BRANCH OUT

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Have you ever heard that they pack more computer technology under the hood of a Saturn Ion than was carried in the Saturn V moon rocket? Well, that’s what “they” say. Although increased complexity can be a good thing when it comes to mechanized modes of transportation, it ain’t necessarily so when it comes to bodybuilding nutrition. A lot of cutting-edge concepts concerning macronutrient ratios, intake timing and the art of food combining flood the pages of the sports nutrition books lining the shelves at local bookstores. The simple act of eating has been so overscrutinized in this ultramodern century of ours that many people looking for a practical way to modify their diets often throw up their hands in frustration. So, when it comes to your own search for a no-nonsense mass-gain plan, odds are you’ve ended up with a massive headache rather than any appreciable gains in quality size.

Enter Branch Warren, a man of few words but a lot of granite-dense muscle. Ask the 31-year-old professional bodybuilder for his thoughts on the nutritional algorithms of muscle building and you’ll most likely get a shrug. “When it comes to my diet, I keep things pretty simple,” says Warren, a man who knows a thing or two about eating for size.

It’s not that Warren doesn’t put a lot of thought into his diet. Regarded as one of his sport’s elite members, the 5'7" bodybuilder who weighs 270 pounds in the offseason pretty much has to if he wants to keep tearing up the IFBB circuit the way he has during the past two years. Since making his professional debut in 2004, Warren has already won two contests (the 2005 Charlotte Pro Championships and the 2005 Europa Super Show) and placed in the money in five others (including the 2006 Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic, where he took second).

Despite his unwillingness to turn a no-brainer into a head-scratcher, the easygoing Texan consistently brings a stellar combo of mass and conditioning to every bodybuilding stage he competes on. By listening to his body and embracing the trial-and-error process, he has discovered what works best for him, namely the consumption of a protein-rich diet of whole food — lots of whole food. “My diet includes a lot of quality protein from animal sources,” says the 2001 NPC National heavyweight winner. In fact, protein makes up the largest percentage of his diet, even during the offseason. Warren says that he feels weak and actually sees his muscles “deflate” when he doesn’t eat enough.

Warren normally consumes approximately 500 grams (g) of protein per day, which equates to a little less than 2 g per pound of bodyweight, along with up to 400 g of carbs during mass-gaining offseason mode. Fat not included, that’s 3,600 calories. Warren doesn’t pay strict attention to his fat intake, as it is a minor portion of his overall calorie intake; for the most part, it comes from the steak he consumes on a daily basis.

“I eat about a pound and a half of steak every day, all the way up until the day of a contest,” Warren states. “In fact, I was eating steak right up until the Arnold this year.”

For Warren, “steak” usually means either a fillet or top sirloin, two cuts that are flavorful, high in protein and relatively low in fat. “I love red meat and I’ve learned that when I eat it regularly, I stay fuller and can even keep my conditioning,” he adds.

For those looking to Warren for creative and tasty ways to prepare their steaks (fillet à la Branch, maybe?), keep looking. As with everything else related to his offseason diet, Warren applies the K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid) technique.

“I put in as little effort as possible when I cook,” he says. “I just grill my steaks, but when my wife does the cooking, it makes the diet much easier because she adds some taste to it. Even if it’s just a little Mrs. Dash, it makes it taste a whole lot better.”

A firm believer in the benefits of animal protein, Warren also takes in two to three pounds of chicken each day, preferably breast meat, which is both lean and nutrient-rich. In addition, he eats 10 to 20 egg whites per day, plus two yolks. He often starts his day with at least 10 of those eggs, along with a cup and a half of oatmeal. After breakfast, though, it’s often catch-as-catch-can when it comes to his meals.

“My schedule varies, so the number of meals I eat in a day can vary, but I’ll know how much I want to eat each day right from the start,” he explains. “Some days, it may take me five meals to finish it all; other days, it may take seven or eight. As long as I’m getting all of my food in, it doesn’t really matter to me how many meals it takes to eat it.”

As you might imagine, with so much food to consume, a late-night meal might be required from the man-tree called Branch.

Of course, if you open up any sophisticated diet tome with shiny happy people gracing the cover, you’ll learn that after-hours noshing is considered a huge no-no. Warren doesn’t care.

“I eat late at night,” he drawls. “Always have. I’ll eat some kind of protein — chicken or egg whites or something. I usually don’t eat carbs late, but it’s not something I worry too much about in the offseason.”

During his offseason, Warren’s goal is the same as yours: to mass up without adding too much muscle-obscuring adipose tissue to his frame. It’s important from a career standpoint for him to keep a visible set of abs — a substantial amount of his bread is buttered by guest-posing appearances. Still, Warren doesn’t feel a need to shy away from the bread, or the butter, for that matter, when not in competition mode.

Far from being carb shy, he enjoys pasta, rice and potatoes, even pancakes. “Without some carbs, you’re not going to have much energy,” he asserts.

Warren also sees little need to refrain from indulging in a salty fatty treat every once in a while, even if it’s every 24 hours or so. “I probably eat some kind of junk food almost every day. Not a whole lot of it, but when you’re trying to feed a 270-pound body, you sometimes take calories any way you can get them,” he says.

It’s important to note that while (almost) all’s fair during the offseason, Warren cleans up his act considerably during his 12- to 14-week precontest diet. The junk food is eliminated. The carbs are cut back from 400 g to as few as 50 g per day and, of course, cardio is increased. The result of his concerted efforts is a chiseled 240-pound physique, such as the one he unveiled at the 2006 Arnold Classic, where he placed a close second to Mr. Consistency, Dexter Jackson.

What about veggies? Surely a man who places such a premium on whole foods appreciates the value of edible flora. “I never liked vegetables as a kid,” admits Warren, “so I never got into eating them as an adult. But I make sure to get all of my vitamins and minerals in supplement form.” One area where Warren does find common ground with the dietary scribes is water intake. The consensus of most experts on nutritional matters is that the average person should drink a gallon of water per day. Warren makes sure to take in even more than that. “I train at MetroFlex Gym [in Arlington, Texas] and it can get pretty hot in there,” he says. “You definitely want to make sure you’re drinking plenty of water if you’re training hard.”

As for supplements, Warren is a man who practices what he preaches. He is a great believer in creatine and protein shakes. “It’s difficult to get in the amount of protein I need with food. Being able to drink some of it is a big help.”

After competing in a string of six shows without rest, Warren is again in mass-gain mode leading up to the 2006 Olympia on September 29-30. He realizes that the competitive pace he kept took its toll on his physique. “I faded real bad in Australia,” he confirms. Indeed, he finished fifth at the Australian Pro Grand Prix in March.

Now, with three months to let his body rest and, by way of increased calorie consumption, grow, he feels he’ll be prepared to make a grab at the Olympia crown that’s been perched upon Ronnie Coleman’s head these past eight years. “I think I have the size and the conditioning to compete with the big boys,” states Warren, in reference to the dinosaur-sized figures he’ll be facing at Orleans Arena this fall.

The man of few words but a lot of granite-dense muscle quite simply speaks the truth.

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