This is Part 2 of a look at preparation for and competing in a natural bodybuilding contest. Part 1 is HERE.
In my quest to keep growing I ate a tremendous amount of garbage and ultimately I developed gallstones.
At 31, this isn’t that outrageous in a fat American. But prior to this “bulk” I had never weighed more than 205 pounds, and my family doesn’t have a history of such things. Like so many people who will develop Type II diabetes because of poor dietary habits, I had earned myself an invoice of my poor choices.
It’s a pretty gross and ironic feeling: knowing that you are poisoning your body at an accelerated rate in the name of a competition based on subjective aesthetics.
I’ve read that your body is its most anabolic at 10-12% body fat—you will burn the most fat and build the most muscle in this range. As I packed on the pounds, and left this percentage in the dust, I became more sluggish. I needed naps constantly just to function.
My circulation decreased, my libido dropped.
I’ve never been strong, but I had finally built up to a 315 squat for 8 deep reps at my peak. I hit my first 300 pound bench in September, then hit 305 a couple of weeks later.
After that, it all started to fall apart. I found lots of reasons to explain why I'd stopped progressing, but the simple answer is that I was drinking too much and getting too fat. Don’t let this happen to you, because it will make your diet harder, longer, and you will lose more muscle.
The last week of December I weighed 230 lbs. I barely fit into any of my clothes, there was lots of cellulite on my ass, and my face looked like it had been injected with cheese and beer. Again, DON’T let this happen to you!
Perhaps you’ve seen the now-legendary photos of an off-season Lee Priest stuffing his face with junk, and then Lee in contest shape. He had lots of things that you and I don’t, among them superior genetics, excellent drugs, and many more years of experience.
DIET: THE CUT
I was happy to start the diet, because I looked and felt like shit. I began on January 3, 2010, fluctuating between 225 and 228. Shelby had me start on a carb-cycling regimen. There wasn’t a ton of cardio, my food intake was still high, and I started to get stronger again. It was nice to see the fat cells shrink as the scale dropped, the hint of cheekbones and a real jaw line coming back, and hitting a few PR’s here and there.
I stopped drinking and smoking completely, had absolutely no symptoms of the gallstones, and generally woke up feeling great (not hungover). In the first 4 weeks I dropped around 17 lbs, and was pretty sure that dieting wasn’t that big of a deal.
At six weeks in, I changed my mind: I dropped to a very low carb diet, cardio was increased, and coach scheduled one weekly cheat meal. This became my only solace, my only beacon in an otherwise lightless and joyless world. It was the beginning of a lengthy descent into a general malaise and indifference that only hunger and monotony can create.
Your body just doesn’t want to be as lean as necessary to get on a bodybuilding stage. It will revolt.
Here is what you can expect during the harder parts of a diet: constant hunger (this never really goes away, and food is all you can talk/think/dream about), frequent urination, headaches, apathy, madness! (I had bouts of The Crazy come on quite a bit from about 10 weeks into the diet), insomnia, feeling tired all the time, watching your training partners who aren’t prepping for a show get stronger while you get much weaker, feeling alternately superior/inferior to people (The Crazy), questioning the whole process constantly, stunning mood swings, becoming estranged from your old friends/habits, and much, much more. At least, that’s some of what I went through.
I don’t know anything about you, but I can assure you that you will absolutely be tested.
Oh, but that cheat meal! There is nothing so delicious as anything other than what makes you lean in the first place. I don’t care what anyone says: hunger IS the best sauce. Every week was something well thought-out, agonized over, and very different. Indian one week, Italian the next, all-you-can-eat BBQ the week after. In this way I was able to quell the cravings and reward myself for the self-imposed abstinence.
I ate quickly, like a dog, and without much enjoyment in preparation for the coming famine. One of my more memorable cheats, from my training journal: Seven pieces of Costco pizza, one 3/4 lb bacon cheeseburger, lots of fries dunked in BBQ sauce, two cream sodas, and one Dr. Pepper.
Eating this way when I was fat would have resulted in supreme discomfort, but the way that my body reacted to these cheats after weeks of clean dieting was bizarre. After the BBQ meal, I actually fell asleep in my roommate’s jeep on the way home from the restaurant. I assume that all of the sugar from the BBQ sauces and coleslaw and soft drinks and cobblers and more wreaked havoc on my blood: classic sugar dip.
One thing is certain: You can count on a fitful and sweaty sleep if you get after your cheat meals the way I did.
Shelby had me alternating high and zero fat days from week 8 onward, cardio was bumped up again, and I had to start splitting up the sessions. One day bled into the next, my mental clarity seemed to dull a lot, my energy levels dropped, and nights consisted of watching movies in order to avoid thinking about how hungry I was.
