Bodybuilding Articles

A Look At Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Eating Habits

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Arnold Schwarzenegger was the best bodybuilder of his era, and for many people the greatest of all time…or as he would say “of all times”.

The Austrian Oak sculpted one of the most sought-after physiques in history, which involved an unimaginable amount of hard work.

Arnold lifted weights sometimes twice per day, took a lot of anabolic steroids; whilst eating smart. The last element is perhaps the most important, as without a disciplined diet, you’re never going to create a competition winning physique.

Arnold: The Off-Season Rebel

However, Arnold was not always the angelic dieter that you’d imagine him to be, for a long period his diet was pretty crazy. In his autobiography he talks about eating an entire chicken post-workout and washing it down with a load of beer!

“Milk is for babies. When you grow up you have to drink beer” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold also may have invented the post-workout brandy and protein shake, believing that alcohol can stimulate protein synthesis (it actually does the opposite!).

He also famously smoked a cigarette (thought to be marijuana) after his Mr Olympia win in 1975 – as seen in the documentary film Pumping Iron.

arnold cigarette

However, when training for a competition, the Oak’s diet was as strict as it needed to be. Arnold would consume five to six meals per day, with most of his carbs being consumed prior to his workout. Each meal would be high in protein as well as high in healthy fats.

Arnold would eat a lot of chicken and fish, while avoiding higher fat meats such as pork. His snacks would consist of high fat foods such as nuts, whilst consuming foods such as bacon, eggs and avocado for breakfast.

His diet would be high in fats and protein for most meals, and carbohydrates would come in the form of sweet potatoes, oats, and brown rice.

Surprisingly, Arnold’s diet would reflect that of a normal person looking to have fun. Lots of beer, lots of red meat, and a hell of a lot of partying when he wasn’t trying to get shredded for a competition.

This ‘party mentality’ may be particularly applicable to his earlier days, where he was carrying more fat. On his first meet with Vince Gironda, the trainer famously called him a “Fat F@*k”…which motivated Arnold to get leaner!

One thing you should remember about Arnold is that he was an admitted steroid user. The reason why we point this out is because if you’re natural, you’re unlikely to get away with a less strict diet (like Arnold); as his body would’ve still been in an incredibly anabolic state whilst drinking alcohol.

Arnold Typical Eating Plan

arnold diet

It’s difficult to give an exact blueprint of what Arnold ate, as Arnold’s diet changed at different stages of his career. However, here’s a rough idea of what Arnold would eat during the day:

  • Meal One – Breakfast
  • Eggs, bacon, toast
  • Meal Two – Mid-morning Snack
  • Protein shake, nuts, fat-free Greek yoghurt
  • Meal Three – Lunch and Pre-Workout meal (high in carbs)
  • Fish, brown rice, one cup of vegetables
  • Workout
  • Meal Four – Post-Workout meal/Dinner
  • Chicken, sweet potato, one cup of vegetables
  • Meal Five – Pre-Bed recovery snack
  • Cottage Cheese, fruit, protein shake

Remember, this is just a rough idea of what he would eat based on several interviews he’s given and his autobiography. This meal plan is also based around training in the mid-afternoon. If you train mid-morning, then be sure to add the majority of your carbs in your first meal of the day (oats) or in your mid-morning snack. If you train in the evening or at night, add the majority of your carbs to your dinner.

When it comes to cheat meals or alcohol you can relax every now and then, but if you’re training for a competition or trying to shed fat, then try to cut out these devilish treats. Even Arnold knew when to avoid booze and junk food. But while bulking? He knew he could afford to be a little more relaxed.

Summary

Arnold got away with a lot of bad dietary decisions because he trained at such a high intensity, thanks to the use of steroids (which allow you to recover faster and work harder). If you’re able to train to the same level, then you can be sloppier with your diet in the off-season.

Despite Arnold’s not-so-angelic diet in the off-season, you can bet he nailed his diet and workouts better than all his rivals when it came to peaking before a competition. 

Regardless of food choices Arnold knew the basics, such as being in a calorie deficit to lose weight and a calorie surplus to gain weight. Everything else is just details!

What do you make of Arnold’s diet philosophy, do you think he deserves credit for adopting a more ‘normal’ diet compared to the pros today? Have your say in the comments below!

