FLEX Q&A: TOM PRINCE (posted 4-11)

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FLEX: How did you make the transition from one of the top bodybuilders in the world into one of the top bodybuilding nutritionists in the world?

TOM PRINCE: I have been helping people for years, even before I had started competing in 1993. And while I was competing, I always preferred to help people get into shape more than myself. So I assisted about four or five people a year up until 1997, which is when I turned pro and continued to help only one or two people a year because I wanted to concentrate on myself. So I didn’t really make a transition, it’s just that when I knew I had to retire I started to take on more people who wanted my help, like Bob Cicherillo and Will Harris.

When you were a competitor, did you have anyone assist you with your contest preparation?

I had Chad Nicholls help me when I won the Nationals because I was so mentally fried I wanted to hand it over to someone else. After that it was more of a collaboration of information. I did about 97% of my diet but I would check everything by him because it was really nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of.

Several of the top contest nutritionists at the moment, like Hany Rambod and Chad Nicholls, haven’t had the experience of professional competition as yourself. Do you feel this is of an advantage to you?

It’s a huge advantage.

Why is it, some pros put their trust into trainers and nutritionists that have never even stepped on stage?

Most of the best coaches in all sports aren’t necessary the best players. Because the coaches aren’t as gifted as the player, they rely more heavily on their mind so they can study and do the thinking for the athlete and point them in the right direction, but sometimes they don’t do the job that people think. Sorry, but this is true -- a lot of the bodybuilders were already great before they went to Chad. Flex Wheeler had already won the Arnold and been second at the Olympia, you know what I mean. None of them were nobodies and then he turned them into great athletes. If Michael Jordan asked a coach to help him play basketball, it would be hard to give the coach a lot of the credit.

Dorian Yates mentioned to me that what attracted him to the sport was the individualism and that the reason so many bodybuilders were coming into shows recently out of shape was because they relied too much on so called ‘gurus’. What's your response to that?

I can only account for my athletes. I think Dorian’s response is coming from his time. I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with an athlete trying to be better, bigger and get in better shape by seeking knowledge from someone who knows more about the human body. Years ago I used to think the same way about people like Paul Dillett, Chris Cormier and Flex Wheeler training with Charles Glass. I remember asking myself, “Why do all these guys, as good as they are, need a personal trainer?” Then after a while I thought to myself maybe I’m looking at it the wrong way. All of these guys had motivation problems and had Charles to help push them through their workouts. The same thing can be said that if their weak link is their [nutrition], then someone like me can give them proper advice and help them with the prevention of cheating on their diet.

In Dorian’s case, I don’t think there were any nutrition gurus in his time . . . I hate the word ‘guru’ by the way.

When I have interviewed your clients, such as Johnnie Jackson and Jerome Ferguson, they all say how shocked they are when they diet for a contest because they have so much energy and feel like they aren’t even on a diet, and in turn, don’t lose the muscle they have in the past. What is it that you have altered with these athletes’ prep that allows them to react this way?

You have to have a little more faith in your metabolism and body. Don’t cut your carb intake from 600 down to 200 or 300 when you start your diet. Try cutting it down to 575 and continue to cut very slowly. In 2001, when I got third at the Night of Champions, I remember saying that I was not going to diet the crap out of myself and give my body a little credit to burn the calories through the metabolism. For instance, Jerome Ferguson used to really lower his calories and would be doing two hours of cardio a day 12 weeks out. Last time out I didn’t allow him to do more than an hour a day throughout the whole diet and allowed him to eat much more.

It is fair to say that you were one of the mass monsters in your competitive day and it was normal for you to walk around at 310 pounds in the offseason. Do you allow or encourage your clients to put on much weight in the offseason?

Yeah, as big as you can as long as you stay around or under 10% bodyfat. I don’t try to get people up to 310 like I was, but I still was only 9.5% bodyfat at that weight.

Do you work with people other than bodybuilding competitors?

If a swimmer came and asked me to train them I would, but I have no desire to train anyone else other than competitive bodybuilders. A lot of people off the street will ask for a nutrition program, but really all they want from me is to write them a magic steroid cycle.

Do you also work with your bodybuilding clients in the offseason?

Sure. The longer I work with them the better they are going to be.

What is the biggest mistake bodybuilders make in regard of their preparation?

Thinking that the gear is everything. Gear is the last thing you should be thinking about when it comes to contest preparation.

