Everyone has their own way of doing things. When I was younger, I used to think that people learned how to approach tasks from their parents, teachers, role models, and mentors. As I’ve gotten older, I am realizing that some people have an innate tendency to put the proverbial cart before the horse. That is to say, some people don’t do things in an order that fully respects or emphasizes the importance of certain details. In school, for example, students must learn the fundamentals before they can understand the more advanced concepts that are built upon those initial ideas. We all know that there is a certain amount of prerequisite information that we must absorb so that we can fully and effectively make use of more specialized information. This concept applies to all processes.
Although I very much consider myself a “first-things-first” kind of guy, it has become painfully apparent to me that not everyone shares this mentality. I think some refuse to accept that you can’t hack your way through life and will forever be in search of the easy way. Unfortunately, these are the people who will time and again fall victim to the latest gimmicks and fads, only to end up accomplishing less than their counterparts who have accepted that progress belongs to the individual who sees what needs to be done, accepts that fact, and approaches the task with unrelenting persistence. Shortcuts, hacks, skipping steps, and other forms of fast-tracking are fine if you’re satisfied with a mediocre result. It’s usually true that you get out what you put in and, more often than not, all that glitters is not gold.
How individuals approach their bodybuilding goals is a prime example of this. I remember joining a commercial gym at the age of 18—having worked solely with a barbell and dumbbells in the basement of my parents’ house for 4 years—and being shocked at how many people lacked mastery of the most basic weight training exercises. Twenty years have passed and I still see the same crap. In fact, I see it on all fronts. It’s all too common for a person to have huge goals for his physique while he eats poorly and trains like a geriatric. He’s using steroids but his diet is crap. He’s taking the latest pre-workout and fat burner but doesn’t use essential nutrients to supplement his diet and support his physique. He can load the leg press and add a couple people to the top but can’t do a proper squat with modest weight. He hasn’t even competed but he quit his job so that he can focus on bodybuilding. Don’t be that dude. Instead, establish a foundation that you can build on, not one that will crumble under the strain of future efforts.
Just today in the gym, a kid approached me and asked me what I thought of some pre-workout product I had never heard of. He was on the thinner side and looked to be in his early 20s. I asked him what his goal was and he said he wanted to add muscle. My reflex-like reaction was to start at the bottom of things, so I asked what his diet, training, supplementation, and lifestyle were like. In summary, he didn’t know his macros or calorie intake; he had been eating 3 meals and one shake a day; he was doing cardio before weight training at the gym every day; and, although he was taking some peptide something or other, he wasn’t taking so much as a multivitamin. I took a few minutes to let him know that if his goal was to gain muscle, he should increase his food intake, stop doing cardio before weight training, have adequate training time and intensity in the gym, have enough rest, and make the most fundamental nutrients a priority rather than worrying about a pre-workout supplement.
Conversations like this are difficult because most people would much rather focus on what’s “sexy” instead of what’s fundamental. Is whole food sexy to your average beginner? No, powders that seem magical are. Are multivitamins and essential fatty acids sexy? No, steroids and peptides are. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling anyone they should or shouldn’t use anabolics or concern themselves with the more advanced stuff. I’m simply saying that it makes more sense to focus on the basics and include what is most essential first. This way, if you do decide to include more advanced substances down the road, you have established the proper foundation.
What is most essential? For the sake of this conversation, we don’t even need to take into account the fact that you and I have aspirations of achieving extraordinary physical goals. In fact, whether you’re a professional athlete or someone who doesn’t even train, the same nutrients are an essential part of human nutrition. That’s right—forget winning the Olympia—you need these things just to be a normal, well-functioning human being. So before any thoughts of pre-workouts or fat burners or even anabolic steroids enter your mind, there are certain boxes that you really need to be ticking.
A proper diet is first and foremost. Water, proteins, fats and carbohydrates in the right amounts must be present to ensure you are properly hydrated, have enough calories, and are covering yourself from a macronutrient perspective and hopefully eating in a way that is also micronutrient dense. And even though I have been involved with the creation and marketing of Animal Meal, the best meal replacement product on the market, I have always been and will always be an advocate for whole food first.
Once we are doing our best to consume a whole food diet that makes sense from a macro and micronutrient perspective, we can consider the use of supplements to fill in any gaps that may be present. The main reason to use supplements is to supply the body with nutrients we are either unable to derive from our diet or unable to derive in adequate quantity. While one can argue that all nutrients can be derived from whole food and not be wrong, practically speaking, things don’t always work out so perfectly. Thus we look to supplements for help. A logical person would supplement with vitamins and minerals first. I have been using Animal Pak for a long time to make up for any vitamin or mineral deficiencies in my diet.
Essential fatty acids are as important as vitamins and minerals. The body requires us to consume vitamins, minerals, and certain essential fats because we cannot manufacture them ourselves. Without them, we simply will not function properly. Re-read that again—will not function properly. No matter how much pre-workout or protein powder or fat burners or steroids you take, without adequate consumption of vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids in your diet, you will not be at your best. Period. This is exactly why I find it so frustrating that people fixate on all but the most fundamental factors. This is also exactly why I consider Animal Pak and Animal Omega to be the most essential supplements. They have served as mainstays in my nutritional regimen for years. No matter what I am doing, whether I am off-season or pre-contest, adding muscle or maintaining, my nutritional regimen is never without Animal Omega and Animal Pak. Never.
When I spoke with that kid in the gym earlier today, I suggested he fix his diet and forgo the pre-workout in favor of acquiring the essential nutrients contained in Animal Pak and Animal Omega. I could sense his disappointment. He had hoped I would tell him that pre-workout powder and peptides were the answer to his size goals. But I truly hope I was able to impress upon him the same idea I’m trying to impress upon you—bodybuilding done right requires a ground-up approach where success at each level is dependent on one’s ability to fit together the prerequisite puzzle pieces of the previous level. Tick all the right boxes and you will find yourself building a foundation capable of supporting dramatic, sustained progress. First things first.