31 years of training and 27 years of competing has taught me one thing:
Don’t do any more than you need to.
If you can get lean on high carbs then there is no need to cut carbs. If you can grow on 10 sets a body part there is no need to do 11. In the past I made the mistake of dieting like someone who has a hard time getting lean. I was excessively strict. I would cut my fluid prior to a show when truthfully I never held any subcutaneous fluid.
There are some basic rules involving nutrition and training but they need to be tailored to the individual. We metabolize nutrients at different rates and we recover at different speeds. Truthfully, I hope you DON’T follow my program verbatim. It is tailor made for me.
My schedule. My taste buds. My recovery ability. My injuries. What I do hope is that you can take at least one nugget of wisdom from this article and apply it to your own training and nutrition.
On October 17th, 2008 I was 2 weeks into my prep for the NPC Excalibur. I woke up that morning and for the first time in my adult life I was not hungry. If fact I was sick at my stomach. The nausea got worse and progressed into lower abdominal pain. It got so bad that I had my wife take me to the emergency room. I was diagnosed with appendicitis. They couldn’t perform the appendectomy laproscopically so they had to open me up. During surgery they discovered that the appendix was gangrenous. The infection spilled during removal of the appendix and the entire region became infected. I was laid up in a hospital bed for nearly a week. Just getting out of bed was a chore. My weight dropped from 198lbs to 180lbs in 7 days. I looked like a tub of goo. It was hard to believe that 4 months prior I had stood on a bodybuilding stage. The infection weakened the internal sutures. So, when I began training again 6 weeks later, I ended up getting an incisional hernia. On May 14th, 2009 they opened me up again and repaired the hernia. When I began training again 6 weeks later I inflamed a nerve in my scapula that resulted in permanent nerve damage and loss of strength in my right side. I could not do pulldowns, rows, side laterals, bent laterals or overhead presses without extreme pain. I was depressed. I thought my bodybuilding days were over. Finally in September of 2010, after more than a year of ultrasound therapy, neuromuscular therapy and muscle relaxers, I progressed to the point where I could do back and shoulder movements with very light weight. I was curious what I would look like if I leaned out. I saw my window of opportunity and I decided to try to compete again. Even if I wasn’t at my best I wanted to say I did it one more time. Since I was missing a lot of upper body muscle I knew that I couldn’t diet too aggressively. The fat would have to come off very slowly. I would diet first and pick my show later.
On Oct 17th, 2 years to the day after my appendectomy I began my diet. I decided to keep my carbs high and not to lower them any more than I needed to get lean. I was not in a rush. I would get lean when I got lean. If I had a timetable in which I needed to be ready, my macros would certainly have been different than they were over the course of my prep. My diet was as follows:
Train or cardio
Meal 2: 8:00 am. Same as meal 1. Meal 3: 10:30 am. Sandwich - 2 slices of Ezekiel bread with 100g (grams) chicken breast, a handful of raw spinach and Dijon mustard. Meal 4: 12:30pm. Same as Meal 3. Meal 5: 2:30pm. Same as Meal 4. Meal 6: 5:30pm. 100g baked tilapia, 200g sweet potatoes and a tbsp of Benecol Light spread. Or: 1 cup of egg whites scrambled with 200g red potatoes and spinach. Meal 7: 7:30pm. Same as Meal 6. Meal 8: 10:00 pm. 8 oz green beans with onions sautéed in Benecol. 1 scoop of chocolate UMP.
My training looked like this: Sunday: Legs and Abs Monday: Cardio-30 minutes at level 7 on the Stepmill Tuesday: Chest, Shoulders and Triceps Wednesday: Cardio-30 minutes at level 7 on the Stepmill Thursday: Back, Rear Delts, Traps, Biceps and Abs Friday: Cardio-30 minutes at level 7 on the Stepmill Saturday: 60 minute walk at a comfortable pace
My training was definitely old school. Particularly leg workouts. I knew I would be down in upper body size so I wanted to make sure my legs were their best ever. Heavy squats, front squats, trap bar deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, side lunges, walking lunges and Romanian deadlifts were my staples. I would rotate 2-3 of these movements each workout. My rep scheme varied with my mood. Sometimes I did 5 sets of 5 with a movement. Sometimes I did a traditional pyramid scheme. Sometimes I did a reverse pyramid. Sometimes I only did a couple of high rep sets to near failure. The only constant was that I logged my workouts into my journal and constantly strove to use heavier weight with impeccable form. The only machine I used for legs was the leg curl machine.
