Bodybuilding icon Frank Zane understood the need for discipline en route to earning his three Mr. Olympia titles. In a recent The Menace podcast, Zane discussed the low-carbohydrate diet he consumed almost year-round and explained how he used sunbathing as a drying-out process for contests.
Frank Zane, a legendary bodybuilder from the “golden era” of bodybuilding in the 1960s and 1970s, continues to inspire thousands with his admired physique. Alongside his consistent training approach, Zane incorporated meditation, visualization, and positive self-talk into his regimen, which likely contributed to his progress and focused mindset during workouts. Throughout his career, Zane achieved three Mr. Olympia victories.
While competing actively, Frank Zane sought to master all aspects of bodybuilding, from building muscle, tanning, posing, and training routines, his methods saw him reach the top of the sport, where he pushed the pace against legends such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robby Robinson, and Franco Columbo.
Zane, a living encyclopedia of bodybuilding knowledge, is 80 years old, but his passion and experience shine during workout demonstrations. The three-time Mr. Olympia joined Mike O’Hearn for an unusual training session comprising of exercises he implemented at the peak of his career.
Having made a name for himself with a low body weight and exceptional aesthetics, Zane cautioned against modern competitors adding size too quickly. He stressed that extra weight could ruin symmetry and proportions. Instead, Zane suggested that athletes improve extremities like calves and forearms to achieve a more balanced physique overall.
Frank Zane Talks Low-Carb Diet, Using Sunbathing Instead of Diuretics, & Max Weight During Off-Seasons
During his career, Zane used a low-carbohydrate diet consisting of 50 grams per day. He added that he consumed 200 grams of protein as well (equivalent to 1 gram per pound of body weight).
“I followed a low carbohydrate diet. I would get less than 50 grams of carbs a day and one gram of protein per pound of body weight, so I’d be getting over 200 grams of protein in a day and under 50 grams of carbs a day. That’s what I did the last few months before a competition,” Frank Zane said. “Fats… you know I really didn’t go overboard on fats, but I didn’t deliberately restrict my fats, I just didn’t eat a lot of fat. Now, I ate red meat but I always had lean cuts. I ate fish, you know which has good oils. I ate poultry, I really didn’t eat a high-fat diet either.”
Zane said his cardio demands were walking fast on a treadmill for 15-20 minutes a day.
“No [extra fats were added] right, it was a low-carbohydrate diet. I did some [cardio] but I didn’t do a lot. I generally did something at the end of my weight training workout. I’d take about 15-20 minutes on the treadmill walking fast.”
While he admits his diet was strict, Zane shared that he did what was necessary to be contest-ready. According to the bodybuilding legend, his max weight in the off-season was 200 pounds.
“I was strict and my metabolism wasn’t slow, but it wasn’t really fast either. I did what was necessary and got in shape,” added Zane. “I generally competed – my best weight for competition was 190. I never went over 200 pounds in the off-season. I stayed in that 190-200-pound range all the time. I didn’t look upon it as a diet, it was the way I ate normally.”
Zane revealed his protein sources were steak, fish, and chicken. He added that he now eats eggs for breakfast and fish for dinner regularly.
“I would not eat way more carbs, I never did that,” Zane shared. “I had red meat almost every day. That was steak, fish, and chicken, and in more recent times, I don’t eat much red meat now, I eat mainly fish. Eggs for breakfast, fish for dinner.”
The most carbohydrates Zane would consume was 150 grams in a day. He underlined that he maintained a rigid diet, especially in the eight weeks leading up to a show.
“No never [200-300 carbs] in off-season,” shared Zane. 150 grams of carbs as a high-carb day [is the max]. No that’s something I did all the time, pretty much, I just did it more strictly before a competition and it wasn’t just a few days before it was months before. At least eight weeks before. I did [carb up on stage] not a lot but a little bit, one day usually, if the contest was Saturday, I would carb up on Friday and Saturday morning.”
Zane explained that diuretics would make him lose excess water so he dried out by sunbathing in Santa Monica or Palm Springs.
“No [diuretics]. No, basically, if I did, I would lose too much water if I did that. The other thing, I sunbathed a lot, I would go out lay and the sun and sweat, and that was sort of a diuretic for me. Both, I had a place in Palm Springs, I lived in Santa Monica, I’d go there on the weekends for two or three days and get sun and come back.”
In light of the growing number of bodybuilders dying, Zane opened up about some of the dangers present in the sport today. Zane worries that competitors are taking bad advice. Moreover, he implied athletes are now using shortcuts with drugs and/or synthol implants instead of achieving a physique steadily over time.
Even in his 80s, Frank Zane remains dedicated to training and occasionally shares pictures of his current physique online. His timeless symmetry serves as a reminder that aesthetic appeal never goes out of style and motivates the rest of us to focus on our diets to achieve similar results.
The sport has certainly changed since Zane’s time on top, but his methods and practices still hold value today as aesthetic bodybuilders in the Open class continue to gain momentum.