An Interview With Nasar El Sonbaty Part 2
Despite images perpetuated in the media of the idyllic existence professional bodybuilding provides those fortunate enough to make it to the very top, many top-level competitors struggle to maintain their status among the best of the best. Bodybuilding, both the journey to the top and the process of maintaining a certain lifestyle, can be fraught with difficulty.
In the increasingly competitive world of men’s professional bodybuilding, few live the kind of lifestyle befitting a world-class athlete.
While pro basketball and football players commonly enjoy million dollar contracts, only a handful of bodybuilders make this kind of money, and to do so they must seek lucrative endorsement deals as competition prize money is comparatively minimal, contracts based on affiliation to a particular federation non-existent.
But this is the reality and nature of professional bodybuilding, a sport that does not have the same kind of mainstream acceptance, and therefore does not attract financial backing, comparable to more popular, mainstream pursuits.
As well as fewer financial opportunities, pro bodybuilding is a demanding sport that, in various ways, takes its toll on relationships and, in some cases, the health of the athlete. One man, who has seen, and experienced professional bodybuilding’s best and worst aspects, is long-time competitor Nasser El Sonbaty.
As a devoted bodybuilder, Nasser has lived through medical conditions related to his many years of intense training and dieting and experienced the often cutthroat and ruthless nature of bodybuilding bureaucracy. As a competitor he has also experienced great success and at one time was officially judged the second-best bodybuilder in the world.
As an astute bodybuilding observer Nasser is the thinking man’s bodybuilder, but he is also strongly opinionated, and honest, and thus will comment on many issues other professionals will not touch. Being an insider with an open mind has given Nasser an ability to cut through political correctness to discuss the issues fans are not often privy to.
In the following interview, Nasser continues where he left off in part one to provide insight into the often dark, but curiously alluring world of the professional bodybuilder.
[ Q ] There has been talk of athletes not receiving a fair deal within the IFBB, as you yourself alluded to in part one of our interview. Lee Priest has also been quite vocal on this subject over recent years. Are IFBB athlete’s treated fairly in your view?
I don’t think people like Lee Priest exaggerate, I just think they are saying what a lot of people want to say but are afraid to say. I don’t see any positive changes for the IFBB athletes and I don’t see any improvements.
Lee Priest is a good competitor and a fan favorite so I think they would like to get him back into the IFBB, but I don’t think they should take his prize money away which he got through joining Wayne Demilia’s federation.
By taking him back into the IFBB they are taking the biggest asset away from the other federation. So when Lee is gone his name is gone. So they can kill two birds with one stone: damage the other federation by taking their biggest asset and getting a great athlete back in their ranks and making, in the end, another guy shut up.
I definitely don’t think they will make it too difficult for him to come back. And the other federation doesn’t offer too much money and publicity so at the end he is going where the money is talking.
[ Q ] So do you think an athlete’s choice to compete in a particular federation is largely money driven?
Yes, I think so. For example I think the IFBB is failing left and right but as sad as it sounds, it is still the best choice of any other federation out there. There is nobody else that has such a big federation and nobody else who has the best athletes and who has magazine representation – Flex, Muscle and Fitness, Musclemag or Muscular Development are all attached to the NPC or to the international IFBB.
So as long as you have the majority of the best athletes and stage contests on a regular basis and you have the magazines behind them you can still screw up often but still be the best choice of all of the choices.
[ Q ] Is the Pro Division Incorporated a viable option for professional bodybuilders in your view?
No, because if you win the overall at the USA for example and you turn pro, what is the next step? You join the IFBB with all the other pros who are already there; there is no real alternative. The NPC are guiding people into the IFBB. And most bodybuilding athletes in the world are competing in the NPC.
I don’t see any federation in the world with as many competitors as the NPC. They have a few pro qualifiers, which are the USA and the Nationals two weeks after the Olympia and there is the North American Championships and the Canadian champs. Then there are the Amateur World Championships and if your win these you can be part of the IFBB as well. Most amateur athletes are part of the NPC.
Also, Wayne DeMilia’s Federation, Pro Division Incorporated, has nothing to offer compared to the longer established IFBB. Wayne does not have the top 15 IFBB competitors in his federation, does not have any known magazines or sites behind him and does not have any special financial rewards.
Wayne was the chairman of the IFBB pro division before and was making very good money over the years working for and with the IFBB. He, as a powerful money hungry ruthless dictator who was working very efficiently for the IFBB but also very much for himself in lots of dark reckless ways, finally ended up as the loser of an internal IFBB power struggle and because of his famous greed.
Personally, though, I like him (Wayne Demilia). And I think that the IFBB lost in him one of the most talented and efficient working figures in bodybuilding ever. But, again, he was wrongly judging the chess figures on the board. He did not realize certain balances of power within the IFBB hierarchy.
[ Q ] Do you think that another bodybuilding federation could rival the IFBB sometime in the near future?
Politically it is always possible if you have a chance and the money. If the other federation has enough money to stage an alternative championship then definitely yes, just so long as the other federation can prove that it is capable of promoting and staging shows not only in the U.S. but also in Europe. It’s all about money. Where the money is, the bodybuilders are going.
If you are looking for a job, you get two offers and one offers you more money you will most likely go there. Why should you stay with a federation that does not offer you enough benefits?
Ninety-five percent of all bodybuilders are living a minimal existence on the poverty line, so bodybuilding people don’t even think of the general audience; you either have money or you don’t have money at all. So the IFBB at least is offering prize money of ten thousand dollars for first place at a pro show. Which other federation is doing that? Again it’s still the best choice of all the choices.
