In the 1970s, Andy Swanson's grandfather, a South Vietnamese officer, eluded capture by the North Vietnamese and emigrated to America during wartime. It was a period of uncertainty, but with an instinct for family, church, and entrepreneurship, he survived it. Like many immigrants, he started a small business. He also raised eleven children, Andy's mother among them.
Andy, one of twenty-seven grandchildren, seems cut from the same cloth as the man who rooted them all in the states. With a focus on family and community, a mind for business, and a work ethic that's driven him through nine bodybuilding competitions in under four years, Swanson has weathered his own period of uncertainty.
Although his grandfather has passed, Andy seems to have stepped into the stencil of what came before, filling it with the same abundance.
Today, Swanson manages Bodybuilding.com's regulatory compliance team, and is a frequent face in the brand's promotional videos. Here's what Andy had to say about his history with fitness, working at Bodybuilding.com, and balancing life and lifting.
Snapshot: Andy Swanson
- Height: 6' 1"
- Weight: 185 lbs.
- Age: 29
- Occupation: Manager, Regulatory Compliance
- Location: Boise, Idaho
- 2014 NPC Idaho Muscle Classic – 1st class
- 2015 NPC Idaho Muscle Classic – 1st class
- 2016 NPC Idaho Muscle Classic – 1st class
- 2016 NGA Northwest Natural – 1st class, 1st overall
When did you get into fitness?
It started in high school. I played basketball and was a sprinter on the track team, specializing in the 100-meter dash. I also did the 4x100 and 4x200 relays. I tried the 400-meter run, but endurance wasn't my strong suit.
Back then, everything for me was power based, which eventually was the same with my lifting. When I entered college, I did decathlons, which comprise 10 events. Oddly, in contrast to that power-based stuff, I was also a really good golfer. I played throughout childhood, so in college I was also a walk-on member of the golf team.
When did you get into bodybuilding, specifically?
The summer after my sophomore year in high school, I visited with family in Houston, Texas, and my uncles taught me to bench press. I think I was 16, and all I thought about was "guns and chest," like every other 16-year-old. I started benching with 10-pound plates on each end, then 25-pound plates. Over the summer, I got pretty strong up top. When I went back to school in the fall, everybody was like, "Whoa." It was a good feeling, but I was totally unbalanced.
Fast-forward to after college. I'd graduated, and I had that "aimless year" that a lot of people have post-graduation. I didn't know what I would end up doing, and I was pretty disconnected from my peers. It was depressing. I stopped working out, I sat around playing video games, I partied a lot, and I was very unhealthy overall. I quickly gained a ton of weight.
My first job after college was at Bodybuilding.com. Right after I started, the company's annual transformation contest began. I stepped on the scale and weighed 202 pounds at 23-percent body fat. I've been bodybuilding steadily since that day.
How has working at Bodybuilding.com helped you meet your goals?
I'm constantly surrounded by people who share the same goals as myself. When I started, I sat near a guy who carried around his prepped meals in Tupperware. He talked to me about macros and stuff. I saw him compete, and my interest was piqued. I picked the brain of other colleagues who competed. It's just a great starting point, to be around all of these people who know what they're doing. At some point, I decided to do my own shows.
What is competing onstage like for you?
I would say I'm a pretty shy person, and the thought of stepping onstage shirtless and having people judging me made me very nervous. But, there's so much that goes into competitive bodybuilding day in and day out, and I wanted to showcase my work ethic, so I overcame the fear. I did my first competition around 2014, which was the Tanji Johnson Classic, an NPC show. I had to learn all the poses, and learn about show prep, like how many carbs to eat the morning of the show, how to get a proper pump before you walk onstage, and a few show hacks like drinking red wine for vessel dilation. I didn't do that, but I was seeing these people doing this kind of stuff backstage, and there was a learning curve.
I've done nine shows altogether. After the Tanji Johnson, I did the Emerald Cup, then the Muscle Classic, where I won my class two years in a row. There were a few other shows thrown into the mix along the way. That's a lot of shows in a very short time, and it takes a toll on your body. You diet hard for a show, and then you have maybe a month or two of reverse dieting before you're at a state where you can put on muscle naturally again. Then, suddenly, you're cutting for another show.
