Growing up, John Sterkowitz was active and loved sports. Still, no matter what he did, he was rail thin. Throughout high school, he watched with envy while his friends and teammates put on muscle in the weight room.
"I grew up always being that skinny, scrawny neighborhood kid," he remembers. "I was always the smallest in my class and on sports teams. I always had an interest in strength training and getting bigger, but I didn't have a clue about how to do it. Not knowing what I was doing, compounded with being the smallest guy around, made me feel intimidated in the weight room. With no plan, I felt uncomfortable, so I shied away from lifting."
That all changed during John's senior year of college, when he made a friend who had been lifting and eating to build mass for years.
"He laid out the basics of strength training for me," John says. "I was immediately hooked into bodybuilding. From that day forward I've consistently lifted weights and followed a proper nutrition program."
After being thin for so long, John set a clear goal: Get as big as possible.
John spent hours in the gym and followed a mass-building diet, but it wasn't long before he started having a new problem. Even though he was strong, his constant bulking diet had added a lot of fat to his body. So, John set a new goal: Shed fat, continue to build muscle, and compete onstage.
This is John's story.
When your goal was to get as big as possible, how did you do it?
I worked out daily, but my diet was the driving force behind building muscle. I ate 3500-4000 calories each day. Most of my protein came from lean beef, eggs, chicken, and whey, while my carbs consisted of oatmeal, brown rice, and mass gainer. Eating at a caloric surplus helped me gain a lot of size, but I gained fat, too. I saw massive strength gains in all areas, but I reached well over 25 percent body fat.
What made you decide to switch gears and work to lose some of the weight you'd gained?
I always wanted to compete in Men's Physique, so I knew at some point I would have to start cutting. I was terrified of going back to being thin and scrawny, though, so I put off competing for years.
What was your turning point?
In 2015, I was living with my grandmother who was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. My grandmother had looked out for me while I was transforming. She would even prep my meals. She kept me motivated by always telling me how much my physique continued to grow and improve. When things were not looking good with her health, I knew it was time to finally compete. I owed it to her and wanted to show off all the hard work I had been putting in.
How did you change your routine to start getting ready to compete?
I hired a great contest prep coach—Dave Conomon at Team Breed Physiques. He kept me inspired and guided me through the logistics. I focused on cutting carbs and lowering my fat intake. I also started doing HIIT every other day.
What did your diet look like?
I designed my plan by following recommendations from articles on Bodybuilding.com, specifically those from Layne Norton. I tried to get at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. Around 30 percent of my calories were from fat and the remaining were from carbohydrates.
Was it difficult to get competition ready? How did you stay motivated?
Hard work and dedication allowed me to accomplish my goal of competing. I was strict in following my diet and exercise regimen throughout the prep. The leaner I was getting, the less energy I had to continue working out, but I never thought about quitting even though there were many days where I wanted to ease up on lifting and cardio. I overcame that by continuously reminding myself of the competitors I would be up against.
I didn't want to be embarrassed on stage in front of everyone. I knew that my genetics might limit my muscle growth. That was out of my control, but my work ethic and discipline were something I could control. I focused on that.
What was the hardest part of your transformation?
The biggest challenge for me was the mental aspect of losing size. It took me years to build up mass, and when I leaned out I felt weak even though I was still maintaining my strength. Not fitting into my shirts made me feel small again.
The diet was also very challenging. I have a large appetite, and dieting on less than 1500 calories was a struggle. What kept me going was knowing that most of the size I'd put on was fat, and you can't flex fat. It was time to trim down and show off my hard-earned muscle.
How did your competition go?
After almost a year of work, I competed in the Organization of Competitive Bodies (OCB) Men's Physique division in Hampton, Virginia. I placed third in the OCB amateur novice class A, and fourth in the open class A.
Unfortunately, my grandmother passed away during my contest prep. I dedicated the show to her, knowing that she was there in spirit and she wouldn't want me to give up.
Do you plan to compete again in the future?
I do plan to compete again. My goal is to build up my lagging muscle groups and add some more size. I would like to be leaner and more defined for my next competition.
How did Bodybuilding.com help you achieve your goals?
Bodybuilding.com was, and still is, my main resource for all my training goals. I'm constantly reading articles to further my knowledge of the sport. The motivation articles inspire me to work harder, and I was even able to connect with my contest prep coach through the site.