[ Q ] It strikes me as strange that you have guys who will probably never make it to the very top of the bodybuilding world to make a significant income, yet will spend thousands to get there, sometimes ruining their health in the process. What is the motivation for these guys?
I think one of the reasons, from a non- American’s perspective is that everybody in the U.S. thinks they can become anything. They say here on TV that if you want it badly enough you can just do it.
The media is talking in your head and whispering in your ear that you can be a pro athlete, a movie star, a singer, anything you want. But that is just not what the reality is. So everybody thinks that if they want it badly enough and just put enough work into it that it will happen.
So a lot of these people are dreamers and will do it for five, ten, fifteen years. They will move to Venice, California and living little trailer parks and eat tuna all day and go to Gold’s Gym, Venice, and think that one day they will make it and somebody will discover them. They will become a movie star or an extra or whatever. And they think they can do it so much even if they lack the genetics or any kind of other capabilities.
As people know, America is known to be the land of possibilities, of borderless possibilities. And those people think if Arnold can come from Austria and make it, if Nasser can make it, if this guy comes from France or from England. And they think since they are already in America they should be able to make it. And this is the American dream, which can definitely become the American nightmare.
[ Q ] These people are willing to put themselves through so much to reach their bodybuilding goals.
I completely agree. I have never seen this anywhere else in the world except for here (in America). It is just an American disease I would call it. For some people it works, but for other people it does not and those people feel they can make it because they want it even more than the other person.
[ Q ] What are some examples of people pushing themselves to the extreme to make it in bodybuilding, but not getting there despite their efforts?
There are so many competing in the amateur ranks. There are the nameless, countless examples that have tried it but don’t really consider what is happening because they have been there so many years, but it never happened for them.
As an example Dave Palumbo: he tried so many times to turn pro. He went from show to show and now he has all the knowledge to help others. But it can be either he was missing the body or they didn’t want him to turn pro. He is one of hundreds that didn’t make it. In a lot of cases, turning pro can bring a successful career but it can also mean that you have reached the end of the road.
For example, the most successful amateur bodybuilding team in the world is Egypt. They don’t have too many big guys, mostly bantamweight through to light heavyweight. Every year you have one, two, three, four guys from Egypt who win the world championships, but they realize that if they turn pro they don’t have a chance.
“Turning Pro Can Bring A Successful Career But It Can Also Mean That You Have Reached The End Of The Road.”
At least they are realistic. But other people here, they win the bantamweight and then they go into the pro shows and they think they can add ten or twenty pounds and be like Dexter Jackson. But how many Dexter Jackson’s and how many Mohammad Benaziza’s do you have from all these bantam and featherweight USA National’s winners?
Only a couple out of over a hundred competitors, that’s how many. But again, someone tells them they can make it and they think they can make it.
I get all kinds of e-mails from countries all over the world. Recently a guy from Brazil was sending me e-mails and he said he would like to turn pro and he has enough money because his parents are rich. He said, “Tell me what kinds of drugs I will have to take so I can turn pro too.”
They think just because they have money they are just missing the drug knowledge that has stopped them from turning pro. That’s what they think – very simple-minded people. But being a top bodybuilding pro and making a living is one of the most difficult things on the planet. You are more likely to become a U.S. senator, a congressman, than to become a top six, or top ten guy on a regular basis at the Olympia.
[ Q ] You competed for a long time and clearly had the genetics and work ethic to make it to the top. How did you manage to take drugs for so many years, yet stay relatively healthy?
It is not only what your genetics are like if your aim is to turn pro or how hard you train or your consistency, it is also very important how your body reacts to all the different kinds of drugs you are ingesting for years and years. Not only the positive, anabolic effects but also the negative effects, the side effects.
You need to have a constitution like a horse. For example if Ronnie Coleman and now Jay Cutler didn’t have constitutions of a horse they would have been sick a long time ago and wouldn’t be able to actually continue competing like they are competing.
Then we have the bodybuilding victims: Flex Wheeler, Don Long, Tom Prince and Mike Morris and many more like them, and so many more nameless ones. They are all victims of whatever they have been doing over these years and not everybody has a perfect health situation.
It is also how the side effects have an impact on you. You can also be or become a psychological mental victim when it comes to health success and achievements.
[ Q ] Bodybuilding great Milos Sarcev said something interesting on the Pro Bodybuilding Weekly radio show, to the effect that anabolic steroids are constructive, not destructive. What are your thoughts on this statement?
I think in general you can say that everything that congeals up to a certain level is quite healthy. Let’s say you take vitamin-C. After a certain amount you might say it is healthy. Same thing applies to other so-called vitamin supplements.
You can compare this to anabolic steroids because these are produced for people who are burn victims or car accident victims, or are given to people who don’t recover fast enough or good enough after surgery, so they can be very beneficial. But on the other side, you can abuse your body over years and years with anabolic steroids, and you get many people who do this and never even do it under the supervision of a doctor.
They just buy it on the black market and use it and the bad effects might come out. They have heard that you can get big, and this guy got big, and so they just continue applying it to themselves. From a certain point on I think anabolic steroids are certainly not healthy and can be counterproductive.
You mentioned Milos Sarcev. Here is a point I would like to make in this interview. Milos still owes me money: 2550 dollars. I loaned him money to buy anabolic steroids because at the time, in 1995, he was getting divorced from one of his numerous wives and he was out of money. So I loaned him the money so he could buy his drugs so he could compete. But he never gave me the money back (laughs).
Later he was telling people that he paid me back by providing me with steroid knowledge. First of all this is wrong: he never gave me any knowledge because he would get all his knowledge from me. He likes to be one of these guys who are always the center of attention.