Right now, I'm letting my body rest so I can go up in size, but I think one of the takeaways is that you can go from soft-looking to a competitive bodybuilder in a very short time. I'm not talking about a quick fix, where you just take the supplements and don't do anything else. The supplements help, but hard work and dedication are really what streamline the process.
How does it feel to take a break?
My life is more balanced. My girlfriend's happier, I'm happier, and I can go to restaurants with my friends. All the things most people take for granted, I can suddenly be a part of again. I'm enjoying it. But, I am going to compete again. The goal is to put on 10 pounds, but I'm not in a hurry because I'm pretty focused right now on functionality over the course of a lifetime, which is different than just building mass.
Your Instagram paints you as family oriented. Is that true?
I'm an only child but have a huge extended family. My mom is one of 11 siblings, so there are 27 grandchildren and many, many cousins in our family. Every year, I'm in Houston for a bit, spending time with my family. I spent every summer there when I was a kid, so that's my second home. Before he passed, my grandfather was there. He was the one who brought everyone to Houston back in the day, and he ran a small convenience store, which was the family business. For me, everything was really centered on him and the rest of my family. Most fitness Instagram pages are filled with shirtless mirror selfies, but I have a lot of shout-outs to the people I'm close to.
What's your job here at Bodybuilding.com?
I manage the regulatory compliance team, overseeing products, and web and print content. When we onboard a product, the team vets out the label and product page in compliance with FDA and FTC regulations. We look at ingredients, excipients, label formatting, ingredient claims and substantiation, vendor history, and everything else we need to look at to stay in compliance and sell good products.
What do you now know about fitness that you didn't know in high school?
In high school, I faked it a lot. In PE class, I used to stay on one machine or sit on one bench for 45 minutes and pretend I was lifting, but I was really just waiting for the time to pass. In track, some of us would hide behind the bleachers for the warm-up lap. We'd let the other kids go around, and then we'd pop out. I had the athletic potential, but I let it go to waste or I threw it into too many baskets. It's all about focus, but I didn't know that then.
What's your favorite feature on the Bodybuilding.com site?
The "Misc." section of our forums. The comments are hilarious.
What does your workout routine consist of?
I'm off-season, so I'm experimenting with different training styles, focus areas, and muscle groups, but my intensity doesn't change. Hitting the gym is my favorite part of the training process, so that 10-out-of-10 intensity level is always there and hopefully makes up for any inconsistencies in nutrition and cardio when I'm not in competition mode.
I'm a very structured lifter. I visualize my plan and accomplish all of my goals for the day, week, and month. If I've decided to step onstage, especially, I'm only cheating myself if I don't follow through. When my competition is over, I want to be able to look back at my training and know there is nothing I could have changed.
My plan is crafted to improve my physique, not only by increasing size or cutting body fat at certain times, but by targeting weak areas for improvement. Hitting my rep ranges, selecting the right weights for failure, rest times, heart rate, and cardio are all short-term goals that I hit to accomplish this. Most of my workout plans run for eight weeks, and each has a special emphasis or combination of dropsets, supersets, giant sets, eccentric motion, holds, and whatever else works.
Workouts: Rep range varies by week. Where reps are not otherwise indicated, the first week is sets of 12 reps, the second week is sets of 10 reps, the third week is sets of 8 reps. Then repeat the cycle. 90 second rest between sets.
What does your diet look like?
Since taking some time off from competition, I find it much harder to be precise with nutrition, but I am trying a mini-cut for a Miami trip in late March.
Diet (Mini-Cut Carb Cycle): 4 low days followed by 2 high days
Low Day: Estimated 2,200 calories, 200 g carbs
High Day: Roughly 2,500 calories, 315 g carbs
- Add apple or banana with breakfast
- Add 2 rice cakes with Snack 1
- Add 2 oz. of potato to lunch
- Add 2 oz. chicken breast and 1 wheat bun to dinner
- Add 25 g carbohydrate powder either pre- or post-workout