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Pumping Up 2006

November, 6, 2006
Carolyn Poirot | Star-Telegram

Ever wondered how competitive bodybuilders bulk up naturally? Ever aspire to have a Schwarzenegger-like physique?

We asked two local championship bodybuilders, Robin Thomas and Betty Pariso, what it takes to get competition-ready and whether just anyone can do it. Warning: Don't think you're too old to start. Pariso started bodybuilding professionally at age 40. (See "Who they are," below.)

Q: How is bodybuilding different from personal fitness training?

Thomas: Bodybuilding is about pushing your body to the extreme. The training and diet are a lot more structured and intense; it becomes almost a full-time job when you are getting ready for an event. The preparation is a year in the making. You have to eat to gain 20 to 30 pounds, then for the last 12 weeks totally change your diet to maintain as much muscle mass as possible while losing as much body fat as possible.

Pariso: Bodybuilding is an extreme sport. ...... The average person who wants to get fit and have fun on the weekend is not doing bodybuilding, but you can incorporate all the same things - nutrition, cardio and weight lifting - to get in shape. Just don't do them to the extreme we do.

Q: When you say "extreme," exactly how much exercise is involved in bodybuilding?

Pariso: I spend about two hours a day doing cardio and a little more than that lifting, four or five days a week. I might cut way back for three or four days after a show, but to take off completely is detrimental. If you take off you go downhill and it's too hard to come back. I always take off Saturday and Sunday so I can fit in family time.

Thomas: When I am preparing for contest, I lift weights six days a week and do cardio twice a day, six or seven days a week for two hours at a time. To maintain in the off-season, I train four days a week with weights and reduce cardio to three or four times a week for 30 minutes.

Q: What kind of diet do you follow when getting ready for a show?

Thomas: Everything is about quality lean protein. You have to acquire large amounts of protein, cook it, weigh it and portion out meals. I eat every 2.61/2 hours from early morning until about 11 p.m., every day for 12 weeks: skinless chicken, 96 percent lean ground beef, broccoli, sweet potatoes, baked potatoes, oatmeal and egg white. You can't forget egg whites; on most days I eat two dozen a day, 12 when I get up in the morning and 12 before I go to bed. The idea is to lose weight but maintain every bit of muscle mass you have. You don't feel good the last few weeks. You're a zombie, no energy - zero. You're just there.

Pariso: Most of my diet is egg whites, oatmeal, chicken, steaks, salads and broccoli - some brown rice and sweet potatoes but mostly protein when I'm getting ready for a show. Starting two or three days out, I eat one way, then another - all protein, then some carbs - to stay balanced and healthy.

Q: Do you take special vitamins and supplements?

Thomas: Yes, I take in whey proteins, amino acids, creatine and multivitamins.

Pariso: I look at supplements as insurance. I try to eat as plain and simple as possible and as fresh as I can. I don't cook the life out of food, and I don't depend on supplements, but I take a good multivitamin, extra calcium and some amino acids and trace minerals, just as insurance to make sure I get the nutrition I need.

Q: How do you prepare the last few days before a show?

Pariso: A lot of people get a base tan from a tanning booth, but I have chosen not to tan at all so my skin stays young looking. You spray-paint on that very dark, mahogany tan that you always see in bodybuilders, onstage. I cut back on water from about 2 gallons a day to about 1 the last few days, but even the last 12 hours, I sip about a half-gallon. If I don't drink any water, I look flat. My first trainer said you shouldn't even brush your teeth the last couple of days because of the sodium in toothpaste, but I refused to stop. I don't believe in some of that crazy stuff.

Thomas: The week before a show is critical. You start the week carb-depleting and end the week carbing up to refill muscles for the show. You start reducing your water intake two to three days before the show to help remove water from the subcutaneous layers of your skin, thinning it out to virtual paper thin. As for finishing touches, you paint yourself with Protan to darken the skin so your muscle definition does not wash out under the bright lights. Then at contest time you apply a light coat of posing oil.

Who they are

Robin Thomas, is an amateur bodybuilder and personal trainer who owns and operates Inursha Fitness with his wife, Glory. He placed third in the National Amateur Bodybuilders Association's championship in Harrisburg, Pa., on Sept. 9. His goal: to win Mr. Universe, the international title that launched Arnold Schwarzenegger's career in 1967. Thomas got his start in bodybuilding by playing high school and college sports and lifting weights to keep in shape between seasons, he says.

Betty Pariso, 50, of Bedford is a professional bodybuilder who owns and operates an industrial equipment company with her husband, Ed. She's also a mother and grandmother. She won Flex magazine's Athlete of the Year award Sept. 29 and was the first 50-year-old to place in both Miss Olympia and the Arnold Invitational.

"I was working out a little at a regular gym after my second child was born, and one of the trainers asked if I had any interest in bodybuilding," she says. "Within six months I had won my first competition and I was hooked. I realized I could sculpt my body and it made me feel strong and confident. I didn't turn pro until I was 40."