He is one of the most vain bodybuilders. And he has silicone implants in his calves. And he likes to have the reputation as being the trainer of champions and everybody who he is training he is providing with drugs and then he gets a little success with his clients, before moving onto the next one.
Again he is very attention hungry and likes to promote himself and this is why he likes to give out the steroids. Because people wouldn’t actually go to him to be trained if they did not get the steroid program they were promised.
[ Q ] You have been very critical about pro bodybuilding. Now tell me, what do you like most about pro bodybuilding?
What do I like about bodybuilding the most? I really do not know. I think I am used to it in a certain way and I do feel psychologically better if I have a blood flow during and after working out. Yes, I would rather be muscular than fat or skinny.
But what I really do like the most? I like the fact that definitely you can’t buy it. Otherwise everyone would buy 30 pounds of back and shoulders, 15 pounds of muscles for this and that body part. If you buy a car you must park it in front of the house or building. You can only take the key with you. But a built body can be taken anywhere.
And as a bodybuilder you definitely like to look different compared to others. And piercing’s, tattoos, changing hairstyles and hair colours are not my way to express myself or, again, to look different. We are living in a free world and everyone should handle it their way as long he or she is not endangering the next person with his or her expression of their different kind of bodywork.
[ Q ] How important is mental attitude when preparing for a show and achieving bodybuilding training objectives?
Now I can say that you have to be mentally tough to put it together and pull it through… blah, blah. But this is only one aspect of it, bodybuilding and its success, which is to me having the finished product, which for the body consists of so many other factors. You need discipline and endurance.
You have to be consistent in your workouts and intense over years and years. It is not just enough to train for a couple of months until summer so you will then look good at the beach, pool or club. It takes way more time than that.
99.9 percent of all people who go to the gym do not compete, do not have it and will never compete regardless of what the real and fake reasons are. And if you think you have it, you still need patience.
A great body is not built overnight. It takes many, many years of sacrifice outside of the gym and self-torture in the gym, and also when it comes to eating healthy (not just junk) and controlling your appetite in the pre contest phase when you are getting ready for a show; you are then eating for shape and not for satisfying your appetite.
I have heard BS like, “Nasser, I could look like you but I like to eat.” Or: “My brother is also a bodybuilder.” “Yes, lady but on what kind of level?” It is like I am telling Pete Sampras or Agassi or Federer, “My brother also plays Tennis.”
Or just another example out of the blue: “I would not like to look like you.” It is like going up to someone who is driving a Ferrari Testosterosa and telling him that you “do not like to drive such a car.” So what, who cares what you like or don’t, nobody was asking you!
So again you definitely need mental strength and determination, especially when you are doing this seriously over years and years and are, on top of that, competing as an amateur or pro. And as a pro it is one of the most difficult and demanding professions on planet earth to make a living at.
To make a living from it you have to be in the top 10 in the world on a regular basis. It is like you are a dentist, for example. But being only able to make a living as a dentist by being not only top 10 in the city, the county, the state, the country or the continent but by being top 10 on the planet and this on a regular basis. And you have to prove it every six to 12 months.
You have to have the ultimate genetics for all the different body parts. Your waist can’t be too thick and you can’t have a tremendous upper body but at the same time a waist like a camel and maybe chicken legs.
All the body parts should and have to be evenly developed. It is not enough to have great quads but missing hams. Or having a good back but lacking arms. Or having a great triceps but underdeveloped biceps. But you will find out by competing, going from show to show and you’ll see how big your genetic reservoir is.
You have to have symmetry, proportion and balance. And you really can’t train for ultimate symmetry. Have the look of your abs changed? You can make them hard and develop them, but their shape won’t change regardless how long you train and how many drugs you think you have to use to change them.
Also people do have different body types. And some just have a much better look from the beginning and some will always have a higher body fat level because it is in their genes. And some should play basketball before they start to try to fill their long limbs out with muscles, which are impossible for them to get.
You should feed yourself on a regular basis with good and fresh quality food. And this costs money, lots of money. But money is definitely no guarantee either of making it otherwise every millionaire or son or daughter of a millionaire would be a bodybuilding champion.
You should and must have good health, like in any other sport, from the beginning. You should be ambitious but not reckless in the demands on yourself and others.
You should surround yourself with neutral people to the sport or, even better, with people who do not like to hold you up from your physical development like the fake jealous friends, the girlfriend who always feels neglected or a girlfriend who is more into drinking, drugging, club hopping and partying before she is even able to prepare you a healthy meal.
A lot of females want to have the bodybuilder as a finished product and like to be seen with it. But they do not want to help to create the product. It is like you want to have kids but not necessarily the work that it is combined with it. Also the partner can get jealous over the time you are spending in the gym and of your preparation for a show.
It can also take a huge toll on your closer and wider family circle. And some people can get so obsessed with it that bodybuilding is consuming their whole entire life so that they basically do not do anything but follow a strict bodybuilding regime, do not get education or have any other healthy social activities. And they think the world owes them something for their greatness. But this is the other extreme spectrum of this possible scenario.
And a lot of very ambitious bodybuilders become so-called bodybuilding fatalities when they realize that they did not make it to the top of the amateur or pro ranks, or if they become physically or/and psychologically unhealthy.
The bodybuilding cake consists of a lot of factors, which you really can’t totally plan out beforehand. It is also important to be a stable person from the beginning on, despite based on what I have witnessed and seen with so many people coming from the drug and alcohol field going into the bodybuilding, fitness and the figure world. Some become healthier and some become way more buried into drugs.
[ Q ] You say it is important to have someone supportive to your goals assisting you. Are you or were you married and if so, is or was your wife supportive?
