“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” We hear this adage time and time again, and it has been emblazoned in our heads that, in bodybuilding, staying consistent and sticking with what works will lead an athlete to the winners’ circle and keep him or her there. Sometimes, however, you must know how and when to stray from the path in order to stay ahead of the competition. Rewind to the fall of 2002. Ronnie Coleman had just captured his fifth consecutive Mr. Olympia title and was on his way to New Orleans to compete in the 2002 GNC Show of Strength. We all know that show concluded with a shocking loss for Ronnie, when Günter Schlierkamp edged him out for the victory. But what most of you don’t know is that Ronnie and I completely revamped his program to create his freaky 2003 Mr. Olympia physique—the physique that dwarfed and dominated the entire lineup.
After the finals of the 2002 Show of Strength, Ronnie and I had a long talk and knew that in order to continue on with our reign of Mr. Olympia victories, we could no longer sit back and be comfortable with the game plan that had garnered wins so often before; it was time for the reinvention of Ronnie Coleman, and this is where the plan for creating the perfect muscle monster began. We knew it was time to give the audience and the judges something they had never seen before from Ronnie—or from any other Mr. Olympia for that matter—and that we would have to push things harder than ever before, but we would also have to be fresh.
From the night of the 2002 GNC until Jan. 1, 2003, Ronnie rested and took the time to relax and recuperate. On Jan., 2003, our off-season and new game plan began. Up to this point in time, the heaviest Ronnie had ever been during the off-season was about 310–312 pounds, but we knew that even as the reigning Olympia champ, Ronnie needed to kick the program up several notches and place himself out of the reach of his competitors. With our revised strategy, we set out to reach a goal of 320 pounds for the 2003 off-season. I wasn’t going to be satisfied with just improving 5–10% and just winning the title again—I wanted to go in and blow the competition out of the water by about 25%! If it were anyone other than Ronnie, it would seem virtually unrealistic to set this type of goal, or even try to push so hard, but I knew with Ronnie’s work ethic and crazy genetics, he was more than capable of reaching these goals and hungry to prove himself. I devised a three-phase plan for the year and thought it would be interesting to share the details with all of you. Many of you know what types of foods Ronnie dieted on, but few actually knew exactly how we went about putting together his incredible 2003 physique.
January ’03– Feb. ’03
After taking a couple of push the envelope a bit more to take months completely off of training to rest and recuperate both physically and mentally, Ronnie went back to the gym. At this point, I put him on a pretty clean diet, keeping his protein around 400 grams (I didn’t push the proteins or carbs at this point) and his carb intake around 800 grams. Ronnie’s protein always consisted of beef and poultry—he never ate fish. His carbs consisted of oats, grits, potatoes, and some rice— he never ate vegetables. This first phase of relatively clean eating lasted around eight weeks, taking us to March and the beginning of phase 2.
March ’03- May ’03
In thus phase, I wanted to push the envelope a bit more to take him to the next level of strength while also pushing his weight to the heaviest point. This phase would run for approximately 12 weeks. At this time, I upped his daily protein intake to 500 grams. Throughout the week he ate exactly 500 grams of protein. I didn’t vary the amounts at all and I was very adamant about sticking to this. If you have seen any of his videos, Ronnie had a daily plan, even during the off-season: He ate certain meals at home, certain meals at the Black-eyed Pea, and certain meals at Outback Steakhouse. Through this phase we made certain he was able to stick with this plan so that his protein amounts were always the same.
The carbohydrate amounts during the second phase were planned so they fluctuated throughout the week and pyramided up as the week progressed. We began the week with clean carbs in the 700–800 grams range and upped them each day so that by Friday, Ronnie would be eating clean carbs in the range of 1,200–1,500 grams. On Saturday and Sunday, that carb amount would skyrocket when I added around 1,000 grams of “junk food” carbs, pushing his weekend carb intake to 2,200– 2,500 grams. On the weekends I also increased his fats from his usual 50–100 daily grams to 150–200.
Come Monday, we would once again decrease the carb amounts to the beginning point of 700–800 grams and begin the pyramiding process all over again. We continued this path for the entire 12-week period of phase 2 with the hopes of getting his weight higher than it had been. When phase 2 concluded at the end of May, Ronnie’s weight was already at the 320-pound goal I wanted him to reach by the end of the off-season.
With the 2003 Mr. Olympia still another five months away, I knew we had a little more time to really take things over the top. June would bring another brief off-season phase that would help Ronnie mature the size and weight we had gained during the first two phases. I used phase 3 to alter his diet—shifting from clean foods and adding in more fats. I wanted a drastic change between his off-season diet and contest diet, so that when his 2003 Olympia preparation began, he would not plateau and we would be able to continue with consistent weight and fat loss throughout the entire program.
By June, Ronnie was already the heaviest he had ever been during an off-season by about 10 pounds. With this in mind, I wasn’t really looking to add much weight—I just really wanted him to maintain the weight he had gained as long as possible before beginning the diet.
