Monthly Archives: March 2011

NPC Muscle Contest Report: March 26, 2011

I’m currently at the tail end of my evening workout so I’m blogging from a stationary bike! This past weekend my girlfriend and I attended the NPC Muscle Contest in Culver City. I mainly wanted to see the debut of the new Men’s Physique division, but in general, bodybuilding contests always inspire me. Even at the amateur level, the muscular development of stage contestants and even the spectators are truly awesome.

I’ll break down my thoughts on each division:

Figure: A lot of competitors here. There was no shortage of hard physiques. The judges had their work cut out for them. With the DJ bumping modern tunes, and friends cheering on their friends, it was a fun and motivating division to watch.

*Also held was the IFBB Pro Bikini

Men’s Physique: I applaud all the guys who competed in this division, as they didn’t know what to expect or exactly how to act (and it showed on stage), but the guys looked like they had fun and there was a hint of interesting personalities displayed. Basically the guys come out in board shorts and do quarter turns, showing some personality along with physique, almost like [fitness] model poses. One thing I learned from this division is that it’s impossible to have too big of a smile onstage! When it comes to stage presence, bigger is better.

Bikini: Another big class, even harder to judge because I don’t know exactly what the judges look for (and it seems neither do the contestants). Like the board shorts with the guys, there were a few bright, bold and interesting patterns of bikini, and girls who really “worked it” on stage.  I enjoy the MP and Bikini divisions simply because you can have more “fun” with your quarter turns. It’s expected to be playful and show your personality.

Women’s Bodybuilding: Sadly, Women’s Bodybuilding is a dying breed and this class only had three contestants compared to the horde of figure and bikini girls. However, the clear-cut winner of this class had the most amazing physique of the whole show. The audience erupted in applause as she hit her poses, especially the back-double biceps shot.

Bodybuilding: Sadly, a lot of the audience left during the prejudging of what is the primary muscle contest! Not too many freakish physiques; and the freak factor is what you look for at the local level—I think a lot of guys could have competed lighter and come in more shredded, but you can’t knock guys for not being all the way in shape, as it’s so difficult to diet.

Fitness enthusiasts as a whole don’t like sitting for long periods, but all in all this was a good show. I’m motivated to do a physique contest soon this year, I think the judges are still awarding more massive proportions than I have; but the new division is literally being defined by its contestants (no pun intended there). In other words, the winners of Men’s Physique determine the “look” of Men’s Physique.

Here are the overall winners from the show:

Overall winners

Full gallery:

2011 NPC Muscle Contest Championships

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Fat Loss is Simple, Not Easy

Weight loss is such a simple process that it would seem many more people would be successful at it.

Genetics, training, and supplementation determine muscular potential, but when it comes to losing fat, diet is everything.

The physiology of weight loss is simple: expend more calories than you absorb and over time the body will draw down on its reserves (i.e. you lose weight). That’s it. No matter what program you follow, how motivated you are, or how you were raised as a child, if these requirements are met you will lose weight. It’s not a theory; it’s a law of physics.

However, while the process is simple, it’s not easy. There are three primary reasons why I believe many who attempt to lose weight and keep it off fail: physical, emotional, and social. I will discuss these briefly.

Physical: fitness enthusiasts love to work out because it’s fun, but diet is another animal entirely. At the very least, your body wants to eat as many calories as it expends no matter how many fat reserves you have on hand. Therefore, when you deliberately try to lose weight, you will feel hungry. In fact, if your goal is to be lean, hunger will be your close friend 24/7. You’ll feel it when you workout, when you go to work, while you sleep. But the average person cannot even stand a moment of hunger (more specifically, cravings). Their first reaction is to grab what’s available or what’s on their minds. And usually it’s far from optimally nutritious choices. There’s no other way of saying it–to lose weight, you need to stop being a wimp and face up to hunger. Just remember every hour that passes by moves you closer to your goal.

Emotional: for many people (myself included), emotional attachments to food sabotage progress. We eat because we’re bored, lonely, sad, depressed, happy, stimulated, angry, fearful, or even frustrated because we’re not losing weight as fast as we’d like. Such attempts to “stuff down” our emotions so that we don’t feel them have nothing to do with physiological needs of the body. Then when we have weight issues, we feel even more depressed on a deeper level if we’re not comfortable in our own skin. Food is not the answer.

Social: this is a big one and the reason I believe many people gain and lose the same 10 pounds over and over again and always make the same New Year’s goals. In short, we are social creatures, and unless you live like a hermit, you need to be aware that many social occasions revolve around overeating. In fact, I would say pretty much all of them do. Think of all the special occasions throughout the year and small gatherings that revolve around food, rather than just company. These can be major roadblocks to your success, especially if your decision-making is influenced by comments such as, “You’re so thin, you don’t need to lose weight” or “You have to cheat sometimes” (yeah, how many “sometimes” are there?). You need to be strong and decide ahead of time where you will draw the line.

To sum up, major lifestyle influences can get in the way of your weight loss potential. You need to determine what these are and find a solution so that they don’t get in the way of your progress.

Body Weight Vs. Fat Weight

You’ve probably had days where you stepped on the bathroom scale and gained a large amount of weight in a short period of time. This is especially frustrating if you have been actively losing weight, as you can gain in one day what it took five days to lose. 

