’re trying to not outwardly negatively affect others or minimize it as much as possible. And that sometimes means. Not being present or being a little more guarded or being a little more controlled. It essentially means just putting a whole lot of effort into living life that would normally happen.

Normally it’s all your processes are running slower on your computer. Cause there’s this background program running called contest prep. So your Ram’s taken up. So once your Ram is no longer taken up it pays to reinvest to check in with your loved ones to see, what things have fallen by the wayside.

There’s some hilarious stuff that happens during contest prep. People will take videos of their poses that they’re going through in the same room. You’ll notice at some point like four months into prep, all of a sudden the room looks dirtier. They’ve lost. Like the mental willpower time or energy management to, clean their room.

That’s a little bit of a microcosm of what’s probably happening in their life. You know how deep 

Mike: they are into the prep, by how much disorder they’re 

Eric: surrounded by. Exactly. Cause all that energy is going into ordering their food, their posing, their cardio, their training, their mentality. So it’s a time to look at the mild amount of records you’ve created in your life for going for this extreme goal and focus on improving that, being present for your relationships, and then shifting your goals to the outward appearance, to the performance that your body can put out and seeing your numbers go up in the gym.

And that can actually be quite motivating and trying to purposely look at your body less and then focus just on the process goals like, oh, I wanna be eating within this range, paying attention to my qualitative hunger and satiety signals, which I was purposely ignoring before. Get back to being normal.

Again, basically faking it until you make it. You’re not gonna feel normal at first. So you basically fake it until you make it with your relationship with food that improves that’s operationalized and a goal. And you check in on it, prove your sleep qualities and you focus on performance, but you take the focus off your physique because even though you might be getting.

Better physiologically. You might even be regaining muscle or gaining new muscle in this process. It won’t be that much to that. Your net result, as you’re looking better, you’re gonna look worse compared to the standard you were trying to achieve. So there’s no, , there’s no way around that and wrapping your head around.

It can be difficult if you’re still in the prep mindset, everything you were staring at your glutes to try to get them leaner and leaner your abs or your quads every week. And then they finally got it lean as you want. And now. You’re purposefully trying to put that body fat back on, and that’s a tough circle to square.

So a lot of it needs to come from focusing on something else. You have to diversify your happiness portfolio truly. So it’s not just your physique. That makes, 

Mike: A lot of sense and definitely agrees with my experience. Although it hasn’t been as extreme as yours, but I can definitely relate to that.

And for me also, it goes back to something you were talking about early on in the podcast of having a healthy settling point and understanding that you only can be. So lean without experiencing the negative side effects. And I had to go through that experience myself. I had tried to maintain again, maybe a 7% or something like that.

Maybe a little bit leaner. It’s hard to say, but where I had veins going up, my abs. So I was fairly lean. My glutes weren’t there yet, but pretty lean. And I did the reverse diet thing and cut my cardio down. But it’s funny when you were talking about that, I was like, yep. That was exactly my experience.

What I most noticed was, and what I didn’t like, and this is something that I experienced twice to where I was like, okay, the association then became clear to me, but I didn’t like is I felt like I couldn’t, I wasn’t hungry per se often, but I always felt like my body just wanted more food. So I had more attention on food and when I would eat, I wouldn’t be fully satisfied.

I wouldn’t still be hungry exactly. But I just would have the desire to eat more and feeling that way. Most of my waking hours just got too obnoxious hundred percent. So there was just a point where then that was clear association to me of it’s cool to have AB veins, but it’s not cool to always feel like I need to eat more food.

And so for me, it was finding what’s the happy medium for me. What I’ve found is, again, it’s what I was talking about early on. like to have abs and, have some vascularity in my arms, maybe a little bit in my shoulders, look fit and athletic, not shredded per se, but fit in athletic and be able to maintain that.

Not having to weigh all my food and eating stuff that I like and changing things up and doing enough cardio for, I probably do a little bit more cardio than I need to for health only, but that’s just because I like it. It’s not, I follow I like your advice in terms of, I keep my cardio at about half of my lifting.

