When most people hear the word "anabolic," they automatically assume the subject is drugs, specifically anabolic steroids. This isn't a word that was coined for or by drug-using athletes, however. It's been around for a long time; long before anyone even knew about anabolic steroids.
The word "anabolic" is the adjective form of "anabolism," which, according to one dictionary, is "constructive metabolism characterized by the conversion of simple substances into the more complex compounds of living matter." In terms of bodybuilding that means turning amino acids into the complex proteins that make up muscle fibers and increase muscle size.
Catabolism, the adjective form of which is catabolic, is the opposite of anabolism. In catabolism the more complex substances that make up body tissues such as fat and muscle are metabolized to simpler substances such as fatty acids and amino acids, respectively.
The world of muscle is ruled by the balance between these two forces. That's what determines your muscle mass. If anabolism is greater than catabolism, you'll get bigger muscles. If the reverse is true, your muscles will shrink. The whole premise behind bodybuilding is to have the good guys (the anabolic heroes) whip the bad guys (the catabolic villains). Everything you read and hear about bodybuilding revolves around this central issue.
Is that all it takes to become a bodybuilding success? I hear you ask. Then how do I do it? How do I stay on the right side of the anabolic fence?
Well, it all depends on your genes and your know-how.
Sure, it helps if you're built like a brick outhouse, with the genetics of a Ronie Coleman. If you have the genes, it's easier to remain in an anabolic state, but even that's often not enough. You've got to have sufficient information about training, diets and supplements to make use of those genetics.
What's more, if your genes are geared for the Pee-wee Herman look, you really have to know what you're doing. While doing things almost right may give people who are metabolically blessed dramatic results, the rest of us don't have that luxury. Most of us can't afford to make any mistakes if we want to make dramatic gains. Our workouts, diets and supplementation have to be spot on.
We can't afford to over- or under-train. We can't afford to use anything less than the most anabolic diet. We can't afford not to use the handful of supplements that really work. We must carefully, deliberately and intelligently shape our less-than-perfect potential to be all that we can be.
There's something we have to have before we do all that training, dieting and supplementation, however. We have to have balls and I'm not talking about testosterone levels.
For most of us it takes guts to stay in a positive anabolic state and make it into the big leagues. If you haven't got it where it counts, it doesn't matter how much potential you have. You'll always be a never-was or a flash in the pan. If the words "courage," "dedication, perseverance," "concentration" and "desire" are too strong for you, then stick to the suds in the backroom with the good old boys because you'll never make it.
Of course, those who are genetically blessed have an easier time of it. They can make it despite being less consistent in their training, taking longer layoffs and paying less attention to their diets and supplements. They can sometimes even get away with abusing recreational drugs and alcohol and still succeed, at least for a while and as long as they're using anabolic drugs.
I know bodybuilders who skip workouts, abuse their bodies and pay only lip service to nutrition but are still ahead of many others who have less potential but train harder and longer, take all the right supplements, watch their diets, get enough rest and don't overdo any of life's so-called pleasures. Regardless of potential, however, if you want to develop what you have to the fullest (and not lose it overnight) you've got to be willing to work for it and persevere in the face of pain and frustration. If you don't have the desire to succeed and the ability to carry it through, you'll waste your physical potential. It's the desire that fires your workouts, pushing you to your limit and developing your physique and strength to the maximum.
Even if you've got the potential of a Coleman, the courage of a lion, the conviction of a Martin Luther King and the ability to concentrate on your training in the middle of an earthquake, you still have to have a master plan. You have to set realistic goals for yourself, plan your workouts, experiment with training methods and equipment, pace yourself when you're injured, eat right, avoid abusing your body and take whatever help you can from bodybuilders and trainers and any others who are more knowledgeable than you are.
Your master plan should have built-in flexibility so you can make adjustments for injuries, shortcomings in your physique and, if you compete, your contest performances. If things don't go as planned, then you must make changes in your training, diet, supplementation, precontest preparations and whatever else is limiting your progress.
Even though you're shooting for the top, you have to be realistic about your capabilities. Pushing too fast, too hard will only result in overtraining and unnecessary injuries and will rapidly put a stop to your progress.
Set reasonable short- and long-term goals for yourself. Realistically, what bodyweight and percentage of bodyfat do you want to hit in the next 12 weeks? For your next competition? A year from now? Eventually? It's essential to know what you hope to achieve and when in order to be able to plan all the factors that contribute to reaching your goals.
If you compete, it's best to schedule your competitions so that there's a natural progression (local to regional to national to international) leaving yourself enough time to prepare yourself properly for each event and, one hopes, improving as the competition year progresses. After each event reassess your goals, judge your performance and make any necessary changes that will lead to an improved performance at the next contest. Learn to coolly dissect your performance at each competition so that you learn from your mistakes.
Along with the ability to drive yourself to new heights must come the ability to relax effectively. This includes relaxing between workouts, getting enough sleep and maintaining a reasonable lifestyle, which means no smoking, no excessive drinking and not too many so-called good times. Learning how to deal with the stress of training and competition is also part of the overall plan and, like improving your physique, takes a calculated effort.
As you meet your short-term goals, visions of sugar plums will start dancing in your head. You'll enjoy what you're doing and feel good about the progress you're making. You'll look forward to your workouts, and, in turn, your workouts will be more consistent and productive. (No half-baked excuses for missing workouts here.)
The result of all this positive thinking, dedication and hard work, along with your training, dieting and nutritional wisdom, will be success, perhaps not right away but eventually.