You see them smiling. Standing poised, focused and in a state of jubilation. Some think they are crazy and have little regard for them while others idolize, respect and perhaps even aspire to be one someday. Whether they choose to do it professionally as a career, or simply for recreational purposes; the life of a Bodybuilder can be a very fulfilling and rewarding experience. But not without it’s share of hardships and tribulations. It was June of 2003, when I decided to train for and compete in the NY State Natural Bodybuilding Competition.
I had been a Personal Trainer for close to four years and been training routinely for almost seven years. Up to that point, my lifestyle of living in the gym and learning all I can about nutrition and exercise was strictly a hobby for me. An obsession, but a hobby nonetheless. I had met a group of really nice guys at my gym, some of who had previously competed in competitions, and they convinced me to train with them for the next competition that was eight weeks away. What transpired over those following eight weeks was an experience I will never forget.
We wasted no time preparing. The day immediately following our decision to train together, we devised a bulking diet for ourselves. The purpose of this diet was to eat as much as you can for three to four weeks of relatively clean food, such as; chicken, beef, fish, tuna, potatoes, vegetables and so on. I was consuming anywhere from 4000 to 5000 calories a day during that time. In conjunction to the high calorie diet, I was also drinking close to two gallons of water a day. This left me feeling very bloated, stuffed, and borderline sick.
There is not enough time in the day to prepare 5000 calories worth of food, so I had to supplement a lot by drinking high-calorie shakes often throughout the day at work. Taking in 340 grams of Protein a day further required me to keep all kinds of supplements, powders, potions, pills; you name it, at work to be readily availably to me. My office was slowly beginning to resemble a GNC store. Once I began to cope with the massive amounts of food I was consuming, I soon had another obstacle to overcome; the training. Never before had I trained like this.
This was the kind of training you only read about, hoping never to actually have to endure yourself. Every morning our day starting at 5:00am sharp. That’s up, ready and in the gym by 5:00am! We would do between 45 minutes to an hour of cardio on an empty stomach. Then we would go on about our day and meet back in the gym at 6pm, where we would undergo two hours of weight training. Two of the longest, agonizing, most punishing hours of my life, in which I was doomed to repeat day after day after day. Leg day was particularly difficult and grueling. I would sometimes get physically sick to my stomach on leg day.
But I chose to embrace it, just as I had every other aspect of my training. I was dedicated, focused and wanted to be in the very best shape of my life. After four weeks of our bulking diet, it was time to switch gears. The goal during the first four weeks was to put on weight. We were not too worried at that point how much of the weight came from fat or muscle; instead we were just focused on putting on weight in general. Now we would diet down and lose weight for the remaining four weeks. The goal here is to lose any additional fat we inherited during the first four weeks and be left with a more muscular, well defined frame.
Now my diet went from 4000-5000 calories a day to a minute 1500-2000 calories a day. This obviously took some time for my body to adjust too. As I have found out first hand, the human body is an extremely effective and adaptive organ, and will adaptive to just about anything we subject it to. The first week or two into this diet I was hungry all the time! I felt weak, unsatisfied and tired. After my allotted calories were met for the day, I could only turn to water, ice cubes or the occasionally indulgence of a rice cake.
In addition to cutting back on the calories, we also added a second cardio session at night and a meeting with a choreographer every morning. In the competition everyone gets sixty seconds to “free-pose” to a song of their choice and perform their own personal posing routine. So we hired a choreographer to help tailor a routine that compliments each one of us. The sixty second free-pose routine is arguably the most important part of the entire competition. This is the time when you can suspend belief and really express yourself as creatively and eccentrically as possible while leaving a lasting, memorable impression on the judges.
Seven weeks into our training we were now meeting the choreographer at 4:30 in the morning, then cardio for an hour, and then back at the gym in the evening for weight training and more cardio. The days seem to get longer and more tiresome as the training continued. But this week is the most important as we have only seven days till the competition. Everything I have endured up to this point was soon to become welcomed. For I had no idea of the inferno I was about to experience. We must begin now what is known as carb depletion.
This is where you gradually deplete yourself of carbohydrates until eventually, your body is in the state of ketosis, a very dangerous state to be in that could prove fatal if left in this state for longer then a few days. The purpose of this practice of bodybuilders is, in the state of ketosis, your body is flushed of all carbs and relies on your body fat as its main source of fuel. Theoretically, any calories you burn while in this state are coming directly from fat. This is a good way, albeit not a safe way, to lose body fat quickly. My body entered ketosis two days before the show.
