Interview with the King of Aesthetics – Frank Zane
As I drove up a long, winding hill in beautiful La Mesa, California, I couldn’t help but be a bit nervous. I was about to interview and train with one of my idols, Frank Zane. Zane and Arnold were the two physiques that first got me interested in lifting weights. It seems like just yesterday that I was a skinny high school kid ripping pictures of them out of Muscle and Fitness and taping it on my wall. Now, I’d be interviewing one of bodybuilding’s legends for that same magazine. The entire experience was surreal.
I’m an avid fan of the “Golden Era” of bodybuilding. I have all the old books from those guys like 3 More Reps and the Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding. I am far more interested in learning how they developed their physiques with such limited resources than the guys of today. Bodybuilding has taken a real turn for the worse. Symmetry and aesthetics are a lost art. Today, it’s all about freakish mass and who can survive the largest drug cocktail. The sport is dead in my opinion (and I use the word “sport” loosely).
Frank Zane was able to build arguably the most proportionate, muscular and aesthetically pleasing physique of all time. Because of this, I was really eager to learn as much as I could about his nutrition, training and supplementation. Come to find out, we share a lot of the same beliefs and his knowledge was far ahead of his time. The first half of our interview will be in Muscle and Fitness in the fall.
The following interview features a lot of his training tips as well as discussion between the two of us.
Competing Back Then vs. Now
Frank Zane first started lifting weights around 14. He did this because he lived in a dangerous neighborhood with a lot of fighting and wanted to build his body up. The first organization he competed in was the AAU, which judged physique as well as athletic points. Eventually, he decided there wasn’t much of a future in the AAU and his next show he got 3rd in the teenage Mr. America.
Frank – “I just kept at it. After I graduated college I actually taught school for 13 years. It allowed me to train hard in the summers. Believe it or not, when I won the Olympia I was teaching full time.”
Fred – “Nowadays pro bodybuilders don’t do anything outside of bodybuilding. They lift, sleep, eat and repeat. It’s a very one-dimensional life.”
Frank – “Yeah, I guess. And today they all want sponsorships. What’s a sponsorship? We didn’t have that, we just had to work.”
Favorite Training Split
Frank believed that a 3 way split was the most effective once you had built up a proper base. There were three different set-ups that he used when competing.
Day 1 – Back, Biceps, Forearms
Day 2 – Legs
Day 3 – Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
Day 1- Chest, Back
Day 2 – Legs
Day 3 – Deltoids, Arms…He referred to this as the “Arnold Split”
Day 1: Back/Triceps/Rear Delts
Day 2: Legs
Day 3: Chest/Biceps/Front Delts/Forearms
He trained abs every single workout and the volume back then was relatively high. Reps were kept between 8-12 with sets ranging from 3-4.
Fred – “How were you guys able to handle all the volume? I know Arnold would sometimes do 20+ sets of chest.”
Frank – “By doing nothing else, which is what Arnold did when he was training for a show. Training twice a day, I did that for a while. At that time I was already in my 30’s, working full-time and going to school. Eventually I settled into doing 3 days on and 1 day off. That’s how I trained for the Olympia in 1979 and get into my best shape. Today, I only train 3 days a week.”
Peri-workout nutrition is something that I have written a lot of articles on so I was really interested to hear his thoughts.
For more information on peri-workout nutrition:
Peri-Workout Nutrition Part 1
Peri-Workout Nutrition Part 2: To Carb Or Not To Carb
Intra-Workout Nutrition: Fat Loss vs. Muscle Gain
Post-Workout Carbohydrates: Why They Aren’t Necessary
Come to find out, our beliefs were extremely similar. I am a firm believer of loading carbohydrates pre-workout and supplementing with certain amino acids around the session.
Fred – “What things would you focus on pre, intra and post-workout?”
Frank – “I always made sure I had carbohydrates pre-workout, protein and carbohydrates. In order to get great workouts you need the proper fuel in before the session. I always worked to get a maximum pump. In terms of the window of 30 minutes to an hour post-workout to rush and get carbohydrates, I never worried about that.”
Fred – “The anabolic window theory has been taken apart in the last few years by recent research. The “window” so to speak, stays “open” for much longer than 30 minutes or even an hour. Protein synthesis will stay elevated for hours post-workout, so it’s ridiculous to think that if you miss this made up window you will miss out on gains.”
The Zane Diet
Frank followed somewhat of a low-carb diet with a reefed when prepping for a show. He kept protein at 1g/lb of bodyweight which was usually around 190-200g for him. His fat intake made up 25% of his calories and usually end up around 60g per day. In terms of calories he never went above 3,000 and stayed mainly in the low to mid 2,000’s. His carbohydrate intake was as follows:
Days 1-3: 75g of carbohydrates
Day 4: 150+g of carbohydrates
Frank – “This was my diet for burning fat. I was trying to get into ketosis by that third day and then pull myself out of it on the fourth. It worked really well for me.”
Fred – “Sometimes I advocate having no-carbohydrates post-workout as there’s no need to rush to replenish glycogen stores. While it was once believed that you “needed” carbohydrates post-workout to stimulate protein synthesis, it isn’t exactly true. You need insulin + amino acids. Carbohydrates are not the only nutrient to stimulate insulin. By having a whey shake with leucine you get your amino acids and insulin to stimulate protein synthesis. It’s also a nice period for fat loss as the body tries to spare glucose and uses mainly fat for fuel.”
Frank – “After a workout I wouldn’t always eat immediately. I’d wait. I would basically do something to relax, maybe even wait a few hours. When I got hungry, that’s when I’d eat.”
Fred – “I’m also a proponent of intermittent fasting even though it’s not exactly popular in the bodybuilding world, what are your thoughts on it?”
