Well, I did it. For years now, it’s always been a goal of mine to do a bodybuilding show, but I’m a small guy and not predisposed to the giant thick musculature that usually wins bodybuilding shows. With the advent of the Physique Division, I figured I should actually give it a shot one of these days. But thinking you should give it a shot and actually making the commitment to do it are two very different things!
Sometimes some of our goals become just a thing we talk about. We bring it up in casual conversation as if simply having the goal confers a large part of the credit from having accomplished it. “I’m interested in becoming a Big Brother to an at risk youth!” Ohhh so you must really care about children! Well no…you aren’t helping anyone by just being interested in helping. Its what you do that makes a difference. In a similar vein, I could not continue to tell me friends and family how much I intended to compete “one day.” It was time to follow through, and in order to establish stakes, I told two of my best friends that I would split the total cost of registration ($160 between NPC membership and competition fees) between the two of them if I did not compete on the date I said I would. In other words, either I was going to spend $160 doing something I’d always wanted to do, or I would spend $160 paying my friends for not following through again. Which of those two would you rather write a check for?
In order to prepare for this competition, I read a ton about contest prep on various message boards, websites, blogs, etc. Fitness and Nutrition is hopelessly fraught with Bro Science, which means you have to really work hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Or if you’re Paleo, to separate the Safe Starch from the FODMAP. The thing is, Bro Science is not all bad! Its essentially a collection of anecdotes that people have shared, through “tribal knowledge,” on how to accomplish your fitness goals. We can use science to disprove this idea or that idea, but you’d be a fool to reject anecdotal evidence out of hand before science has. I love science, but I’ll feel free to utilize both scientific studies and anecdotes to craft a diet and fitness routine that works for me, n=1.
That being said, my approach to diet for this contest was informed primarily by Layne Norton’s “Ultimate Cutting Diet” and Martin Berkhan’s Lean Gains approach. Obviously neither article agrees with the other one, but I absorbed what was useful to me and discarded what I felt was not. For instance, I find cardio to be an extreme inconvenience for me (this from someone who works out six days a week and weighs and measures all of his food). I could simply suck it up and do it, but I chose not to and my weightloss proceeded as planned. Also, I carried on eating breakfast for the first half of the cut, only switching to Intermittent Fasting in the latter half of the cut in order to make eating more convenient and for any other transient benefits it could offer (better nutrient partitioning, greater likelihood of fat oxidation, autophagy, etc).
In a nutshell, my prep consisted of:
- Eight weeks
- A very conservative calorie deficit, ~18%
- Weight loss of no more than 1 lbs per week
- Heavy, but low volume, barbell exercise
- Breakfast for the first four weeks, IF for the second
- No cardio
- Normal carb intake throughout, until the very last week, where I went very low carb.
First of all…the tanning. Wow. What a peculiar nightmare. Imagine being coated in wet paint and then being sent home for the night with the admonition not to rub any of it off. I slept in long sleeves, sweatpants, and socks and moved as gingerly as possible. It was a very strange day, and stressful too, since I couldn’t take a shower. Therefore I was constantly worried about sweating, but luckily Colorado obliged me with a brutal blizzard. Thanks for that, Colorado. Oh, I should mention that before the spray tan went on, I had to have everything. The less said about that the better. Moving on.
I woke up super early to begin my “carb up” (the attempt to supply the body enough glucose to refill the muscles with glycogen, encouraging a fuller look, without supplying so much that we retain water and lose that sharp definition.) I also went to the tanning salon for my second coat of spray tan. Yep, two coats. Madness.
The contest itself was fairly straightforward and extremely well run. I had read some horror stories of terrible experiences from competitors online and I’m pleased to report that the team at the NPC Denver Open ran a tight ship and things could not have gone more smoothly. There were only two individuals in my height class (Novice Physique – 5’8 and Under) and I took second, also known as Last. If you note in the picture I’ve attached, my competition was clearly heavier than I was and had much better arms and shoulders (and a better tan…how on earth? Was two coatings not enough??). Now, Fitness and Nutrition have been a huge part of my life for years and years and years. Part of me was shocked that I was the smallest and least “in shape” person at this show, and it was discouraging at first. The knee jerk reaction is to think that my genetics are what they are and I’m not cut out for this sort of thing. And that may well be true, but that’s a loser’s mindset, not to mention quite a boring one. What, that’s it? Just give up? No solution? Where’s the fun in that?
This competition was a wake-up call and a much needed slap in the face. I’m extremely comfortable in my own skin and I am extremely proud of what I’ve accomplished in terms of my own physique, but I think I need to revisit all of my preconceived notions as they relate to diet and exercise and give this another try in several months or perhaps next year.
- I’ve been eating low carb for so long that my concept of high carb is still very conservative. I’ve switched up my diet to that I’m consuming 2-to-2.5 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight to support the increased volume of my training.
- Due to this sharp increase in carb intake, Fat intake will need to be reduced accordingly.
- My arms and shoulders are clearly lagging, but really everything could improve, so I need to revisit my practices in terms of volume, load, and frequency.
- I settled on “Emptying My Cup” and trying out Layne Norton’s PHAT training exercise-for-exercise exactly as written. This increases my frequency of training, and also takes the decision as far as volume out of my hands. Interestingly, this routine also doubles or quadruples the volume of training for my shoulders and arms, so that’s a bonus!
I’ll check in here and there to keep you all up to date on my progress!!!