When people look at bodybuilders, they always see the end product. They see the tan, abs, striations… but what about the process that lead up to that point? The grueling workouts, meals, cardio, sleepless nights, time and money spent… This blog is going to reveal the sacrifices that a bodybuilder makes to achieve the end product that everyone sees as they step on stage. If you think bodybuilding is something you would like to do or are just interested in learning more about the sport, this blog is for you!
Making the Decision
Any decision that you make first starts as a thought. That thought weighs on you as you consider your options. My decision to start bodybuilding took place over the course of a 4-year period! The thought started in 2011, during my junior year of high school, when I was training hard with my buddy and his girlfriend’s stepfather, who happened to be a former bodybuilder himself. You can read more about that in My Breakthrough Story if you haven’t read it already. I didn’t fully commit until December, 2015 when I announced to friends and family that I would be competing in my first bodybuilding competition in June.
What lead me to want to get into bodybuilding? Well, there was a couple reasons. First, the aesthetics of bodybuilding appealed to me. I remember thinking, “a body can really look like that?!” Although some people say they “would never want to look like that,” it was attractive to me. Next, I looked at the discipline required in this sport as a challenge. I didn’t know everything that I know now but I knew it wouldn’t be easy to achieve anything like that. The challenge motivated me then and still motivates me today. It’s hard, not everyone can do it, and those two challenges made me want to do it even more!
Of course, anyone can try it and say they have done it… but not successfully. Successfully, meaning less than 5% body fat, displaying every muscle in your body, dried out, and tanned up. Basically, a walking anatomy chart. Now, these aren’t my standards, these are the standards of the most elite bodybuilders, the Olympians (Phil, Jay, Ronnie, Arnold). Those who successfully achieve those standards is limited to a small majority of our population. I wanted to be different. I wanted to be a part of that small majority. I realized at a young age that I was not created to just fit in, and I never intended to.
Another important factor, I was passionate about weight lifting. For some people, exercise is a chore and they dread doing it! However, it was the exact opposite for me. It was something that I looked forward to. It was my release from any stress that I had going on at the time. If I didn’t know any better, I could have been at the gym for hours and hours, every single day. There were days that I actually ended up being there for a couple hours because I felt good, loved what I was doing, and needed it at the time. So, my passion for iron was another key determinant for me.
Adversity, “adverse or unfavorable fortune or fate; a condition marked by misfortune, calamity, or distress.” Once you have made the decision to start bodybuilding, the next obstacle that you must overcome is adversity. Not everyone will agree with or support your decision. Bodybuilding is a very misunderstood sport, probably because so few people actually succeed at doing it making it rare to find and learn from one of the elite.
Due to the lack of knowledge, people usually have a lot of questions. You may not have all the answers at first, I know I didn’t, and that is okay! I didn’t know it at the time but bodybuilding is all about learning and it takes time. You are already well ahead of the game by reading this because I’m taking part of the learning curve out of it for you. I wish I had something like this when I started out.
Facing adversity was my biggest obstacle when I started out and it was the sole reason that it took me 4 years to fully commit to this sport. I faced adversity from outsiders as well as my “friends” and family. Eventually my family came around as they saw my passion for this sport but some of those “friends” never did. I was finally able to commit to bodybuilding when I stopped caring about what others may think. Not that I didn’t care about those people, but I realized that those who truly loved me would support me and always be there for me.
Also, I didn’t want to be judged as vain or selfish. The reality is, bodybuilding is a selfish sport because of the time and commitment that it takes (we will discuss the time commitment later). However, those weren’t the reasons that I wanted to take up bodybuilding. I wanted to get into bodybuilding for the challenge and my passion for weightlifting, to show others that it could be done if you worked hard enough and never gave up. That is still a big motivator for me today.
You are also going to face adversity when you are training and dieting. To achieve the physique that you have always dreamed of, you will need to push yourself out of your comfort zone. When you are running on only a couple hours of sleep, will you be able to finish that last heavy set or will try to justify skipping it by telling yourself what you have done was “good enough.” If you have that mentality then you will get beat, time and time again because there are guys out there running on less sleep than you who will finish all of their sets AND do an extra one for good measure.
What about dieting? It’s late at night, you’re tired, but you still have a meal to get in. Do you tuck down for the night or do you lose a little sleep to get that meal in? Most people are afraid of losing a little sleep, so you know where they are headed when that situation happens. Remember, if you want to be successful then you can’t be “most people.”