I divorced at the beginning of 2003. It was a financially costly divorce for me. My former wife definitely got compensated for whatever she did for me. As I mentioned before, it is difficult to live with a competitive bodybuilder, especially a top pro who has to put all their time and energy into the sport.
What is also very difficult for the female in such a relationship is that all the attention is on the guy and, not like in most “normal” relationships where it is on the female. Pro bodybuilders are basically male beauty queens who require more work than the average guy.
Often the wives of these guys have a shadow existence. They do benefit from the success (lifestyle, money, prestige) of their partners but they do still feel neglected. I definitely had a very helpful and supportive wife, luckily not one of those who had a drug problem or an alcohol problem or/and a family problem like most females do. A bodybuilder should have either a very supportive partner or no partner at all.
My former wife wrote down and counted my daily calories of all my countless diets for over ten years – and I was eating a meal almost every 2.5 – 3.0 hours. I do not know anybody else who will do that or would be doing that.
For my career I had the best possible understanding, support and help. No doubt. So in the end I did not mind giving her $70 000.00 U.S. dollars for getting my Akita (Sato) dog back from her. Originally I told her attorney that she had kidnapped Sato but her attorney told me that an animal was an asset and could not be seen as kidnapped.
[ Q ] I understand you also suffered a setback of a physical kind in late 2006, early 2007, when you went back to Germany to have extensive surgery done.
Yes, I decided to go to Germany for my surgeries. I had a couple of birth marks removed from my back and in another long surgery I had my belly button (hernia) fixed, scar tissue removed from my left lat, and had lipomas (fat deposits) taken out from under my arm pits.
This all begun in December of 2006. The lipomas, I was told, were the result of dieting for so many years. The body just wanted to hold onto body fat and stored it under and inside the armpits. It felt like I had bars of soap implanted under my armpits.
The removal of the lipomas created blood filled holes which developed to blood filled “balloons”, so I had to undergo two more surgeries to stop the bleeding and to reduce the blood filled balloons. It was very agonizing.
I spent almost two months just lying in bed to recuperate from that. The belly button surgery was nothing compared to the lipomas. At that time my parents took good care of me, as they both live in Germany.
[ Q ] This must have been quite a time. How did you cope?
Just lying in bed for almost two full months at the house of my parents was just paralyzing. For sure there is no better help and care than being surrounded by family when you are weak and powerless. Also you do not have to cook and do your laundry and things of that nature.
But having three lipoma surgeries besides the removal of scar tissue on the left lats, the belly button surgery, the birth mark removal – and going and being driven to the hospital either every day or every second day to have tissue, water and blood extracted is pretty saddening.
Also the cold, snowy wintertime in Germany does not really lift your spirits. Then losing weight and muscle and getting back is pretty difficult. But better this than having a kidney replacement, or heart surgery like Mike Matarazzo or having a terminal disease of some sort.
Composed of mature fat cells, a lipoma – identified as a discrete rubbery mass – is the most common. This forms in the subcutaneous tissues and, less commonly, in internal organs. Typically they are easily detected and present no difficulty in diagnosis and morbidity.
They can grow quite large as in Nasser’s case (see picture) but usually measure a few centimeters in size. They are removed through either liposuction or, as in Nasser’s case, surgical excision.
Scarring is a natural part of the healing process but excessive scar tissue built-up can occur in people who subject their tissues to ongoing trauma. For example, after injury the body will replace normal skin with a thin layer of fibrous scar tissue.
Muscular and cardiovascular damage can also cause the formation of scar tissue and this tissue, biologically different to the tissue it replaces, will be of an inferior functional quality, thus, in some instances it requires removal.
[ Q ] You once said that you can maintain your massive size on as little as 100 grams of protein per day. How exactly do you do this and not lose muscle mass?
I have been in this sport for over 25 years now. And as I mentioned before I have been on diets – strict pre contest diets – for 18 years. I should maybe sit down one day and make a crazy calculation of how many chicken breasts I have consumed in all these years, obviously during dieting more than while training off-season. I just got tired of forever eating protein to keep my size up or building it.
If you are on a high protein and low carb, low fat diet, then you have to bump your protein way up (at least up to 300 grams per diet day; and if you are a very big bodybuilder like myself, then you have sometimes/or at least should take about 600 grams of protein per day) otherwise you shrink too much and the uses its own muscle as fuel.
Because I am so sick and tired of protein as a food source, as amino acids and as supplement drinks I decided to eat more carbs off-season in order to compensate for the lack and the lower amount of protein I am taking in. But again, pre contest I just force feed my body to get the highest possible amount of protein into my system. But off-season I do intentionally neglect my daily protein intake.
If you have no problems taking protein in, just go ahead. The more protein, the better the muscles will build up. My off-season weight goes up to 330 pounds. With a higher protein intake off-season, I probably would be even bigger. Also I do have a so-called mesomorph type of body and was very athletic from beginning. And my metabolism is not too fast and not too slow.
If you are for example more an ectomorph type of person, your metabolism is very fast. You have to then eat way more calories than I do and you have to also eat way more frequently than I do.
[ Q ] How would you describe your style of training?
My style of training is going middle heavy – heavy and very heavy. And this counts for off-season and the pre-contest dieting phase of mostly 12 weeks. I do not go to muscle failure on every set and I do mostly three to four exercises per body part in the off-season.
During pre contest, the last three months before the show, when I mostly start dieting, then I do add another exercise per muscle group. I then work out faster despite my reduced strength due to dieting, lack of fats and regular lack of sleep. I do also implement in my diet phase of three months, supersets, triple sets, drop sets, forced sets and 10 seconds rest-pause.
