Jon, let's kick off with diet. What is your nutritional plan like at the moment? Do you eat clean all year round?
Hi Scott. Right now, as Iím not competing, I must admit the diet is a little more relaxed. I still manage 5, perhaps 6 meals a day, and in those meals Iíll make sure I get a good hit of protein. I tend to eat pretty clean most of the time, as quite simply I like the taste of wholesome foods, and donít really have cravings for junk food too often. I have quite a sensitive system too, perhaps tuned by the many years of bodybuilding, and I feel a lot better all-round when Iím following a cleaner diet. I suppose that would apply to everyone to some degree though.
What is your training like at the moment?
I usually train 3 or 4 days a week in my own home gym, alternating between upper and lower body sessions. I tend to vary my rest days to suit my schedule and how well recovered I feel from the last workout. Sometimes Iíll take a day off between workouts, sometimes 2, or maybe even 3 days if itís been a hectic week. Workouts are limited to 2 exercises per body part, with 1 or at most 2 work sets per exercise, taken to positive failure. Reps range anywhere between 8 and 15. Itís a very low volume approach, but I can get in and out of the gym well within an hour, and most importantly I recover fairly quickly from workouts. This means I can hit the gym again sooner, giving more windows of opportunity for muscle growth.
How has your approach to diet and exercise evolved over the years?
I think it has simplified. Over the years I have eliminated complexity where it does not need to exist, and this applies to both the training and nutrition side. These days I train with fewer exercises on a basic 2-day workout split, as opposed to performing many more exercises on a more elaborate 4-day split, that I used to adopt. I also train more frequently, hitting body parts on average about twice a week, as opposed to once a week as I did years ago.
Change on the nutrition side has been less drastic, although I probably take slightly fewer supplements than I used to. I also consume a little less protein. Bodybuilders tend to insure against catabolism by hiking up their protein intake, but often I think this is done to extremes. The body can only utilise so much of it. For a daily total, 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight is ample, with perhaps a little more for extreme times of dieting when carbs are low, to compensate.
What is your diet like when cutting down? Do you follow a carb cycling routine etc? What is your macro break-down?
I tend to make small adjustments each week. Iíll begin by cutting out refined foods and treats. This will serve me well for a while, and then the fat loss will begin to plateau. After that I might look at knocking out some carbs later in the evening to keep things moving along. In addition to reducing carbs, Iíll also ramp up the cardio. This process is constantly monitored and refined to keep the fat slipping off. When cutting up I guess my macro ratio would be in the region of 50:30:20 (carbs, protein, fat). Carb cycling is something that Iíd employ in the later stages of dieting, when most other avenues have been exhausted. Itís a good way to keep the body guessing for a little while longer and help ward off the almost inevitable metabolic slowdown.
What is your diet like one week out from a show?
Iím usually up to 6 or 7 small meals a day by that point. Averaging around 2500 calories made up of around 300g carbs, 200g protein and 50g fats. Breakfast is always oats and whey, and post workout Iíll consume whey again with some fruit, creatine and Udoís Choice oil. The other meals typically consist of either chicken, fish, steak, eggs, or a combination of these things, accompanied with vegetables and either brown rice or sweet potatoes. Iíll be snacking on small pieces of fruit between meals too, and always lots of water.
How do you keep on top of a healthy diet when away from home?
Well, I work from home so most of the time Iím able to take care of food, but when preparing for a show I usually pack food with me in some Tupperware. Offseason itís less of an issue and Iíll usually get by with whatever I can pick up at supermarkets and restaurants, and as a backup I tend to carry an emergency supply of protein bars in the car just in case.
What is your favourite healthy meal? Care to share the recipe?
Probably just a good steak and a baked potato with a fresh side salad. I really am a guy of simple pleasures when it comes to food!
What nutrition tips would you give to beginners who are looking to add some lean muscle?
