Although summer is when most of us might kick back a bit and enjoy a few cold ones by the pool, it's a much different scenario for many elite bodybuilders.
Independence Day doesn't mean a day off filled with barbeques, hot dogs, and fireworks if your goal is to stand among the greatest bodybuilders of all time. Rather, it means that the granddaddy of bodybuilding contests, the Mr. Olympia, is less than three months away. All it means is that the hard work has just begun.
Contest season is equally busy for the select few coaches charged with helping the pros bring their absolute best package to the bodybuilding stage.
Testosterone's own Drug Dragon is booked solid this summer with professional and aspiring pro bodybuilders and figure competitors, yet he still took some time out to address some of your chemical questions.
Remember, he's here to give you the straight goods, no bull-shittin', so if you want to really know how the pros in the magazines look the way they do, hop onto the discussion thread and fire away.
– Bryan Krahn
T Nation: As a juice coach, how many guys have you seen die from AAS use? Or, to a less extreme extent, how many have you seen permanently damage their health from AAS use/abuse?
Dragon: Wow, that's a loaded question. Are you Geraldo Rivera?
I hate questions like this because it speaks to the ignorance and hypocrisy the average layperson harbors towards bodybuilders. Think about it, if someone dies in a NASCAR race, it's valiant and they're immortalized as heroes in their "sport." Yet if someone dies in pursuit of a bodybuilding trophy, it's stupid and egotistical and they "got what they deserved."
Yet since you asked Geraldo, I'll indulge you. In my (extensive) experience, the vast majority of bodybuilding-related deaths were due to genetic conditions (like heart issues) that were compounded by long-term AAS use and not keeping proper tabs on important health markers like blood pressure, lipid values, etc.
As for the other part of your question, I really don't know many that have "ruined their health permanently" from AAS, but perhaps in the next 10-20 years we'll start seeing more ramifications of the higher dosing and poly-pharmacy that's become prevalent over the last decade or two. It sounds to me though, like you've made up your mind already.
Thanks again for the question, Mr. Rivera. I admit, I still enjoy watching that classic clip of you getting bashed in the face with a chair by one your guests. Who says YouTube is a waste of time?
T Nation: Dragon, I'm not sure if this is your area of expertise or not, but how much to you subscribe to the whole "stronger=bigger" mindset as opposed to a lighter weight, higher volume, various angles of stimulation approach?
I assume it really just depends on the individual, but I wonder what your take is?
I think strength is more important for beginners than advanced trainers. Once you've built up a decent strength base though, there are many ways to elicit hypertrophy and raise "intensity" such as more volume (more sets and reps), less rest between sets, and different methods to extend the set (rest pause sets, drop sets, forced reps, etc.).
Strength is very neural, too. If you only focus on strength and train primarily in the lower rep ranges, you'll get stronger but not necessarily a whole lot bigger. Our bodies are too smart for that. You have to continually challenge yourself in NEW ways to elicit growth, especially as you start treading close to your genetic limits.
Lifting more weight is just one of the ways to stimulate growth, but it's also one that can often lead to injury. Think about it, virtually every champion bodybuilder who was known for moving massive poundage usually had his career cut short or seriously altered by some type of injury.
When you pay your mortgage by winning shows and guest posing, tearing a bicep or triceps or pec can mean a serious loss of income. If you can get similar results using lighter, safer weights, why wouldn't you?
T Nation: I'd like to hear your take on using peptides like GHRP-2/GHRP-6, Sermorelin, etc., in bodybuilding/cosmetic enhancement. Thanks!
Short question, so here's the short answer: I haven't looked into them much. Reason being, nothing can replace real growth hormone (which 99% of my guys use), so why bother?
I'm not saying these more esoteric protocols don't have legitimate potential in certain applications, but I prefer to hitch my wagon to what delivers my clients consistent, reliable results.
