Nutrition

The Growing Menace

Dennis James refined his nutrition regime while creating one of the best physiques in the pro ranks

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BIGGER GOALS

James had some respectable placings in his first few years as a pro, and he was getting bigger all the time. Although it wasn’t a conscious decision to attempt to match larger competitors like Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler, Markus Rühl, Günter Schlierkamp and Toney Freeman pound for pound, he was trending upward. “It just happened naturally,” James says. “My body likes to get big. I have to reduce my calories to maintain my weight. If I don’t watch myself, I can gain 20 pounds in three days. There were times when I didn’t want to get any bigger, but it happened.”

James

worked with a nutritional adviser, Milos Sarcev, for the first time in 2000. It might be hard to believe, but that’s around the time that he finally discovered supplementary protein. James explains what took so long: “In Thailand, everything is available over the counter, but you can’t get any protein. I didn’t know you could drink protein while you’re dieting. Back then, I thought that wasn’t possible. It’s farther advanced now, with whey isolates and no carbs.”

When he allied with nutritionist Chad Nicholls for the first time for the 2003 Mr. Olympia, more avenues opened for him. For example, Nicholls introduced James to the joys of flavored instant oatmeal. James says, “Apple cinnamon, peaches and cream . . . I didn’t know I could eat that. That was like paradise for me. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning and have my oatmeal.” In Las Vegas before the show, Nicholls monitored James approximately every two hours. The result was fourth place in the world’s most exalted bodybuilding contest, where he feels he set his personal standard for conditioning and fullness.

In 2007, James narrowly missed his first pro victory in the United States at the New York Pro, but he was not prepared for what was to come a month and a half later at the Colorado Pro. Reluctant to talk about what he considers his worst showing and an appearance he’d just as soon forget, he sheds some light on why he tumbled to eighth in what was his lowest placing in a non-Olympia competition since his pro debut at the 1999 Night Of Champions. “I would never ever. . . ever . . . listen to this person again in my life, no matter what it is. [Based on a misguided attempt to come in extremely full, the strategy by his nutritional adviser at the time (who James would prefer not to identify) backfired miserably.] He said, ‘Do everything I tell you. Trust me.’ After, he officially apologized on his Web site for messing me up, but that’s not going to change anything. I couldn’t stand it; I was so full and spilled over. I didn’t even want to be on that stage. I wanted to get out of there quick. Four days before, everything was still on. I was asked to carb load, and then carb load even more with all this stuff that I never ate. My stomach got bloated. I was gassy, uncomfortable, sick and tired. It was terrible. That was the biggest mistake.

SCALING BACK

After the Denver debacle and a bout with pneumonia, James decided to sit out the 2007 Olympia. This was hardly idle time, however. He was formulating a comprehensive plan designed to return him to top-tier status. Since his best success and condition came at a lower bodyweight, he would go into his next show 20-25 pounds lighter, like when he was a new pro.

As disciplined as he is precontest, he feels free to eat what he wants during the offseason. Complimentary to his wife Sin’s cooking, James credits her for preparing all his meals. He also admits to having a sweet tooth, enjoying carrot cake, cheesecake, muffins and chocolate-chip cookies with milk.

After living in Thailand and Germany, James moved to the Phoenix, Arizona, area at the end of 2007. Another big shift was reuniting with Nicholls, who helped James secure his highest Olympia finish, in 2003. James says, “Every time I work with him, my body changes and responds well to his adjustments when it comes to diet. I follow it to a T, and he’s always right.”

James started his diet at the end of May, 10 weeks before his scheduled contests in Tampa and Dallas. At that point, he weighed 265, which was what he weighed at his last Olympia in 2006. He began with a basic precontest diet, although Nicholls changes something every few weeks. The first couple of weeks, there were some cheat meals to ease into the diet, although most of the time they consisted of a larger amount of the standard foods rather than wild divergences into uncommon meals. Four weeks in, he converted to a low-carb, higher-fat version of the diet that lasted through both August contests and the Olympia with a moderate carb load just before each show. If there is a secret to the low-carb diet, it would be the twice-daily tablespoons of Skippy Natural creamy peanut butter topped with a little bit of grape jam or jelly.

The first segment of the diet was exactly what James needed to get the buzz back and score runner-up finishes consecutively to Toney Freeman at the 2008 Europa Super Show and the Tampa Pro Bodybuilding Weekly. Observers at those contests commented that James was the sharpest he had been in quite some time. James and Nicholls planned to bring him in at 90% of what he expected to display at the subsequent Olympia. It turned out to be not quite his best placing in an Olympia competition, but it was certainly notable — with an aesthetic new look and stream-lined waist, he finished eighth in the 2008 rendition. FLEX

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