Do you believe in carb loading/depleting prior to a contest?

Yes, but the way I would prescribe would be a lot less drastic. If I have someone on around 200 grams of carbs from two weeks out to one week out, when we start depleting we would go down to 150 grams for two days and maybe 125 for one day, so we are only dipping down slightly, and when we carb up we do so the same amount we depleted. If you are yanking your calories down and then putting additional stress by yanking the calories up, is it any surprise that it’s so easy to miss your peak? The way I prescribe is a much easier target to hit. I also eliminate anything that will shock the body. If you have dieted down consuming oats as your carbs, oats is what we’re carb-loading with because your body recognizes it.

During your pro career you were well known to be one of the strongest and most hardcore trainers on the circuit. Do you help your clients with the training aspect of their programs?

The only thing I really do is tell them how many sets to do while dieting to coincide with the calories and cardio they are taking in. To this day I’m still amazed at the amount of people who treat their weight training, cardio and nutrition as different entities, instead as one whole.

How do you think the sport of bodybuilding can be improved to be more marketable?

They have to make the sport more entertaining. In the NFL, they change the rules every year. They also do it with the NBA and NHL, where they now have a shootout at the end of the game to make the fans stay in the stadium for longer and help them enjoy the sport more so they keep coming back. It doesn’t necessarily have to be more mainstream, but only more entertaining to not only possibly bring more fans but to keep the ones they already have interested.

What was your favorite aspect of bodybuilding?

There was only one thing I liked -- working out. There was no aspect I hated. I didn’t like working booths; however, I liked talking with fans. I didn’t like competing too much and I had zero desire to beat anyone else, believe it or not. I didn’t care if I was better than another competitor because I solely did it for myself. The journey was my destination -- sticking to the diet, training, etc., that’s what I liked.

Had you continued bodybuilding, do you believe you would have exceeded 310 pounds in competition?

Probably to within a couple of pounds, but it got to a point that the only place I felt comfortable was in the gym. I proved that I could keep putting on the weight from 195 to 220 pounds, then to 240, 260 all the way up to 310, and then it wasn’t so much an interesting goal to me. Due to the injuries I had experienced, training at 34 years old wasn’t half as much fun than when I was training at 24. I had two bad shoulders, two bad knees and a bad elbow, which is pretty much all the major joints involved in lifting. It hurt so much it wasn’t as enjoyable anymore.

Was there anyone in particular that kept you motivated and inspired as a pro bodybuilder?

I was careful not to look up to any bodybuilders, because you never know if and when you are going to be up on stage against these guys. But the one bodybuilder I admired the most was Dorian Yates. It wasn’t because of his fantastic physique, but it was his dedication. There were many out there more genetically blessed than Dorian but he outworked everybody. That was the most amazing thing about him.

After your recent health problems that forced you out of competition, did you find it a difficult transition moving from being a pro athlete to being more of a businessman and mentor to other bodybuilders?

No, what I thought was going to be hard was having all this passion for bodybuilding and wondering what was I going to do with it. What I found with my property management business was that I could take that passion and put it into anything. It wasn’t bodybuilding I loved really, it was the challenge of bodybuilding I loved -- having a reason to get out of bed and challenge myself every day to make myself better. That is what motivated me; I have now put that day-to-day challenge into my business, so I have just as much passion for my business as I did for bodybuilding.

What do you do as far as training these days?

I train five days a week. I don’t train chest or shoulders because my left shoulder is so messed up. I do about six sets per bodypart and train abs twice per week. Going to the gym is fun again, because there is less pressure and I can chat to people now.

At 230 pounds you’re bigger than the average man, but do you feel a lot different at this weight and how so?

Being 230 pounds is great; it’s a lot more comfortable and I can buy clothes straight off the rack. I used to have sleep apnea, which went away when I got down to around 260 pounds. I used to wake up every hour but now I sleep like a rock. My joints in my knees feel a lot better. They are still a little tender when I train, but they used to hurt all of the time.

You were known to stay covered up a lot in the gym. Why didn’t you ever train in a tank top to display the amazing physique you possessed?

I would only very rarely remove my tank top and look in the mirror at contest time because I was only doing this for one person -- me. I didn’t give a s—t what anyone else thought. The best mirror in the whole of Gold’s Gym is the back mirror, in the first room by the stairs, so if I did want to take a quick peek I would do it there.

FLEX

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