Transforming Together (Part 2)

TAGS: compete, starnes, figure, bodybuilding, diet, Nutrition

How Two Training Partners Changed Their Physiques and Lives

In March of 2009, I was contacted by Nate and Donia, training partners from Iowa who were looking to get into better shape. Eight months later, they both competed in their first competitions (bodybuilding for him and figure for her) with completely transformed physiques. Here’s a peek into their journey and the struggles and joys that they encountered along the way.


Shelby: What made you decide to compete? When did you decide to compete?

Donia: Nate has always wanted to do a show. When I agreed to do one with him, I don’t think I had actually convinced myself that I really could. I have scoliosis, and I did not think that my back could be straight enough or symmetrical enough to achieve the look that I needed to compete.

I think it’s good to have goals, no matter what they are. A goal is a goal. Deciding to compete gave me more reason to get to the gym every day. Plus, I thought it would be a great way to close out one of the most productive years in my personal life. I can only hope that in the coming year, I can spread this focused productivity into other areas of my life as well.

Nate: I decided to compete because my wife told me to shit or get off the pot, which was about ten weeks into the initial twelve-week consult. It had been something that I had always wanted to do but never got around to doing. For anyone reading this, you can do it no matter what level you’re at and no matter how you think you will do. Just do it. It will not only make you a better bodybuilder but a better person. The last six months have been some of the most productive months of my life. I got a ton of work done remodeling our house, I got another job, I got a sponsorship for our show, I worked 36–50 hours a week, and I still got in all of my cardio and weight training. In addition, I was still a good husband and “father to my dogs.”

Another huge factor was my wife’s wedding present to me. She was able to get a hold of Mark Dugdale (a professional bodybuilder) and convinced him to let me come out to Seattle and train with him. Meeting him and his training partner and having dinner with his family was a testament to the great people that we have in this sport and the direction that this sport needs to go in. Watching how he balanced life, religion, family, work, and bodybuilding is something that I aspire to.

Shelby: Tell us about your pre-contest experience.

Donia: I was actually surprised at how my body has adapted to intense cardio, dieting, and training. It took so long to get my metabolism rolling. But once it did, it was hard to slow it down. I feel fortunate that I spent much of my pre-contest trying to put on more muscle, increasing my caloric intake with good quality foods, and doing less intense cardio. I really only “pushed” hard for about four weeks.

My new favorite way to pass the time doing cardio is to watch movies on my portable DVD player. It really makes that 60 minutes more tolerable, especially at 4:00 a.m. on the weekends before work. Nate introduced me to DC training, and it took me a little bit to catch on to the rotation. However, I really felt like I had made some progress with it. I don’t think we’ve decided exactly how we will train post-show.

In terms of tanning, we used different products, and I think we each got the results that we were trying to achieve. I maintained a tan through tanning beds for several weeks prior to the competition. I used ProTan. If you’re spraying it on, use a drop cloth on the floor. This is a must. The bottle says to spray it on a brush, but we sprayed it directly on me from about a 12-inch distance. It went on perfectly. The first coat was the most difficult and time consuming because we had to make sure that it was even, well-distributed, and not splotchy. After that, each coat took about 15 minutes. Also, by spraying it on like we did, the mist unintentionally hit the tops of my feet perfectly so each time we finished, I blended it into my ankles and legs.

We avoided elbows and knees during spraying and blended at the end of each coat with the foam brushes. I wore loose fitting gloves (so that there wouldn’t be a distinct line around my wrists) to protect my hands and nails. We just used the almost dry brushes at the end of each coat to blend my forearms into the tops of my hands and wrists. I wandered around literally naked wearing soft, fuzzy, half size too big flip flop type sandals for 30 minutes. Then I had no problem wearing loose fitted clothing in between coats.

I ended up only getting on six coats before the show. Next time, I won’t start the night before my last cardio session. I was so concerned about dripping sweat making streak marks that I didn’t put my usual effort into the cardio. I think next time I’ll shower, exfoliate, and shave on Thursday morning after my cardio and then start putting on the Protan.

Let the third coat dry completely (critical) prior to showering if needed. I didn’t have any build up anywhere so I didn’t shower. I showered quickly after my cardio on Thursday (after the first coat on Wednesday night) and didn’t dry my legs fast enough. I had some streaking that was very easy to fix with the next two coats. I didn’t put anything on the morning of the show. This way I had ample time to dry overnight and not risk streaks from sweat, water splats, or clothing. With my six coats, I was still darker than the girl who actually won. Next time, the application process will be the same for me. I’ll probably do four coats on Thursday, four coats on Friday, and nothing the morning of the show again.

