T Nation

Do We Over-Complicate Nutrition?

This kind of follows on from my question about egg whites, I guess.


I’ll preface this by stating that I am not, nor do I pretend to be, an expert. What follows is just an observation.

I was watching the Pumping Iron 25th Anniversary DVD again, and in particular the superb behind-the-scenes segment, Raw Iron I think it’s called. There is a great scene therein where Arnold, Franco Colombu, Mike Katz, Ed Corney, Ken Waller, and the others, are at a restaurant. It’s supposed to show how much they eat, and it’s effective, as we see each order, in turn, large amounts of food.

However, what I found most interesting about this segment is actually what they were eating. Most of them ordered steaks, but Katz ordered several large hamburgers (sans buns). Corney orders a steak with a tuna omelette on the side. No egg whites. A regular omelette. They then stuff the lot. During Pumping Iron itself we see Arnold and others eating on a few occasions, and it’s always basic foods.

This got me thinking about the changing attitudes to nutrition over the years, particularly in the sports world, and especially in bodybuilding. While it has changed somewhat, the ultra-lean, eating wholefoods mentality of bodybuilding persists to this day.

I’m wondering - is it wholly accurate?

Here is my point: I don’t think anybody on these forums would argue that the builds of the guys listed above, and others like them at the time, were arguably the best professional builds we’ve ever seen. By that, and this is from the viewpoint of Joe Average, I mean the most asthetically appealing. Yes, Arnold was a genetic freak, but some of these other guys were not, and they looked good. Better, they looked relatively normal in regular clothes. Times have changed, and these guys, maybe Arnold aside, couldn’t begin to compete even at your local championships nowadays. But they still had great bodies, and for most of us, are certainly worth aspiring towards.

Given the kinds of food that these guys used to put away, plus the general lack of supplements outside of the basics in their diets, it makes me wonder - do we over-complicate our nutrition? Millions of words are written daily regarding good and bad fats, and oils, supplements, varying kinds of proteins etc etc, in magzines, and on this web site and others, but at the end of the day, is a hgh-volume, balanced diet arguably as good - for the average person - as something significantly more scientific (and let’s face it - expensive)? Can the diet that Arnold and the others were taking in 30-40 years ago that worked so well for them, and others, stopped working? How is that possible?

Looking at this from an alternative perspective, I’m wondering if somebody like Lee Priest has the right idea, and I know he approaches his nutrition, and training, in a similar way that Arnold did. That being, to eat massively off-season, and get yourself into shape at the right times. The Dead Pool commentary on this web site - and others - often include Priest as a likely candidate, but I’m not sure that what he’s doing is all that radically different to what was done back in the 1970s. (Although obviously he does take it to greater extremes.) I’m not saying Priest’s way is the best way per se, but perhaps a middle ground, as with most things in life, is the smarter alternative?

Note: I understand and acknowledge that the use of drugs in bodybuilding has been prevelant since the so-called ‘Golden Era’, but that has nothing to do with nutrition per se. I’m not arguing that Arnold’s diet = Arnold’s body, but I’m just wondering if we take things TOO far, and make it harder than it needs to be.

Reading the posts on here I know there are many people who eat a more basic diet, and many who do it literally ‘by the book’, using flax and coconut oils, hardcore supplementation etc etc. I’m not saying this is wrong - simply: is it necessary?

To conclude: do we need to go beyond the well-balanced, high-volume protein diet, eating 6-8 times daily and allocating 1.5-2.0 grams of protein per pound of lean mass?

Appreciate any thoughts or insight on this.

amazingly, after reading what youve written, for us normal folks, I think things are taken WAY too far. For instance, (sorry to any Biotest employees here) people buy WAY too many supplements and think that its going to whip them up into contest shape in no time. In actuality, I agree, I think that things are taken too far. If you eat some bad things, as long as you dont eat something INCREDIBLY terrible for you, and stay around your calorie goals, you’ll most likely be fine (just a guess).

I have a feeling this is gonna be one hellova a thread. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for this one.

Diet is very individual. While some of these guys did look really good, they still had good genetics(althought they might have not been genetic freaks). I think there is always a more optimal way of doing things. I’m pretty sure our diet will improve somehow in the future.

I agree to a certain extent that some people do overcomplicate things sometime. At the same time, people like me(former fatty) need to be pretty meticulous with their diet to lose bodyfat. Also, I would not consider flax oil a hardcore supplement. I consider it part of my diet just like lean meats, sweet potatoes,etc.

I don’t know if we are over complicating it, or in fact making it very simple.

Consider it from the other side. Before luckily stumbling across good diet information I was one of the lost souls living in a consumer nutrition haze.