My rep range in the diet phase but also off season goes between 20 to 25 reps per set for the lower body down to four to six reps per set. For the upper body muscle groups I go between four and 15 reps per set regardless if it is pre contest or off-season.
I do use the so-called Weider principle of pyramid sets. And if you add way more cardio in the pre contest phase and at the same time reduce your daily carb intake over weeks and months, then you should definitely get in shape.
Off-season I just go with straight sets through the mostly five workouts per week I do. And for each muscle group per workout I do at least one barbell exercise in order to maintain size, but also to stimulate more muscle growth. And if you are using machines too frequently and too often during your workouts, your body definitely won’t be a power physique, as it could be with some free weight movements.
Working out with free weights costs more energy and mental strength compared to training with machines and cables. But with free weights you do also experience more muscle pain. And not everyone can take the pain in the workouts.
You can train hard and short but not hard and long. After mostly 90 minutes of lifting weights I am out of the gym or start my post workout cardio. I do cardio on an empty stomach only during pre contest otherwise I do cardio after my weight lifting sessions.
[ Q ] Most bodybuilders seem to have a different opinion on what training system works and what doesn’t. What training system do you think is the most effective for building massive size that can be used by most bodybuilders, beginner and advanced?
Personally I started using the so-called pyramid principal as mentioned, which basically means I start out with a lighter weight doing around 15 reps, then the second set would be ten to 12 reps increasing the weight, the next set would be maybe six to eight reps and up again with the weight.
The fourth and final set would be four to six reps with the heaviest weight. Or I might do a fifth set and this might look like the second set, where I decrease the weight and increase the repetitions. This is what I have used over the years and for me the results are most effective.
I have, for example, seen a program of Shawn Ray’s in the magazines and he does ten sets of ten reps for every exercise for each body part. Let’s say he trains biceps he does ten sets with more or less the same weight. So it’s working out for him but for me I need to increase the weight from set to set. I do this off-season and pre contest.
The only difference is that pre contest I add another exercise or two and train faster and reduce my calorie intake and cardio activity. But otherwise my training system is more or less the same.
Then you have people like Lee Priest who sometimes spends almost three hours or more in the gym. They do endless reps and sets. But obviously it works for them, but it wouldn’t work for me. I personally think you can’t train hard and long and you can’t train hard and short also. I train for 80 or 90 minutes, sometimes more but nothing that exceeds 105 or 110 minutes.
[ Q ] Did you ever try the HIT style of training popularized by Dorian Yates in the ’90s?
I honestly believe that Dorian Yates was making this thing up. I heard from a lot of people who watched him train that, just say he was doing two or three sets for this body part, he would not count the previous sets he was doing.
With these sets he was not going to failure so he did not count those sets. I count all the sets, even if I don’t go to failure. And in a lot of cases I don’t go to failure in each set.
So let’s say Dorian Yates would be training chest, I don’t believe he is just training two sets and he’s done with his chest workout. He does maybe six to eight sets but at the same time he does not count the lighter sets.
The problem with such an approach for those who do use HIT is that you have to be careful that you don’t get hurt or injured because if you go from zero to 100 in a couple of minutes there is a huge possibility that you can tear a tendon or a muscle or something else.
So I believe that people train like that they also need loads of anabolic steroids. If they go from one light set to one extreme set they need more anabolic steroids. They need a cushion between the muscles and bones in case they tear something up so they need lots of water retention. Without anabolic steroids the likelihood is huge that you will tear something.
[ Q ] Given it can be such a demanding sport, why don’t we see more injuries in bodybuilding?
I finish my workout in 90 minutes but these other people are doing this in 45 or 35 minutes because they like to spend less time in the gym. And on top of that they use large amounts of anabolic steroids and recreational drugs so they don’t even feel the pain that much. So they are walking around numb all day.
They are numb before they go into the gym, numb in the gym and numb afterwards. They are sitting at home watching TV and they are numb, going out and they are numb. They are not really facing the reality.
You hear all of the bullsh!t about how this guy is training like a warrior and this guy is hard. Let’s just take their freaking nubain away and see how much of a warrior they are. People would say that I was such a warrior and believe me not too many people could have followed my regimen.
Luckily I never used recreational drugs otherwise I might have huge pains and aches right now after abusing my body so much and for so many years with all these excessive amounts of whatever. One of the reasons why people are lasting so long in the sport is that they have a constitution like a horse, but it’s also that you have to think about tomorrow.
“People Would Say That I Was Such A Warrior And Believe Me Not Too Many People Could Have Followed My Regimen.”
Before it was just that you didn’t have the money to buy all the supplements and I didn’t have all the money to buy a lot of anabolic steroids. So I took breaks, so it was good I didn’t have the money for them. I also think my mental capacity was larger than a 20 year old and I realized that breaks in between are good and more healthy for the body and you can last longer into the future.
A lot of people are already burned out just going from one amateur contest to the next before they even turn pro because they are taking so many different things at once and so much they can’t take anything while they are actually in the pro ranks. So they are hitting a plateau very early and you can’t get anything more. So they are basically frustrated and desperate and the only thing they can change is the amount they are using (anabolic steroids) and they take more.
[ Q ] Who will win the 2007 Mr. Olympia and why?
Personally I do think that Cutler will win it again. It is his turn now. He won last year and beat Ronnie afterwards in three European Grand Prix events. Cutler has for years been a consequent runner up and he manifested his consistency by additionally moving up one placement last year.
He is persistent with his training approach, his dieting schedule and his lifestyle. He does not have instability factors in his life; he tries to keep everything how it is and how it was the last couple of years. And as long as he is not totally out of shape and doesn’t get involved in a brand new accident shortly before the Olympia – the Olympia should be his again. Regarding Ronnie, I think he can end up between second and fifth place.
