Competing in a natural show was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Even though it was three years ago, the experience still sticks firmly in my mind and has been enough to dissuade a repeat return to the stage.
A recent journal article submitted by Eric Helms, Alan Aragon and Peter Fitschen tracked some of the main physical and psychological changes that occur through rigorous dieting and exercise protocols.
The journal article can be read in full here or you can get the Cliff’s Notes via this infographic.
Of particular interest was the discussion on the hormonal, mental and physical changes that occur as I experienced many of these effects first hand and could verify through blood work.
“Heart rate decreased from 53 to 27 beats/min during preparation and increased to 46 beats/min within 1 mo after competition. Brachial blood pressure dropped from 132/69 to 104/56 mmHg during preparation and returned to 116/64 mmHg at 6 months after competition. Percent body fat declined from 14.8% to 4.5% during preparation and returned to 14.6% during recovery. Strength decreased during preparation and did not fully recover during 6 months of recovery. Testosterone declined from 9.22 to 2.27 ng/mL during preparation and returned back to the baseline level, 9.91 ng/mL, after competition. Total mood disturbance increased from 6 to 43 units during preparation and recovered to 4 units 6 mo after competition.
I noticed that my testosterone and thyroid levels dropped considerably during the dieting phase. I noticed some strength loss, but the drop off in strength was ironically more acute AFTER the end of the diet for some strange reason.
I became a lot more susceptible to colds as my immune function went into self preservation mode. My hair thinned out A LOT. I was ALWAYS cold no matter how many jackets I wore. My skin became pallid and gaunt. Sex drive was non-existent. I was COMPLETELY emotionally detached – not due to any narcissistic focus, but because food became a waking obsession. Usually I’m emotional and empathetic, but I literally didn’t care about anything beyond my next meal. I’ve heard of Roid Rage, but I don’t think it has shit on Food Rage.
In retrospect, I’d do things differently by;
1) Not going for that ultra shredded condition I achieved for my first show. Being my first contest, I was unsure and insecure about being “lean-enough” knowing that conditioning wins shows at the natural level. I’ve noticed the pendulum swing more to a less shredded, fuller look reminiscent of the 50s-60s bodybuilder, so maybe in Australia at least, the standards are changing. For me personally, I’d rather step on stage looking something like this;
than the emaciated concentration camp look that was dominating contest wins during the last few years.
2) Not dating a bitch. If you’re going to compete in bodybuilding, not dating anyone is a better solution if a tendency towards extremism is your guiding compass. If you can find that supportive rock that can help and be there for you, your battle is a good part won.
3) Minimse the supplement use. The study cites creatine, beta alanine and caffeine as being research tested ergogenic aids. I’d add in a few extras to the mix as but not the amount I was shotgunning before in the hope that “anything and everything might help”.
4) Hire a coach. I thought long and hard about this one as there’s nothing more gratifying than racking up a victory and singing, “I did it myyyyyyyyy wayyyyy” at the end of the long journey. The reality is that competing is a mental game as much as it is physical. Having supportive people around you is vital. Well wishers that blow smoke up your ass and tell you how great you look when you really don’t is bordering on sabotage. An independent, qualified set of eyes to steer you during the course and give you advice where needed will remove a lot of the psychological “second-guessing” that plays itself out during the final 6 week stretch.
5) Nutrition – Yes I’d still use intermittent fasting approach as I think it’s a superior protocol for fat loss. I don’t know if I’d go as extreme as running something like Lyle’s UD 2.0. I think it’s the most effective fat loss protocol out there, but at 1200 calories a day, it’s brutal. I’d run it for maybe no more than 3-4 weeks once I’d exhausted other avenues. Once I hit my desired condition, I’d add back in some calories and carbs two weeks out to fill out the muscles and “grow into the show”. Keeping to the guidelines outlined by Layne Norton’s Peak Week protocols – basically keeping your sodium on the high side the last day or two and keeping fluids coming in (as opposed to the conventional method of cutting them out) has worked wonders for myself and numerous other natural competitors.
6) Training – I’d use something like Norton’s PHAT or Wendler’s 5/3/1 routine for the first 4 weeks to maintain strength and muscle to their optimum. I’d run Waterbury’s PLP of HFT Program 4 weeks on 1 week off to bring up stubborn bodyparts (arms, calves) by training them everyday. For the last six weeks I’d run Haycock’s Hypertrophy Specific Program hitting each body part twice a day, 5-6 days a week. 10 days before the show I’d start a gradual deload (still training at twice a day but at 50% of max) to allow my muscles to soak up the higher calories and begin pumping the carbs into the muscles). I still wouldn’t do cardio. I’d only run a small amount of bike or stepper work to bring out the leg vascularity or pull the sled a few times a week.
I feel a comeback blowing in the wind…..
** My brother filmed a short documentary he was doing for a film class in the lead up to my competition. I’m embarrassed as hell to put it out there to the public since I hate seeing and hearing myself on camera and I feel like I looked like shit, haha. Three years now feels like a thousand years ago…..