T Nation: I'd love to get your input on the use and effect of some of the diet ancillaries, like T3, Clenbuterol, Albuterol, appetite suppressants, etc. Their effects, how they work, what works well together, etc.
Wow, anything else while I'm at it? Sheesh.
T3 is pretty much a mainstay in almost any pre-contest prep, except for the odd metabolic freak that doesn't need it to maintain ideal body temperature. For these rare breeds, T3 does more harm than good.
As for clenbuterol, virtually every competitor is on it. Some like to cycle it in some fashion, but I prefer running it for the whole prep (at least the final 10-12 weeks) and just titrating the dose upward as needed, and then gradually tapering off after the show.
Cycling clenbuterol (and there are many ways to do it – 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off, 1 week on, 1 week off, 3 days on, 3 days off, etc.) causes a lot of shifts in water weight that I find a pain in the ass to deal with, especially pre-contest. Plus, I just don't think cycling is necessary as increasing the dose periodically works just as well in my experience.
As for appetite suppressants, even the biggest, baddest mofo's will get chick-like cravings and will use something to help them out pre-contest. I'm not real big on any of the fancy pharmaceutical appetite suppressants, but many of my guys like using nicotine gum. Some even like the taste. Weird.
Chocamine is another good one and it has the added benefit of helping out with mental alertness along with being lipolytic. It's basically everything that's good about chocolate, but without the calories and fat.
At the end of the day, I tell my guys it's still a diet. You're going to be hungry at times, feel a little run down, and more than likely grow tired of some of your limited food choices. If you can't handle a little deprivation in the quest for a larger goal, I suggest either growing a set of nuts or taking up something else, like competitive bingo. Hey, no dieting required, and if you can count and know your alphabet, you're in.
T Nation: Dragon, I'd like to know what you'd consider to be "bad sides" at a lower-end dosage of say, 400 mgs of Testosterone a week. Also, how do guys mitigate blood pressure problems at much higher dosages?
Believe it or not, some guys will actually get gyno from a dose that low, not to mention bad acne. It really comes down to genetics and what you're predisposed to. Some can run a lot higher doses and have no issues at all.
Regarding blood pressure, if it gets out of hand (and with higher doses, it often does), I recommend taking a mild ACE inhibitor like Lisinopril. You could also try hawthorn berry, lowering sodium intake, and adding in some cardio if you're not currently doing any.
Really, at the end of the day, it's a crapshoot. We all know people who drink like fish or use prescription meds by the handful and never experience any major health complications, while someone else will do that once and wind up in the emergency room. There's a reason all those pharmaceutical ads list hundreds of warnings in the fine print. Individual reactions to any medication can vary considerably.
T Nation: Hey Dragon, I'm interested in some of the latest techniques with insulin usage, such as combining it with GH in multiple patterns, combining it with GHRP/GHRH in frequent pulsing, and using it with very high protein/low carb diets in small dosing patterns. As you can see, there are many new schools of thought on these techniques that I'd love to hear your take on.
Groan...Like with many things in bodybuilding, I think many people waaaay overcomplicate this stuff. Insulin and GH use is no different, and many keyboard gurus seem to think that if they can come up with some elaborate dosing schedule that requires 26 shots a day and a stopwatch for timing, then that must be better than a couple simple shots a day.
For my clients, I just stick with one, maybe two shots of GH per day (first thing in the morning, and sometimes again post-workout or just in the evening), and with insulin I do one shot in the morning with breakfast and then another shot a bit later in the day. No stopwatch or Excel spreadsheet required.
I should state that I'm not big on pre and post workout insulin, though that seems to be very popular these days. I just don't think it's necessary, and I also think the practice can be dangerous if you make a mistake with your dosing or timing.
Again, I always look for the simplest and safest method to get the result I'm going for, and you'd be amazed at how often that's also the most effective method as well. In bodybuilding, the tortoise will always beat the hare. Always.
