Hi Dean, and thanks for giving up your time to do this interview for Natural Muscle. First off, many congratulations on your recent win at the 2015 UKDFBA UK Championships, capturing the Lightweight title and looking as many witnesses would describe, on top form. How did it feel to be back onstage?
Thanks Jon, and also for the invite to be interviewed. Iíll be as honest and candid as possible in answering the questions.
In response to the first, I suppose I felt reassuringly confident, focused and keen to get the job done well. To my surprise, I was more comfortable than expected based on previous outings. Being in top form, as you say, must have played a crucial part since I knew early on at the point of going backstage and checking myself in the changing room, I was as close to my best as I could realistically hope to be. And once I knew Iíd made it safely through to almost 6pm and that everything had gone to plan, I was able to relax and finally just be myself. In fact Mick Bell and David Hodson both asked how I was feeling at one point during the evening and I replied ĎIím very confidentí. To my mind, it didnít matter what anyone else had done in their preparation, I just knew from my own perspective and from what I could see in the mirror, as well as what others were telling me that everything had finally come together. Pumping up was therefore straightforward, a formality. There was no major panic because everything seemed already to be Ďpoppingí and even the lightest of Ďpumpsí appeared to make the biggest difference. Stepping up on stage, then, I felt psychologically ready and reassured as I ran through the mandatory poses. Physically, this was also one of the easiest shows I can remember and all because Iíve been in shape year round. I felt both energised and inspired, to do my best and show my hard work. In truth, I had done relatively little posing practice in the lead up to the show Ė (much the same as 2014 actually), but simply relied on memory and experience of knowing how to stand and execute each pose to conjure the best from my physique. I guess thirty years of flexing, posing and learning how to control each muscle group, individually and together, had some positive pay off. I think for me it was always more important to enjoy the process of getting there; to hone my physique in order to reach, as far as possible, my previous form, shape and condition. The execution of such onstage merely amounted to a process of subjecting my physique to external validation. As such the feeling wasnít so much a thrill as more a public demonstration of my form to show I was almost as good as ever.
Displaying the level of conditioning you did certainly doesn't happen by accident. Can you talk us through the kind of dietary and training programme you had to follow to get your bodyfat level so low for this contest, whilst retaining an impressive degree of size and fullness?
Youíre right, Jon, it wasnít an accident and it certainly didnít come Ďout of the blueí. Iíve been lean and pretty much Ďon ití now for about four years, since August 2011 actually, when whilst following David Hodson around the country I decided to start dieting again to resurrect my physique. Since that time I havenít been heavier than 10st 11-12lbs at any time. In the last year, since I competed in the BNBF Midlands show in 2014, I havenít exceeded 10st 8-9lbs and in the last six months I havenít been any heavier than 10st 6lbs. Coming into the show I weighed just 10st 2lbs and so lost only 4 pounds in 5 weeks, which was the point at which I decided to enter the contest. There are so many contributing factors that have produced my recent form and Iíll go through them as best I can, but perhaps the most salient feature is that I train virtually daily and have done for the last three years. Back in January 2012, I bought some commercial equipment and kitted out my garage at home. This provided the means to train on a daily basis and at my own convenience. I trained on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Yearís Eve, New Yearís Day, you name it I was thrilled just to be able to train as and when I pleased. Sometimes Iíd train twice daily if the mood took me, first thing and last thing. The bottom line, for me, is that I love training. Itís my passion, and as an old friend from university said quite recently: Ďitís always been the love of your life, Deaní. The point Iím making is that in the past Iíd always trained less often as people would tell me I was over-training or that I needed to rest, or Iíd adapt my lifestyle somewhat to that of my partner, or at other times it was work that intervened to disturb the flow and prevent complete consistency. So, in a nutshell Iíve been very, very consistent for about three and a half years on top of a very strong base of twenty-eight yearsí training. Iíve been at it now since the age of 14 and Iím fast approaching 46, so itís been a long-time in the making. Sadly I had to sell my equipment back in March this year when I sold my home and subsequently registered for a new gym membership. Regardless, Iíve been able to maintain the level of consistency noted and this has helped keep me in shape. In the last 5 weeks before the show, I think I rested for one day only: the day before I stepped on stage. For sure, itís not conventional, but to hell with convention as Iíve found something that obviously works for me: so-called over-training!! Without question, busting a gut brings me in like nothing else and while I have some rough days - the last two weeks in particular were very challenging at work - I managed to get through them and keep everything together. My passion for training and enjoying what I do (save the last ten days before a show when Iíve had enough and just want to free my mind and eat more food) thankfully saw me through.
