As with everything in this world, there is always an expiration date. Yogurt goes bad. Lunchmeat goes bad. Leftovers eventually aren’t any good anymore. And the reality is that we are like lunchmeat and yogurt — we have a shelf life as well.
I’m not talking about death; that’s a given. I am speaking to the fact that every one of us has our “prime”, and in relation to bodybuilding competition, you have x amount of years and then things start to go downhill. We like to think that we get better and better over time, and a lot of us blatantly lie on social media, saying things like, “I am in my best shape ever,” when everyone else can see that is not true. Like yogurt or milk, things don’t go bad in a day, and you won’t all of a sudden know it’s bad. Daily, you will grab the milk, taste it, and think, “Is this going bad?” You will drink it anyway, because you can’t really tell and, quite frankly, you’re thirsty for some milk. Days will go by and finally, it will occur to you that this shit is not good. You are that milk and that milk is your bodybuilding prime. The only difference is that milk will have a date printed on the package to give you some idea of when it will go bad. Unfortunately, we don’t have that luxury.
Though I make a six-figure salary writing for elitefts.com, I do it more for the therapy of it. I guess you could say I’m not into the money as much as I am the psychological benefits that I get from spewing my opinions (some would say “drivel”) that are usually somehow related to my life, my training, my family, and whatever else might strike me. This may or may not be the case in this particular article. Don’t read into it; just know that if you haven’t reached your expiration date, you will, one day. And keep in mind what the realization might feel like when you do.
Image credit: kzenon © 123rf.com
Some of us invest more time and effort than others — decades sometimes. Some of us make more sacrifices than others by neglecting family, friends, social interaction, and a myriad of other things that most people would consider “living” to gain just another quarter inch on our arms or create another detailed line in our quads. I question whether the actual amount of time matters much, but what does matter is how you see your bodybuilding lifestyle and what it means to you over the years. The more of an investment someone makes, the harder it is to see that investment start to slip away. What usually starts out as wanting to get “big muscles” to impress girls, to be better at sports, or just to build self-esteem, turns over time into a passion that creates a constant and infinite challenge to continue to achieve a state of physical development that you have yet to achieve. Because this is infinite and there is no finish line, it would seem obvious that as long as someone is able to keep their passion alive, their quest would continue for years or decades — some for their entire lifetime. I started my journey at 14 years old, and after 34 years of living with this psychological disorder, I do not see an end in sight. That is not to say that I may or may not have spit the milk out, recognizing that the milk has begun to spoil.
Injuries are one thing. We all have them and we deal. Sure, as we age they can get worse, they can become more frequent, and they can become chronic. Still, we have ourselves convinced we are warriors, and as with anything that provides a positive benefit, we tend to see these obstacles as simply “paying our dues” or as necessary evils. It is easy to convince ourselves that injuries really aren’t as much about age as they are the amount of years we have been banging iron. I mean, what is the alternative? Sit on our asses, watching TV, drinking PBR, and eating Flamin' Hot Cheetos for dinner? Average people do those things and we have long been convinced that we are not ever going to be average. We will fight to do what is necessary to live the lifestyle that we are so passionate about. But why?
I cannot answer that, to be honest with you. My best guess is that we gain something even more beneficial from this dysfunction than simply a better physique. I would guess that there is a huge psychological component, from which doing this allows us to kid ourselves into believing that we are younger, and on a daily basis we are reminded when we go to the gym that we can still kill the shit out of iron. It becomes slightly less about the physical and much more about the therapeutic aspects of being in the gym, spending time with ourselves, and battling — battling what? Our aging body? Our nagging doubts about how we are getting older? Finishing a workout with a PR we haven’t seen in years? I am reaching here because I just do not know for sure what the motivation is.
Aside from injuries, slowly the metabolism changes over time. If you think you will carry body fat the same way at 45 that you do at 25, wait until you are 45. Body fat distribution is largely a result of fluctuating hormones, and as we age hormone levels shift, even if you are somehow attempting to control hormones by other means. You can fight it and prolong the inevitable, but there will come a time when you realize that you can’t eat as much as you used to and stay lean, and that you carry body fat differently than you used to.
Image credit: spotpoint74 © 123rf.com
Do you know what a side boob is? I do.
Do you know what it’s like to work your ass off getting lean as hell (just like you have always done for years) and end up being ripped but you have loose “old-man skin” on your abs? I do.
Do you know what it is like to be shredded like you are ready for a show in a tank and shorts and everyone thinks you are show ready, but when you take off your shirt and shorts, you are over 15 pounds away from being show ready from the back? I do.
Do you know what it is like to do a contest prep and have a myriad of health concerns that somehow crawl into your daily life out of nowhere? And I am not talking about a bad back or a swollen knee; I’m talking about ripping a blood vessel in your throat from swallowing a chicken breast that ends up causing upper gastrointestinal bleeding. I am talking about getting shingles for the second time in your life due simply to the stresses not only of prep, but of life, because you realize that on top of prepping for a show, you have to balance the rest of your priorities without neglecting them — like raising kids, running your business or managing your career, making sure that you have quality time with your wife and kids, dealing with cancer diagnosis of a family member or a sudden death of a friend, etc. Do you know what that's like? I do.
Now, imagine that you have lived your passion for so many years and if you don’t look in the mirror or give too much thought to your age on a daily basis, you actually feel you are in your early 30s. That might seem odd to someone who is 30—that someone in their late 40s would feel young—but wait until you are at that age and it will make more sense. So, you feel so much younger only to look in the mirror and be reminded daily that all of your efforts for so many years are not necessarily in vain, but those efforts certainly aren’t paying off like they used to. You can’t outwork loose skin. You can get leaner, but loose skin typically gets worse the leaner you get. In fact, most older bodybuilders with loose skin look even younger if they aren’t shredded, because then the skin doesn’t take on that “old-guy” look. Side boob will obviously be there if you are too fat, but also if you are too lean. Why? Because fat side boob turns into loose-skin side boob. Now, you tell me, which one is better? Both of them suck; just ask an old guy.
I certainly am not saying that getting old sucks. What sucks is getting old and being reminded that no matter how hard you work, there are things that are no longer in your control or that you have far less control over than you used to. Does it mean you can’t be in great shape and feel young? Of course not. In fact, being in great shape is probably the best way to counter aging, keep energy levels up, sex drive high, quality of life at an all-time high, etc. However, when you are passionate about being competitive and are willing to put in the work, you better understand that, as with all things in this world, it too has an expiration date. Sure, you can still drink from the carton after the expiration date, but how long? Eventually, everyone’s time runs out. And when it does, it leaves a really bad taste in your mouth. Just Sayin’.