Joe just didn't feel right. He couldn't put his finger on how or why, and neither could doctors, but something was definitely wrong in the life of this 32-year-old. Nobody should open their eyes each morning feeling disgust over the day to come, but that's exactly what he was doing—over and over again.
But life has a funny way of sending rescue parties when and where we least expect them. One day, Joe opened up a marketing email—the type we've all deleted hundreds of times—and saw in it an opportunity to take what he recalls was a "leap of faith."
Fitness was the shovel that dug him out of the pit of depression he'd found himself in. Here's how he did it.
What was the spark that got you moving?
I never thought I would use the word "depressed" to describe how I felt, but that's exactly what I was from 2013-2015. It was bad enough that I was dreading waking up each day. I was miserable.
High levels of stress at work, not moving, eating like crap, and generally feeling terrible all combined, until I guess you could say I'd become a shell of my former healthy and upbeat self, both physically and mentally.
All throughout 2013 and 2014, I went to the doctor's, of course, to figure out what the hell was wrong with me. I didn't make much progress. By December 2014, I was heavier and unhealthier than ever, sluggish, and a miserable person to be around.
I knew this was not me, and I hated myself for it.
Weight: 178 lbs.
Body Fat: 16%
Weight: 165 lbs.
Body Fat: 9%
As if cued by my wife and brother, who had both suggested I go back to the gym, I received an email from my former gym—one of those marketing ones that said they "missed" me. "This is exactly what I need," I thought. Then, when I finally visited Gold's Gym in Norton, Massachusetts, I noticed all the signs posted throughout about their fitness challenge.
I'd only intended to sort of return to a gym routine, but I knew I needed to do something different to eliminate all the negativity in my life. Intrigued by the challenge, I signed up right then and there.
You'd worked out regularly in the past. What was it like getting back into the groove?
The challenge was exactly the motivation I needed. It also helped that I had people who were committed to kicking my butt. I worked with my brother, Anthony, and my assigned team leader for the challenge, Shayne.
They weren't interested in putting me on a plan that would be just for the competition; they wanted to help me make a lifestyle change—from what I ate to how often I worked out each week. The key was to make all of these variables prepare me for the challenge and sustain me through my life.
What were the biggest challenges you faced?
Throughout the 12-week challenge, I suffered a number of injuries to my back and chest muscles, all of which kept me doing mostly cardio for at least 4 of the 12 weeks.
It was tough, mentally, to avoid throwing in the towel, but Anthony and my trainer coached me so that I'd bounce back to my normal routine, continue with my meal preparation, and have the right attitude of getting better each day while recovering.
In addition to my frequent injuries, I had a tough time with diet—specifically, that I was supposed to be eating five full meals per day. This was new to me, so it was hard to avoid the mind trap of thinking I could miss a meal or two, lose more weight, and get closer to my goal faster.
Over time, I realized that would not be the case. In fact, it would hinder my progress, as I would not have the energy and nutrients I need to sustain my training and my overall well-being.
How were you able to make five meals a day work for you?
It was important to stay consistent.
First, I went with my wife to the grocery store on Sunday afternoon each week to get everything I needed for the week. I found that shopping once a week was much cheaper than going several times during the week, mainly because it prevented me from buying things I didn't need.
I also stuck to that classic advice—which I now share all the time—to stick to the outer aisles of the grocery store. This helped me keep my "see-food" impulses in check, as the inner aisles are typically stocked with processed foods and junk.
I also highly recommend buying different seasonings and spices, such as Mrs. Dash and FlavorGod. They're zero-calorie taste-bud-savers when you're eating chicken, fish, or turkey several times per week. Once these became habit, it was a lot easier doing the things I needed: hitting my meals, going to the gym for cardio and weights, and drinking enough water throughout the day.
Other than your family and trainer, what were your other sources of motivation?
Bodybuilding.com, of course! I love the many transformation contests here that help people keep striving for their goals, to stay competitive, and to forge new friendships on BodySpace in the process.
