By Duke Nukem
John Parrillo burst onto the national bodybuilding scene in the early 1980s. He made his reputation as a competition preparation expert for high level bodybuilders operating out of the Cincinnati, Ohio area. Parrillo combined hard science with cold empiricism and created a new breed of bodybuilder: massively muscled yet ripped and shredded. John was a bodybuilder that had become a successful power lifter. He expropriated many of the training tactics he used as a power lifter and applied them to bodybuilding. He also expropriated the power lifter’s high calorie/high protein diet. John noted how massive and muscular the combination of power training and power eating had made the top lifters of the day. At the time the lifters were much more massive than the bodybuilders of the era. John deduced that the combination of extremely heavy, high intensity weight training and high calorie eating was the key to growing maximum muscle size. He expanded the power lifters limited menu of training exercises and introduced high-rep sets and intensity enhancers to ‘round out’ the power lifting training template. He also was innovative in his use of cardiovascular exercise and formally integrated aerobics into the bodybuilding template.
John saw the good and bad aspects of the high protein/high calorie diet elite lifters were using to grow massive. The lifters were consuming lots of calories and protein; the negative part was the lifters were indiscriminate eaters and this created an unacceptable amount of body fat. John Parrillo cleaned up big-calorie eating by insisting that his bodybuilders consume only “clean calories” i.e. lean protein, fiber carbs, complex natural carbs, no more than 5% of daily calories allotted to LCT dietary fat, elimination of fruit, elimination of refined carbs and industrial foods. The Parrillo approach was formulated in 1970s and 1980s. In the early 1990s John’s strategies were written about extensively by Greg Zulak, the top scribe for Muscle Mag. Soon the Parrillo methods were being published and used on worldwide basis. Parrillo’s ideas about training and nutrition were controversial when first introduced. Over time, what was once controversial has morphed into bodybuilding standard operating procedure. Here are ten of the strategies John Parrillo used to revolutionize bodybuilding.
1. High-calorie clean-calorie eating: before John Parrillo recalibrated the conventional thinking, bodybuilders starved in the lead up to a show. The prevailing wisdom of the time was to “bulk up,” to get as large as possible in the off-season. This approach left the bodybuilder with an unacceptable amount of body fat to be rid of when it was time to swing into the show prep phase. The fat bodybuilder would then embark on a starvation diet in the lead up to the show. Starvation diets wreak havoc on lean muscle mass. John Parrillo insisted there was a better way and offered a radically different approach: in the off season, eat big but eat clean.
Lean protein, fiber carbs, MCTs and complex starch carbs. The Parrillo approach used clean calories and power training to build lean muscle mass in the off-season. The bodybuilder adds lean muscle mass in the off-season and rolls into the “in-season” in-shape and ready to get ripped.
2. The multiple-meal eating strategy: believe it or not, there was a time in the evolution of bodybuilding when the wisdom of dividing the day’s calories up into smaller amounts was criticized. The multiple-meal strategy was common-sense cubed: rather than take in 3,000 calories per day in three 1,000 calorie conventional meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner, eat six 500-calorie meals (or supplement meals.) Regardless the daily calorie count, there can be no debating that the digestion, assimilation and nutrient distribution is improved if the body deals with smaller amounts. The multiple-meal eating strategy has been a bodybuilding foundational principle since John Parrillo introduced the idea. John also championed the “supplement meal.” If the nutritional supplements were potent enough, they could be used to create the caloric equivalent of a clean calorie food meal. No one really thought too much about meal timing, spacing and caloric allotment before the Parrillo nutritional manual formalized the process.
3. Fascial stretching: there is something completely appropriate about weight training a target muscle and then stretching that exact same muscle. Heavy progressive resistance training compacts muscle tissue, time under tension, so what could be more physiologically appropriate than to stretch and elongate that same compacted muscle? Parrillo labeled his proprietary procedure ‘fascial’ stretching. Targeted fascial stretching is purposefully intense and taken to the limit. The targeted stretch elasticizes the fascia, the sausage-tubing that defines a muscle and lies beneath the skin. Parrillo fascia stretching, done repeatedly and consistently, loosens tight fascia and makes muscle expansion far easier. Fascial stretching is done between sets of weight training and ‘resets’ the targeted muscle before the next set. Parrillo has his bodybuilders pump the targeted muscle, stretch the targeted muscle and finally, flex the targeted muscle.
4. Resetting the Golgi-tendon reflex and the 100-rep belt squat: back in the late 1970s, John Parrillo helped a nationally ranked power lifter named Gary Benford revamp his squat training and technique. Using highly unusual tactics, Parrillo’s assistance enabled Gary to jump from a 661-pound personal best to a (then) 749-pound national record squat in the 198-pound class. Parrillo took this same strategy into bodybuilding. The 100-rep belt squat, done Parrillo-style, is designed to reset the athlete’s Golgi tendon reflex. Nature’s “kill switch” is set too low and by engaging in the extended set Parrillo belt squat, the unnaturally low trigger point is raised. A higher GT threshold trigger point allows the elite bodybuilder to handle more poundage and reps (across the board) in the classical bodybuilding exercises. More poundage and reps always equate to more muscle size.
