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Basic Nutrition
by Bill Pearl

Nutritional balance is the foundation of a healthy diet. The six essential components are:

Component Body Percentage
Water 55 percent
Protein 20 percent
Fat 15 percent
Minerals 6 percent
Carbohydrates 2 percent
Vitamins 1 percent

These nutrients function in one or more of three ways:

  1. They furnish the body with heat and energy
  2. They provide material for growth and repair
  3. They help regulate body processes

The three basic fuels the body burns for energy are:

  • Protein
  • Carbohydrates
  • Fats

No nutrient acts independently of the others. They must all be present in your body to function well. Let's get into some specifics. Oxygen is the only essential element more important than water in maintaining life. Without oxygen the body will die in a few minutes. Without water, you can last about five days. However, you can last about five weeks without eating either protein, carbohydrates, or fats.

WaterThe condition of the body, it's performance, and the resistance to injury is absolutely dependent on the quality and quantity of the water you drink. The table below shows why water is so important.

Body Part Water Percentage
Blood 65 to 75 percent
Kidneys 83 percent
Brain 82 percent
Liver 69 percent
Body Fat 20 to 30 percent
Skeletal Structure 20 to 30 percent

A 166 pound male athlete's body is made up of 50 quarts of water. In heavy training this water has to be replenished every six days. Adults differ in the amount of water the body carries because of body composition. Males range between 67 to 65 percent and females range between 43 to 63 percent. The difference is because most men carry more lean muscle mass. The leaner the body the more water it carries. Muscle Mass is about 66 to 76 percent water and Body Fat is about 20 to 30 percent water.

Dehydration occurs when you do not drink enough water to replace all that is lost through perspiration, respiration, urination and other body processes. Approximately three quarts is lost each day under normal conditions. During prolonged exercise over a quart of water an hour can be eliminated through sweating. There is no built-in alarm clock within the body that tells us when dehydration in taking place. It is not like food, when hunger pangs tell us we are hungry and should eat.

A reduction in water causes a more concentrated blood that is more susceptible to clotting with less of an ability to deliver oxygen to the brain and muscles. Cooling the body can not take place without sufficient amounts of water. The digestive system is less efficient and the joints of the body are not properly lubricated. Dehydrate a muscle by only 3 percent and you cause about a 10 percent loss of strength and an 8 percent loss of speed. Body water can be replaced with any beverage including milk, fruit and vegetable juices, and through many of the foods we eat. Coffee and tea are poor choices because they act as diuretics. Cold water, below 60 degrees, is absorbed faster than room temperature water. Cold water also supplies a reservoir of cold in the stomach that absorbs body heat. It is best to sip water rather than gulping it down.

Almost anything added to water slows absorption. As soon as you dissolve anything in water, say sugar, absorption slows. Pure water, containing no particles, is absorbed faster then any other liquid. Many commercial sports drinks containing high levels of glucose or sucrose are not advisable to use during exercise because of the length of time it takes to sort out the glucose or sucrose.

Fifty percent of Americans use water that in part is made up of recently discharged wastewater. A great percentage of water coming through our faucets, wells, and springs are laden with toxic chemicals and poisons capable of causing cancer, heart disease, birth defects, organ damage, and other illnesses. Everything that is injected into the environment, chemical, biological, or physical, finds its way into the earth's water. Any pollutant contained in drinking water will eventually circulate throughout every cell and tissue in our body.

Home water purification systems to alleviate many of the pollutants found in our water. Bottled water packaged in an area where few pollutants reach the water is another good source for water. Look for a label that says "Natural Spring Water bottled directly from the source". Rain water is the only true source of naturally distilled water. There is no scientific evidence that distilled water can leach minerals from the body. True, distilled water does not contain the essential minerals found in ground water.

Almost everyone would suffer from a mineral deficiency if they were to rely on ground water for the 22 different minerals the body requires for good health. These should be provided by eating a generous amount of fresh fruits and vegetables that takes up the ground water and concentrates it into the minerals our body requires.


Next to water, Protein makes up the largest part of the body. Protein is the major source of building material. Protein is the major source of building material for internal organs, muscle, blood, skin, hair, and nails. Protein is also needed for the formation of hormones, enzymes, antibodies. Every cell in the body contains some protein. Protein, carbohydrates, and fats are the source of energy coming from food. Vitamins and minerals do not supply energy.

You could live on protein alone, not so with carbohydrates or fats. You can burn all of them for fuel, but only protein can be used for muscular growth and repair. Children need a higher amount of protein than most adults as well as women during pregnancy. Those involved in heavy exercise or hard manual labor may need more protein each day. Some studies suggest less protein for the elderly.