Another scenario, you are preparing for a show. You are about 2 weeks out, extremely dieted down, and are completely burnt out. You’re training and feel exhausted but you’re only halfway done with your workout. That’s just your workout, you also need to do cardio because you’re still 5 lbs over stage weight. What would you do? Of course, you’re all thinking that you would finish but when you’re actually in that situation it’s not that easy. When you are that dieted down it takes enough not to lose your mind, let alone force yourself to battle through a grueling workout.
Adversity is going to come at you from all directions. It is going to be overwhelming at first. It was for me. How was I able to get through it? My passion for the sport. If you don’t have the passion, then you won’t handle these situations very well. If you don’t have the passion, then this sport isn’t for you. It requires too much time, energy, and sacrifice to do it for any other reason than your love of the sport. One of my favorite bodybuilders, mainly because of his personality, Evan Centopani speaks about adversity in the video below. He offers inspiring insight on how to overcome adversity, be sure to check it out!
Education and Discovery
There is a lot of learning when it comes to bodybuilding, especially when you train and coach yourself. The human body is so complex and hasn’t been fully discovered yet, and probably never will be. We are so beautifully and wonderfully crafted, and that fact is highly intriguing to me! However, there is a lot that we already have discovered about how the body works that we can learn about. To understand the premise of bodybuilding, how you can add the greatest amount of lean mass with the least amount of fat mass, you need to know EVERYTHING! With that, the learning never ends because we are constantly making new discoveries about how the body works.
So, what did I do? I taught myself. No, I never finished college but that doesn’t mean that I was done learning. I spent countless hours reading scholarly articles, journals, textbooks, articles on Bodybuilding.com, Men’s Fitness, T-Nation, and other great fitness websites! Any question that I had I would research until I understood it, and I had a lot of questions. I had piles of books, over-packed bookmark tab on my laptop, and almost no memory on my phone with all the information that I had gathered to be learned. I even went to the point of downloading college textbooks and printing them off so that I could go through them. From basic exercise science to biochemistry, I wanted to learn it all. Why? Because I understood that the more I knew, the more I could apply to my own, as well as others, training efforts (a major reason for starting this blog is to share all of that knowledge, from me to you).
One specific educational component that I want to talk about is counting macronutrients, or counting “macros.” This trend is far too common, yet very misunderstood. I hear people all the time saying, “I hit all of my macros today” or “I ate 200g of protein today!” The truth is, no you didn’t. Counting macros is not an exact science. If you strongly believe in counting macros, then I encourage you to eat exactly according to your estimated macros without changing a thing, and see how much progress you make. Click here to be directed to bodybuilding.com’s free macro calculator. If you are interested in working with me to receive a sound, effective program that will give you results, feel free to contact me!
Next, I had to take what I had learned and apply it. Without applying these things, I could never discover what would work best for me. Everyone is a little different, therefore, we all need to approach our exercise that way. When it comes to food, lifts, reps, sets, cardio, anything really, we need to do what is going to get us closer to our goal. No two people’s requirements will be the exact same. If they are, one out of the two isn’t getting better because they are trying to copy someone else instead of discovering what their own body requires.
If the thought of all of this scares you then maybe bodybuilding isn’t for you. Clearly, we aren’t just “meatheads.” If you are still convinced that bodybuilding is for you but feel the education part may be overwhelming, it still possible. Even professional bodybuilders sometimes hire coaches to take the thinking out of the sport. Again, I do offer my personal training and nutrition services online. Feel free to click here and contact me!
Bodybuilding is time consuming, plain and simple. I refer to bodybuilding as a sport but it is really a lifestyle. When you play a sport, you must show up for practice or the game and then you get a break. Bodybuilding doesn’t just take place in the weight room. It takes place in the gym, the kitchen, while you are sleeping… it’s 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. That fact turns a lot of people away from this sport. It’s demanding and it isn’t worth it to the majority of the population. That is exactly why I am writing this blog, so that you are fully informed on what it takes to be successful in bodybuilding.
Typically, bodybuilders are in the weight room for 1-2 hours, 5 days a week. Less time is required in the off season than pre-contest because you won’t need to be doing a ton, or any, cardio at this time. This is a general statement and doesn’t hold true for every single bodybuilder out there. For example, I train 7 days a week for about an hour each day. I wasn’t always able to do this but over time I have discovered how to train everyday without over training. This has been a very strategic approach that has worked for me. As you can see, working out doesn’t demand a lot of your time.