The JanTana glaze was a must have. It provided the perfect sheen that the judges were looking for. I’ll talk more about that in the next question. I didn’t use any JanTana over my Protan, and I’m glad that I didn’t experiment with that. I may play with that sometime in the next few months.

It’s amazing to me how much suits cost. And how many places there are to get them new or used, decorated or plain. It’s difficult to know what will look good on you because if there isn’t a maker nearby, there isn’t a place to go try things on. In addition, purchasing ten weeks in advance is common. So, it was probably one of the most costly and stressful aspects to the process. But, I know now what I will do for the next show.

Honestly, I’m terrible at remembering to take pills so getting into a supplement regimen was difficult for me. ALA is difficult for me to stomach. I get terrible reflux from it. So I take it before a meal if I can and follow with carbs to hold it down. It works for me. I take BCAA in pill form because I can’t stand the flavor if it’s dissolved in anything. I never missed my chocamine. I got hooked on peanut butter because it felt like a little dessert and gave me something to look forward to. By far, green tea extract and fish oil were my least consistent supplements. I prefer fewer pills so drinking lots of strong green tea early on was my routine.

I sought out an experienced figure competitor who has also been a source of motivation and inspiration for me. She also helped prepare me mentally and get organized for the show. I was so grateful for her willingness to help a total stranger. It’s important to have a mentor and friend.

Nate: The pre-contest experience is something that you just need to go through to understand. I’ve tried dieting down in the past but never to this level before. Everything goes great up until the last 3–4 weeks when your calories get really low, your cardio increases, and you have a lot more low days than high ones or even medium ones for that matter (which are the worst in my opinion).

Cardio is something in and of itself. It ends up being a part-time job when you get closer and closer to a show. When you only have 30 minutes to do, it is nothing. But when you get out to 45 minutes to an hour at a time, you need to start doing things to keep your mind occupied. I read a lot of motivational type books (The Secret, The Alchemist) and watched a ton of DVDs on my portable DVD player.

I had some of the best training of my life. We mostly stuck to a DC style template throughout the whole preparation, and if we changed, we would still use the same style template with a push, pull, and legs. It allowed us to track our workouts, and we knew if we were progressing or not. I was setting personal records workout after workout, and Donia was making some of the best strength gains that I’ve ever seen. Pound for pound, she is so much stronger than me, and I know she can push herself further than me workout after workout.

We’ve never had a bad workout together, and even our off workouts are still good. I would never workout with a guy again if I had a choice. Donia walks in the door without an ego, and there’s no competition. It’s just us pushing each other to do better and better every workout. I think that is the key factor in our success with this transformation—consistency. We didn’t miss meals, we didn’t miss workouts, and we didn’t miss cardio.

Everyone is looking for the secret in this sport, for that one supplement that is going to take them to the next level or the right training program. They analyze everything and think about it over and over again. All they really need to do is to think, “Ok, every day I’m going to eat X amount of meals, do X amount of cardio, and get a progressively better and better workout.” Do that day in and day out for weeks, months, and years on end, and you’re going to be better than you were the year before. I lived that way for a long time—jumping from training program to training program, diet to diet—and I never got the results that I wanted.

Supplement wise, we were pretty basic. I have to thank Trueprotein for making some of the best products that money can buy at a great price. I used a protein mix of 50 percent cold, filtered whey isolate and 50 percent egg white protein. I used branch chain amino acids pre-, during, and post-workout and before I did my cardio in the mornings to avoid losing muscle. I used green tea, Gaspari Cytolean, and chocamine for fat burning purposes. I hated the chocamine, but it was a necessary evil that I needed to use. It went great in coffee with a Trueprotein Dutch fudge flavor pack.

Shelby: How about the actual contest experience itself?

Donia: The final week was interesting. I’m glad that we went up to Minnesota five days prior to the show. I think getting there three days early would have been fine, too. I wanted to get there prior to the start of the fluid, sodium, and diet manipulations. We stayed in a condo, which was totally the way to do it. We had covered parking, a kitchen, and everything we needed nearby including a Costco, fitness centers, grocery stores, and restaurants. So in terms of accommodations, it went exactly as I had planned.