My training comprised a four-way split: chest and biceps, legs, back and rear delts, shoulders and triceps, (cardio/light legs), and repeat. I train with short rest periods, predominantly 30-60 seconds rest between sets depending on the movement, and with moderate weights to allow rep ranges of 5-10 for upper body and 15-20 for legs (hamstrings and calves are always in the 5-10 range, but quads much higher). This is also different from the past, where Iíve typically utilised an upper/lower body split. Without a doubt the latter is a highly effective approach for dialling in condition but in more recent years Iíve simply found the volume to be far too demanding, a psychological burden and therefore not always the most efficient way to train. In contrast, the four-way split entails lower volume, a more manageable level of effort and perceived exertion and hence ultimately produces a better mental focus. Put simply, Iím able to invest more energy and effort in each body part when training fewer parts than combining everything in a single workout.
Diet is critical and this is one of the biggest changes Iíve made in recent years. I can literally count on one hand the number of times Iíve eaten a pudding or an ice cream or some such other Ďtreatí within the last 12 months, and the same is true over the last 4 years really. After the most recent show, for example, I didnít binge out on all and sundry but simply ate plenty of vegetable curry, rice and naan until I was literally full and satisfied. That was it. The following day I returned to type: that is, my contest diet with larger portions, went for a very long walk and also trained in the afternoon. So, in a nutshell, cheating is pretty much out. I eat a clean diet almost all of the time. Another point is that I rarely over-eat. So all of my meals are of a size my body is able to manage and metabolise efficiently. Put simply, no surplus, no waste. This is quite a contrast with the past where I had taken many more liberties, eaten more junk and, at times, basically yo-yo-ed from bingeing to purging whilst being in contest condition. In the five weeks leading up to my recent win I did not once break my diet. Everything was steady and I simply eliminated certain foods as the contest approached.
My staple diet revolves around fish, some eggs and most things that grow. If I were to attach a label it is virtually a paleo diet, with very few processed foods (save whey protein, oats and amino acids). I generally eat salmon, mackerel and cod year round. Only occasionally now do I eat chicken, turkey or red meat. In the five weeks running up to the show, I gradually started to de-emphasise fatty fish and increase my intake of cod. Carbohydrate sources comprised sweet potato and oats. Post workout Iíd eat a ripe banana or consume some dates, but this was it for simple sugars as Iíd use them only to replenish glycogen quickly after exercise and especially given the frequency of my training programme. At three weeks out, I was eating just cod and during the last fortnight, I eliminated things like peas, green beans and spinach and reverted exclusively to broccoli, cod and sweet potato. I also allowed myself a dish of oats and scoop of whey isolate first thing, but dropped this at the beginning of the final week. All of my carbs in the last 2-3 weeks were consumed before 1pm and all subsequent meals comprised only cod and broccoli.
In the last two years, I also radically modified my approach to pre and post-workout supplementation. In the past I had made extensive use of whey protein isolate post workout, but in 2014 some friends suggested I utilise some iBCAAs for their anabolic properties and ability to drive protein-synthesis post-workout. This concurred with research material Iíd come across at work, as Iíd sat in on a few modules examining biochemistry and physiology of metabolism, physiology and physical performance and applied sports nutrition as part of a Masterís course in exercise and nutrition science. Here, Iíd learnt also that l-leucine, in particular, was a key driver for protein synthesis and that extra supplementation of this amino acid in combination with other BCAAs would offer a potent post-workout recovery plan. In essence then Iíve been consistently using these supplements for the last two years and it has made a huge difference to the way I look. Iím holding onto more tissue, I recover faster between workouts and Iím able to get leaner whilst retaining more fullness. It has also been a revelation in terms of helping me train more often. Leading up to the recent show, I hadnít used creatine monohydrate in more than a year, in fact since I last competed in August 2014. So, at 8 days out I supplemented with 10g per day consumed around my workout and this worked really well in terms of helping volumise the cells and creating extra fullness.
