Body Opus: Dan Duchaine (The Steroid Guru)

Every avid reader will now and again come across a book that they simply cannot put down. For me, the diet book Body Opus (Underground Body Opus: Militant Weigh Loss and Recomposition, 1996, XIPE Press) by Daniel (Dan) Duchaine was one such book. I read Body Opus from cover to cover in pretty much one sitting, and have since re-read many of the sections numerous times. Anyone familiar with the bodybuilding magazine Muscle Media (figure 1) will be aware of Dan Duchaine, who was known in bodybuilding circles as the Steroid Guru. A self taught scholar with no formal qualifications, Duchaine was clearly a thinker and loved to theorise on nutritional and pharmacological maters regarding weight loss. The Ask the Guru column in Muscle Media 2000 brought his name into the spotlight and made him a mainstream (in bodybuilding terms) celebrity. He is also credited with the formulation of the dietary supplement Ultimate Orange, a stimulant drink that blended carbohydrates with the herb ma huang.

body opusFigure 1. Ask the guru was Daniel Duchaine’s monthly column in Muscle Media. Glimpses of the ideas contained in Body Opus can be seen in his Muscle Media articles.

In Body Opus, Duchaine attempts to communicate to the reader his understanding of the ultimate weight loss diet. As a concept, Duchaine saw his diet as a universal solution to the failure of previous energy restriction diets. In particular, Duchaine theorises a system that provides the maximum amount of fat loss while at the same time sparing the maximum amount of lean tissue, without the use anabolic steroids. He called his diet a ketogenic rebound diet, and it involved a 5 day ketogenic phase to deplete glycogen stored and increase fat burning, followed by a two day glycogen loading phase. The book is written in a very colloquial manner, but this gives the reader a personal sense of communication with Duchaine and I found the style very fulfilling to read. Many of the ideas contained within the book set it apart from other books at the time. Duchaine was widely regarded by many as a genius in his field, and reading his book gives a sense that you are standing on the shoulder of a giant.

The main problem with the book is that the diet he created was controversial because it was so difficult to follow. However, there is no doubt that ketogenic diets work and that his claims for glycogen loading are scientifically supported. In addition, the diet appears to detach too far from what many considered to be good health, mainly through the incorporation of so many simple sugars in the glycogen loading phase. This latter phase is also the most difficult part of the diet because it required consumption of large amounts of calories in a very short period of time. However, Duchaine was known to court controversy throughout his career, and Body Opus continues this trend. The front cover (figure 2) of the book itself it designed to portray the author as a renegade, and his previous book, the Underground Steroid Handbook, also followed this pattern. It is no surprise them that Duchaine attempted to push the boundaries of convention with his Body Opus work.

body opusFigure 2. The front and back cover of Body Opus by Daniel Duchaine.

While Duchaine admitted himself that the diet was difficult to follow, the controversy surrounding the actual diet should not overshadow the brilliance of the book. The book is a cornucopia of concepts and theories that Duchaine synthesises together in his own unique style. Duchaine’s understanding of energy restriction, physiological adaptation to starvation and the use of performance enhancing drugs in dieting were simply decades ahead of their time and in many cases have still not been surpassed. While Duchaine did not quite bring it all together into one universal theory as he envisioned, he still succeeded accomplishing a series of brilliant deductions on his way to that ultimate failure. Daniel Duchaine died in 2000 at age 48 from complication of polycystic kidney disease, four years after publishing Body Opus. They say the sign of a genius is not perfection, but originality, the opening of new frontiers. And to this end Body Opus is without doubt a work of genius.