Katie Byrne: Eat, train, sleep, repeat... how I crossed the line to fitness fanatic
Do fitness fanatics lose more than just body fat by working out at the gym?
Published 11/09/2016 | 02:30
I'm beginning to think that there's a link between excessive whey protein consumption and chronic dullness. This is a personal, anecdotal study, peer-reviewed only by what I've seen happen to people in my circles when they start trying to build muscle and lose body fat.
I'm not talking about Weight Watchers or holiday dieters or occasional shapeshifters. No, I'm talking about people whose raison d'être is #musclegains and whose main ambition in life is an eight-pack (closely followed by a tan).
I'm talking about the people who eat egg-white omelettes for breakfast and steamed fish and green vegetables for dinner; the people who have a 'blow-out' in Nando's (even if they wish they hadn't ordered the sweet potato wedges).
The people who only feel alive when they're lying on a bench press and who think letting loose is a hamstring stretch followed by a sauna. I'm talking about the people who go to CrossFit, which, just to be absolutely clear and legally compliant, is not a cult.
There is a fine line between being fit and being fanatical. I know because I once crossed it. Looking back, I can pinpoint the exact moment when I went from regular gym-goer to insufferable rep-counter. It happened the day I bought one of those plastic beakers designed for mixing together protein powder and water. That, my friend, is the point of no return.
The plastic protein beaker is a bit like the Freemason's handshake or the Pioneer's badge. It is a symbol of solidarity, a sign that you stand shoulder-to-disproportionately-wide-shoulder with every other dead-eyed knuckle-head in the gym-going community.
I stopped telling people that I was going to the gym the day I bought that plastic beaker. From that day on, I was "training".
It didn't matter that there was no actual sporting event that I was working towards. It didn't matter that the only thing I could actually win was one month's free membership if I put my name into a draw at reception. I was training, goddammit! Surely they could see that from the plastic beaker that was peaking out of my gear bag, and the way in which said gear bag was casually slung over my shoulder like a bad ass who had just been released from a maximum security prison.
I was in the gym almost seven days a week back then. You know why? Because there are seven days in the week and someday isn't one of them. This gym used to play an atrociously bad europop song at full blast. The lyrics went 'You gotta pump it up, don't you know pump it up!'.
I came to like that song - in fact, I used to perform my squats in sync to the beat.
People who own plastic protein beakers start walking differently too. It's a slow, studied swagger - a cross between a boxer striding into the ring and someone with haemorrhoids trying to look casual as they walk into a late-night pharmacy. As for the men who invest in plastic beakers, their shoulders slowly travel upwards as their tracksuit bottoms inch downwards.
Once I had increased my muscle mass and reduced my body fat to an obscenely low figure, I took my rightful place in the 'serious' weights room at the back of the gym.
It was male-dominated and pathetically territorial. The men mostly stood around, stealing secret glances in the wall-to-wall mirrors or staring, slack-jawed, at some snarling behemoth who could bench press his own body weight. Like dogging, some weightlifters just like to watch.
I never felt welcome in the big boys' club, but it was probably paranoia. I ought to mention that at this stage in my weightlifting journey, I was taking a pre-workout supplement called Jack3d - pronounced 'Jacked'. (The name should have been a giveaway). I bought it in one of those shops that sells 40 different types of protein bar and was warned not to take it after 4pm "or else you won't sleep". In my warped mind, that translated as 'take an extra scoop for good luck'.
The Jack3d made the 'Pump It Up' song sound better than ever. It gave me jaw-clenching, pupil-dilating, fist-pumping energy, but zero focus. I was only capable of emitting the occasional 'whooooosh' sound as I ambled from machine to machine, wiping sweat off my brow. Bicep curls? I was looking for the after-party.
Suffice to say, this particular version of Jack3D was later banned and my sleep schedule, and jaw function, soon returned to normal. In time, my fitness schedule did too. Just as the plastic beaker sent me over the edge, a family trip to the cinema brought me back down to earth.
After months of subsisting on protein, I decided to throw caution to the wind and get a McDonald's and a Ben & Jerry's and a giant bag of Maltesers. "I love when you're like this!" said my sister-in-law.
It was then that it dawned on me: it wasn't just my body that had changed. My maniacal approach to muscle-building had turned me into a chicken-with-the-skin-off, Tupperware-owning drip. I had a six-pack but my life was as bland as a protein shake.
You have to make a lot of sacrifices when you overhaul your body. Eddie Rocket's malts; Bounty bars; hot scones and clotted cream... But is it really worth it when your sense of spontaneity, your appetite for indulgence and your taste in music go out the window too?