Steve Shaw

Steve Shaw is the founder of Muscle and Brawn, and a powerlifter with 30+ years of experience. Steve's recorded a 600lb squat, 672lb deadlift and a 382lb bench press.
Steve Shaw
9 Comments
  • MIssit Dec 4,2014 at 4:29 pm

    Saturated fats are deadly if eatin in excess? For real? … broscience detected

  • John May 20,2014 at 6:50 am

    People seriously underestimate the anabolic effect of food. Mostly small guys, who will always have an excuse. Dudes like this will never get big. You wanna get big, you gotta eat your way there.

    I did find it amusing that the article states that Arnold says, “bread is poison,” while there is clearly a loaf of bread on his table in the picture at the top of the article.

  • Mick Madden May 2,2014 at 8:28 pm

    I ate 5000 calories in college and gained muscle. Discuss.

  • No Fan of Arnie May 2,2014 at 5:53 pm

    It’s really ridiculous to publish this kind of stuff while ignoring that Arnold was on steroids. PEDs are like a piranha. They consume protein and calories at a rapid rate and they become catabolic if you don’t constantly eat. A natural guy who consumes 5,000 calories a day will get fat- period. I’m personally sick of all the glorification that Arnold gets on websites like this and drug- free trainees reading this stuff and thinking that it somehow has any relevance to what they are doing.

    • Mick Madden May 2,2014 at 8:20 pm

      Yes the exchange of information is dangerous. People can’t think for themselves so we should protect them from the truth!

      • No Fan of Arnie May 2,2014 at 9:57 pm

        “Arnold knew three squares a day wasn’t going to cut it, no matter what the FDA was championing.” Steve Reeves and many other body builders in the pre-steroid era at three meals a day. I just finished Reeves’ book and words like “Caloric Surplus” never appear. Not even once. This business of constantly eating every 2-3 hours came on the scene when steroids got big.

        • joesantus Apr 1,2015 at 1:06 am

          I’m 59, been a lifelong-drug-free bodybuilder since I began training at age 16 in 1972.
          Actually, the idea of many-meals predates 1958 when steroids entered weight training. Bodybuilders and weight trainers before the steroid scene may not have termed it “caloric surplus”, but they knew that substantial muscle gain required excess calories (large quantities of milk, specifically raw milk, which was readily available, often as Certified raw milk tested healthy by local inspectors, was typically recommended).

          But, just as today, however, pre-steroid era bodybuilders and weight trainers used a variety of eating schedules and ideas. The three-meal schedule, by the way, has no special reason other than that, as society had moved into the Industrial age where most men were commonly employed at factories, three mealtimes happened to best fit around their 9-to-10 hour-workday factory schedules. But, three meals is necessarily neither better nor worse than five meals or six meals; some bodybuilder and weight trainers before 1950 even advocated two meals instead of three. Heck, in the 1980s, Mr Universe winner Pete Grymkowski used to eat ONE huge meal per day.

          It’s true that steroids perform best with higher calories, but that doesn’t mean that higher calories aren’t productive for muscle gains for some non-drug trainees. Certain trainees will even require huge amounts of calories to kick their metabolism into productive anabolism: I know, because I was one. In my teens, even after properly training with basic compound movements for over two years, I had failed to gain any substantial muscle mass. After studying the issue of calories and protein, when I was 18, I increased my calories to 5,000 per day FOR AN ENTIRE YEAR, consuming five blender drinks made of canned milk, ice cream, fruit, honey, protein powder, chocolate, and various other foods. I’d weighed a scrawny 155 lbs at 5’8″ when that year began; I was able to gain to 175 lbs with a visible washboard by the end of that twelve-month consistent 5,000-calories per every day calorie-surplus.

          I’m under-averaged as far as mucle-building potential genetics, I realize, so my situation is not typical. I also realize that such a massive calorie surplus is productive only for certain times and temporarily — after I hit almost180 lbs, I discovered further bodyweight gains from that 5,000 calorie a day program were only bodyfat, so I reduced calories after twelve months. However, my experience and observations evidences that, for certain underweight below-average-gened hard gainers, it requires a massive quantity of calories, consumed consistently over many months, to get their bodies willing to grow.

          • joesantus Apr 1,2015 at 1:14 am

            Neglected to mention…during that twelve month period of consuming 5,000 calories per day, my training program consisted of free-weight compounds, 5 to 6 worksets per bodypart, 5 to 8 reps per set, working each muscle group twice in each 7 day period.

    • Blayne Thorton May 2,2014 at 8:28 pm

      Your metaphor is the best I’ve ever seen. I might disagree with you but I’m too busy getting things done in the gym.

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