In high school, and for years after, Brett Jessen hit the gym religiously. He planned to become a bodybuilder someday, but things got put on hold when he found out he was about to become a father.
"When my girlfriend got pregnant, I went into panic mode," he remembers. "I completely stopped working out and turned all of my focus toward preparing for the baby. I picked up two jobs and put my own health on the bench for a while."
With the extra job, Brett was working 70 hours a week and found he just didn't have time for the gym anymore. He didn't gain weight, but he lost muscle. He knew he wasn't as fit or healthy as he had been before, and Brett realized he wasn't being a good example for his newborn son.
"I realized that working two jobs and being away all the time was no way to be a father," Brett says. "I decided to quit one job and enroll back in school full time."
Brett knew he needed to make changes to his lifestyle, too, but he couldn't quite commit. He bought a full supply of supplements, only to watch them gather dust on his kitchen counter for months. He planned to hit the gym, only to think, "I'll start next week." That pattern continued, until one day, Brett decided he was fed up with letting his health decline. After an eye-opening look in the mirror, he committed to getting healthy—and giving his son the example he deserved.
This is Brett's story.
What was your lifestyle like before your son was born?
I played football in high school, so I started working out when I was around 16. I kept it up after graduation and was consistently hitting the gym until my early 20s.
We ate terrible, typical 20-year-old diets: tons of fast food and pizza. I was lucky, because when I was younger, my metabolism was ridiculous. I had to eat nonstop just to put on any weight.
What made you decide to finally get back in shape?
People in my life were teasing me about how soft I'd gotten. They called me "fat" and "tubby." There's not even a specific time that stands out, because people at work teased me so often. One day, I was looking in the mirror, and it finally came to me: This wasn't what I wanted to be, and this wasn't how I wanted to live my life. I knew I was better. I think becoming a father had a lot to do with it. I wanted my son to have a better example.
What were the first changes you made?
I started working out five days a week. I knew from the past that if I did too much too soon, I would burn myself out. I started slow by creating a beginner's weightlifting routine; I only used light weights and only worked out for about 40 minutes at a time with a good amount of rest between each set. My goal was to regain my stamina without leaving myself too sore to go back. I gradually added more weight, more sets, and more time.
How did you design your workouts?
When I was younger and playing football, I learned how to design my own workouts and splits. I exercise five days a week, with two rest days.
Did you make any changes to your diet?
My diet was a lot of trial and error. I'm still not religious about my diet, but I try to eat a lot of lean, high-protein foods, like chicken and cottage cheese. I try to stay away from junk food—I cut out soda and sweets completely—and I keep healthier snacks around the house. I definitely eat more chicken, steak, and eggs than pizza, corn dogs, and Burger King.
What does an average day's diet look like for you?
Do you use any supplements?
How soon did you start to see results?
I saw results in the first month. Once I got over the muscle soreness, I was able to workout longer just about every day.
How did Bodybuilding.com help you with your transformation?
When I was in high school, I came across the site. At that point, I wanted to be a bodybuilder, because I was more fit than the other people on my football team, and that got me excited and made me think about what I could do with fitness later in life. I lost interest in that eventually, but Bodybuilding.com has still been a great resource for learning about new exercises I didn't do in high school. The site taught me about specific exercises for particular muscle groups, like skullcrushers for triceps—and taught me more about nutrition and supplementation.
You didn't end up losing much weight. Why?
I focused a lot more on building muscle than losing weight. I knew the fat loss would come. I didn't focus on the scale. In fact, I don't even own a scale now. I occasional weigh myself in the gym, but shedding pounds has always been of secondary importance to me.
Did you ever think about quitting?
There was never a day I thought about quitting. There were days I didn't want to work out, and I overcame the temptation to stay in bed by telling myself that one day would lead to two, and I'd go right back to square one.
What was your biggest challenge?
Being a father, and juggling school and work, means I'm on the go a lot. It would be easy to go to a drive-thru and order something when I'm hungry. Packing food is essential, and planning every meal and knowing your body (and triggers) is just as important. I overcame this by planning ahead and always having a healthy snack on hand just in case, like Clif bars—my favorite—and fresh fruit. I pretty much always have apples and grapes in the fridge.
Where do you find inspiration?
I harvest the majority of my inspiration from videos of Kai Greene, Phil Heath, Arnold, and Ronnie Coleman. Although being a bodybuilder was a dream I had when I was in high school and no longer want, the dedication professional-level bodybuilders have is unlike any other; every minute of every day is about being the best you can possibly be. That's a mindset I want to emulate.
What are your future plans?
Recently, I've been interested in powerlifting, and I seem to have found my niche. I haven't even been back to lifting for six full months, and I've already surpassed my personal records in every lift. I'm not sure if a competition will come out of this, but there is definitely an interest.