And even if Ronnie should be 25 percent better than ever before, they just won’t give it to him. They made their mind up that his time is over. And I at the same time I do believe that Cutler won’t screw it up for himself. Victor Martinez should also be there, very close to the title. There will be somewhere also for Melvin and Gustavo in the top six, together with Toney Freeman or/and Dexter.
This interview has been updated to give Nasser’s thoughts on the 2007 Mr. Olympia outcome. His views on this contest follow:
[ Q ] One week out from the Olympia, Jay Cutler was your pick to win the show and you were right. But was his win deserved?
I think that Cutler who won the 2007 Olympia got a super huge gift. He had a birthday, Christmas, his wedding event and everything else on that day. Cutler was too bloated and holding way too much water in the back area and also right leg area to be declared as the “best” pro bodybuilder on stage.
His arms and shoulder area were looking too soft and lacking in separation (too much synthol), and also one arm is way bigger than the other. His shoulders also look pretty uneven.
Besides that his waist is way too thick – and it is reaching Dorian Yates dimensions; also Cutler’s right leg is way smaller than the other one. Probably one of the nerves was hit and there is muscle atrophy, which can’t be reversed. And his posing routine was not Mr. Olympia-like either.
Cutler should have been in fifth place.
[ Q ] In that case who do you think should have won and what are your thoughts on the rest of the 2007 Olympia top six? Play the role of judge for a moment Nasser and give me your top six.
In second place was Martinez – to me he was the clear winner without any doubt. He is way more symmetrical and proportioned than Cutler. He has rounder and fuller muscle bellies. Also his conditioning was great. And his posing was very good too. Martinez got cheated.
From my point of view it was like this:
Cutler is and was that Friday and Saturday Jim Manion’s boy – both of them are from the East Coast. And Martinez who is working out at the Bev Francis/Weinberger’s gym is Weinberger’s boy.
So Weinberger and Manion made a deal to let Cutler win again this year, to see what will happen next in both their developments – whether it is in the physical or legal department. I am also quite sure that Mr. Manion had a word with Cutler.
The other thing is that a lot of people here are afraid that pro bodybuilding could fall into black hands – like basketball and American football – this means that the sport of bodybuilding is dominated by black athletes. From my point of view it is definitely the case.
There are not too many great white U.S. bodybuilders. Most of the great white pro bodybuilders have been or are from Europe. In this group I also count Lee Priest who is Australian.
After having Haney with eight Sandows, Coleman with eight Sandows as well – and having Yates with six Mr. Olympia titles and now Cutler with two Olympia titles there is the blanket fear that with another black Mr. Olympian the bodybuilding industry will accumulate less money and profit.
The white population in the U.S. is way bigger than the black population. And the white population here is financially way stronger than the black community. With another black Mr. Olympian too soon, a lot of people are not ready for that and will not be able to identify with it.
This means less sales in all areas and departments of the gym, nutrition and contest field. Also by rotating the Mr. Olympia’s from black – white – black – white – people in charge can avoid implanting a complex into the white population that black athletes are also superior in bodybuilding.
Again, physically speaking Martinez won clearly. But as an insider and as an experienced observer of the happenings in this field, Cutler was already again Mr. Olympia before the show had even begun.
Cutler’s win made the sport again just look like another Vegas show. The not mainstream and never will be mainstream sport of bodybuilding is to a huge extent carried by political decisions to maximize profits regardless of what is just and fair.
In third place I had Dexter Jackson, but Wolf could have easily switched places with him and have been third as well. Wolf should have been compared with Cutler but I think they wanted to save Cutler the embarrassment. The biggest disadvantage for Wolf at this show was that he was not coming in as a former NPC champion.
I would have placed Melvin Anthony fourth because he looked more flawless and pleasant to the eye than Cutler’s whole body appearance with the watery un-proportioned look.
As I said, I had Cutler in fifth and Coleman in sixth place. I do know Ronnie, and I do know that he is a true warrior and has the heart of a lion. His appearance at the 2007 Olympia is not the appearance of someone who was tired of working out or someone who made diet or training mistakes but of someone who seems to have a medical problem. To me Coleman looked sick.
So my top six would be:
1. Victor Martinez
2. Dexter Jackson (or Dennis Wolf)
3. Dennis Wolf (or Dexter Jackson)
4. Melvin Anthony
5. Jay Cutler
6. Ronnie Coleman
[ Q ] Where do you feel the future of bodybuilding lies?
I personally do think that as long as there is no more money put into bodybuilding and there are still low paid contracts for bodybuilders, bodybuilding is going nowhere. It does not really help to promote bodybuilding by just increasing the prize money at the Olympia and Arnold Classic. Way more has to be done.
If the bodybuilders weren’t so vain, so ambitious and so driven by nature, this sport would have a long, long time ago perished. I did not start lifting weights to become rich. But it became a profession. And people should be able to make sufficient money and a good living from it especially when they are world class in their field and profession.
The pro bodybuilders are in general (about 95 percent of them) living on the poverty line, sometimes better, sometimes not so good. Who in God’s name can afford the financial burden of eating all these foods, which are illustrated in magazines like Muscle and Fitness and Flex?
Bodybuilding has seen its best times already. And women’s bodybuilding is dead. Figure (the figure division) is and will be on the ultimate rise for many years to come.
Wayne DeMilia has opened the other rival organisation to the IFBB. But why should the bodybuilders switch to his federation? He has basically nothing to offer except mostly second or third class competitors with the exception of Lee Priest and a few other ones.
But Lee will go there where the money and publicity is – back to the IFBB. So give the bodybuilders at least more money because you are not taking care of their pension or any kind of health issues.