5. MCTs: John Parrillo pioneered the use of MCTs, medium-chain triglycerides, as a nutritional supplement. CapTri® C8 MCT is an MCT oil used by bodybuilders to add clean calories, as needed when needed. John’s research of dietary fats led him to discover the many benefits of MCTs. Long-chain triglyceride, LCTs, classical dietary fat, is easily, quickly and preferentially converted into body fat. MCTs are preferentially burned by the body. CapTri® C8 MCT delivers 120 clean calories per tablespoon and has the caloric density of LCT fat, 9-calories per gram. CapTri® C8 MCT is a liquid that can be drizzled atop food meal or used as a cooking lipid. This high calorie/clean calorie supplement has obvious use for those looking to add lean muscle mass. CapTri® C8 MCT is also used by dieting bodybuilders looking to get maximally lean; the procedure is to “switch out” starch calories for CapTri® C8 MCT calories. This trick-of-the-bodybuilding trade allows a dieting bodybuilder to retain hard-earned muscle mass while cutting carbs and leaning out to sub-5% body fat percentile levels.
6. Aerobics: no one did cardio before John Parrillo convinced competitive bodybuilders to include cardio into the bodybuilding template. The prevailing wisdom of the 1980s was that bodybuilders needed to purposefully avoid aerobics. The experts of the day insisted that aerobics would ‘tear down muscle.’ This was the widely accepted orthodoxy of the day; Parrillo, against overwhelming opposition, insisted that cardio was the key to becoming big and lean. Cardio, Parrillo countered, would make for fitter bodybuilders, enabling harder, longer more frequent workouts. Cardio spiked the metabolism, accelerating fat loss. The widespread acceptance of cardio can be traced back to John Parrillo. The combination of high-protein eating, high-calorie eating, high intensity weight training and high intensity aerobics ushered in the era of the gigantic yet ripped bodybuilder.
7. Fasted cardio: no one thought about the timing of cardio exercise before John Parrillo postulated that the perfect time for cardio exercise was upon arising, before consuming carbs. The idea was simplistic genius: stored glycogen is at its lowest (carbs broken down in the body) upon awakening from the 6-8 hour fasting period we call sleep. If the bodybuilder were to engage in rapid-fire, Parrillo-style, high intensity cardio session coming off the sleep fast, the remaining glycogen would be burned off and now glycogen-free, the body would be forced to burn stored body fat as fuel. Go to any serious hardcore gym early in the morning and watch legions of elite bodybuilders performing ‘fasted cardio.’ Now you know where it originated. To “deepen” fasted cardio, Parrillo would have the bodybuilder stop eating carbs past 4 pm the previous day.
8. Targeted nutritional supplementation: John Parrillo went into the supplement business because he was unable to obtain the potent supplements he sought. John was an early supporter of nutritional supplements and was extremely dissatisfied with the protein powders made and sold in the 1970. At the time, most of the major brands of protein powder were made from soy beans. Parrillo Performance Products was launched and each and every Parrillo product was born out of a bodybuilding need. Parrillo Products is dedicated to combining potency with taste. The eternal challenge is how to infuse powerhouse raw ingredients with taste and flavor without resorting to high-fructose corn syrup, sugar or chemicals. Regardless the bodybuilder’s goal, Parrillo Performance Products has a supplement targeted to aid in attaining your specific physiological goals. At Parrillo, the quality goes in before the name goes on.
9. Hard and varied lifting and hard and varied aerobics: while John Parrillo is usually thought of as a nutritional wizard, his training strategies are equally as revolutionary. John came from a hardcore strength background that championed low rep/max poundage training. To that strength base, John added a masterful blend of moderate to high rep sets, thus covering all the rep bases. Parrillo was famous for conducting intense workouts that would start off using low-rep power sets for strength, then move to medium-rep hypertrophy-inducing sets before finishing an exercise with an ultra-high 30 to 100-rep final set. The Parrillo training approach completely decimates the targeted muscle. Parrillo was equally as demanding in his approach towards cardio. John had his bodybuilders work hard, right below the oxygen-debt threshold. Parrillo wanted the bodybuilders huffing and puffing, unable to hold a conversation and sweating profusely. The intense and frequent weight training is combined with intense and frequent cardio; the combined exercise effort was “supported” by high-calorie/high-protein clean eating augmented with potent Parrillo supplements.
10. The Parrillo matrix and the bodybuilding lifestyle: the training, nutrition, supplementation and stretching all blends together to form a comprehensive bodybuilding strategy, one designed to grow muscle and melt off body fat. The studious use and persistent application of the Parrillo strategies renovate the body to the greatest possible degree. The eating and supplementing enable the continuation of the hard and consistent training. The lifting, when combined with precision nutrition, builds muscle. The aerobics, when combined with precision nutrition, melts off body fat. The fascia stretching promotes growth and makes the bodybuilder more flexible. Potent Parrillo supplements “fill in the gaps” and make hitting daily nutrients goals easier, with greater consistency and accuracy. The entire Parrillo procedure fits together in such a way that results are optimized only when all the component parts are in place and practiced. The Parrillo system of bodybuilding is the personification of the bodybuilding lifestyle.
This list could go on and on. It was an arbitrary decision to stop at ten revolutionary ideas first propagated by Parrillo. Within just the training, he has an arsenal of progress stimulators. The title of his famed book, “50 Workout Secrets” says it all. The nuance he brings to nutrition could fill a thousand-page book. The Parrillo approach is the bodybuilding lifestyle. When high intensity training is in perfect balance with Parrillo-style nutrition, miraculous things happen to the human body and in the shortest possible timeframe.