The body continues to repair itself 24 hours a day. This requires that protein be in the bloodstream at all times for optimum health. There are 22 different amino acids in a complete protein. Eight of these are considered essential amino acids. If any of these eight essential amino acids is not in the foods we eat the body will suffer from a protein deficiency. It will cannibalize itself by burning protein stored in the muscles to protect the heart, kidneys, and other vital organs.

The body will burn protein and fat as fuel, but prefers carbohydrates over the other two. There are:

  • 4 calories per gram of protein
  • 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate
  • 9 calories per gram of fat

The body can break down carbohydrates faster as a fuel for the body. Your body will not use protein as a fuel supply if enough fats and carbohydrates are present in the diet. Getting the right amount of protein, carbohydrates, fats and other elements in our diet is very important.

A Typical American Diet Amounts Comments
Carbohydrate 455 percent of Total Calories Too low
Fat 40 percent of Total Calories Too high
Protein 15 to 20 percent About right
Cholesterol 400 milligrams per day Way too much
Salt 2 teaspoons per day 3 times more then we need

This type of diet can contribute to heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and obesity. Most of the ailments Americans are looking forward to.

The Recommended American Dietary Goals Amounts Comments
Carbohydrate 50 to 55 percent of Total Calories
Fat 30 percent of Total Calories An Athlete my not want more the 15 percent
Protein 16 to 20 percent
Cholesterol 200 milligrams per day
Salt 1 teaspoons per day

Most experts agree if these guidelines were followed then backed up with regular exercise the health-care costs in the United States could drop by nearly 60 percent. If smoking was eliminated the cost could drop by more than 80 percent.

Proteins containing all of the essential amino acids can be found in both animals or plants. One source is no better than another. Usually considered the best protein foods are meat, cheese, milk, and eggs. It should be noted that in the beef we eat today there are over 258 different chemicals that are feed to the animals before it hits the super market. Of these chemicals, 48 are known to be carcinogenic. Other important sources are beans, peas, and soybeans. Vegetable proteins such as lentils, dried beans, peas, nuts and cereals are considered incomplete proteins because one or more of the essential amino acids are not present. By combining certain foods at the same time you can then get a complete protein. If a person uses small amounts of animal or dairy products regularity in their diet there would be no reason to worry about complete or incomplete protein.

Two-thirds of the population of the world live on a Lacto-Ova-Vegetarian diet. The bulk of their nutrients comes from a plant or fruit source while using small amounts of animal protein. A strict vegetarian should get additional Calcium, Phosphorus, Iron, Vitamin B12 from a supplemental source. Eggs are given the highest quality rating for protein compared to other foods. Here is an example:

Food Percentage of Protein
Eggs 100 Percent
Fish 70 Percent
Lean Beef 69 Percent
Cow's Milk 60 Percent
Brown Rice 67 Percent
Soybeans 47 Percent

The research done on protein and athletes was not done on athletes with Mr. Olympia development. Champion bodybuilders consume as much as 200-300 grams of protein per day. I contend that similar research was not done on true athletes who use anabolic steroids. Every steroid container has a disclaimer stating that the drugs do not enhance athlete performance. Steroids alone produce no increased muscle size or strength. Combine exercise, sound nutrition, and then steroids and it can make a definite difference in performance and appearance of an athlete.

Everything has side effects good or bad. Certainly more bad side-effects come with abuse. What is known for sure is that there are no free rides. Everything good or bad has a price. Being able to make these decisions makes each of us unique to one another.


It is important to know a well-balanced diet made up of protein, carbohydrates, fats, and water are essential if we are planning to live a long productive life-style. The largest percentage of body tissue is made of protein. Fat is an important part of the nervous system, but it is carbohydrates that make the body run like a well-tuned automobile engine.

Carbohydrates are the highest energy fuel the system can burn for energy. The body will burn protein and fat as energy fuel if necessary, but it prefers carbohydrates over the other two. The word carbohydrate means "chains of carbon". The smallest molecules of carbohydrates are sugars, table sugars, maple syrup, milk sugars, etc. If there are five or less Carbons/Sugars we are talking simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates have a longer line of carbons.

Simple carbohydrates are broken down into glucose or blood sugar in the matter of minutes. This dumps large amounts of glucose into the bloodstream at one-time. This causes the body to release large amounts of insulin opening the muscle cells to store what they can for fuel. The rest is then stored in the liver or fat cells. This is the reason people experience physical highs and the lows from eating foods high in sugar.