And this kind of a nice little part of my morning routine, so I can relate to everything that you’ve been talking about. Even though, again, I’ve only done kind of a light version of 

Eric: it, no, but it’s still super relevant. And it is like you said, this kind of a more extreme version of it.

And that is really the take home for people is that you shouldn’t have to try to maintain a certain body composition. You should be able to establish certain habits and then just live in those habits. And if you’re living in those habits and the only change was the fact that you got leaner, but all of a sudden, you’re never satisfied in the amount of food you eat.

And maybe you’re not hungry per se, but you could eat more. That there’s a few aspects of your company where the , you’re still acting. So you’re in recession to go back to my prior analogy and that’s probably not ideal for health performance or making gains as a body builder. And one thing I can tell you the consequence of this in body building, if you look at the people who compete annually, so every year their physiques change very minimally in natural body building.

Yeah, sure. When you look at the people who take time off, especially in their early phase career, that’s when you actually see some pretty good transformations and everyone is a bodybuilder you could argue is advanced compared to what the general population of lifts thinks of, novice, intermediate advanced.

So those kind of changes, are only gonna come. If you can really set up an optimal environment and give yourself enough time to put on muscle mass, or all you can do is get a little leaner pose, a little better, peak, a little better. And that’s fine. Once you’re a seasoned competitor, you’ve got the lifestyle down, you’ve built the muscle mass you’re gonna have, and you’re just refining it or making small changes, and if you’re not at that stage, You should be taking time off between seasons. That’s another big part of it. So you have time to recover and then make progress. 

Mike: Yeah. Yeah. I remember you had spoken about that. Maybe it was on, in a previous inter interview that we did, or maybe it was on your podcast, but that you took some, I believe it was it two years?

I remember it correctly to really just focus on getting bigger and stronger before you jumped back into competing. 

Eric: Exactly. I did. Oh 7 0 9, 2011. And then I took a lot of time off for grad school and then competed again in 2019, early on. I had to keep myself off stage in oh eight in 2010 and I kept reminding myself, like all the feedback you got was get bigger and that’s not gonna happen with a six month diet, a three month recovery.

And then a three month muscle building phase, you gotta invest a little more time and yeah, it really paid off. Just to give people perspective on. How much you need to be invested in the lifestyle and the process rather than the outcome is my stage weight is only four or five pounds up from my 2011 contest in 2019.

And I was leaner. So we’re talking maybe six to seven pounds of muscle gained in eight years at this stage of the game. I meant so yeah, that’s not even something you can track that’s right 

Mike: in line with the best data and the best models that we have in terms of what to expect. And that’s, you.

knowing as much as and really dedicating yourself to living the lifestyle. What I’ve often told people and I’m speaking to everyday people who are just looking to get fit and look good and they’re not gonna compete, after five or six years of doing things correctly, you can expect very little to change from there on out.

And so that’s not necessarily a downer though. I talk about some of the stuff you’ve already been talking about is it’s time to change perspective in terms of how do we, why are we doing this? At that point it can’t be, oh, because I just love. Seeing another inch intro my biceps because there are no more inches to be had really

Yeah. So we have to find other reasons to keep doing this. So yeah, considering where you were probably already at I’d have to see a picture, but I’m assuming you’re already fairly close to your genetic potential by 2011. It shows just how much work it took to get to where you are now, even closer to your genetic potential.

There’s probably not much left. I would think. 

Eric: Hey, that’s another beauty of focusing on the process and that, that’s why probably one of the reasons why I’m drawn to compete in Olympic lifting and strong and power lifting is they give me other avenues to progress. They’re lateral moves, which will only have in a positive side effect on body building, but I’m in love with trying to enjoy the newbie gains even just of the experience.

Exactly. Exactly. So that’s a hundred percent. It keeps me invested. It keeps me focusing, keeps me trying very hard and sure I’m going towards this acid tote of whatever my genetics healing may be or. For where it may lie, but I’m motivated by the outcomes and the pro motivated more by the process and the outcomes.

And it gives me the fuel needed to keep trying. If I had been entirely focused on winning an extrinsic rewards, like I had internally, I don’t think I ever would’ve gotten here. Yeah. If someone could have taken a time travel machine and said, Hey, Eric, unfortunately by the year 2020, you will not be w N BF world champion.

