The Last Word

Confessions of a body builder The Tuna DiariesA Body Builder’s Confession


By Howell Tucker

I’m going to do it. I’m going to get up on stage in a tiny posing suit and compete in a bodybuilding show.

I don’t know why it’s called a “suit” – it looks more like a string bikini bottom. But considering the workout routine, diet, body shaving, tanning and staining, the stress of hitting your exact weight on the exact day you need to, water depletion and the exhaustion . . . wearing the suit isn’t so bad.

I’m 42 and have been training seriously for four-and-a-half years. In my only other competition, as a 39-year-old, I became Mr. Tallahassee 2004.

This go-round, there was a competition set for April 22 in Panama City and another the following Saturday in Lake City. I was lucky, getting two shows from one diet.

I started my diet in January. The goal: to lose maximum body fat while maintaining maximum lean muscle mass.

I weighed 216 pounds when I started, with about 8 percent body fat. My target weight to fall into the light-heavyweight class is 195 pounds, with 4 percent body fat.

My diet regimen is basically this: carbohydrate deplete, carbohydrate load, and lots of protein. For five days, I get no more than 20 grams of carbohydrates per day, then for two days I get about 500 grams per day. Protein stays around 350 grams daily. Repeat every week for 13 weeks. The idea is to force the body to burn the fat it has stored, then add back carbohydrates to maintain muscle mass. I also drink at least a gallon of water a day and supplement with amino acids, Glutamine, Arginine, Creatine and as mentioned, plenty of protein.

On the diet, I have no dairy products, bread, pasta, fruit, beans or alcohol. This limits my “deplete” food choices to tuna (lots and lots of tuna), beef (on occasion), chicken breasts, egg whites, lettuce, water and protein shakes. My “load” foods are plain oatmeal, sweet potatoes, peanut butter and the occasional carb drink.

On my workout days, I leave work and rush to the tanning salon. By 6:30 p.m. I’m at the gym, drinking the last of my energy drink and ready to go.

My workouts with a personal trainer are focused and extreme: three one-hour sessions a week. That’s all. There is cardio, but luckily it’s not on workout days. After workouts, I am exhausted. I get sore, sometimes for four days after a workout. “No pain, no gain” is true.

A week out from the show, I don’t work out, switch to distilled water and cut my sodium intake. I start to deplete water on Wednesday afternoon until I basically drink no water for two days to lose the subcutaneous water right under my skin. If there’s no fat and no water there, guess what shows? Yep, muscles and all the hard work!

My last competition, I lost seven pounds the last three days before my weigh-in. I was tight, like shrink-wrap.

On Thursday, I start to paint a dark bronze stain on my skin. I sleep on old sheets and wear old T-shirts, because it rubs off and doesn’t wash out. The stain shows muscularity and counteracts the bleaching effect of bright stage lights. You look as though you have a dark tan on stage – but like a mahogany coffee table off it. It takes about two weeks of washing and scrubbing to remove.

The weigh-in is simple. Dressed in your “suit,” the judges weigh and place you in the appropriate class. This is nerve-racking. Am I going to hit my weight? Should I have dropped more water? I try to weigh in a little under 195, just to be safe.

Then I go home and eat foods high in protein and some simple carbohydrates to help pump up my muscles with much-needed glycogen.

On show day, I weigh (just for self-check), inspect my staining, and pack my bag with posing oil, music, an extra posing suit, a towel, rice cakes, jelly, a little water. Judging takes about 3-4 hours, depending on entries.

The evening show is when the fun happens. We perform our own poses to music for 90 seconds as friends cheer us on. It’s awesome.
It’s over. I leave to go drink lots of water and Gatorade and eat lots of food.

After all the dieting, a pizza and some Diet Coke never tasted so good!

At the Southern USA Bodybuilding show in Panama City, Tucker weighed in at 190 pounds with 3 percent body fat. He placed first in the Men’s Over 40 Heavyweight Class, and overall first place for the Men’s Over 40 Class. At the Gateway Classic in Lake City, he placed first in the Men’s Open Light-Heavyweight Class. Tucker is an IFPA certified personal trainer, AFAA certified group exercise instructor and a Zumba certified instructor. Go to for information.

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