Maximum Definition: This is the beginning of a series of articles on classic bodybuilding. Over the coming months every aspect of the what is referred to as the Golden Age of bodybuilding will be covered, from exercises and routines to diets and biographies of some of the period’s most colourful, and often unfairly neglected, characters. The series begins with a look at a classic diet that can still be used to great effect to shed excess fat and get in competition shape.
Steak and Eggs For Leanness
Imagine a diet where you eat only steak and eggs – and get ripped at the same time: Maximum Definition.
Dream come true (or nightmare if you’re a vegan), that’s exactly what Vince Gironda’s steak-and-eggs diet, otherwise known as the Maximum Definition diet, involves: three servings of steak a day, with eggs.
Although it dates from the 1950s, the Maximum Definition steak and eggs diet is surprisingly modern in its application of ketogenic principles and its ability to be used as part of a regime of intermittent fasting.
The Steak n’ Eggs Pioneer
Vince Gironda (1917-1997) is one of the great mavericks of bodybuilding history.
For various reasons, his contribution to bodybuilding, including his anticipation of many later trends, still remains to be properly recognised.
In addition to his difficult, outspoken personality – he famously called Arnold Schwarzenegger a ‘fat f***’ the first time he met him – the general trajectory of bodybuilding over his lifetime was divergent from his own ideas and practices.
Among many pet dislikes, Vince shunned shiny, complicated machines, he wouldn’t allow music in his gyms and he hated, with a passion, the use and abuse of steroids.
The ‘mass monster’ ideal that became dominant in the early 1990s, with the ascendancy of Dorian Yates, was the absolute antithesis of Vince’s aesthetic ideal, which involved the careful placement of mass to suit the individual’s frame.
For Vince, bodybuilding was an art, governed by eternal principles that had first been recognised by the Ancient Greeks.
Putting The Program Together
Vince developed the Maximum Definition diet during his competition days and used it to get in such great shape that he was actually penalised for being too cut up; during the 1950s and early 1960s, when he was competing, the dominant aesthetic was much rounder and softer than the very modern-looking physique he sported.
He also used the diet with the many bodybuilders and celebrities he trained at Vince’s Gym, in West Hollywood, over a period of forty years. Among his clients were Larry Scott, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane, Clint Walker, Cher, Kurt Russell and Sean Penn.
Hollywood executives knew that Vince was the man to send their leading man or lady to when they needed to get in shape, fast, for a new movie.
The Maximum Definition diet is, of course, a ketogenic diet. Here, Vince was well ahead of the curve.
While ketogenic dieting for fat loss and general health is a big trend now, it certainly wasn’t in the 1950s and 1960s.
During the Golden Age, perhaps the only other bodybuilder who was using something approaching a ketogenic diet was Chet Yorton. He is most famous for using a low-carb diet and eccentric routine – sets of 300+lb bench press for 22 reps, anyone? – to defeat Arnold Schwarzenegger at the 1966 Mr Universe in London.
Vince’s preference for high-fat, low-carb diets, was a general one, which he explained thus:
‘I prefer to use fats as energy sources over carbohydrates since they sustain the body’s blood-sugar level for up to six hours and as fuel sources burn slowly. In fact, due to the difficulty the body has in breaking fats down into energy, it actually burns body fat in the process.’
These are precisely the benefits that are now touted by advocates of ketogenic dieting, as well as improved brain function, improved insulin sensitivity and a wealth of positive effects on various forms of metabolic disease.
Vince embodied a much more experimental approach to bodybuilding, at a time when none of the supposed ‘iron rules’ of bodybuilding had been laid down.
This included reading from a wide variety of sources including the latest scientific and historical papers.
His ideas about high-fat diets, in particular, were based on readings about the high-fat diets of groups like the Inuit, as described by early explorers like Vijhalmur Stefansson.
Maximum Definition Diet
Another advantage of the Maximum Definition diet is that it can incorporate intermittent fasting. Again, Vince was ahead of the curve.
One of the few other bodybuilders of the time to advocate fasting was Mr. America Chuck Sipes, who appears to have derived his interest in the subject of extreme calorie restriction from the significant amounts of time he spent hiking in the wilds of California.
Later in his career, Chuck raved about the revitalising effects fasting would have on him after a few days.
Nowadays when we talk about fasting and its benefits we would refer to this feeling of renewal as ‘autophagy’ (literally, ‘self-eating’), which involves, in simple terms, the body consuming old cell components and replacing them with new ones.
How to Do It
The Maximum Definition diet can be turned into an intermittent fasting diet simply by having your first meal at around lunchtime and your last by 8pm at the latest. So if you don’t eat between 8pm and 12pm the next day, you are running what is known as a 16:8 fast (16 hours of fasting and then an eight-hour window for eating). Vince also advocated short total fasts, of up to five days, to cleanse the body of toxins.
There is actually a little more to the diet than the name might suggest, so I’ll lay it out in detail.
The diet does not involve calorie restriction: you eat as much meat and as many eggs as you like, three times a day.
The meat can actually be any kind of meat – white or red – with the caveat that it shouldn’t be processed.
The eggs can be consumed in whatever form you choose. Another of Vince’s famous diets, which we’ll discuss in another article, is the 36-eggs-a-day diet, which unsurprisingly involves the consumption of up to 36 eggs a day, all of which are eaten raw.
In the Maximum Definition diet, butter is allowed for cooking the meat and eggs, if you choose to cook them too.
Every fourth day, according to Vince, you should eat a meal of wholegrain carbohydrates, on their own, to replenish your muscle glycogen stores and reduce stress on the body.
Vince was an early pioneer of supplementation and most of his diets comes with a long list of supplements to be taken with them. The Maximum Definition diet is no different.
In addition to the steak and eggs, the dieter is to take liver pills, kelp tablets, amino acids, enzyme tablets and vitamins and minerals.
Vince came up with a wide range of diets and was always careful to insist that different diets served different purposes.
Once you had achieved a set purpose with a particular diet, such as getting into shape for an upcoming Mr America contest, the diet should change: you are not supposed to be on the Maximum Definition diet or the 36-eggs-a-day diet forever.
Look at a picture of Vince in his prime — it’s hard to argue with his results.
The next time you want to try to lose some fat and increase your definition, or if you’re just looking to shed some excess weight after Christmas, get out the cast-iron pan and make yourself a manly portion of steak and eggs.
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