So you should just give it up. I may have listened, and then I wouldn’t have known that. I would’ve got to the point where I could snatch body weight squat, 500 pounds, deadlift five 50 and bench 360 and have a pro card in one organization and be really proud of my physique. Sure. I’m not, Brian Whitaker or Bryce Lewis or Lugen or anything that.

But I think the focus on the process has actually helped me achieve higher goals rather than being entirely goal oriented near a hundred percent. You have to find motivation to do this as a lifestyle and as a continual process. Get more out of it than simply inches. Like you. 

Mike: I love it, man. I love the insight.

I love the passion. It’s always fun to have you on and to talk about all the different elements of getting jacked . And so as always I really appreciate it. Let’s wrap up with telling people where they can find you in your work. And let’s definitely mention mass. I always like to give that a plug because you guys do a great job.

I’m continually impressed with the amount of work that goes into it, because I know from behind the scenes, what it takes to produce, I don’t even produce content exactly like yours, but I do similar enough work to really appreciate what you’re doing with the research review. Also, any other new and exciting things that you want people to know about?

Let’s let ‘

Eric: em know. Thank you so much. I appreciate that, Mike. And yeah it’s a lot of fun producing monthly applications and strength sport alongside Dr. Drexler and Zerto. Greg knuckles and yeah, a lot of go work goes into it and we’re proud of what we do. And it’s a great way to stay up to date with the science of strength and physique development as it emerges.

But yeah, best place to find me is 3d muscle That is the number three, the letter D then muscle It’s all about natural bodybuilding. We’ve got podcast blog articles, courses, my link to my books and a link to masses there as well. But I know you can also check out Mike’s links to that and.

I’ve also got a few other things in the works iron culture, which you were on myself and Omar, ISA, our podcast, discussing lifting culture, science and history. And then for nutrition coaches who are interested, check out nutrition, coaching That’s where we provide continuing information about the industry scope of practice and it’s changing environment.

If you’re a nutrition coach and that’s myself and Dr. Joe Eski is that new? That is new. That’s very new. 

Mike: And okay. I was gonna say, am I was like that. I totally, 

Eric: what is this, or, yeah it’s basically our effort to give people monthly webinars on how to stay up to date as a nutrition coach and make sure that your scope of practice evidence based practice and legalities covered in perspectives from folks who are RDS, MDs, researchers, etc.

Mike: That’s great. I’m gonna be sending people your way, because I get asked about nutrition certification and becoming a nutrition coach. And up until now, honestly, I haven’t had great resources to share with people beyond the obvious evidence based stuff that you can go read. But that’s 

Eric: good to know.

Yeah. Nutrition, coaching, That’s a great place to check it out and I’m honored to be alongside the pioneer Dr. Joe Eski in that field. 

Mike: And Instagram come on. Oh yeah. Don’t forget the most 

Eric: important things. Yeah. At Helms through DMJ come be one of my followers like I’m a cult leader and like 

Mike: everything and comments seven times tag, all of your friends.

Cetera. Absolutely. All right, man. Thanks again. Appreciate it. I look forward to the next one as always. 

Eric: My pleasure, man. Thank you. All 

Mike: right. That’s it for this episode. I hope you enjoyed it and found it interesting and helpful. And if you did, and you don’t mind doing me a favor, please do leave a quick review on iTunes or.

Wherever you’re listening to me from in whichever app you’re listening to me in because that not only convinces people, that they should check out the show, it also increases search visibility and thus, it helps more people find their way to me and learn how to get fitter, leaner, stronger, healthier, and happier as well.

And of course, if you want to be notified, when the next episode goes live, then simply subscribe to the podcast and you won’t miss out on any new stuff. And if you didn’t like something about the show, please shoot me an email at Mike Muscle For, just muscle for and share your thoughts on how I can do this better.

I read everything myself and I’m always looking for constructive feedback, even if it is C. I’m open to it. And of course you can email me if you have positive feedback as well. Or if you have questions really relating to anything that you think I could help you with. Definitely send me an email that is the best way to get ahold of me, Mike, at multiple

And that’s it. Thanks again for listening to this episode. And I hope to hear from you soon.

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