Everything is marketed and hyped as good for you for various reasons. This food has low fat. This food has soy protein added. This food has no fat. This food has low cholesterol. This food reduces cholesterol. This food has a heart symbol on it. This food has no added sugar. This food has almost no calories. Follow the yellow brick road, er, I mean food pyramid.

If you have the time, money and energy to cook everything yourself and not to buy prepared foods, then your chances of eating right are much better. However, convenience, as always plays a major role. I think complication is due to the fact that we are trying to maximize convenience and that is at odds with our needs.

So, enter some basic supplements and seemingly strange food choices to support our goals. If we want to lose weight, build muscle, maximize recovery and look good naked, we generally know what we have to eat and how we have to work out. Now we have to fit that into our lives.

Having a 2lb tub of MRP sitting in our kitchen is extremely convenient. No cooking, no spoilage, controlled ingredients and basically zero prep time. Having a bottle of fish oil capsules really saves the bother and expense of trying to buy and cook fish on a regular basis.

I think eating is something we all start out taking for granted. It is just something we do, without thinking, that our bodies miraculously adjust to. Over time we find that we have goals and that to reach them we need to understand and control our diets. Out goes the bag of chips and a coke for lunch. As we place more demands on our bodies by setting tougher goals, we have to take more extreme measures.

If your goal is simply to be healthy and reasonably lean, then you won’t have to get very militant about your diet. If you are trying to maintain a very lean look that your body doesn’t naturally choose to maintain as well as a ton of muscle to support lifting poundage or sports performance goals, then bust out the supporting weaponry in the form of supplements.

The reason I call it simple is that here, on this site, and on the Internet in general, things have been explained in enough detail that everyone can finally figure out how to modify their diets to reach their goals. All that remains is the discipline to eat well and to follow appropriate workout programs. Sure it is work, but become knowledgable in any subject and you’ll find it is work.

All that being said, if people are looking to supplements to do the work for them, they are kidding themselves. Hell, if that worked we’d probably live in a world where you could just hire someone to go to the gym on your behalf too.


You definitely make have a good point and I’m sure an argument can be made for and against “doing too much”.

I suspect there are diminishing returns with all the working out and “nutrient timing”, special diets, supplements, counting calories, etc. For example if we were to do half the workouts and half the dieting, would we look half as good or 3/4’s as good? Just like overtraining, where do we draw the line on “over nutrition”? Is that protein drink really making a difference?

I have a friend that doesn’t do weights or cardio. He sometimes watches his diet. He looks good in cloths but not great in his bathing suit. I on the other hand lift 5 days a week and do cardio 2 or 3 days and am fanatic about my diet, i.e., 3 eat every 3 hours, 1 gram of protein for each pound of body weight, don’t mix Carbs and fat, power drink immediately after every workout (with creatine of course) etc. I look pretty good in bathing suit, not a big guy, but have lean muscle mass. Side by side, would you say the 5 days of lifting and 2 or 3 days of cardio and constant nutrition watching is paying off? Is the time I spend on all of this worth it? To him, I?m crazy.

I personally am obsessed about the entire process. It’s hard to be just a borderline weight/nutrition junky. We certainly aren’t reading all these forums and articles on this site because we don’t get into the whole fitness craze. And if your like me, you subscribe to the fitness magazines and find yourself at the book store reading the various muscle/fitness magazines only to find the same redundant routines, nutrition articles, supplement discussions every single month. But, we are still drawn to them. Sex articles are interesting.

After reading your topic and writing this response, I realize that yes, I take it too far, but I love it and I am obsessed. And my wife too thinks I am crazy, but I don’t have kids and can do these things, not to mention, walking without a shirt on is kinda fun…

Great topic…

It is extraordinarily difficult to take in the vast quantities of ‘clean’ food requisite to continue adding muscle at that size. The solution is to switch from low-cal to high-cal foods with similar protein values.

Many lifters can do this with only moderate fat increases. Arnold’s genetics and anabolics assured that his gains would be predominately lean mass.

The real nutritional challenge comes with dieting to contest shape, not this off-season excess.


Though I only use creatine and grow, eat like most people (since I had my wisdom teeth out a few days ago) and have never tried anything more radical than garlic tabs, I must disagree.

My refutations being,
1 law of diminishing returns, bull
2 “clean eatin’”

to be in the best competition shape possible, you need every edge. wether it’s bodybuilding, football, powerlifting, etc any advantage is neccisary. when did lee win a contest last? it’s all the big guyz who pop pills like pacman.

Bulking and cutting results in a loss of muscle mass, rather staying clean usually allows you to retain more muscle mass when dieting, because you need to lose less fat. many natural bodybuilders like skip la cour do that.

but I still agree with you. just playing GNC’s advocate. I mean devil’s advocate.