At an age of (I believe) 45 years old, you were able to deliver a package that equals or even surpasses previous outings from over a decade before. That is no mean feat! It certainly inspires confidence in those of us who are - let's say - approaching our middle years. Given everything that gets published about the aging process, the decline of our natural hormone levels and so on, were you at all surprised that you could deliver 'the goods' once more, and be arguably better than ever? How would you rate this showing in comparison to previous performances?
Well, itís a physiological fact that endogenous levels of testosterone diminish with age and in an arguably steep and progressive fashion beyond the age of 35-40 years. Obviously the rate and extent to which this occurs is an individual thing and will differ according to a personís particular genetics as well as exercise background. In both respects, I think I have pretty good credentials for physique development: i) Iím predominantly mesomorphic, so my body responds to what I do in the gym and everything develops pretty much in balance; ii) Iíve always had the ability to recover quickly from hard exercise (going back to my teens as an athlete); iii) I am able to get very lean and preserve muscle tissue in the process; iv) I have very small joints which enhances the illusion of size on stage. These are genetic attributes that have served me well over the years. However, notwithstanding such, the aforementioned points regarding training frequency and careful attention to diet have undoubtedly stoked my metabolism at a time of life when otherwise more sedentary folk would be gaining weight and losing muscle tissue. That I choose to stay lean year-round also produces a more propitious anabolic environment than would be the case with a less favourable ratio of body fat to lean tissue. All this means a more disciplined approach allows for effective regulation of my bodyís metabolic output and performance, in particular the regulation of insulin and further promotion of a metabolic environment in which fat loss is more favourably enhanced. Furthermore, the modifications Iíve made with respect to training volume and diet, noted above, have made a considerable positive impact on my body. Nevertheless, to answer your question, I am indeed surprised, in fact I often fear the worst! This is one of the reasons I train the way I do, for Iím clinging on for as long as I can, wondering when it will all change and when my body will finally turn to seed and begin to show more prominent signs of natural aging. Certainly, my skin elasticity is less impressive now than it was, say, ten or fifteen years ago, especially around my lower abs. But as yet my musculature appears to remain largely intact. Long may it continue!
In comparison with previous performances, I think I got pretty close to my showing at the BNBF Northern in 2003, where I believe you first saw me compete Jon. I was as good as Iíve ever been on that day: ripped up and very full. Interestingly, my weight on that day, June 8th 2003, was exactly the same as this most recent showing: 9st 12lbs Ö a mere womanís weight I believe you cracked at the time! Ha ha ha!
Indeed I did Ö a comment made in jest of course! But on a more serious note, it's also a reminder that the true illusion of size comes when bodyfat is at its lowest, and inevitably in combination with a significantly reduced bodyweight. I would also add that you looked as good in 2015 as you did 12 years ago 2003, perhaps even a fraction leaner, having seen you close-up on both occasions.
So Dean, we all have our own reasons for wanting to compete. What would you say are your key drivers to get onstage? Is it the journey of the preparation, a competitive streak of wanting to win, the challenge of pushing your body to new heights, or a combination of factors?
Itís the journey and process that are uppermost, but essentially a combination of things. Ultimately, I want to test myself. What can I look like at 44 years, 45 years and beyond? How closely can I approximate the past? Can I match my form of, say, 12 or 15 years ago? The challenge provides the thrill. Competition is merely an avenue for performance, no more, no less. Defeating younger guys in their prime is obviously a bonus.
Was this a difficult competition to prepare for, comparatively speaking, or have you been able to use the experience of past competitions to ease the challenge and burden of contest training and dieting?
Definitely the latter as Iím in shape year round. My legs are vascular and abs etched and deep throughout the year, in spite of the fact I donít actually train them! Before the show I did some crunches and hanging leg raises maybe three or four times in the last ten days and that was it. So, apart from the final two weeks which are always difficult and where my sleeping pattern goes completely awry, it was more comfortable this time than in the past when I had more weight to lose and thus chase my condition. Three weeks after the show, Iím still in shape right now. In fact, it would take only 10-14 days to be properly ready again. It would be a hard 10-14 days mind, but better this than a hard 10-12 weeks! Some go so far adrift (as I have in the past) that it positively hurts to think I would have to do this ever again.
With the likes of multi British title winner Matt Argall throwing his hat into the ring, does the thought of standing toe to toe with decorated champions like Matt push you even harder, or do you see the battle more against yourself?