How I would feel after cutting out water…not what I expected. Between the cotton mouth and headache, I didn’t feel well. So I was glad that I brought some Excedrine Migraine (with caffeine). It also helped me to get outside and go for a walk, roam the mall, or whatever. Just get out, regardless of the tanning products that I had on at that point. I hardly slept at all the night before the show. I think it was because it was my first show, and I hate not knowing in general what to expect. I’m sure next time I will sleep. It was fun getting up and eating our first meal together (I made a barbeque cheeseburger on grilled sourdough…yum!). It wasn’t too difficult to eat on fluid restrictions. The worst part was arriving at the venue and seeing the majority of competitors wandering around drinking water. There were literally flats of bottled water everywhere to drink! It was worse than being around any junk food in the last ten months.

I definitely wasn’t expecting the number of competitors at this show. I expected it to be a little smaller. I didn’t expect them to have so much help for us backstage either so that was nice. Many of the girls were very willing to help each other out as well. I wasn’t expecting to be as nervous as I was on stage during the first round out. It got better as the day went on. I definitely didn’t bring the poised girl from my one day out pictures to the stage so that was my fault. I didn’t realize that until I saw pictures of myself onstage. I recommend having someone take pictures of you on stage so that you can see what you really look like, not what you think you look like. It gives you a lot of perspective.

Regardless of the stress, the whole process really was fun and a great experience. It was a great day just to be able to step on that stage!

Nate: The final week was nerve racking. I wanted to get onstage so bad that sitting around carbing up, posing, and applying tanning products was so boring. I just couldn’t stop thinking about the off-season and how much I wanted to get back into the gym. It’s really hard to go from doing tons of cardio and getting in the gym day in and day out to doing nothing except eating, posing, and laying around.

Shelby: Tell us a bit about your post-show experience. Are you "done" now? What's next?

Donia: I’m excited to get back into the gym and continue to challenge my body. I had been achieving goals in the gym often, which is a big confidence booster for me. I want to compete again, but I want to give myself some time to “grow.”

I will continue to work with Shelby indefinitely. I will continue to train with my training partner for as long as he will have me. I feel very proud that I made it onto that stage. I do feel like it was the grand finale of my year, and I’m so glad that Nate and I were able to do it together. It truly made it that much more special.

I’m also feeling extremely emotional. How do you thank someone for changing your life? For saving it? And how do you repay them for that? To Shelby, a simple thank you could never express how grateful I am to you for what you’ve done for me. You changed my life. To Nate, thank you can’t sum up all of the things that I want to say either. How can I ever repay you for saving my life, changing my life, and pushing me forward to continue to challenge myself?

Nate: I have a long-term goal of going to the NPC Jr Nationals or Jr USAs. I’m just along for the ride right now and want to see where my body and my will can take me. I have a lot of growing to do, and time will tell how that weight goes on. It has been one week since my show, and as of now, I’m up 30 lbs from my competition weight. It’s mostly water weight, and cardio has really helped to keep off more water that I know my body wants to put on. I was back in the gym Monday morning hitting legs. I had high days every day this week with cheat meals every night, and I’m still ravenous with hunger.

After talking to Shelby, I will be doing a show in nine months. This gives me a set timeframe to make the kind of changes that I need to make, and it gives me time to make them. I really want to do either an East Coast show or a West Coast show as opposed to the Midwest show. The competition is so high in those places that it will give me some strong motivation to step up and get to my goal.

Shelby: What advice would you give to others in situations similar to yours (starting a transformation, possibly competing)?

Donia: Just take things one day at a time. Don’t get caught up so much in long-term goals because that will bring you down. Just think about changing your life. Transforming your life and yourself is a step in the right direction. Don’t worry what other people think about what you are doing, and pick your battles wisely. Include the people around you and share your knowledge so it doesn’t seem like such a foreign lifestyle.

Learn how to balance your “old life” with the “new life” and make them work together. Until you go through this, you have no idea how this changes your life. You may learn more about yourself than you ever thought possible. You may even learn to love the person you are and that you become like I have. It’s both an emotional and gratifying ride.

Nate: Hire someone who knows about contest preparation (Shelby Starnes). Have them show you what you need to do. In that, you learn so much about yourself and how your body reacts to diet changes and what type of cardio works for you. A nutritionist will lay out the plan for you, but you are the one who has to do it. In the end, you’re the one who accomplishes your goals.

Consistency is also a major factor. Once you start stringing workouts week by week and month by month and cardio sessions week by week and month by month, things are going to change for the better. Don’t miss meals, don’t miss workouts, and don’t miss cardio.

Shelby: Thanks for the interview.

Shelby is currently working with both Donia and Nate on off-season plans to help them bring up their muscularity while minimizing fat gains. Stay tuned to EliteFTS for more updates as their transformations continue.

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