In 1966 I began directing my energies to powerlifting, thus becoming my own manager. This proved to be the perfect start for my career in bodybuilding. At the time I was living in Germany and working full-time in a factory while still maintaining the discipline of training regularly. It was at a gym in Munich that I met a young, unknown bodybuilder named Arnold Schwarzenegger. We became training partners and friends almost immediately, trying to beat each other in powerlifting events.
At the gym I also got my first look at some of the top European bodybuilders, including Mr. Italy Listening to their conversation, I noticed they focused a great deal of attention on nutrition. "Training alone doesn't make you a good bodybuilder," they kept saying "The right food is just as important for building strong and healthy muscles " Intuitively, I knew they were on the right track, but more than gut feelings caused me to follow their lead. Proof was before my eyes every time one of the top bodybuilders came into the gym and I compared him with others who were training. Not only were their bodies outstanding, but their vitality seemed to stem from some deep source within.
This was another turning point for me. I stopped listening and began questioning Mr. Italy and top German bodybuilders about the type of food they ate. My German was not good at that time, but I found out exactly what I wanted to know: their diets and eating habits were totally different from those of the average person.
For example, most Americans skimp on breakfast during the week, yet on Saturdays and Sundays they stuff themselves with smoked meat, fried potatoes, muffins, French toast, and maple syrup. Lunch usually consists of something appealing sandwiched between two slices of bread, accompanied by a soft drink. Dinner menus are decided by the family cook, a fast food restaurant, or the manufacturer of frozen meals.
The opposite is true of championship bodybuilders, who do not think of food merely as something that tastes good and fills an empty stomach. They see beyond the moment of satisfying hunger to the needs of every cell in the body for nourishment of the organs and tissues that build strong and healthy muscles. To a greater extent than most athletes, competitive bodybuilders are aware that energy is drawn from the entire body; therefore, each meal is planned carefully.
The top bodybuilders I first met in Germany started the day by taking vitamins and minerals, followed by three eggs and some pineapple. I used to wonder about the pineapple because in Sardinia it was considered an exotic fruit. Only later, when studying for my Ph D. in nutrition, did I learn it contained unique enzymes, aiding the digestion of protein. Pineapple was sometimes also included on the lunch menu, but the dominating food for both lunch and dinner was a large piece of fish or chicken. Many of the bodybuilders were into eating liver and other organ meats, such as heart and kidneys. Horsemeat was also favored. The myth of becoming as strong as a horse by eating its flesh is popular throughout Europe; however, the bodybuilders in Germany also knew it was high in protein with less fat than other red meat.
I became convinced that nutrition was a large part of winning bodybuilding. In those days I knew very little about the metabolism of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in relation to body chemistry. This would come with learning and experimenting over the years. At the time I felt it wise to begin by following the example of others while still being attentive to the reaction of my own body to different foods and eating habits. It was then that I began a competitive bodybuilder's diet by having four to five small meals a day.
As the days went by, I became increasingly fascinated with the idea that a particular selection of foods could make the difference between remaining an average bodybuilder and becoming a champion. Of course, I already knew the importance of discipline, concentration, and developing the right training program for my body. Progress gained through exercise was more easily measured, being something I could see, feel, and judge for myself almost daily The advantage of eating the right foods would become evident after a longer range of time, although I quickly became equally sensitive to the benefits of eating specific foods and eliminating others from my diet
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