To be honest Matt was never on my mind. In fact, Iíd no idea he was competing until I first enquired about the show, dispatched my application (at about 2-3 weeks out) and started to take more serious interest in the likely competition. In the past, Iíve made the mistake of focusing too much on other people around me instead of minding my own business. The battle now is more against myself, for I believe that if Iím able to achieve my best Iíll be more than satisfied. Moreover, if Iím super lean then Iíll be harder to beat as my structural advantages are further enhanced the leaner I become.
So much energy goes into contest prep that by the time the day of the show comes, it's possible to be utterly exhausted, dehydrated and hungry. In short, ready to go home! What sort of state are you in, both physiologically and psychologically, on the day of the contest? Does focussing on just one show put undue pressure on you, more perhaps than if you had planned to compete in a run of shows?
Over the years I guess Iíve exhibited a variety of different dispositional states - physiological and psychological, on the day of the contest. Iíve been incredibly uncomfortable, as you say, exhausted, dehydrated and hungry, and really not enjoyed the experience of competing one iota. However, for this most recent show, I commented fairly early on to the guys around me that I was really relatively comfortable and apart from being a bit tired in the afternoon Ė I actually nodded off for twenty minutes at one point Ė for once I wasnít totally exhausted. In fact, the power nap served to energise me, which seemed to work well in terms of getting ready downstairs. This time, I had kept water in so while I may have been a bit dehydrated it was only short term (a couple of hours) and not excessively drawn out. Physiologically, then, I was in a good place, not really hungry and plenty in the tank, which, in turn, helped support my psychological well-being. In fact, the two states are often complementary and mutually reinforcing as whenever Iíve been physiologically over-extended Iíve also suffered psychologically.
Focusing on one show did not create any undue pressure this time around. The pressure revolved only around a personal aim to get everything right. I was putting my neck on the line once again and I didnít want to slip up.
How do you feel about competing again in the future? Is there more you want to achieve in the sport, either domestically or internationally? Similarly, do you feel you can wring even more out of your genetics?
Iím certainly not closed to the idea of competing again in the future. If it takes my fancy it could happen next year, the year after or maybe when Iím fifty, simply to mark the occasion. Regardless, whatever life and work allow will ultimately determine whether or not it happens at some point in the future. The allure, however, will certainly not relate to any desire to achieve more in the sport, either at home or abroad, but simply to see if I can still nail it one or two years further down the line. If Iíd carried on this time, for example, I think I could have been a bit harder the following weekend. I was certainly seeing evidence of such 2-3 days after the show, with enhanced condition following a post-show refeed. That said, generally speaking I think Iíve pretty much maxed out my genetics, although I remain enthusiastic about perfecting my physique.
With three natural federations in the UK, and so many options to compete overseas in various affiliated organisations, what's your perspective on the direction that Natural Bodybuilding is taking?
Honestly, it reminds me of professional boxing with the sport becoming increasingly politicised and further fragmented. I can observe this and the politics involved, but really it is of no concern to me anymore. Itís been a long time since I was properly immersed and I feel Iíve left it all behind. Now, I can simply return and casually dip in and out. On the positive side, the more opportunities there are for people to compete wherever they wish, the better. If I were younger and less committed at work and at home Iíd be competing overseas and making the team trips out to the US, no question. What I do know is that theyíll likely never be any reconciliation, but then I wouldnít see the current condition (of difference and diversity) as a weakness anyway, much rather a strength.
This was your first contest with the UKDFBA, promoted and run of course by Lee Kemp and his wife Amy. What was your experience like of this show and could you be tempted to do it again next year, possibly even the International, should an invite be forthcoming?
Yes, I could be tempted to do it again next year, either in Scotland or Leamington. Iíll be in shape regardless so really it all has to do with timing, opportunity and whateverís going on in my life at the time. I thought this yearís show was very good and I certainly enjoyed the experience of performing close to my best once again. The International aspect may or may not interest me. As noted already, Iím really only concerned with showing up in shape as Iím not in the business of chasing anything extrinsic but rather securing my own personal achievement.
What do you think about the rise of the men's physique class? Some might say the more mainstream look appeals greater to the public, and that it brings new blood into the sport that could potentially feed the men's bodybuilding classes, whilst others could argue it's fundamentally different from bodybuilding and diluting the sport. Can and should the two divisions co-exist together?