Number one would be to forget bulking up. Just eat a sensible diet made up of 5 or 6 evenly spaced meals with plenty of good quality protein. The carbs usually take care of themselves, but supplement with EFAís like Udoís Choice oil. A quality protein powder can help bump up your protein intake, since thereís only so much chicken and fish you can eat before it gets tiresome. A good high-strength multivitamin and mineral tablet is advisable.
Can you recommend any foods that you think must be in everyone's diet? How can the average person insert them into their diet?
Well, plenty of fruit and veg go without saying. But in terms of protein then I say eggs. Whole eggs too. They tend to get a bad rap because of the fat in the yolk and the cholesterol, but they are such an excellent source of complete protein and packed full of nutrients. No one really needs advice on how to prepare them as there are so many ways to make them into an appetising meal. Just cook them well and get them down. When cutting up you might want to limit consumption or remove some of the yolks, but offseason I say eat them aplenty.
What are the biggest mistakes you see in people's diets when they are eating for fat loss or muscle gain?
Well, when trying to lose fat many people simply donít give themselves enough time. If you try to drop too much weight too quickly then your metabolism will short-circuit and progress will grind to a halt long before youíve gotten into top shape. Similarly, when trying to pack on size some will eat everything under the sun in the hope that those extra calories will translate into new muscle tissue. Yes it will make you fat, but it wont necessarily build muscle any faster than if you just followed a healthy, sensible diet.
To summarise; you canít force fat loss by starving yourself and you cant force muscle gain by overeating. Both are slow processes that have their own natural pace.
Are you a fan of supplements? If so what do you currently take?
I do use a few supplements, yes. Whey protein (Promax by Maximuscle), Udos Choice oil, creatine, multivitamins and minerals. In the past Iíve used glutamine, aminos, pre workout formulas, and a few others beside. But in the end, the ones listed above are those that Iíve found to provide the most noticeable difference.
If you could recommend one sports nutrition product what would it be and why?
This is an easy one for me. Udos Choice oil. I actually notice it more when I donít take it, because I feel lousy! The main benefit for me is a feeling of well being. It has many other upsides too, such as nourishing the skin, improving recovery from workouts, sharpening concentration, supporting your natural hormone production and lowering cholesterol levels. Used creatively it can also enhance the flavour and texture of many of your meals. For instance, I always add it to my post workout shake, and it also makes bland tuna taste a lot more interesting!
What are your top tips for anyone contemplating competing in bodybuilding?
I donít want to put anyone off, but competing can be very demanding. The training is one thing, but dieting down to the body fat level that is required to win shows takes its toll on you, both mentally and physically. Veterans in the sport will learn how to cope it, but for newcomers it can be like the proverbial Hell on Earth.
On the plus side you will discover a lot about your own limits, both in the gym when having to train in a calorie depleted state (try 20 rep squats on an empty stomach), and also in your ability to control your diet, and particularly the food cravings. If you have committed to competing, then my first piece of advice would be to give yourself plenty of time to lose the weight. People usually need to drop more weight than they think to get in really good contest condition, so make allowances for this.
I would also try and get along to some shows beforehand, to see what the standard is like and to get an idea of what is required of you. Go online too, and do plenty of reading and ask questions. Check out my forum at www.naturalmuscle.co.uk where you can talk with fellow bodybuilders about all aspects of competing.
Lastly, ask for the support of those around you, and be grateful of that support. The preparation will push you to your limits, and this can break friendships and relationships if youíre not careful. On the day of your show, you want those same people to be there cheering you on.
What is on the cards for you next? Anything else you want to share?
Well my last show was in 2007 at the WNBF Pro Worlds, and since then I've become a father and have been enjoying something of an extended layoff from competition. Iíve hinted at a comeback for a few years now, but alas itís not quite happened yet, so I hesitate to put a firm date on these things anymore. However, Iíd like to think that the best of Jon Harris is yet to come!
In the meantime I'm busy with other projects like expanding the Natural Muscle Forum and working with my clients, as I now offer private consultations through my website at www.jonharris.com
, helping others achieve their goals.