Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Workout and Eating Habits

Updated July 16, 2020

Arnold Schwarzenegger needs very little introduction, the ex-professional bodybuilder, model, actor, businessman, and former governor of California has had an illustrious career (and that’s putting it modestly!).

Arnold made a name for himself through bodybuilding in the 1970s, winning the most prized possession in the sport Mr Olympia – 7 times!

In the 70s he made a huge impact on bodybuilding, when the film Pumping Iron was released, making bodybuilding more mainstream and more publicly acceptable. Now, bodybuilding is a dream for many and Arnold is their idol.

Training Background

Arnold is a very knowledgeable bodybuilder – fully applying himself from an early age. He began training in his early teens (15 years old), doing anything he could to get strong, such as doing pull ups on tree branches, which he mentions in his autobiography – Total Recall.

Throughout his teenage years and young adult life he would train with people bigger and stronger than he was – he wasn’t afraid of competition, as it made him even more determined to succeed.

As time went on he evolved mentally and physically, his knowledge increased, and his muscles grew – he started to get noticed and it was the start of one of the most successful bodybuilding careers to date – only two people, Ronnie Coleman and Lee Haney have won more Mr Olympia titles than Arnold Schwarzenegger (both Ronnie and Lee won it 8x!).

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Workout Plan

Arnold followed a bodybuilding split – where he would train 3-4 different muscle groups each session. He also used to do pyramid sets i.e. starting his first set with high reps (30) BUT then by his 5th set he would only be doing 6 reps.

Here’s what Arnolds workout looked like…

Monday and Thursday – chest, abs, and back workout 

  • Flat bench press and incline BB press x 5 sets (30,12, 10, 8 and 6 reps)
  • Dumbell flyes and DB pull overs x 5 sets (30,12,10, 8 and 6 reps)
  • Wide grip pull ups – 4 sets (as many reps as possible)
  • Hanging leg raises – 5 sets x 25 reps
  • Bent over BB row and bent over two arm row x 5 sets (30, 12, 10, 8, 6)

Tuesday and Friday – Shoulders, arms, and abs

  • Barbell Clean and press 5 sets x 5 reps
  • DB clean and press and front DB raises x 5 sets (30,12,10, 8, 6)
  • Side raises, upright rows, and BB curls x 5 sets (30,12,10, 8, 6)
  • Incline DB curl, concentration curls, and close grip press x 5 sets (30,12,10, 8, 6)
  • Wrist curls and reverse forearm curls x 5 sets (30,12,10, 8, 6)
  • Decline sit ups x 5 sets (25 reps)

Wednesday and Saturday – Leg Day

  • Back squat and stiff legged deadlift x 5 sets (8-12 reps)
  • Good mornings x 5 sets (8-12 reps)
  • Barbell lunge x 5 sets (8-12 reps
  • Leg extensions and seated hamstring curl x 5 sets (8-12 reps)
  • Standing calf raises and seated calf raises x 5 sets (8-12 reps)
  • Cable ab crunch x 4 sets (25 reps)

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Diet Plan and Eating Habits

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.

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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!

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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!

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