What You Can Learn From a Natural Bodybuilding Competitor

October 15, 2015

What You Can Learn From a Natural Bodybuilding Competitor

The first Bodybuilding competition was held September 14, 1901 entitled “The Great Competition.” The main attraction and event promoter was Eugen Sandow, the man whose body is immortalized in the Mr. Olympia statue. Sandow’s physique was painstakingly crafted without the use of anabolic steroids, which wouldn’t be synthesized until the 1930s. When you look at the modern bodybuilder and compare them to Sandow, the difference is clear. 

The modern bodybuilder’s exaggerated musculature is borderline grotesque; the natural beauty of the human form is lost to a physique that looks like it belongs in a comic book, not on the cover of Men’s Health Magazine. If you had to choose between having a body that resembles Ronnie Coleman’s or Eugen Sandow, I would almost guarantee that you would pick the latter. The bodybuilding contests of today are filled with steroid-enhanced muscles and nearly no one emulates the body of Eugen Sandow except for one rare person, the natural bodybuilder.

There is no doubt that it takes more commitment, dedication, and sweat to garner a competitive body without the use of steroids, but those who take the short route and use the drugs are rewarded with magazine covers and supplement endorsements on top of first prize placement in competition.

In my opinion, the natural bodybuilder that chooses to build muscle the way Sandow did is the one who ought to receive the true glory of the contest, though they rarely win gold.

I sat down with one such competitor, a natural bodybuilder named Ray Schilke, to discuss the struggle of competing without steroids, and how the average Joe can learn from his routine and nutrition plan to build a show-stopping body of their own. This is what he had to say:

AJ:  How did you get into competing in the sport of bodybuilding?

RAY: I’ve lifted weights on and off for years. I work as a police officer and [got into great shape to do] a couple calendars for charity. I really liked the results I got from dieting and training. I decided to enter a bodybuilding contest before I turned 30—sort of a “bucket list” item. So, I began competing. One of them was in 2011, and I took second place in the novice [division,] returning... in 2013 where I won my weight class. I plan to compete in 2016, possibly in the new Classic Physique Division that seems to cater to smaller bodybuilders who aren’t willing to take crazy amounts of drugs.

AJ: What was your training routine like getting ready for competition?

RAY:  For my first contest I did one muscle group per day, with a partner, Monday through Friday. I believe it was chest, back, shoulders, legs, and arms. Having a partner enabled me to push harder and feel confident that I would not sacrifice my form or get stuck under any weight. Saturday and Sunday were cardio only. 

For my second contest I did a program called Y3T, which is a program devised by Neil Hill. This program has chest and triceps done on the same day, back and biceps, et cetera. I trained alone for the second show, for the most part, with the exception of the occasional crazy leg day with a partner. I focused on the mind-muscle connection and engaging the muscle with each rep. I would estimate I still trained weights five days a week, only the days were split up differently. Weight training never lasted more than an hour.

I did HIIT cardio for about 20 minutes. Most of my cardio was sprints on my street or burpees in my bedroom. 30-45 seconds balls to the wall, 60 seconds calm, repeat. Sometimes I would do the stairmaster at the local gym, just to give my legs a break from the high intensity stuff. To this day I am not sure which cardio was more effective. I like the HIIT because it was over with quicker; however, I really like the feeling after banging out 45 minutes on the stairs. I highly recommend a Kindle for steady state cardio. Reading a book, or listening to an audiobook beats the crap out of listening to the same songs each day.

The thing I personally find the most important in the gym is to train smart, without an ego. I am 33 going on 50 because of injuries from my job and I don’t feel the need to lift insane amounts of weight and risk getting hurt. Legs are the most important body part to train for a drug-free bodybuilder. Leg training supposedly causes testosterone and growth hormone levels to rise…[which] benefits all other body parts.

AJ: The definition, striations, and cuts bodybuilders get in their muscles are incredible, especially in the abdominal muscles. How do you guys do it?

RAY:  Nutrition is the end-all, be-all. I honestly did not do a single crunch or sit up for competition. Abs are made in the kitchen; period. I guess my only advice would be stay strict [on your diet] to get your abs showing, and if you want to keep the abs, limit yourself to one or two cheat meals—NOT cheat days—per week, and keep the cardio up, even in the offseason.

AJ: That is definitely the truth. Let’s get into detail about nutrition and getting those defined cuts and low body fat levels. What kind of plan did you follow?

RAY: I have a coach. I honestly do not know all the science and math that goes into the diet stuff. I went to my coach every week and did a nine-point pinch. This might not be the most accurate way, but it was the same guy, pinching the same spots each week. So we were able to tell if the fat was coming off. Diet changes were made weekly according to how well the prior week went. At the end of the week when I saw the coach, typically I was drained and ready to give up. After doing the pinch I would see that I burned two pounds of fat that week and gained some muscle. Then I was fired up for the next week!

My diet is very simple. I eat six meals a day, each three hours apart. Typically every meal is the same because I cook three to four days worth of food at a time, plus it’s cheaper that way. My primary food sources are hard boiled eggs, usually one or two yolks only, chicken breast, top round; whey protein shakes, Jasmine rice, sweet potatoes, and plain oats were my carb sources. Stevia is a godsend; so is cinnamon.

  • Week 1 was 35 grams of protein per meal, 35 grams of carbs per meal.
  • Week 8 was 45 grams of protein per meal, 20 grams of carbs per meal.
  • Week 14 was 45 grams of protein per meal, 70 grams of carbs per day for 3 days.

Those are just examples [of my specific meal plan.]

My macro calculations were done by the coach. He gave me sheets that told me how much chicken, in grams, I would need to hit 35, 40 and 45 grams of protein. It was weighed raw. This list included steak, fish, ground turkey, et cetera. The same applies for carb sources. So, each week he would tweak my macros. Usually the protein was constant, but the carbs would change week to week. Fats were just trace fats. However, later on in the prep we got into carb cycling, where I would have carbs for three days, no carbs for two, things like that. On the “no carb days” I would eat plain almonds to get fats for energy and fiber.

I take a fiber supplement, also. Fiber is super important because of the high amounts of meat that is eaten. Hemorrhoids are no joke!

AJ:Is it true about dehydrating for the “shrink-wrapped skin on muscle effect?”

RAY: I have cut water [for competition]. The “Christmas tree” in the back definition is something you notice when a bodybuilder is dry. It is tricky though because without water it’s tough to get a big pump to go onstage. It is a catch-22.

AJ: You mentioned fiber supplements; what about other supplements? 

RAY: I always take a fat burner because I cut out all energy drinks and I rely heavily on caffeine. I used creatine up until about a month out [from competition]. I also use a pre-workout drink. With the lack of calories, the pre-workout drinks and fat burners get me through the day. With protein shakes and PWO drinks, pay attention to the sugar and carbs. If it has any, subtract that from your total carb count for the day. Fiber supplements are very important, but make sure to pay attention to the sugar content. I also took BCAAs.

I will tell you that the fat burners, in my experience, are all the same. Some just cost more than others. [As far as] protein shakes, I prefer blends. There is one with seven sources [of protein] in it, from whey concentrate to casein. This one, in theory, has fast and slow protein so you absorb it for a while; seems to be the most cost efficient.

BCAAs… I think they might be B.S. All I ever hear is how important they are, but honestly they are expensive, and I never saw results from them.

Creatine is another one I am not sure of. It is said to be the most effective supplement ever

I usually took a multivitamin to make up for the lack of important stuff in my diet.

I never religiously took fish oils, but after I read that GYFT article, I am going to take one!

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