BBC 2 Revealed: My life as a bodybuilder
- 6 August 2010
- From the section Health
For the last few weeks Revealed Extra's presenter Anthony Baxter has been on a strict bodybuilding regime for a BBC Two programme following teenagers pushing their bodies to the limit.
Here he shares his journey into the competitive world of teen bodybuilding.
I have always been active and if I'm honest that has been motivated by my wanting to look good. I consider myself fit and healthy. I eat a balanced diet and exercise three times a week. I've even run a marathon.
So I am up for this new challenge, living like a bodybuilder. But just days into an extreme programme of weight training, I'm already starting to struggle, and wonder just how tough this is going to be.
Bodybuilding isn't just about spending large amounts of time lifting weights in the gym. "It's a lifestyle", Dan, an 18-year-old competitor tells me. "It's the first thing I think about when I get up, and the last thing before I go to bed, it is everything to me." I want to understand his obsession.
To give me the "best" sense of what a bodybuilder would go through in the run up to a competition, I'm cutting out practically all carbs - so no bread, pasta, potatoes. Instead I'm living on chicken, white fish, egg whites and as much veg as I can eat. Let's not forget four protein shakes a day as well and no alcohol. It's a big shock to my system.
The training side is tough, but almost immediately I'm finding the diet side of the plan almost impossible. This is a huge change to my normal lifestyle and even by my first breakfast, it's starting to become clear that this isn't going to be fun. I'm already sick of the sight of eggs.
The first few days of training are ridiculously hard. I'm spending up to two hours in the gym lifting weights I've only ever looked at before. The heavier the weights, the fewer times you have to lift them, but the more your arms, shoulders, legs and all the other muscle groups ache and burn. I'm told that's good.
"That's when you're really building muscle," one young bodybuilder I'm training with tells me.
It is full on. Five days a week, every week, working different sets of muscle groups on different days.
End of first week
One week in, and I am faced with my first stumbling block at a friend's birthday party. Everyone is eating and drinking - it is a party after all - but there is nothing here that I am allowed.
I resist the sausage rolls for an hour or so, but then massively fall off the wagon and smash through a whole load of sugar, bread and pastry, washed down by one or two beers.
At the time it didn't really bother me that I had broken the rules but back in the gym I feel guilty, almost ashamed.
I wonder if I am secretly hoping for visible results from all the training. I notice that I am checking myself out more in the mirror and I feel I have cheated myself by not sticking to the plan.
I meet two 17-year-old bodybuilders in Newport who admit it is a vain sport.
A week and a half into the programme and I am exhausted.
I am training with a group of bodybuilders in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria and they tell me that is because I am eating as if I was about to enter a competition.
Bodybuilders go through different periods of bulking up by eating a less restricted diet to encourage muscle growth and then, in the weeks leading up to a competition, they diet to lose body fat and make their muscles look more defined.
I am experiencing the "worst" part of the diet, the boys tell me, and that is why I feel so tired.
I have been told there are no natural quick fixes when it comes to bodybuilding. But there are some who use steroids. That's not illegal, but there are thought to be health risks, and some competitions ban them.
I had to know if the lads I was training with would ever consider taking performance enhancing drugs. It is a tense, awkward conversation.
They all say they see them as part of the sport and that while they've not taken them yet, they would think about it in the future to stay competitive.
The aim of this experiment was never to radically change my body shape in a short time.
Instead I wanted to experience the lengths bodybuilders go to, both physically and mentally, to try and achieve their idea of perfection.
I have noticed some change, my arms are bigger, my abs more defined, and I like it.
However, I can't wait to get back to normal and have my first sandwich in weeks.
I completely recognise how much dedication and determination the lads have, sacrificing their social life at a time when most teenagers are out partying.
But it's not just the physical commitment. Mentally you really have to want it to spend all those hours in the gym, and to constantly think about what you can and can't eat. My journey has been interesting and I might even keep up some of the training but I won't be competing any time soon.
Revealed Extra: Addicted to bodybuilding is on BBC2 on Saturday 7 August at 2pm.