Knowing this and being a big part of bodybuilding for so many years, witnessing the turmoil and the more than controversial decisions, robberies and seeing a lot of unhealthy and sick bodybuilding victims, I would not recommend anyone get into competitive bodybuilding at all. It makes me sad and pensive.
In other sports like pro football, pro basketball, pro baseball, pro soccer, at least the crippled and sick ones are getting health benefits and financial advice and at least money so that they are financially secure to the end of their days.
The lack of a steady income source and lack of enough reimbursement for the results of the athletes hardest work in bodybuilding has driven plenty of these people into illegal, unethical and dangerous activities. Does the IFBB really want that to continue happening?
[ Q ] In saying all of this, are your still involved in bodybuilding? What are you doing these days Nasser?
This year, in 2007, I went to only one bodybuilding show in the spring because a friend of mine competed there. And further, I decided not to go to any other bodybuilding shows this year. Neither any pro show nor to any other amateur show.
I need a break from bodybuilding, at least for this year. Being in the bodybuilding arena for at least 25 years is definitely not something to enjoy on a daily basis. As a bodybuilder you have your uniform (your body) on 24/7.
And as a doctor or prosecutor or as a police officer you can take your uniform off after work and you are not all the time exposed to 24/7 talk about bodybuilding, shows, protein, and drugs, anywhere and anytime of the day. Sure, I chose bodybuilding. But I need a break from what is sometimes a total circus.
Otherwise I have been involved in some commercial real estate projects for a few years, which generate income for me. And so I am still going to the gym but also regularly with my dog to the beach and enjoying life without any pressure.
[ Q ] You say you no longer want to compete, but do you want to continue working in the bodybuilding field in some capacity?
After being in the sport for 25 years I am over it, just all these bodybuilding talks about protein and nutrition. And everywhere I go people see me and go, “Oh that’s Nasser. He must have drug knowledge.”
In my case they never ask how hard I train and try to become more familiar with me. They see that I’m friendly and they feel comfortable asking me about drugs. But they never ask me how hard I train or how hard I diet, it is always, “How much have you been using and what do you take?” Because they think that is what it is all about.
And after 25 years, it is not good being a target for bodybuilding questions, interviews and basically talks everywhere from grocery stores to nightclubs at one o’clock in the morning where people are asking me for diet or training routines. Or I go to a Chinese restaurant and they pull up a chair, take a seat and ask me how many pills they have to swallow to look like me.
After so many years you reach a point where you are really fed up with the whole industry and right now I am so fed up I don’t want to go to any shows.
Between 2003 and 2004 I had my computer shut off for about 15 months because I didn’t want to deal with no more bodybuilding stuff. I would answer the phone and it would be bodybuilding.
With an interview like this it is good because people can learn from it but otherwise I am suppose to spend my life providing people with knowledge? I don’t get anything out of it. It’s not a money thing it is that they go on about the same things that they have been going on about for over two decades.
Wherever I go it is just bodybuilding, nutrition and drugs and shows. And who really wants to subject himself for over 20 years to this. If you were a police officer nobody wants to hear all day long, “So how many people did you arrest, did you have a high speed chase, so you didn’t arrest anybody, how dangerous is it, have you ever been shot at, how does it feel to be a police officer?” As a bodybuilder you get this kind of thing every day, on Sundays, weekdays, on holidays on airplanes and in different countries. You get really fed up.
My mental development is not just reduced to talking about bodybuilding. My mother did not give birth to me so that I could get up on stage for the rest of my life and hit the side chest pose for the rest of my life all the time. Only an obsessed person would be happy with this.
Life is so much more than just running from show to show and watching people onstage who look like peeled bananas. I am not desperate to see the next guy in the red posing trunks.
“My Mother Did Not Give Birth To Me So That I Could Get Up On Stage And Hit The Side Chest Pose For The Rest Of My Life.”
Sometimes people come up to me and say, “Do you remember me?” And ten or fifteen years ago I would say, “Yes, I remember you,” because I wanted to be nice. But then after they asked me where did I see them, and I would say, “In Florida,” and they would be like, “No, you saw me in LA, I came in sixth in the heavyweights division and you told me I looked great when I stepped onstage.” Sometimes these people want to be remembered ten years later and if you don’t remember them they are angry with you.
Some days you don’t even remember the girl who you gave your credit card information to at the hotel front desk and who handed you the car and the hotel key. So I must remember everybody and have a solution for everyone, I must be a nutritionist, a physiatrist, a trainer, and a drug advisor? At the end of the day I am so exhausted. So many people drain me.
They first get into the field and then they get so obsessed. Then it is a really a problem to get away from it. Then they are no longer competitors and they are completely out and nobody has ever seen them. And as long as they think they can make it and they are part of it, you will see them at every show.
In my case, it is not that I’m talking like this because I didn’t compete for the past 18 months. I was always like that. I never wanted to be a bodybuilder. It happened by accident. I understand that people are curious and want to know. But I’m not a computer that responds 24 hours a day.
[ Q ] So you are taking a step back from bodybuilding now and re-assessing your life.
Yes definitely. My future is not in the sport of bodybuilding. It will always be part of my life but I think I have reached the peak of my involvement in the sport. I will go to shows in the future to hang out and meet some people or to sell some videotapes and pictures but not necessarily to generate an income. Now it will be an entertainment thing but nothing to be taken seriously, not the way I took it for 15 to 20 years of my career.
[ Q ] You have been in the bodybuilding business long enough to know who to trust and who not to trust. How do you know who is the real deal or not and how do you handle those who persistently barrage you with requests for free advice? Could you please elaborate on what you mean by “people who drain you”?