Even more time is spent prepping your meals. After you have discovered which foods work best for your body, you will need to prepare them so they are ready when it’s time for a meal. Discovering foods that worked best for my body took a very long time. I believe I have finally figured it out after years of trying different combinations. For example, I realized that I couldn’t eat a pound of potatoes before heading to the gym. I felt uncomfortable, I would sweat like crazy, just not a good situation. I completely changed my approach and now I work out in the morning and have something light before heading in. This has worked well for me so that is what I have done. It is also important to realize what worked last month might not work this month. Track your progress, listen to your body, and make changes as necessary.
Sleep is another important factor when it comes to time management. Without adequate rest and recovery, the body can’t grow. Getting at least 8 hours of sleep every night is a great target. That will allow you to get the rest that your body needs.
Between working out, work, meal prepping, and sleeping, that does not leave a lot of extra time for other activities. Also, we can’t forget about education and discovery because that takes time as well, especially at first when you have a lot to learn. I will admit that I let it consume me when I first started out. I completely isolated myself from everything, including friends. I still made sure that I had time for family, that will never change.
After hearing how time consuming bodybuilding is, you can decide whether you are willing to sacrifice going out with friends so that you can get your workout in. Are you’re willing to miss out on that party so that you can meal prep for the week? Bodybuilding requires sacrifice and that scares people away because most people like being comfortable. It’s not for everyone and that’s okay, but the choice is completely yours.
Another relevant topic that I want to address is the expenses that go along with bodybuilding. Simply put, it is not cheap. Food, supplements, gym membership, and competition expenses are some of the main costs that you will encounter. I didn’t realize all the costs associated with bodybuilding when I first began but I found out quickly. We will discuss each a little more in depth…
Food makes up the large majority of the total costs. To build muscle, you have to eat and eat often. Bodybuilders typically eat anywhere from 6-8 meals a day! As I’m sure you already know, protein should be included at every meal whether it be chicken, eggs, fish, yogurt… there are a ton of options. It is important to eat the ones that you enjoy but, more importantly, the ones that work. The only problem is that protein isn’t cheap! Especially when you’re going through 5+ pounds of chicken, a few cartons of eggs, and a tub of yogurt every week! You should plan on spending $200-300 a month on food alone.
Before I address the costs of supplements, I want to mention that they are not necessary. If you can get all of your nutrients from food, do it! However, supplements can give you an edge on your competition and are more convenient than food at times. For example, if you are in a hurry it is much easier to knock down a protein shake than to eat a chicken breast. I take a select few supplements that I trust and know are highly beneficial to me.
Before you purchase any supplements you need to do two things. One, ask yourself why you are planning on taking that supplement. Two, do your research! Is there evidence supporting this product’s claims? Is this product safe? During contest prep, supplements become even important. When dieting, chances are that you are deficient in one or more nutrients. It is extremely important to stay on top of this and supplement as needed. Extreme deficiencies can lead to serious health problems if they are not addressed. I recommend that you plan on spending $50-100 a month on supplements.
Quickly addressing gym membership and contest costs, they both will vary. Gym memberships typically cost $20-40 a month on the LOW end. Your location and type of membership will also affect the price. The cost of a gym membership in a bigger city will typically run more expensive than one in a small town. It is also important to keep in mind that family memberships will almost double that $20-40 value that I mentioned earlier.
Competition expenses are the expenses that you will encounter when you decide to hit the stage. Most bodybuilders only compete once or twice a year because of the stress associated with dieting at the level that it takes to achieve stage ready conditioning. After paying to compete, tanning, contest photos, hotel and travel you are looking at $300-500 on the low end once again. That is a significant amount of money, especially when you add that to everything else you are paying for!
Clearly, now you see that bodybuilding is not cheap. Food, supplements, gym membership, and contest costs really put a tent in your checking account. After adding everything up, you are looking at an extra $3,500 a year going toward bodybuilding alone. That is assuming you only compete once a year and every cost is on the low end! Of course, you could spend less on food and supplements to save a little change. Doing this, however, is going to prevent you from achieving your max potential. To be the absolute best that you can be, it will require a little extra.
So, there you have it. I hope that you have a little better understanding of this very misunderstood sport. If you were reading this because you think bodybuilding is something that you would want to pursue, what are your thoughts after getting first hand insight on what it actually takes to be successful? Drop a message in the comments or contact me directly. If you were reading this article just to gain a better understanding then you probably either in awe or think bodybuilders are obsessed. Remember, “obsessed is just a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated.”