Complex carbohydrates are time-released or broken down more slowly so hardly any high amounts of blood sugar or glucose is in the blood stream at any one-time. Therefore, it almost never ends up being dumped into the fat storage cells.

Cellulose or high-fiber foods are another form of carbohydrates. Cellulose comes from plant leaves, stems, roots, seeds, or fruit coverings. They are important to good health because they help lower the chances of suffering from obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and intestinal disorders. Western diets are very low in high-fiber foods because of the large amount of animal foods we eat. Fiber foods also hold water giving "bulk" to the foods in the lower intestine. This may reduce the chances of contracting colon cancer and other diseases. Eating high-fiber foods also lowers serum cholesterol especially if the fiber comes from oats, beans, brown rice, peas, carrots, and varieties of fruits.

Research suggests that 50 to 56 percent of our total calories should come from complex carbohydrates. For an athlete it could be closer to 65percent or which 55percent come from complex carbohydrates and 10percent come from simple carbohydrates. A few benefits of this would be decreased body fat percentages, decreases in blood cholesterol / triglycerides, decreased blood sugar irregularities, increased regularity, and increased energy / endurance.

The best complex carbohydrates to eat come from pasta, potatoes, yams, fresh vegetables, whole fruits, breads, and cereals.


Fat has become one of the biggest problems in the American diet. Most of us eat three to five times the amount we need to keep the body functioning. There are two main types of fat most of us worry about are the fat found in food and the excess on our bodies The relationship between the two is that the excess fat calories we eat cause the excess fat on our bodies. Ninety-seven percent of all fat calories we absorb are converted to fat. We only need about one tablespoon of fat per day. All excess fat eaten contributes to heart disease, colon cancer, breast cancer, and obesity. The U.S. dietary guidelines suggest that 30 percent or less of our daily calories come from fat. Currently about 42 percent of our total calories are from a fat source.

In defense of fat, of the three types of food we eat for fuel, fat is the most economical. More energy comes from fat than from protein or carbohydrates.

  • 4 calories per gram of protein
  • 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate
  • 9 calories per gram of fat

Vitamins A, D, E and K, fat soluble vitamins, must have fat present to be assimilated. Fat also supports vital organs and acts as a reserve for energy. The kind of fat to cut back on is saturated-fat found in red meat and whole-milk products. It tends to increase the levels of low density lipo-protein referred to as LDL Cholesterol in the blood.

The "good" fats are polyunsaturated fats which comes from plants and fish. Polyunsaturated fats help lower the levels of bad LDL cholesterol while maintaining high levels of high-density lipo-protein and HDL Cholesterol in the blood.

The other type of fat to consider is the fat we carry in and on our bodies. This fat is stored in the muscle, under the skin, and around the organs. The amount of fat necessary to maintain life is called Essential fat. Essential fat does not amount to more than 3 percent of our total body weight. Because of sex-specific fat, women have 9 to 12 to add to the essential 3 percent. That brings the basic female quota to 12 to 16 percent before storage fat can be taken into account. For optimum health a man's fatty tissue should not exceed 14 to 16 percent of his total body weight. A woman's should not exceed more than 20-22 percent.

Because of Americans sedentary lifestyles most people store more and more fat each year. Men in their 30's, in good physical condition, average about 18 percent body fat, men in their 40's average about 22 percent body fat, and men in their 60's average about 24 percent. Women in their 30's, in good physical condition, average about 29 percent body fat, women in their 40's average about 32 percent body fat, and women in their 60's average about 34 percent body fat. This is mainly caused by over-eating and too little exercise causing fatty tissue to increase and lean muscle-mass to decrease.

One of the best ways to win the war against excess body fat is eating five or six small meals a day. This guards against producing new fat cells by eliminating large intakes of food at one time. By spacing smaller meals throughout the day this reduces the hormonal signal that causes fat cells to divide and multiply.

These smaller meals should come from high protein, low fat, complex carbohydrate foods. It is good to remember That the secret to success in almost everything is moderation. This is certainly true when it comes to sound nutrition.

Editor's Note: Bill Pearl, 84, is a five-time Mr. Universe and author of the best-selling bodybuilding books, Keys to the Inner Universe, Getting Stronger, and Getting in Shape. He has personally coached more major contest winners than anyone else in history. At his own peak as a bodybuilder when he last won the Universe in 1971 at age 41, he weighed 242 pounds at a height of 5'10" and his arms measured 21 inches!
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