For phase 3, his protein amounts continued with a consistent 500 grams daily—never veering. I kept his daily carb amounts more consistent. Instead of pyramiding up in carb amounts, I kept his daily carbs “clean” and around the 1,500 grams range. However, every third day I would have Ronnie eat an extra 800–1,000 grams of “junk carbs” or more simple sugar carbs in addition to the clean carbs—it was almost like a carb-loading day, if you will. From there, we would go back to the 1,500 grams of clean carbs for a couple of days, and then add the extra carbs back in for a quick loading day. We continued with the 1,500 grams, bumping up to 2,500 grams for about seven weeks. We were able to put on yet another seven pounds during phase 3, bringing him to a shocking 327 pounds by the time his 2003 Mr. Olympia diet would begin.
END OF JULY ’03
With a starting point of 327 pounds, there were two key objectives. First, I now have to restructure his entire diet from what we were used to. With the added muscle mass, we not only had to think of how to hold on to the size— but compensate for the extra muscle revving his metabolism even more. If I kept his diet anywhere close to what we did previously, his body, being a creature of habit, would fall right back into its old groove and all the added weight and size would be lost—he would just burn everything up too quickly and we would only end up with a 5–10 pound increase on the stage. We weren’t looking for that— we were looking for 25 pounds heavier on stage. With this in mind, I completely revamped the diet process, just as I did with the off-season program.
With the goal of creating the perfect muscle monster, I knew we had to think out of the box, and I had to come up with a plan that would be considered off the wall and totally not the norm for bodybuilding preparation. Instead of thinking “bodybuilding diet,” I structured this program specifically to keep every ounce of Ronnie’s muscle. Ronnie was simply an athlete in a totally different league, and the “norm” definitely would not apply to this situation. This contest diet was different from any other bodybuilding diet I have ever structured because of the crazy amount of muscle he possessed and because of how his body reacted to dieting.
I began at a certain amount of protein and a certain amount of carbohydrates. For the diet, I began fluctuating his proteins. During the off-season, I had kept his protein amounts very consistent—never veering from the 500-grams range, but now during the diet, I varied his protein from 450–550 grams daily.
The creativity of the diet came into play with the fluctuation of carb amounts. Over a seven-day period, I constantly changed up his carbohydrate amounts, but instead of taking his carbohydrates down, I started them low and took the amounts up. I started the week with 150 grams of carbs and throughout the week, I gradually began increasing his carbs. I wanted to see his weight drop quickly at the beginning of the week, and as his weight came down I continued to increase the carbs each day until his weight would stop dropping and even out
For example, say on Saturday, Ronnie may have been at 550 grams of protein and his daily carb intake had increased throughout the week from 150 grams to 900 grams of carbs. Normal bodybuilding thinking would be to drop the carbs back down, but I went in the opposite direction. On Sunday, I added 1,000 grams more of carbs, taking them to 1,900 grams for that day to give him a mini carb load. On Monday, I dropped him back down to 150 grams of carbs. His body would then drop down in weight again (losing about two to four pounds), and I would start this process all over again.
This type of carb protocol was off the beaten path from conventional bodybuilding dieting—but I didn’t just say, “Hey, let’s try something crazy!” I planned and calculated each and every day of his program—the key being to monitor his progress on a daily basis so I was able to increase his carbs exactly as needed to constantly slow his weight loss until it finally came to a stop at exactly seven days. My plan was to hammer the diet hard at the very beginning of the week for quick weight loss, then slow the weight loss each day a bit more until it stopped by constantly upping the carbs. The amount of carbs Ronnie fluctuated from the beginning to the end of each week was different as I based it upon how much weight loss we experienced at the beginning of the week. Sometimes, as in the example above, it would take a gradual increase during the week from 150 grams to 900 grams of carbs to stop the weight loss. Other times it may have increased only from 150 grams to 500 grams of carbs to stop the weight loss. I found that the leaner Ronnie became throughout the diet, the more carbs I needed to add in throughout the week in order to stop the weight loss.
The method to my madness with this constant fluctuation was to turn Ronnie’s body into the perfect fat-burning machine. The constant pyramiding of carbs, the quick-load day, and then drastically dropping his carb amounts back down allowed Ronnie to burn fat while maintaining the size and muscle obtained during the off-season. Again, this is a plan I devised strictly for Ronnie and the special needs of his advanced physique—and not something I practice on a day-to-day basis with my clients.
The end result after carb-loading Ronnie and pulling all the water was 287 pounds after two meals the day of the 2003 Mr. Olympia prejudging. I remember looking at him and thinking, “Not only is this show over already, but the initial reaction of the judges and audience could only be that of sheer awe!” That year, in a sea of Davids, Ronnie looked like Goliath. However, this story ended with Goliath as the victor!