From Powerlifter to Bodybuilder – Why and How I dieted to 7% Body Fat – Part 3

In Part 1 and 2 of this series, “From Powerlifter to Bodybuilder – Why and How I dieted to 7% Body Fat”, I outlined the process of getting into contest shape for my first bodybuilding show on the 9th November 2014. It’d be of use to read those instalments before this one if you haven’t done so already. They can be found here – In this third part I will document the show itself, how I fared and my thoughts on the peculiar spectacle that is bodybuilding!

Final Preparations

The week of the show was now suddenly upon me and it was time to closely consider my approach for fine-tuning my physique to bring the best possible package to the show. This also brought about the most bizarre and comical time of the prep:

  • Bought ‘Dream Tan’ & Latex Gloves – tan for the day of the show and gloves to apply it
  • Got a Spray Tan – 3 coats for priming the skin to reflect my symmetry, conditioning and mass..
  • Bought Bodybuilding Trunks – Nothing much to say here…
  • Had to shave the whole body – Whole body has to be bare for competition. Weird.
  • CD Burning – My posing music (around 90 seconds) had to be on CD, I used the following track from Hans Zimmer – (3 minutes onwards for 90 secs)

I was questioning what I was getting myself into after this.. Anyway, it was now on to the ‘carb loading and drying-out procedure – water and sodium loading then halting’:

This was a complex process for me – reading around these subjects presented much confusion as I tried to work out an optimal approach. Because I was coming in fast each day of the final week i.e. still losing fat day to day and noticing visible changes in my body, I didn’t do a ‘true’ carb load. I continually woke up to changes such as increased vascularity (highly visible and prominent veins), more striations (when subcutaneous fat is so thin you can see the lines or ‘striations’ in the muscle) and marked definition. I was also starting to get ‘cross-feathering’ in my quads (which can be seen in Figure 1 below – excuse the tan..) and definite distinctions in my glutes too (one of the last muscles to ‘come in’). This is the reason why, when cutting body fat, it is so critical to not just pay attention to scale weight but also to how you are looking both in person and in the mirror.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Pre Show Posing - hitting a ‘Vacuum’ pose. Red circle outlining some ‘cross-feathering’ on the quads.

Moreover, it was pertinent that I lost as much fat as possible. Even though I was a first-timer, I wanted to come in as diced as I could and I thought this may serve to rectify my lack of muscle mass when show day came around. The general rule of thumb is that if you’re not the leanest you can possibly be by around Thursday-Friday of show week, carbing up is just spittin’ in the wind.

With all that taken into account, I consulted with my friend Chris (who I introduced in Part 2) and we decided to stick to the diet outlined previously till the morning of the show when I would break 2 and a half weeks of ketosis and have carbs to fill up the muscle with glycogen, in theory.

Sodium I was consuming was raised the week of the show to permit me to hold more water in preparation for water loading/halting and consequent drying out the day before the show:

  • Saturday 9am (before the show the next day): I started the unpleasant protocol of loading up on water. Believe me, when you are starving for food and on 900 calories, the last thing you want is to be full up on water! Eugh.
  • Saturday 11am: I cut out all extra salt completely and ate only foods very low in sodium.
  • Saturday 4pm: I continued drinking copious amounts of water until 4pm that day when I abruptly ceased my water intake. I wasn’t to have any water till the next day after pre-judging.
  • I also increased caffeine and vitamin C intake to act as diuretics.

This protocol is very similar to the one that many athletes will use to make weight for weight-class sports, such as Boxers or Powerlifters, and an exact approach for that day was forwarded over to me by Chris, so I have him to thank on how it set me up nicely. I woke up in the morning looking the leanest I had ever looked and I was dry too – 62.3kg bodyweight.

It was then time to start consuming carbs conservatively on the morning of the show – a couple of rice cakes every hour or so and a cookie or two with some dark chocolate shortly before stepping on stage. Me and Chris both knew I would probably look rather ‘flat’ (where your muscles will look less dense/smaller because of a lack of glycogen in the muscle) regardless of my carb intake that day.

But this was the gamble I was willing to take rather than spill over on carbs to look ‘full’ (dense and large) after being in ketosis for as long as I had. Ideally, for a show you want to look dry and full, end of.


Show Day!

I entered in the First Timers Category (any bodyweight) in the IBFA Silver City Classic held in Aberdeen, Scotland. It was a local show and provided an ideal opportunity for me to compete in my first show without having to travel hundreds of miles!

Ideally, being a natural Powerlifter/Bodybuilder I would have liked to compete in the British Natural Bodybuilding Federation (BNBF – or the United Kingdom Drug Free Bodybuilding Association (UKDFBA –

However, neither had any shows until 2015 so I opted for this show which was governed by the International Bodybuilding and Fitness Association (IBFA). I was just grateful to be able to compete at all and the organisers and competitors could not have been sounder.