When dieting, I usually drop insulin out completely except for carb-ups, and even then I'll only use it with SOME clients (those with very fast metabolisms). GH, on the other hand, is a godsend when dieting. A moderate dose before your morning cardio will burn much more fat than you would without it.
I'm sorry if this isn't the guru-fied answer you're looking for like "I use 2.6 IUs of GH peptide A567 on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursdays and 5.8 IUs of insulin for every 9 grams of carbs on sunny days only" because, quite frankly, that's all bullshit. The pros don't need that; why should you?
Although I hear the gear tracker app for the new iPhone is pretty cool...
T Nation: One question I have is, what's the guru's take on some of the top contest prep guy's "carb war" that's been going on lately? I'm referring to one guru who's a big advocate of ketogenic diets versus another who supposedly has his guys eating tons of carbs and doing little cardio and still getting lean?
I can't speak much on what other prep guys do, but I will say that I think many guys try to make this a lot more black and white than it really is.
For myself, sometimes I use carbs in the diet (well, most of the time I do), but if the situation warrants it, I'm not afraid to pull them out completely; it really just depends on the individual and the situation. If you know what you're doing, both types of diets are great tools to have in your toolbox, and to think that one is superior to the other IN ALL CASES is limiting and just plain foolish.
I will say this, if you do use a ketogenic approach you DEFINITELY need to carb up before the show; if you don't you'll come in way too flat and stringy looking. I can spot an insufficiently carbed-up keto competitor a mile away and it ain't cause they're smiling and holding the first place trophy.
Also, you probably won't need nearly as many carbs to fill up on after a run of keto dieting than if you had been using carbs for the whole diet. (It sounds counterintuitive I know, but at least that's what I've found).
As I never get sick of saying though, every situation is different – monitor and adjust as needed. Cookie cutters are for cookies, not bodybuilders.
T Nation: What's the scariest thing you see in contest prep today? What about the most "bass-ackwards" thing?
I love questions like these. I get to be all Fox News and shit.
The scariest? Quite simply, the doses that are becoming prevalent these days. Insulin nearing 100ius a day, GH nearing 50ius a day, T3 at 200mcg, clenbuterol at 300mcg, trenbelone at 2 g weekly, Testosterone at 5-6g weekly. And all these guys (and sometimes gals!) don't wind up looking any better (and are often worse) than their lower-dosing competition.
Somewhere along the way it was decided that the only difference between a first-place finisher and an also-ran was the amount of oil in the syringe. Forget genetics, forget years and years of heavy training and big eating; just double or triple the dosage and you'll be the next Ronnie or Jay.
Sorry friend. It just doesn't work that way.
I work with a number of pros and it never fails to amaze me how LITTLE some of them take. Yet nobody wants to believe that they might have sub-optimal genes for the sport so they just push the gear envelope. So that's the scariest.
As for most ass-backward? I'd have to say paying too much attention to the scale and not enough on conditioning. You'd think this would only happen at the amateur level but it's just as prevalent in the pros, especially new pros that think they need to quickly add a ton of size to "compete with the big boys."
They quickly lose the trademark crisp conditioning that won them their pro card in the first place and just as quickly are relegated to a "did not place" status.
I pay attention to bodyweight, but how you look is FAR more important. No judge will ever ask you how much you weigh onstage (other than putting you in your weight class). And when you're in shape (and I mean real winning shape, not just "damn, I look good at the gym with a good pump over in that one corner with the cool overhead lightning) then you will LOOK much bigger onstage.
I've seen guys that are inside out shredded at 170 pounds that make guys that are 240 pounds and in "decent shape" look like fat, bloated goons.
The scale is a rudimentary indicator of how the diet is working, but on its own it tells very little. I realize that is Dieting 101, but you'd be amazed at how many competitors, even the ones that earn their living as bodybuilders, still fall prey to this. I sometimes think that if bathroom scales were contraband the world would be a saner place.
Got a question for next month's installment of Enter the Dragon? Hop onto the discussion thread and fire away!