Because of the nerve damage in my scapula the only back exercises I could train intensely were deadlifts and dumbbell pullovers. I progressed to the point where I could use light weight on pulldowns, cable rows, hammer shrugs, seated dumbbell presses and dumbbell laterals. There was also a huge difference in strength between my left and my right side. The injury affected all of the pulling muscles on my right side. As a result I could only use 35 pounds on dumbbell curls with my right arm. Since biceps were always a strong point I just used 35 pounds on both sides and kept the reps equal. The injury affected the stabilizer muscles so heavy incline presses for my chest were out. I could however bench heavy. So, benches and a variety of flye movements made up the brunt of my chest workout. I do a modified HIT training program. Since the act of straining to get a rep out inflames the nerve, I don’t go to absolute failure. I stop 1-2 reps short of failure. With exercises like squats and deadlifts I think training to failure is overkill anyway. I usually do around 12-15 sets for legs and back, 10-12 sets for chest and shoulders, and 4-6 sets for smaller bodyparts like arms and calves. As I lower my carbohydrates I scale back my sets proportionately.
I started my diet at a bodyfat of 12.1% on my Skindex caliper. By mid January I was 7.9%. I saw that the NPC Sunshine Classic on March 19th was a reasonable goal. I decided to begin lowering my carbohydrates slightly. I reduced my servings of potatoes to 150 grams per meal and cut out the soy milk with my oats and UMP. I also began walking 30 minutes a day on weight training days. Roughly every 5-7 days I would begin to flatten out on this regimen. On days I was flat I would add 500-700 calories of junk to my diet. (Usually a bowl of chili or a Steakburger and fries from Steak and Shake). Sometimes I would just add a 9th meal of oatmeal, soy milk and UMP. Usually, I would try to make my high calorie day coincide with leg day.
So began a pattern I follow when I diet: Deplete myself over a course of several days to a week, eat, fill out and evaluate the results in the mirror and with my Skindex caliper. By mid February I was well under 6% and lean enough to step on stage. However, because of my structure (wide hips and narrow clavicles), and the fact that I was down in upper body size I needed to look like an anatomy chart in order to do well. My problem has never been getting lean but keeping the muscles full in the process. I decided I was leaning out too fast and I added a 1am meal of oatmeal and UMP. I also added an extra cardio session: A 30 minute walk during my break. I noticed that on April 23rd, NPC promoter Brent Jones was bringing back the NPC Kentucky Derby Festival Bodybuilding Championship. Being a Louisville native, this was THE show to get in back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I knew that while I would be in excellent shape for the Sunshine Classic, to be at my best would require another 4-5 weeks of slow dieting. I would definitely be nasty ripped by April 23rd.
FINAL WEEK EXPERIMENT
Usually my favorite thing to do the week before a contest is what I have been doing all along. In other words: Don’t Change a Thing. However, I felt this would be a good time to experiment with carb depletion, carb loading and sodium loading. I cut my carbohydrates to 240 grams per day at 8 days out. I also bumped up my cardio to two 30 minute sessions on the Step Mill on non training days and one session on weight training days. By Wednesday afternoon I was very depleted and flat. I began loading with 60 grams of carbs and 16 oz of fluid every 3 hours around the clock. I used my oatmeal, UMP and soy milk concoction initially and switched to rice cakes with almond butter on Friday morning. I cut my fluid to 12 oz every 3 hours. Friday evening I weighed in at 188lbs. I cut my fluid completely (big mistake) at 7pm. At 9:30pm had a nice meal of an 8-oz rib eye, a large potato with butter and sour cream, a slice of cheesecake and a glass of wine. By Saturday morning I was crispy looking but too dry. It was good enough however to win the Men’s Over 35 class and nab a 4th place spot in a tough Open Light Heavyweight class. It also earned me the nickname, The Sunshine Shredder given to me by Muscular Development photographer John Hawley. I was by far the most ripped guy in the show. During my 60 seconds of posing without music during the prejudging I could hear the audience gasp when I hit my quad and hamstring shots.
