Shawn Perine died of cancer two years ago today. He was 51 and the editor-in-chief of Muscle & Fitness, Flex, Muscle & Fitness Hers, and Men’s Fitness. He was also my best friend, the bond sealed while we were writers at Flex. In my mind, he’s the patron saint of The Barbell. Ideally, we’d memorialize Shawn’s first day on earth rather than his last; but, guys being guys, I never remembered his birthday, other than that it was in May of 1966. In contrast, December 11, 2017, is scalded into my mind forever, my returning from a hilly run on a cheery Southern California morning only to get gut-punched by my phone’s barrage of voice and text messages. Fuck that day. So, December 11 it is. But for all who knew him, all who read him, all who laughed with him or were inspired by him, and all who are just now learning about him, this is a day of celebration.
Shawn, a lifelong natural, had, in his own estimation, lousy genetics for adding muscle. Though that didn’t dissuade him from continuously fighting for every new sinew, it did alter his physique priorities. Especially in middle age, he set about minimizing body fat, and he proved a high-def 16-inch arm can be more impressive than a smooth 20-incher. He had no off-season, and you would’ve been hard-pressed to find a more perpetually peeled, drug-free, 51-year-old bodybuilder than Shawn Perine. In honor of his (too-short) lifelong dedication to fitness, we’ve culled (some of) his best workout and diet advice from a syndicated newspaper column he wrote in 2014. May Shawn-o continue to inform and inspire. — Greg Merritt
BIG THINGS FIRST
My personal recommendation is always to set your sights on the big things first. If you get serious about transforming yourself, the little things will take care of themselves. Fitness is self-perpetuating: The fitter you are, the fitter you will want to be, and you’ll most likely look for small ways in which you can add to the benefits you’re already experiencing. However, regardless of your level of health, it can never hurt to look for ways in which you can subtly improve yourself while maintaining your existing lifestyle.
A lot of us think we’re committed to getting into great shape, but when it comes to getting ripped, or even just lean, you need 100% commitment. That means all the time. That means not going off the wagon on birthdays or holidays. That means not skipping the gym to watch the game or the season finale. Your body won’t forgive you because you’re on vacation: It will simply start storing fat and eating away at muscle, which is what it does when you’re inactive and eating poorly. Of course, you can schedule cheat days and days off from the gym. In fact, to achieve optimal results you’ll want to do both. However, these are not haphazard affairs, and they are built-in to the grand design of your body plan. Willpower is the order of the day when it comes to getting into prime condition. If you have it, you’ll get what you want—out of your body and out of life. If you don’t, you’ll be wishing you did.
In short, the most efficient way to weight loss is a diet high in fiber and water, specifically soluble fiber and water. There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, with the difference being that soluble fiber is soluble in water, meaning that it absorbs water. A lot of water. And as it absorbs water it forms a gel that swells to over 100 times the original size of the fiber particle. Insoluble fiber goes through your gut pretty much as it entered your mouth, and therefore is thought to pull detritus through your intestinal system as it passes through. While both fibers are essential keys to a healthy diet, it’s the soluble fiber that can help tremendously in weight-loss efforts (and, reportedly, lowering of cholesterol). When you take soluble fiber with water—lots of water—your stomach becomes full of this gel, which triggers a signal to your brain to stop eating….Psyllium husk (aka Ispaghula) is a common soluble fiber that can be purchased at any health-food store or better grocery store. It comes in both powder and capsule form. I like to take it as a powder, mixed into my protein shake, but it can also be mixed with juice or water….Women are generally recommended to get around 25 grams per day, while men, being larger, 30-40 grams. I go higher though, making sure to consume at least 50 grams per day. Of that 50 grams, the majority for me is actually insoluble fiber, in the form of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and grains. But I also love to sprinkle ground flax seeds on my food. Flax seed contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, but the way to maximize flax seed is to get the ground variety. The whole seeds pass through without you being able to absorb their omega-3 fatty acids, which are surrounded by the seed’s tough shell. So there you have it: Soluble fiber and water is a cheap, easy, effective fat-loss aid, and truly the easiest way to lose weight.
TRAIN LIKE YOU MEAN IT
I don’t want to characterize anyone reading this, but the truth is that many people think that they’re working hard in the gym when they’re not. And then they lament their lack of results and think that maybe their routine is wrong or that they need to try a different form of training. No. That’s not it. What they need to do is train like they mean it. You have one hour or 45 minutes or however long you’re in the gym for each day, to get the job done. You need to make every minute count if you expect to see the kind of results that will keep you coming back for more. It’s funny to me how some guys can get intensely focused on a game on TV, shutting out the world for a few hours each Sunday, yet they can’t go more than a set in the gym without checking their phones, chatting, or watching the boob tube. It’s an old cliché, but a good one: You get out what you put in. The vast majority of people I see at the gym only put in a fraction of their best effort, and in turn only see a fraction of the results they could be seeing if they put as much mental energy into the gym as they did into watching their favorite team or TV show. I’m not saying that you have to approach your workouts with the same zeal, but the next time you find yourself dissatisfied with the results of your training, ask yourself: Do I train like I mean it?
MOST OF THE BATTLE: DIET
As far as getting that elusive six-pack, the truth is that most of the battle is in the diet. Everyone has the same muscles—muscles that are readily visible if our body fat percentage is low enough. The problem is that few of us buckle down and adjust our diets to the point where we give our abs a chance to be seen. Certainly, training them will help deepen them, making them more impressive-looking, but no amount of training can offset a couple of inches of fat occluding our midsection muscles.
BREAK THE FOOD ADDICTION
We are a nation addicted to food. We eat every chance we get, whether we’re hungry or not. How do I know this? I’ve worked in enough offices where, when free donuts are put out, they’re swarmed in a ravenous frenzy by people who you’d swear hadn’t had a bite in days. When we go to the movies, we are compelled to pay outrageous prices for popcorn, soda and various sweets, as if we couldn’t possibly go more than three hours without eating. We eat in front of the TV, eat in transit, eat at the game and even in the middle of the night when we can’t sleep. We canonize chefs, turning them into celebrities for cooking food. We slap the backs of those among us who are capable of consuming far greater quantities of food than we are able. All this adds up to an addiction. So, if the above is how we shouldn’t eat, how should we eat? I think you already know the answer. You eat when you are hungry, not to reward yourself. You eat when your body needs nutrition, not when you’re bored. You eat things that taste good, but not at the expense of them being good for you. You eat to live, rather than live to eat.
A KINGDOM OF SUCCESS
There is a proverb that reads, “Excuses are merely nails used to build a house of failure.” Instead of a house of failure, build a kingdom of success, by taking charge of your life and banishing your excuses to the wilds.
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Also check out Shawn’s essay: Bodybuilding and a Balanced Life