From The Desk Of Clarence Bass
Peaking for Competition: Waterlogged in Atlanta—Full Bloom 18 Years Later
It was a debacle that became a major learning experience.
My last physique contest was the 1980 Past 40 Mr. America. I had won the overall Most Muscular, Best Abdominals and Best Legs awards the previous year in the Past 40 USA and had high hopes of winning the overall title in Atlanta. I was in the best shape of my life, but you wouldn’t know it from my appearance on stage. I didn’t look awful, but to the practiced eye something was not right. I placed second in my class and was out of the running for the top title.
When I got out of bed on the morning of the show, I thought I was looking a little flat, but I chalked it up to nervousness and poor lighting in the hotel room. There wasn’t much I could do about it at that point, anyway, so I tried not to worry. As I prepared for the Prejudging I still looked a little smooth, but I told myself that it must be my imagination. I had my body composition checked on the Wednesday before the contest and my body fat was rock bottom. Apparently, low body fat alone doesn't make you ripped.
After the Prejudging was completed, the first thing Carol said to me was, “What happened to your cuts?” Then I knew. The mirrors in the hotel room and in the dressing room were not lying. Something was definitely wrong. But What?
As I mingled with the crowd after the show and talked to various people, the consensus was that I was puffy and holding water under my skin. That got me to thinking. I knew that many bodybuilders restrict fluid intake before a contest, but never paid much attention. I also knew that consuming excess sodium (salt) would cause water retention. I hadn’t worried about that either, because I never add salt to anything.
We don’t have a photo of me on stage, but the photograph below was taken the next day in Los Angeles by Bob Gardner with Joe Weider supervising. I was embarrassed not looking my best for Joe, especially when he was paying for the shoot.
Carol and I reviewed the last several days to figure out where I went wrong. I recounted what I ate before the contest. She stopped me at cottage cheese.
I ate most of my meals at the hotel’s excellent salad bar buffet. I thought that was a good idea because I could see exactly what I was getting. For the most part I ate fruit and vegetables. For breakfast I had poached eggs, just like I did at home. The chef was stationed at the end of the long buffet and cooked the eggs right in front of me. I watched him crack the eggs and drop them into boiling water. I knew I wasn’t getting any excess salt that way. At home I usually had yogurt with both my noon and evening meals. There was no yogurt on the buffet, but there was plenty of cottage cheese. (I had seen Bill Pearl eating cottage cheese on several occasions; not before a contest, however.) Cottage cheese seemed like a satisfactory substitute for my usual yogurt, and that’s what I had for lunch and dinner, along with broiled fish. I thought my choices were just about perfect.
Unfortunately, Carol was busy with our son Matt and not there to look over my shoulder! She would’ve slapped my hand at the cottage cheese. More sodium conscious than me, she would’ve told me that cottage cheese is high in sodium. I later learned that one cup of cottage cheese contains 850 milligrams of sodium, compared to only 105 mg in a cup of plain yogurt. My switch to cottage cheese increased my sodium intake eightfold!
That seemingly harmless misstep torpedoed an otherwise excellent year of training.
Fortunately, I was also scheduled to be photographed by Bill Reynolds in three different settings over the next few days. I cut back on fluids—I continued to drink water, but sparingly—and didn’t put anything in my mouth unless I knew the sodium content. I ate mainly eggs, plain baked potatoes, and fresh fruit. I was especially careful to stay away from sauces, mixtures of any kind (including omelets) and, of course, cottage cheese.
I stayed active, doing things that made me sweat—running up and down the hotel stairs, for example—but no weight workouts.
My physique became sharper with each shoot. I looked good on Santa Monica beach and better in Gold’s Gym (the “Fab Ab” photo)—and I was ripped to the bone on Reynolds' Rock. It was very satisfying to stand ripped to the bone in a location where Bill had photographed many of the greats of bodybuilding. He told us later in a note that it was “the best day of photography I've had.”
Unfortunately, Joe Weider misplaced the negatives of the photos on Reynolds’ Rock. All we have is Bill’s note, a photo copy of the proof sheet—and this doozy of a print. The proof sheet shows that Joe had circled it.
We weren’t done yet, however.
After the last shoot, I celebrated—three times! Nothing extreme. I started with a pint of cold milk at a 7-Eleven on the way back to the Weider offices; boy was it good. Later that evening, Carol, Matt and I had dinner with Bill and his girlfriend; the part I remember enjoying most was drinking the water. The third celebration was a stop at Zucky’s Restaurant—a favorite of the Santa Monica muscle crowd—to quench my thirst more and satisfy my sweet tooth with a piece of cheesecake and a tasty dish of frozen yogurt; and when my son fell asleep, I topped it off by eating his jello and whipped cream.