I relaxed my diet slightly for a week afterwards and geared up for the Derby. I noticed that on the week before the Derby show was the NPC Orlando Metropolitan. I decided it would be a nice tune up. I cut out cardio the Monday before and practiced my posing like there was no tomorrow. I only did a moderate depletion and carb load this time around. Because I was only moderately depleted I didn't have to begin loading until Thursday evening. I followed a similar plan of having a high sodium, high fat, and high carbohydrate meal the evening before. I consumed a full gallon of water on Friday as opposed to ½ gallon at the Sunshine Classic. This time I cut my water at 10pm. I hit my peak from 1am to 4am. Again, I woke up very dry and somewhat flat. During the prejudging, I was nervous because none of the judges seemed to be looking at me when I was on stage. Afterwards though, the photographers told me they thought I had the overall. As it turned out they were right. The Sunshine Shredder struck again. My first overall open win in over 11 years at the ripe old age of 44.
I didn’t have time to celebrate. I still had one more show to go. The last week turned out to be brutal. I was holding water and it seemed like my body didn’t want to let it go. I really didn’t know what to do. I was in uncharted waters. I didn’t want to carb load Thursday if I wasn’t sufficiently depleted and by Wednesday my lower abs still had a bit of a bloat to them. I overcompensated. I did cardio twice a day until Wednesday evening. I kept my carbs low Thursday. Friday morning I woke up depleted, flat and dry but my abs were crisp. Hallelujah! I immediately began my ritual of 60 grams of carbs with 16 oz of water every 3 hours. My daughter Heaven and I flew out of Ft. Myers to Louisville that morning.
By that afternoon my legs were flat from the cardio, but otherwise I was on point. I weighed in at 187 pounds Friday evening. I decided to keep drinking through the night and cut my water at 4am. I pushed back my high sodium/fat/carb meal to 8am Saturday hoping to peak around the time prejudging started. I was about 95% of where I was the previous week. It turned out that my 2 classes (over 40 and open light heavyweight) were the toughest and deepest in the show. I ended up placing 3rd in the over 40 and 4th in the light heavyweight class. What was really cool though was being up on stage in my hometown in front of family and friends who hadn’t seen me compete since 1990.
This season was extremely special to me. Not only because I won an overall but because I did it while training around a very bad injury. I owe it all to smart training, smart dieting and top notch supplementation.
John Davidson at a Glance Age: 44 Occupation: 8th Grade Math Teacher Family: Wife Sancia and Daughter Heaven Birthplace: Louisville, Kentucky Years Training: 31
Favorite Bodybuilding Meal: 2 packets of No Sugar Added Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal with 1 cup of lite chocolate soymilk and 1 scoop of Chocolate UMP
Favorite Supplements: Chocolate Ultimate Muscle Protein, Mass Aminos and Ultra 40 Liver Tabs
I would tell someone who has never used Beverly supplements before that you get what you pay for. 25 grams of a high quality protein powder and 25 grams of a low quality protein powder are as opposite as night and day. When I used to get whatever protein mix was on sale, I frequently got gas and diarrhea from it. I switched to Beverly back in 2006 and have never had that problem again. Beverly’s made its name from its state of the art protein powders. I also like to give my body multiple sources of protein at each meal. I combine the UMP with soymilk. UMP itself is a blend of the absolute highest quality whey isolate and casein. In addition I have 6 Mass Amino’s and 6 Ultra 40 liver tabs with each meal. This gives me an additional 12-15 grams of the highest quality protein at each meal totaling about 100 grams over the course of 8-9 meals. Since I don’t eat much red meat, I also like the Ultra 40 liver tabs because they are an excellent source of heme iron.
In my CD Player: AC/DC Back in Black Most Inspiring Book: Challenge Yourself by Clarence Bass
Hobby or Interest outside Bodybuilding: To be honest my job is my hobby. I love teaching and coaching. Between that and my daughter, Heaven’s, guitar and dance lessons I don’t have time for anything else.
Words to Live By: "When you were born you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life in such a way that when you die the world cries and you rejoice"