I had to stop training the traditional DC two-day split in favor of a push-pull-legs split. My lifts plummeted, I could no longer rest-pause anything, and everything seemed generally harder (waking up, prepping food, working, etc).
But I was getting lean.
My goal going into the show was to have the coveted shredded glutes. Since the early eighties, this seems to be the benchmark for absolute leanness and showing up “dialed in.” When it seemed apparent that I wasn’t going to get there, I mentioned this to Shelby. He suggested that I do a later show, but that was completely out of the question for me.
I just wanted to be done.
Weigh-in and Pre-judging
The Texas Shredder has a polygraph test that all contestants have to take before being eligible to compete. I took mine and was cleared to weigh in. Well before the contest, I misread the entry form (which I still think is somewhat confusing) and saw that weight classes were cutoff at 176.25 for middleweights in the open category (only for the Team Universe qualifier, apparently).
In fact, the Texas Shredder has only three weight classes for novice and open (no light-heavyweight). In light of this confusion, I asked Shelby to help me drop that last bit of water in order to make what I thought was the middleweight cutoff. This messed up my prescribed carb load/water cutoff, but I weighed in at a paltry 173! I had made weight!
I was thrilled, knowing that I would be one of the biggest middleweights. The other guys my height looked huge, so I was glad that I wouldn’t be standing next to them…
I went to sleep happy about making weight, but a little concerned that I looked so small and flat. When I woke up it was pretty much the same, and despite all the meals I had planned, my conditioning didn’t improve. I got my final touch ups on the tan, went backstage to pump up, and nothing happened.
All of that work! All of that cardio! All of that discipline!
My veins were like stringy worms, my muscles looked drawn, and I felt extremely small. To make matters worse, I found out that there was no light heavyweight class, so I would be standing next to guys coming in at around the 187 cutoff—almost 15 pounds heavier than me.
By now I was pretty disappointed. I had thrown off the plan by insisting on making a lower weight class unnecessarily, and I was so depleted that I didn’t stand a chance. Despite all of this, I felt decent during the prejudging, and although I am skeptical regarding the “natural” moniker on this show, I actually had fun going through my routine.
I was fairly confident that I would be the only competitor doing a vacuum, and when I hit it, there was a collective gasp in the audience. While this may have been revulsion, it was absolutely satisfying at the time.
I left the auditorium and went on a feeding frenzy prior to my nap before the evening show. At that point I was pretty sure that there wasn’t much I could do to make matters worse, so I ate a large pizza, a half pound of BBQ, a carrot cake cupcake, a double cheeseburger, fries, and a diet coke. I still couldn’t have any fluid according to the plan, and my muscles filled out for a minute. Then I took a nap.
I started to flatten out again before the evening show.
Only the top five competitors would be allowed to do their posing routines due to the size of the classes. I was pretty sure that excluded me. Based on Shelby’s advice, I was entered in both the novice and open classes in order to get more on-stage experience. I didn’t get called out for the novice class, and was looking forward to the next meal with my friends, but I made the top five of the middleweight open class.
This was a shock to me, but I was stoked to get to do my routine. I posed to the Deftones “Change in the House of Flies.” Not only was this a totally rad ending to my long journey, but also it was uniquely satisfying to pose to that music instead techno and 50 Cent jams. The sound system left something to be desired, but I didn’t care. Other than my conditioning, it went off without a hitch.
I didn’t win my first contest. I placed fifth.
At the beginning of my prep, I was absolutely sure that I had a good chance of winning (hey, I was 230!). But given my physique and where it was compared to other athletes, that was extremely unrealistic. The big weight-drop-the-day-before-the-show-blunder sealed the deal.
My goal was to do a show, and I did everything in my power (short of being clear on weight classes) to come in at my best. For now—right now—that is victory enough. Perhaps next time things will be different.
WHAT IS NEXT TIME?
I gained 20 lbs from the Friday night before the show to the Monday morning after. At 193 I felt reborn, with snakes for veins in my arms, a fullness in my chest, back, and legs, and very deep cuts all over. In the days that passed, this morphed into a decent amount of water retention and a gradual softening of my entire body, but I felt great.
No more headaches, no more interminable cardio sessions, no more hunger pangs.
When I wrote this I was around 200 lbs, and looking forward to redemption at the next powerlifting meet September. I’d been following the 5/3/1 protocol, and all of my lifts were quickly closing in on surpassing my personal bests.
I’d started running hills and pushing the Prowler at least four times a week. Training was fun again, which might have been the best reward of all.
The process taught me a lot, and I’m hoping that recounting it here will inspire some of you to do something similar. Testing yourself, your limits, and completely transforming your physique are certainly perks, but the cumulative effects of the struggle will continue to manifest themselves in various ways for the rest of your life.
In this way you will learn a great deal about yourself and continue to grow, eventually leading to the best possible version of you.
Make it happen,
Resources for the first-time bodybuilder:
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