Interested in Intermittent Fasting? Grab my book on it here: Feast.Fast.Fit. – Train Your Body to Torch Fat, Build Muscle, and Never Diet Again
Frank – “I think it’s a good idea. What I found myself doing when getting ready for a show was staying hungry longer. That was the key. If you wanted to get muscular, don’t eat so much. Don’t stuff yourself because you think you’re hungry. You just get fat that way, at least I did.
Fred – “Far too often people will ask me if they should eat their next meal even if they aren’t hungry. How the hell does that make sense? Of course not. Listen to your body. That’s part of why bodybuilders today have huge distended guts (and drug usage).”
Frank – “And I have an answer for that. Make the vacuum pose a mandatory pose for bodybuilders. Why don’t they do that?”
Fred – “Because none of them could do it.”
Fred – “A lot of bodybuilders today advocate carbohydrates intra-workout. I don’t really think it’s a great idea to constantly replete glycogen stores during a lift. If anything, it’s going to take away from the enhanced post-exercise insulin sensitivity that you want afterwards. What they don’t tell you is that they are taking insulin pre-workout and that carbohydrates intra-workout are helping to make sure they don’t go hypoglycemic. What do you think?”
Frank – “I would NEVER eat during my workout. Drink water. I mean, here’s the thing. Your blood sugar is dropping and glycogen is disappearing during a workout and you want that. If you’re drinking Gatorade you are not going to burn any fat from that workout. Eating all this protein during your workout, your body can’t digest it all. That’s not the time to eat! You should have eaten before you trained and it should already be in your system working to help you.”
Science vs. Experience
Fred – “With the internet today, there is an explosion of readily accessible information. You have those that believe nothing unless 12 studies are attached vs. those who worry only about personal experience. What’s your position?”
Frank – “Everything I did was based on things I observed, by experimenting on myself, not by things I read. I have a master’s degree in psychology, I can understand a study. However, I never go to the literature first. I might get an idea from the literature but then I will test it out. I don’t rely on what other people say. Never did I do that. It’s about finding what works for me.”
Amino Acid Supplementation
Fred – “I am a big proponent of supplementing with Leucine around workouts, did you guys use a lot of BCAA’s?
Frank: I have always been a big believer of what I call precursor loading. Since the late 60’s I have been doing massive doses of amino acids. I’ve known about leucine’s properties since the 80’s. I was taking a ton of it in 1983.”
Clean Eating or Flexible Dieting?
Fred – “Back then, you guys seemed to be a lot more lax with food choices than competitors today. You seemed to live much more normal lives. Today, it’s chicken, tilapia, rice and broccoli. They don’t go out, they don’t have hobbies, can’t eat at restaurants, etc.”
Frank – “You can eat more stuff than that! That’s why they don’t last. There is no variety. You have to find balance in your life and I found ways to do that. That’s why I was able to compete for 23 years. I ate everything. It wasn’t high fat or high carbohydrate but I just focused on getting adequate protein. At one point I tried getting heavier but it didn’t work well for me. My best bodyweight was 190lbs at 5’9.”
For more on IIFYM or “Flexible Dieting – The IIFYM Conundrum
Bulk and Cut Diet vs. Staying Lean
Fred – “I have written a few articles fighting against the traditional bulk and cut diet. People use this as an excuse to overeat and get excessively fat. Adding too much body fat will impair their insulin sensitivity and skew nutrient repartitioning towards fat gain. People will come to me, show me an unrealistic picture of what they want to look like and ask how long it will take them. The guy in the picture will be 30lbs heavier and have 10% less body fat.”
Frank – “Waste of time. I try to show people the reality of the situation by taking their photo. It’s what we call false imagination. Everybody is walking around in a dream world. Once they don’t get what they want and see how hard it is, they will move on. They come and they go.”
Fred – “So if someone comes to you with the hopes of gaining a lot of size, what do you tell them?”
Frank – “Depends on what they have been doing. A truly symmetrical physique is not about gaining weight quickly. If you gain weight quickly you build up central mass. You build up your pecs, traps, waist, butt, thighs and you look like a block. Larry Scott used to say, if you want a great physique, work on the peripheral muscles like the deltoids, calves, forearms, small waist; the v-taper. Those are what I focused on.”
The War on Gluten
Fred – “What’s your take on all the gluten hype today?”
Frank – “It reminds me of a time in the 70’s, we used to go to the store and buy “gluten bread.” I don’t know. It wasn’t an issue for me. One explanation I’ve heard is that people have violated their natural biochemistry and microorganisms inside them from all the vaccines and drugs. Now they are allergic to everything. I mean, nobody used to be allergic to peanut butter, they are now. Shellfish was never an issue before, yet it is now. What was natural has been tampered with.
“I don’t know. That answer covers a lot of questions. I keep it in store for most situations and I’m not afraid to use it. The older I get the more I realize I’m not young enough to know everything. There was a time when I was. I realize I know less and less now. If you realize you know less and less then the tendency is to be more open. I try my best not to have preconceived notions about things.”
High Carb vs. High Fat
Fred – “Today, you have some who are low-carb absolutists and follow a ketogenic or high fat diet. On the other side of the fence are those who try to ramp up carbohydrates as much as possible. What are your thoughts?”
Frank – “You get fat from too much of any of the three macronutrients (proteins, carbs or fats). The idea is to get enough protein but not more than enough. You can especially get fat from too many carbohydrates, that’s a lot of people’s problem. There are some I know that have fast metabolisms and can handle a lot of carbs. I was always low-moderate carb intake and low to moderate fat intake. When I was younger I had a higher proportion of fat than carbohydrates. As I got older I realized I needed to lower my fat a little bit.”
Today, Frank self-publishes books and his personal magazine, Building the Body. He also offers phone consultations and in person training. To find out more, visit his website. www.frankzane.com.