There was a surprise waiting for me when we got back to our hotel room. My veins were popping out all over. I was super vascular and cut. The water and food, especially the dessert, apparently increased my blood volume and made me more vascular—and made my muscles rounder and fuller. I wondered if I could’ve looked even better on Reynolds' Rock.
Carol and I decided to find out. We scheduled another photo shoot in Albuquerque with a local photographer the following weekend. It was our first experience with Allen Hughes. As you will see, he did a superb job.
We scouted out a terrific location at the base of the Sandia mountains east of Albuquerque. I used the next few days to prepare for the last, and what turned out to be a truly magic photo session.
My body fat was still rock bottom so I consumed a normal amount of calories. I ate a few more carbohydrates than I did in California because I wanted to be sure the glycogen in my muscles was fully restored. Muscle is 70% water. Each gram of carbohydrate stored in your muscles in the form of glycogen holds three grams of water. This makes your muscles full and round. The key is to not let the calorie intake get ahead of your energy expenditure. If that happens, the water in your muscles will spill over into the space under your skin and make you look puffy. On the other hand, if you starve yourself you’ll drain the water out and your muscles will flatten out. It’s a fine line you must walk in order to achieve peak condition.
I continued to monitor my condition in the mirror. I kept my sodium intake low while keeping myself normally hydrated; sodium pulls water from inside muscle cells into the space around the cells and under the skin. Most importantly, I didn’t eat or drink anything that would make me waterlogged like I was in Atlanta. I wanted to be fully hydrated with the water inside my muscles, not under my skin.
I was sore and stiff from posing for three days in a row, so I didn’t train but stayed active by walking and practicing posing tips Joe Weider gave me. (Joe was a master in that area.) I also did some sunbathing to maintain my tan and keep the water down under my skin.
On Saturday morning before the shoot, I had a cup of coffee and walked and jogged about two miles to sweat and get my bowels moving.
The major change I made was my last meal before the photo session. The change was motivated by how I looked after my little splurge—and a tip from Mike Mentzer while I was in California. I had a low-volume, high-carb breakfast several hours before the photo session. I had a banana, two tablespoons of raisins and one tablespoons of sunflower seeds topped with honey. I also had a piece of toast and another cup of coffee. That put me in peak condition for my final and best photo session of the year.
The extra carbs during in the last few days and right before the shoot increased my vascularity without making me puffy. The extra carbs also made my muscles rounder and fuller than in California. It was a perfect balance between stringy and smooth. The color photos below are the proof of the pudding. Allen’s camera captured my condition from all angles.
Fast forward 18 years to February 1998, three months past my 60th birthday. Carol and I showed up at Pat Berrett’s studio with two bags full costumes and props; we even brought my bike and ski poles. Pat, of course, had numerous back drops and props of his own. We were ready to get me on film at six decades in style.
I had been photographed numerous times since my last bodybuilding competition. Importantly, I had learned a lot about getting ready for photos. I had streamlined my peaking procedure. In the last week I ate nothing but plain foods—nothing added or subtracted—to avoid foods with excess sodium. (No cottage cheese or processed food of any kind.) Whole unadorned foods the way they come in nature—whole grains, vegetables, fruit, eggs, even whole milk—are low in sodium. It’s that simple. That’s basically how I eat all the time, but I’m very strict before a photo session.
And I drank more water to flush the last bit of excess sodium out of my system. That’s a lot easier than restricting fluids, as I did back in 1980. That assures that the water is in the muscle cells and not under the skin. Your muscles are defined—and full. That of course assumes that your body fat is already low, from consistent eating and regular training—fine-tuning aided by regular body composition testing. No starvation to slow your metabolism, threaten your essential fat stores—and sap your energy.
My calorie intake was normal and satisfying. I was not hungry and had plenty of energy to do what was needed to look my best.
The photos below are the result. We believe Pat Berrett captured my best ever condition—at 60 years of age.
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You’ll find many more details on peaking for competition—including the famine phenomenon (losing weight and gaining fat) and the sodium factor—in our book Ripped 2. In addition, our Second Ripped DVD records Pat Berrett photographing me at 65. We take you behind the scenes and show you how it’s done. See our Products page for full information on the book and the DVD http://www.cbass.com/PRODUCTS.HTM
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