Plus, I rely heavily on the great workouts. My favorites are those from Hany Rambod featuring Jeremy Buendia, as well as all of Jay Cutler's workouts. I find that the FST-7 workouts are most effective for me, especially now that I want to continue competing in NPC physique competitions.
How did you get started competing onstage?
I'd always wanted to compete in the National Physique Committee. When I finished my first transformation, I registered for the NPC East Coast Cup in Connecticut, which took place on October 10, 2015. I have my coach, David, to thank for all the prep work. I came away from the experience absolutely loving it: the camaraderie, the energy, the life lessons, the palpable excitement onstage and off—everything.
Competing in the NPC physique class just feels right to me. This is what I hope to look like for as long as I can—in a sustainable fashion, of course. Plus, it's nice knowing that you can continue this sport well into your life.
I've forged many new friendships along this journey and aim to help those who are trying to accomplish their health and fitness goals. I plan on getting my personal training certification so that I can help others who were in my situation. I also have dreams of winning a Bodybuilding.com transformation challenge and entering the Bodybuilding.com spokesmodel search. I'll be entering both this year.
Now that you've undergone such a dramatic change, what can you tell people who want to do the same?
If you want to start, know that setting goals is easy, but achieving them isn't always. I'm a fan of "SMART" goals—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. Write down your goals and make progress toward them each and every day—no matter how small the steps are. This includes writing down what you eat each day or using a food-tracking app.
In addition, I highly recommend surrounding yourself with positive people, as having a great support system is crucial to reaching your goals. With the help of my family, friends, and a lot of discipline, I'm the happiest I've ever been. I haven't looked this good or had energy like this since high school.
I now know firsthand that if you're not happy with where you are in life, sometimes you need to take a leap of faith. In my case, it was joining my gym's challenge that made a significant difference in my life.
How did you do in the challenge?
I came in as the male local winner for ages 30-39! This was on top of the tremendous drop in body fat and weight throughout the 12 weeks and all of the impressive strength improvements I'd made.
For reference, I started the first week at 178 pounds and 16 percent body fat. By Week 12, I was at 165 pounds and 9.4 percent body fat. More impressively, I was able to bust out twice the number of push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups as when I first started.
Overall, I'm very happy with my results, and I continue to live my new lifestyle every day.
Supplements that helped me through the journey
The supplements I took really helped me feel great and energized throughout the day.
GAT JetFuel SuperBurn: 1 serving
GAT Nitraflex: 1 serving
GAT Muscle Martini: 1 serving
MusclePharm Glutamine: 1 serving
Diet plan that guided my transformation
I followed a plan consisting of five meals per day and a protein shake before bed, all spaced out evenly throughout the day. I ate this way because it fit my schedule and my body's needs and hunger level. I was hungry by the time I got to my next meal, but not starving to the point where I would cheat on my meal plan.
I stuck mainly with complex carbs and protein sources like chicken, fish, and eggs. I tried to stay away from simple sugars, eating more sweet potatoes, quinoa, and things like that for my carbs.
Remember, you can use low-calorie dressing with your veggies and use seasonings like Mrs. Dash or FlavorGod for big and different flavors.
Oatmeal: 1 cup
Eggs: 3 large
Chicken: 8 oz.
Vegetables: 1 cup
Peanuts or almonds: 1/2 cup
Brown rice: 2 cups
Chicken: 8 oz.
Veggies: 2 cups
Fish or chicken: 8 oz.
Brown rice/quinoa or sweet potato: 8 oz.
Turkey: 6 oz.
Vegetables: 2 cups
Training regimen that kept me on track
I weight train 5-6 times per week, starting with legs, back, chest, arms, and shoulders, and then I'll perform the 1,000-rep workout from MusclePharm on the weekend. This routine is phenomenal, as it is mostly bodyweight exercises.
I'll also do 30-45 minutes of cardio four times per week. I do this either after my weight training, so as not to exhaust my muscles before I lift weights, or in the morning before I go to work.
I train the main muscle groups once per week and secondary groups twice per week.