How can I look like a professional athlete?. The Real-Life Diet of a Pro Bodybuilder Who Swears by Chipotle. Professional athletes don’t get to the top by accident. It takes superhuman levels of time, dedication, and focus—and that includes paying attention to what they put in their bellies. In this series, GQ takes a look at what pro athletes in different sports eat on a daily basis to perform at their best. Here’s a look at the diet of physique competitor Steve Cook.
Steve Cook is a handsome man. He is also a professional physique competitor, which technically makes him a bodybuilder. But physique competition is more about proportion than, say, swole-ishness. The tans are less intense. The swimsuits aren’t as tiny. And, as Cook puts it, there’s more emphasis on the whole body—face included.
“There are equations out there that the Greeks followed,” he says, explaining his philosophy behind muscle proportion, “where you take your wrist circumference and then spin out what your neck, chest, and waist measurements should be. You kind of use that as a guideline—you know you’re never going to be the ideal measurement—but it’s something to strive for.”
This is a pretty tricky game. The goal of weight-lifting is to get stronger and/or bigger, but Cook has to make sure that no single muscle group gets too big too fast. “Some people like having big, freaky body parts, but I like fitting into my suits,” he says. He starts off each week with progress pictures for assessment, and if anything looks too ripped, he scales it back. “After years of playing football,” he says, “my legs can get really big, to the point where they’re bigger than my upper body. That’s not a problem that most people have, but I have to tailor my workouts and back off of leg work—I can’t go too heavy, or I do more supersets without rest, kinda trying to break the leg muscle down.”
Cook’s diet focuses on buzzword-y macronutrients, building every meal out of a combination of protein, carbs, and fat. This means lots of avocado in the morning and salads at night, along with dessert made by blending vanilla whey powder with cashew milk and ice, which whips into a convincing ice cream.
But the biggest surprise is that Cook can maintain his physique while eating at Chipotle four times a week, with Chick-fil-A as a backup. His go-to is a double chicken burrito bowl, but he can customize to hit those macros as needed.
“For a long time, bodybuilders have been known to bulk and cut and bulk and cut, and you add mass, then reduce a lot by the time you get on stage,” he says. “I don’t, though, because I try to stay photoshoot-ready year-round and to always have a six-pack. So I try to stay somewhat lean and slowly increase calories. If you add quality mass slowly, you don’t have to cut.” Or at least not bulk/cut drastically. After a competition, he scales back on protein, bumping the other macros up to make up the difference and adding a half pound of weight a week. It’s kind of the opposite of what you’d expect. By keeping his “bulk” to just two pounds a month while keeping his workouts going, he’s able to add mass and maintain those cascading abs.
But that takes a lot of dedication and drive, so Cook is constantly goal-setting, working on Olympic lifts or training for a half marathon. And most importantly, he has an ideal model that he’s been working toward since he started bodybuilding.
“I picked a physique like Steve Reeves to emulate, which is what you need to do when you start off,” he says, referring to the bodybuilder who played Hercules in the late ’50s—and had maybe the best body in historypre–Cristiano Ronaldo. “For someone who’s not interested in proportion, that’s a bad fit. But I wanted my body to be like a work of art, so I chose him. Everyone needs a vision of what they want to create.”
Six egg whites, two whole eggs, oats with strawberries, avocado
Chipotle double chicken burrito bowl
Brussels sprouts salad with coconut animo and mustard dressing, chicken, rice
Cashew milk and Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey “ice cream”