In bodybuilding you can’t trust too many people because it is a “me sport.” It is like, “I need this,” “I do need that,” “Can you get me some XXX as soon as possible, because I have heard it works the best?”
They (the other bodybuilders) mostly just want from you and mostly you can never ask from them the same thing or item back at any given moment or time. And the females in the sport – and a lot of them – hope and work with their sweet female behaviour to get things either super cheap or just for free.
Just in general, in the last 10 years there have been at least 160 people who asked me if I could get for them this or that drug – I even made a list and wrote the names of these people down. They do not care if they are asking you for illegal favours either and they do not care if you ended up behind bars for that. It is all about them.
It is never a fair exchange. Sooner or later they even want more for less. And your best friends in bodybuilding will even sell fake items to you and give you up for whatever they can get in terms of a reduced sentence, better deal or better placement.
And personally I do not like to go out in bigger bodybuilder groups because there is mostly – but not always – too much talk about protein, shows, the newest drugs and most of the bodybuilders do not have too many social skills.
They often like to build a connection to you because you are in the magazines, “he must know the sh!t.” And a lot of them are living a half or even more of a criminal life especially when money is short.
If they have an expensive girlfriend, like a lot of girls have the tendency to become like that, because most of them do spent all their money or they just do not have any substantial money even for themselves, then the bodybuilders are even forced even more to accumulate things in a fast, often inconsiderate, illegal way in order to keep their lifestyle and relations with the female.
“Most Conversations For Me Are
Interview And Interrogation Situations. “
And bodybuilding can get very expensive; it is first a cheap membership and a pair of tennis shoes. Later it is a fast car, a somehow attractive girlfriend with a beer budget but a champagne appetite, then the expensive supplements and drugs, the clean expensive food for contest prep with the increasingly higher and higher drug bills. Sometimes there is the question at the end – who will last longer? Relations, health or freedom?
Over the years by meeting so many takers, users and free loaders in general but specifically in bodybuilding I do personally stay away from most of these fake friendships and often mentally under-stimulating contacts.
There are always exceptions in life but generally speaking, I have been in this environment for 25 years. And I have experienced a lot of major dysfunctional ties, starting out with the bodybuilders, and going up to the highest ranks of the judges, nationally and internationally. Being a judge, again, does not entitle you to be seen as smart and innocent or make you free of guilt. We do have drug dealers there also.
And when it comes to the fans, there are always the very good and great ones and the ones who want everything from you for free. And the nicer you are to some fans, the more they feel free to ask you for free items, free advice, free to ask you drug questions, even after a couple of minutes of conversation. But most conversations are for me interview and interrogation situations.
People often ask me at 1:00 am in a club for a workout routine, a diet routine, a drug program; like I really want to talk about my job 24/7. And email requests, statements and questions are the worst because people are in general cheap and they can hide behind the computer. And one of the interesting things is which I got in the last 25 years of bodybuilding – not even two or three constructive business proposals from the thousands and thousands of people I met at shows, expos and bodybuilding related events.
From 10 years signing photos at shows few people calling themselves fans have ever brought me so much as a diet coke or a sandwich. And sometimes I have been signing photos there for hours without any food but was asked, “So, how many ten thousands of calories do you take in daily?” But they almost never see me eating there at all for the whole day. But at a sushi restaurant they sometimes even invite the guy behind the bar for food or drink but not the bodybuilder.
[ Q ] What do you want to do with your life ultimately?
I have been involved in a couple of ventures for three years in commercial real estate, which means I have money (invested) so from that point I am financially separated and don’t have any kind of financial worries. This is a really good thing because I don’t have to struggle like 95 percent of my peers or peers in bodybuilding.
Somebody suggested I promote a Nasser El Sonbaty Classic but I’m really not in the mood for it, not up to it. I can only talk for the moment so I don’t know what the future will hold. Again it will never be just directed toward the bodybuilding field and nothing else like most peoples lives. Once their bodybuilding dream is shattered or over, their life is over. Luckily for me that is not the case.
So whatever comes and whatever goes I will be doing it, but I haven’t made my mind up to do something specifically. But definitely I won’t be running from show to show and standing there in posing trunks at the age of 50 and to prove to everybody that the older I get the better I look because I’m like old wine. That’s not going to happen.
[ Q ] Can you ever imagine yourself walking around at 220 pounds with 15 percent body fat some day?
Whatever comes, comes. You cannot count on always being big, but right now I am still here at 310 pounds and I’m still working out five or six times a week. But I don’t think I will carry this body into my 60s and to impress everybody wherever I go. I will do bodybuilding the way I like it not necessarily combined with the competition aspect, because why should I still compete? I have been competing for 22 years in a row.
A funny thing with people is they are always asking when my next show is. I ask them if they can remember my last show and they can’t and at the end what does it matter if I did 53 pro shows, 73 or 93 pro shows. At the end of your pro career what you should have besides you health and a couple of titles is an income generated from what you have done all those years.
It wouldn’t be a good thing to have a bunch of shows under my belt and a couple of titles and no money. The purpose of being a pro bodybuilder is, besides health and titles, money otherwise it doesn’t make any sense to turn pro. I don’t want to be 60 and tell other people, “This was me 25 years ago, see how I looked,” and to be living in a trailer park. It doesn’t make any sense.
One guy who did it very smartly was Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not everybody can be an Arnold Schwarzenegger, but you have to give the guy major credit. He had a career as an athlete, as real estate tycoon, a movie star and in politics. He had four careers.
Most people don’t even have one career so when people are that successful you really have to give them credit. And again I don’t want to be reduced to my red posing trunks and to be doing a front double biceps and a side chest pose.