CS: Let’s return to your career for a moment. You were always known for bringing an amazingly symmetrical physique to the stage, complete with phenomenal condition. I’ve seen videos of you in competition, and you were absolutely incredible. How important was nutrition to you in building the kind of body that you always had a reputation for bringing to the stage?
LL: In my case, Clayton, it was incredibly important because I wasn’t one of these genetic freaks that could put on muscle just by looking at a dumbbell. So, I always had to watch everything that I ate very carefully in order to gain muscle weight.
I always had to watch everything that I ate very carefully. I was a hardgainer
I always found it difficult to gain muscle tissue. I had to make sure that my nutrition program was perfect and that I ate every three hours, and that those meals contained the exact ratio of proteins, carbohydrates and fats to optimize the muscle building process. One thing I pride myself on is that starting 12 to 14 weeks out before the Mr. Olympia competition, I would keep track of every single thing that I ate.
That would mean weighing the food, looking up the exact caloric content of the food and knowing how many calories I was taking in on a daily basis. What that allowed me to do was to manipulate my caloric intake by as little as 100 calories per day leading up to the competition, which in turn allowed me to hone my physique down to these crazy low body fat levels. I could do that without losing any muscle tissue because I was so carefully watching every calorie, knowing exactly how things came together and worked in my body.
CS: Using nutrition as the engine that fueled your body, would you say that your nutrition program was more important than your training program?
LL: No, I would say that it was equally important, but I would say that it takes on even more importance when you are competing at the level of the Mr. Olympia. As any of those competitors can tell you, you literally are what you eat. And, just a small dietary change can make a world of difference in the look of your physique on the day of the contest.
CS: now that we have outlined in detail how critically important it is to have a fine tuned nutrition program, can you give us a typical Mr. Olympia nutrition plan?
LL: Absolutely. Right off of the bat, you should eat six small meals per day. This means that you will eat one meal every three hours. At each one of my meals I would have a serving of protein that was 1/6 of my total protein intake for the day. I am a 200 pound bodybuilder, so I would take 200 and divide it by six, and the resulting number was approximately 35 grams of protein at each one of those six meals.
Then, in addition to the protein, I would take in very complex carbohydrates in the form of sweet potatoes, black beans and rice, lentils and rice, whole-grain cereal such as oatmeal, vegetables and then some fruit in the form of apples or other low-calorie fruit. Then, I would add my protein supplements and meal replacements plus an assortment of other supplement nutrients.
The idea here was to have small frequent meals throughout the day to take advantage of not only the meal frequency principle, but also the thermic effect. The thermic effect refers simply to the fact that whenever you consume food, your body temperature goes up because there has to be calories burned in order to digest those foods. And, typically, the foods I was eating in preparation for the Mr. Olympia - the naturally occurring proteins and carbohydrates – tended to be very complex and required a lot of energy to digest, which was perfectly okay with me because I was trying to get leaner---superhumanly lean.
Additionally, I would consume up to 1 gallon of water every day in order to keep my body flushed and to keep the muscles nice and full, because as you know muscles are almost 80% water.
These are some of the basic foundational principles that I used getting ready for show.
CS: you mentioned eating every three hours and having approximately 30-35 grams of protein per meal. How did you incorporate your pre-workout protein intake and your post-workout protein intake within the context of the number of meals that you had to eat every day?
LL: Typically, I timed my workouts approximately 1 hour after my second meal. I was fully charged up and ready to go with plenty of energy, and yet the food was almost emptied out of my stomach. That way, I could avoid that tug-of-war between the stomach and muscles which occurs when you don’t give your meal enough time to digest. Within an hour after my workout, I would have a small protein shake, followed by my next meal right after that, so that there was no difficulty with timing.
It’s also important to understand that the use of the very fast acting whey proteins was not as common ten to fifteen years ago when I was competing. Bodybuilding supplementation
was in its infancy and there was not a lot of whey protein around at the time. Most products were protein blends and a lot of free-form amino acids, so we would take handfuls of free-form amino acid capsules right after training, along with a carbohydrate, and then we would go on to our meal.