Figure 2
Figure 2: The Silver City Classic Poster

The pre-judging was at 2pm on Sunday (where the majority of judging takes place), this included mandatory posing rounds (some of which can be seen in Part 1&2 of this article series) and then your own individual posing routine to music of your choice.

The night show was around 6.30pm, where traditionally this is done to entertain the audience and it followed the same format as the pre-judging.

There were 4 competitors in my category and once my tan was applied, I watched some of the earlier stages and ‘pumped-up’ only 5-10 minutes before I was set to step onstage.

This allowed me not to over-exert the specific muscles and flood them with blood, which could serve to reduce my definition. This was just some band rows, curls, pull-aparts, push ups etc with some bodyweight calf raises and squats thrown in. In bodybuilding, judging is generally fourfold:

1. Mass/Muscularity – the amount of well-developed shapely muscle you carry on your frame.

Personally: Because I had never trained for muscular size and always focused on strength rep ranges as a Powerlifter (with no desire to move up weight class), this was certainly where I may have been marked down in regards to others. This lack of mass was evident at the low weight I came in at (62.3kg). I also had what I like to call certain ‘powerlifter weaknesses’ (things I had never been required to train very frequently) – calves, biceps etc.

2. Symmetry – this refers to the balance you have on your frame in regards to the left and right hand sides of your body and your upper and lower body i.e are your legs too big in proportion to your upper body or is your silhouette not pleasing enough?

Personally: I am no bodybuilding judge, but I feel that my symmetry and shape in this show wasn’t too bad from side to side and top to bottom.

3. Conditioning/Definition – a thin-skin appearance stripped of fat that shows muscle detail such as striations or fine lines – judges must be able to see clear distinctions between the muscle groups.

Personally: This is where I knew I may fare better than others as even though I didn’t compete as diced as many top naturals, I was still defined with good conditioning. I had made this the focus from the start because of my lack of mass and muscularity.

4. Posing/Presentation – how you present yourself onstage – are you confident in showing off your physique?

Personally: This was something I may have been marked down for as well. Although not too bad, my posing and showmanship could have been sharper and more confident. Importantly, I COULD HAVE SMILED MORE ha ha..

Figure 3
Figure 3: Why So Serious?! Some of the poses from my individual posing routine - as you can see I’m not smiling, something I just couldn’t seem to do when I was trying hard to flex…

Results and Reflection

I walked on stage and the blinding lights hit my face, there was strangely not much going through my head at all. All I absorbed was the MC calling out the commands and the shouts from friends who had come to spectate.

This included one from my pal Steven I still remember: “There we go hams in the class!!”. Still makes me laugh watching the video back.

It was then time for the individual posing round in which you take the stage by yourself. I was presumably evidently nervous as I performed Frank Zane-influenced poses for 60-90 seconds. Walking off stage, I could then feel the surging adrenaline I had carried onstage.

Waiting for the final placing’s was tense but in the end I ended up scooping 2nd place with a qualification for the British Finals!

Well well well…What a peculiar spectacle a bodybuilding show is. As my friend Robbie said best –

“Any sport that involves removing body hair, wearing fake tan and posing in a very small pair of pants is not to be taken too seriously.”

Figure 4
Figure 4: Collage of photos from the warm up room post-show after my 2nd place finish

He is right, particularly for someone who does not bodybuild as his chief pursuit. There is no doubt that it was a very different experience from Powerlifting but in retrospect, it was a very fulfilling experience – particularly the hard dieting and waking up witnessing a metamorphosis of your body occurring day after day.

You obviously cannot control external factors such as the shape your competitors attain in bodybuilding, but I just wanted to look the best I could. I finished what I started – that’s probably what meant the most to me from this experience.

Ultimately, I still hold that aesthetics are not a leading passion of mine but I just cannot deny respect to the people that do it and what they have to endure to look as good as they do. With such an about-face, knowing that I could tolerate such discipline and self-control in a very different way from what I’m used to in Powerlifting is a very fruitful and edifying reflection.

I’m genuinely not sure what was worse though – the dieting or the Domino’s coma which started the night of the show and which I suffered for many days following. If anyone is thinking of doing a show take satisfaction in the fact that it won’t be very hard to be bigger than me..

Figure 5
Figure 5: Top 3 from the first-timers category. From Right to left – Me in 2nd place, 1st Place and 3rd Place.

From Powerlifter to Bodybuilder and back again eh! Part 4 will be up next week where I will outline how you can get in the best shape of your life too with lots of tips from the trenches! Thanks a lot for reading.

Share article

Blog Categories