I can dramatically increase or decrease my body weight in a 24-hour period. This isn’t all fat, though. Remember, the human body is mostly water, so you can gain or lose water in large amounts as both carbohydrates and sodium require additional water to maintain their concentration in the body. In other words, you retain water when more of these molecules are present in the body, and you lose water as they decrease (i.e. on a diet).

Additionally, food caries weight itself, adding or subtracting from your body weight. And even exercise causes a short-term increase in water retention (as your muscles soak up water–which is excreted in a matter of hours).

Long-term weight balance

The desire for weight loss most specifically means a decrease in bodily fat. The most important factor in your long-term fat supply is calorie balance (calories absorbed – calories expended). Interestingly, the weight of food alone does not determine its caloric content. For example, a pound of cucumbers weighs the same amount as a pound of ice cream; but the ice cream has a significantly higher calorie content, contributing more to your fat supply.

Additionally, exercise, while an effective means of expending calories, is not as efficient as consuming calories. Using our ice cream example, it takes only 10 minutes to eat 400 calories worth of the delicious dessert, but it can take at least 40 minutes of full-body exercise to burn it off! And that’s before you even begin to dip into existing fat stores. The biggest contributor to your calorie expenditure is your lean body mass (organs, etc.) so by simply staying alive you will burn calories. It’s how many calories you ingest and how much fat you have on hand that will determine where these calories come from.

Take home message

Try not to get too frustrated at dramatic increases in weight. If you have been progressively losing fat, and your weight suddenly balloons up in a matter of hours, most likely all of it was not fat. Unless you were eating pounds of butter or olive oil; most of it was probably water.

Simply return to a calorie deficit as soon as possible. Don’t cheat because you “already screwed up”. Remember, calories run along a continuum–the more you eat, the more you store, and the less you eat, the more you lose.

Does retaining water affect your physical appearance? You bet. When you’re holding water underneath the skin, it “smooths out” your definition making you look soft; whereas retaining minimal water makes you look and feel “hard” and is what physique competitors refer to as the “dry look”. But this only matters if you’re already lean.

On the subject of cheat days / cheat meals, my philosophy is that there is no such thing. A cruel but true statement:

“What you eat in private shows up in public.”

It’s Better To Waste Food Than To Waist Food

Carambola, or star fruit

I have a mental hangup with letting perfectly good, clean, wholesome food go uneaten. I’m talking about the best of the best: crispy, organic apples; juicy, delicious grapes; vibrant, sun-kissed oranges, luscious strawberries, plump mangos, fresh-cut pineapple, ripe avocado, and so forth (if you live in a tropical environment, there is plenty of exotic fare to be had). In short, I don’t like seeing food go to waste. This is especially true if I bought the food myself. It’s like watching dollar bills disintegrate before your eyes.

But this mentality cannot possibly serve a person concerned with being in peak physical condition. After all, the needs of the body are totally unrelated to the circumstances of the external environment. Think about that: if you eat based on external cues, rather than internal drives, you are clearly eating more than your body requires. Calories eaten, even from optimal foods, that are not needed by the body to maintain its lean mass are stored as fat. At best, they will prevent your body from burning any stored fat.

Another thing to think about: if you’re “hording” calories into your body that you will knowingly burn off later (to lose weight and get into the condition you want), then technically that is “wasting” food.

The solution: operate from the mentality that a surplus of healthy food is a good thing. It’s there when you need it (i.e. when truly hungry). Worst case scenario, when the food goes bad you can throw it away, or better yet, recycle it into the soil as compost.

It’s better to waste food that to let food go to your waist.

Your Environment Influences Your Eating Behavior

Don't cha want it?

Almost nobody in North America eats when they are hungry. We eat because of external cues that have nothing to do with internal drives.

You know what I’m talking about: the sight of food, smell of food, talking about food, and even tasting food can lead to more.

Furthermore, we eat because of the time of day, time of year, holidays, special occasions, funerals, group gatherings, work meetings, family parties, spouses or significant others, roommates, drinking buddies, watching sports, watching a movie, because our mom, aunt, or grandma made it (not to leave out the male chefs), to please a host, because we saw it on TV, geographical location, the weather, special deals, billboards, freebies, county fairs, because it’s new and we have to try it “just this once”, because we’re at a buffet and we like variety, because we don’t like to waste food . . . the list goes on and on.

Yet, people blame the bulge on age and a slow metabolism.

Do You Want To Be Big or Muscular?

Most beginners to the iron game (most men, anyway) take up lifting weights with the goal of getting bigger. “Bigger” is usually interpreted as more muscular. Contrary to this common view, however, the two are not synonymous.

Some are content with simply taking up a lot of space, and that’s okay. You know the type: thick sweatshirts and the heavy weights at the gym, stuffed like a sausage in an XL t-shirt at the bar. Even I chased this ideal after being a scrawny kid for a long time. I didn’t care about what kind of mass I was carrying, just as long as I was viewed as a “big” guy!

However, as an adult you get to the point where you want to step into the shower and see lines on your waist that aren’t wrinkles or stretch marks. You want to appear in photos without being confused for a blowfish.

I’ve met a lot of pro bodybuilders in person over the years, and as insanely muscular as they are, they don’t take up as much space as you would think (at least when they’re in contest shape). In other words, put them next to a Sumo wrestler and the Sumo would blow them away in terms of sheer size. But what’s more impressive to you, a massive piece of clay or a heavily detailed and well-proportioned sculpture? That’s up for you to decide, but I can tell you that the visual impact of a very lean, muscular body can be much more impressive than a bigger, smoother body; regardless of how much space it takes up.