Chris Shug’s wrote in his web log the other day about this issue kind of. I feel that we do need to keep up with our nutrition and diet but to an extent. If you want that peanut butter and jelly sandwich go for it but be moderate with what you put down your pile hole. Eating something fatting or high in carbs every once in a while isn’t going to kill ya.
As far as supplements, of any type, I feel that they make the difference but they are not the miracle workers people think they are on their own . You have to have your diet at top notch to get the advantage of supps or roids for that matter.

This is a fair comment about the pro side of the sport but it wasn’t really my point. It’s probably guaranteed that nobody on this forum is going to do anthing major in pro bodybuilding. I think the majority of the folks on here - and I may be wrong on this - are somewhere between total beginners and ‘professional’ amateurs. I wasn’t suggesting that the pros change their diet; I just wonder if the rest of us need to be quite so dedicated.

Regarding Lee Priest, it’s his attitude that I find more winning than his professional record (although it’s reasonably well documented that he’s been shafted throughout his career for what appears to be primarily because he doesn’t play ball. At 5ft4 his mass is on a par or greater with guys a foot taller than him.) He did recently place second in the Ironman, behind Dexter Jackson, and had two wins in 2002.

Some good points above guys.

Incidentally, I wasn’t calling flax oil ‘hardcore’ - I’m just wondering if it, like some other recommendations, are entirely necessary.


John Berardi said in his 7 habits that you could basically attain favorable body composition by just eating lean meats, fruits and veggies. Lyle Mcdonald has said, and he was quoting, that ultimately, it comes down to adequate protein, fruits and veggies, and calories. He feels, and I think it’s true, that you can get down to 12-15% bodyfat fairly easy with good protein, moderate caloric restriction, (or a non-retarded diet) and exercise. Once you are there and stuck, then if you want to go further, that’s when you have to get deeper into it.

Nutrition for most goals is so super simple its not funny. 99% of the current training population could fix their eating problems by simplifying it some. The 1% at competition is where it gets complex.

Training is the same way.

keep it Simple

I agree very much with what you said. Also though, remember, Arnold had a quadruple bypass at age 50. Just something to think about.

Sheamus, interesting post!
I have always admired Steve Reeves physique. Also Grimek, Park etc. I believe that these bb ate mainly food. I’ve no idea if supplements and steroids were already available. What did Reeves eat ? In my opinion nutrition must be food based + some supplements. Not supplements + some food.

[quote]luca wrote:
In my opinion nutrition must be food based + some supplements. Not supplements + some food.[/quote]

Think about what you just said…

a supplement is an addition or supplemental to…

[quote]luca wrote:
I’ve no idea if supplements and steroids were already available. What did Reeves eat ? [/quote]

Pretty much all the steroids available today were produced in the 50’s and 60’s(not exactly sure what years). That was the golden era when there was much research being done on steroids.

I didn’t read all the replies to this thread, so I don’t know if someone else already touched on this. I think JB is saying pretty much saying the same thing in his article “7 Habits of Highly Effective Nutritional Programs”.

As Berardi states in his No Nonsense Nutrition DVD, it is actually pretty easy to eat a good diet. I actually think it might even be less expensive than buying all the prepackaged crap they sell in grocery stores. As far as counting exactly how many calories and exact fat/carbohydrate ratios I don’t waste my time. I know which meal is a protein+fat meal and which is a protein+carb meal, and you can tell what works for you by looking in the mirror. After watching Berardis DVD I was reassured that I’m eating pretty darn good, meating all the 7 habits he speaks of, and it’s really not that much work. After you do it for a while it becomes 2nd nature.

Q -do we need to go beyond the well-balanced, high-volume protein diet, eating 6-8 times daily and allocating 1.5-2.0 grams of protein per pound of lean mass?

Ans- No. We do really overcomplicate it some. But, hey, it’s an addictive game we play.

Others have commented on JB’s stuff. Again, he states you can do well just taking care of the 7 Habits.

Regarding training and nutrition, what it comes down to basically, there is no substitute for consistency over time.

Yes, I think we overcomplicate things sometimes due to our lack of patience.

We want to be ripped NOW, not in six months.

We want bigger torsos, biceps, whatever NOW, not a year from now.

We look into the mirror everyday, after the shower, after the workout at the gym…and we don’t see a huge difference from what we saw last week…we don’t remember we didn’t look near this good six months ago…

So…in order to feel like we’re doing something to accelerate our progress, we ‘tinker’…we dig into the minutae…we nitpick our diets…we try out various supplements/androgens… all in order to try to get ‘there’ (wherever your particular ‘there’ is) faster…

Just my two cents…Patience really is a virtue…But we know that all of us obsessive/compulsive workout folks aren’t really very virtuous anyway (grin)…