This is considered to be ideal timing. During this period, I was very weak, very sleepy, had absolutely no energy and I just wanted to do nothing. Really not a pleasant time at all. The following day, we had to seize any and all consumption of liquids. I never realized how important water was to me and how much I depended on it until this period. But we are trying to rid our bodies of every last drop of water under the skin to reveal that coveted, ripped, vein popping look. On the day of the show we all met at the diner that morning. We consumed large quantities of pancakes. That’s it.
No water, no liquids of any kind, no syrup, just pancakes. It was like swallowing concrete and could quite possibly be one of the most difficult things I have had the misfortune of taking part in. The reasoning behind this is our bodies have been in ketosis for the last few days, absent of any carbohydrates, a sudden influx of carbs, such as pancakes, will send glycogen flowing to the muscles essentially giving them a much fuller, healthier look for a few hours. We quickly rushed to the venue holding the competition, found our way to the contestants’ area and began preparing to be called out on stage.
There are weights in the room we use to get pumped up real quick, and then we have to help one another apply body paint, which gives us that “straight from the tanning bed” look. At this point, I could tell every single contestant present under that roof, myself included, just wanted to pass out. We have had no liquids and our bodies have been in ketosis for almost two days straight. We are hungry, thirsty, tired, and weak. Not to mention we are covered in a sticky, highly reflective paint from head to toe.
The last thing any one of us wants to do right now is stand in front of a bunch of strangers and hold seventeen poses for 20 seconds each while pretending to smile and be happy to be there. But that is exactly what I did. I remember a bit of the butterflies in my stomach feeling when I heard my name called to enter the stage. Like my first time playing little league baseball, hearing my name announced to come to the plate. A unique blend of anxiety, fear and anticipation overwhelmed me. It took every last bit of strength within me to abide by the judges request to strike the desired poses for them.
All I kept thinking about over and over again was the cheeseburger with fries and a vanilla milkshake I was going to get the moment this was all over. I somehow managed to make it through the mandatory poses and it was now my turn to do my sixty second free-pose routine. I had practiced really hard on my routine and I must say, the finished product was quite impressive. I chose a rather upbeat Metallica song to do my routine to, so it was semi-fast paced yet yielded some really nice poses that I know the judges would just love. I completed my routine flawlessly to the sound of hundreds of cheers.
That was a great feeling and one that I will not soon forget. Those were hundreds of strangers, people I have never met before, cheering for me? Wow, I remember thinking. simply, wow. The end of this long day and unforgettable journey was finally nearing an end. The announcement of the winners of the competition are about to be announced. My friends and I all held each others hands in support as we gave way to thinking how incredible it would be for one of us out of the fifty contestants to take home a trophy. It didn’t matter if it was first place, second place or third place, any place would do.
After what seemed like hours of jabbering by the judges, I heard my name called out for 1st runner up in the NY State Bodybuilding Competition. Shocked was my initial reaction. I honestly could not say anything. My brain would not coordinate with my mouth to form words. I walked to the middle of the stage where the trophy was being presented, got my picture taken, shook some hands and returned to my original spot on stage with my friends who were all physically and emotionally ecstatic for me. It was a day I will never forget and for that immediate moment, all I went through to get here was worth it.
I can honestly say, without a shadow of a doubt, this competition was by far the most mentally, physically and emotionally taxing event that has occurred in my life to date. I would not wish what I went through those eight weeks on anyone. I had to put every other aspect of my life on hold. No family, no girlfriend, no socializing, no vacation, no eating out, nothing! It is a bit of a double edged sword for me though. Having succeeded in this quest and adding it to my portfolio of life accomplishments, I know there is nothing I can not do, no goal unattainable if I apply myself and put my mind to it.
I have proven that. I have made some good friends throughout this venture, and learned many new things along the way. However, I am most certain I would not put myself through that again. Once was more then enough for me. I also walked away with a new understanding and appreciation for the professionals that do this for a living. The next time you watch a bodybuilding show on television or see one in a magazine, and you see them smiling and having a good time, just know they are really miserable and could pass out at any given moment from lack of electrolytes.