Rich Piana grew up in California. His mother was a bodybuilder and Piana began lifting at age 11, and entered his first contest 4 years later. By the time he turned 18, he already held several titles including Mr Teen California. Piana continued to compete for the next 25 years or so. He also made cameo appearances on shows such as The Incredible Hulk and Scrubs. He is the primary focus of the documentary Generation Iron 2. In 2014, Piana admitted to taking steroids since he was 18 but that it was worth the risk. He later went on record urging bodybuilders to avoid steroid use. After leaving the world of competition, he founded a supplement business called Rich Piana: 5% Nutrition and becoming a social media personality. Piana passed away in 2017 but his social media sites still have millions of followers. Piana was 6 feet tall and weighed anywhere from 220-300 lbs. contest weight vs off-season weight.
Rich Piana’s Diet
Piana was a big guy who advocated eating big. He would consume up to 8 meals per day, going heavy on the protein. His diet contained all the usual bodybuilding choices like egg whites, chicken breast, whey protein, oatmeal and brown rice. He liked to mix things up to not get bored, but he also sometimes cut corners, like mixing his protein straight in with his oatmeal rather than doing any cooking. He also didn’t deny himself and if he had a urge for a particular food, such as burritos or ice cream, he’d let himself have it.
- Low Carbs 25% 25%
- Medium Fat 25% 25%
- High Protein 65% 65%
Eat Big To Get Big
Piana said there’s no way to pack on the muscle if there’s no fuel in the tank. He would add energy every couple of hours.
Piana’s 10-egg white breakfast was all about protein. He’d also have 4 packets of fiber-packed oatmeal.
Cut the Carbs
To help keep any fat from covering up his amazing muscles, Piana’s evening meal would be low in carbs.
Consistency Is Key
Piana said the most important thing about being successful with diet is to stick with it. The occasional slip-up doesn’t make you a failure. Just get back on the plan at the very next meal.
Piana took his diet seriously, but that doesn’t mean he never ate anything fun. Burritos and Ben & Jerry’s were a couple of his faves.
What to Eat
What to Avoid
Fast Food (treat)
Piana on the Way To Grow Muscle
‘You gotta eat big to get big.’
Piana on his Favorite Type of Shake
‘Real food shakes. Those are my favorite.’
Piana on a Bodybuilder’s Diet
‘The truth is, for highly-competitive bodybuilders, everyone eats the same: oatmeal, chicken, rice. And everyone cuts carbs out at night.’
Piana on Health
‘You need to be aware, educated, and willing to do whatever it takes to remain healthy and keep the body healthy.’
Piana on Weight Gain & Loss
‘I’ve gone up and down in my weight; I know my body. And for me, it’s easy to go up, or down.’
Rich Piana’s Fitness Routine
Piana didn’t follow a set routine. Rather, he would see how his body felt each day, and focus his workout where he thought it needed it most.
By any definition, Piana was a beast, but he was especially known for his massive shoulders. It is important to work all areas of the shoulders in order to appear rounded from every view.
Shape It Up
Piana did a lot of work on his lats to make his back and upper body broader, improving the appearance of his physique.
Up In Arms
Piana obsessed over his arms and would devote an entire day to working them.
Piana followed the classic bodybuilding approach to weightlifting by focusing on 1 body part each day.
Piana would work his hamstrings first to increase stability in his legs before moving on to quad work.
Cables Are Comfy
Piana often used cables for his flys. They offer more resistance and are less stressful on the shoulders.
Piana was famous for his 8-hour arm routine. He would do 16 mini workouts, alternating between 4 simple exercises every 30 minutes for 8 straight hours
A Sample Rich Piana Routine
Incline cable fly: 12-20 reps x 5 sets
Hammer strength incline press: 8-12 reps x 4 sets
Pec deck flat fly: 8-12 reps x 5 sets
Machine flat press: 8-12 reps x 5 sets
Standing cable crossover: 10-15 reps x 5 sets
Wide grip pull ups: 10-15 reps x 5 sets
Smith machine row: 8-12 reps x 5 sets
Behind the neck lat pulldown: 10-15 reps x 5 sets
Close-grip seated cable row: 8-12 reps x 5 sets
Wide grip assed pull-up: 10-15 reps x 5 sets
T-bar row: 8-12 reps x 5 sets
Bent-over cable row: 10-15 reps x 5 sets
Bent-over lat pulldown: 10-15 reps x 5 sets
EZ-bar front raise: 10-15 reps x 5 sets
Seated Smith machine overhead press: 8-12 reps x 5 sets
Dumbbell lateral raise: 10-15 reps x 5 sets
Smith machine upright row: 10-15 reps x 5 sets
Standing Smith machine shrug: 10-15 reps x 5 sets
Incline rear delt fly: 10-15 reps x 5 sets
Lying hamstring curl 10-15 reps x 5 sets
Single leg hamstring curl: 10-15 reps x 5 sets
Barbell stiff leg deadlift: 8-12 reps x 5 sets
Seated leg extension: 10-15 reps x 5 sets
Leg press: 8-12 reps x 5 sets
Hack squat machine: 8-12 reps x 5 sets
8-Hour Arm Workout
Skullcrushers: 10 reps x 4 sets
Barbell curl 10 reps x 4 sets
Single arm dumbbell extension: 15 reps x 4 sets
Dumbbell hammer curl: 15 reps x 4 sets
Piana on his Fitness Routine
‘Since I train instinctively and listen to my body, I have no set routine. I very much train by feel.’
Piana on his Fitness Challenges
‘My arms and chest were always the hardest for me. I obsessed over my arms for 32 years.’
Piana on How He Devises his Daily Workout
‘I usually listen to my body and train the body parts that I feel are strong for that particular day.’
Piana on Choosing Your Fitness Goals
‘You should build yourself according to your own body and be comfortable.’
Rich Piana’s Supplements
Rich Piana’s Lifestyle
Sleep: Essential for Growth
While Piana chose the risky path of steroids to grow as big as the Hulk, he also knew adequate sleep was mandatory for recovery.
Piana said that due to the pressures of competition, he had ‘no choice’ but to take steroids. While he urged others not to take steroids, he also offered advice on how to do so ‘properly.’
Unpleasant Side Effects
Piana admitted to experiencing some side effects of steroid use, such as enlarged breasts (gynecomastia) and hair loss, along with more serious ones like liver toxicity.
The Most Serious Consequences
Piana collapsed at home after several days of feeling short of breath and nauseous, early signs of cardiac arrest. Piana’s autopsy revealed that he had significant heart disease and that his heart and liver weighed more than two times that of an average adult man. His former wife said Piana knew his organs were enlarged due to steroid use, but did not know steroids could cause a heart attack.
The Five Percenters
Piana named his supplement company 5% on the idea that very few people will actually do follow through on what they say they want to accomplish.
Piana on His Steroid Use
‘I am totally 100% aware that damage is being done to my body by the choices I make.’
Piana on Why He Took Steroids
‘I was competing on stage and I was getting to the point where I was going to keep getting blown off the stage if I didn’t do them. So I took the step, and that’s the road I chose, and here I am.’
Piana on Steroids
‘If you have the choice to do steroids or stay natural, stay natural. There’s no reason to do steroids. You’re only hurting your body and hurting yourself.’
Piana on Achieving Goals
‘Five percent represents the percentage of people that are out there actually doing whatever it takes to fulfill their dreams.’
Rich Piana 5% Nutrition