You know I havenít really been following the scene or this recent development actually. Is this the beach shorts class, by any chance? If so, itís not my cup of tea. Itís an excuse for guys with no legs to get up on stage and curiously flash their abs, no more, no less. So, I guess Iím saying, if my assumptions are correct, that itís radically different from bodybuilding and physical culture. Yet if thereís a demand for it and it continues to appeal, I guess itís each to their own.
Another recent change has occurred in scoring, with federations such as the UKDFBA (and some of those overseas I believe) now favouring a single points system, with a separate 'Best Presentation Award', instead of the more traditional three scored rounds of quarter turns, mandatories and free-posing. As a person who has always put a lot of time and effort into their presentation, which way would you rather be scored?
Actually, I think this is how it has always been implicitly. I remember arguing these points over a ten years ago. Personally, I would prefer all three rounds to be scored because there are different dimensions that deserve full consideration in a competitive arena. Also, I think the single points system is in danger of privileging one aspect over all others, and where the shape, beauty and aesthetics of the physical form are all but lost to a crude assimilation of muscularity only. However, I could argue this point until Iím blue in the face. So, what will be will be, but the former would certainly be my preference.
How do you manage to fit bodybuilding in with your lifestyle? With a career that no doubt demands much of your time, and of course your children to take care of, is it a constant battle to prioritise bodybuilding, especially when you are preparing for a competition?
I pretty much run on autopilot. Iíve been doing it - the juggling - that long now that Iím automatically programmed to think about training and meal times and how these configure with the working day. Certainly Iím busier than ever at work, having been recently appointed as Associate Dean of Research and now in my second year as Director of the Graduate School at my university, I am forever dealing with queries and all manner of different problems involving both staff and students. Then, as you say, I have my children to consider, which amounts to being on duty three nights a week and into the weekend on Saturday. When I had my own equipment at hand, training was really easy as I used to drop into the garage after the kids were asleep, but now I have to plan my days more carefully. When I donít have the children overnight, I typically train first thing in a morning (6.20am) locally, or otherwise drive into work (40 minutes away) early for 7am and train in the university gym before getting on with things. Sometimes though neither option is available, and I end up training in the evening at peak time, which isnít ideal but I manage to work around it. When preparing for this recent show, I was really very-organised although my mood started to become a bit cranky in the last 10 days or so, and I had to watch myself in order not to upset anyone. I guess Iím one of those people that thrives on stress. Either way, I seem to cope reasonably well so just get on with it.
Let's go back in time 25 years. Is there any advice you would give a young Dean Garratt about the do's and don'ts of bodybuilding? Knowing what you know now, would you have done anything differently?
I would train more often and ignore the so-called Ďhighway knowledgeí that you need to rest in order to grow. Iíd buy a time machine and bring forward iBCAAs, creatine and high quality whey proteins into the late 1980s, ĎBack to the Futureí style! Back then I had so much energy and aggression - (by which I mean lots of fire to train very hard, day in day out). Even so, I would opt less for training to failure, doing lots of forced reps and negatives and hitting each body part once weekly, and instead introduce a dual factor approach. Iíd train with more moderate weights and take shorter rest periods, and train each body part twice weekly, and leave my ego at home. And I would eat more sensibly and avoid force feeding in the false belief and hope it would cause me to grow bigger or faster than my body would allow naturally.
Lastly Dean, I'm sure there will be people who have helped and supported you throughout your journey. Is there anyone you would like to mention or thank?
There are quite a few people whoíve been there for me over the years and without mentioning names, I am grateful to each and every one for their support at the time, however transient. Moving to the present, however, Iím especially grateful to my boy, Tom who has always believed in me. Back in July 2014, he created an impetus for me to return to the stage offering his encouragement, which gave me the confidence and desire to return at a time when I had all but given up the ghost in every conceivable sense. A return to the stage, he waged, would provide a much needed focus and sense of purpose at that moment. All these years on from the first time he saw me compete in 2004, he thinks itís absolutely great that Iím able to do what I do at 45 years and balance this with a successful and demanding career. My post-show curry was with Tom; I rang him up on the way back from Leamington and we met up at 11pm for a late one. Friends for life!
I want to express my thanks also to Mick Bell and David Hodson for supporting me backstage both in 2012 at the NPA Yorkshire and for this recent UKDFBA show. I was genuinely touched by their generosity of time and emotional support. This, along with the inimitable banter and much needed humour thoroughly made my day. Without question, I will return the favour for both hopefully next year.
At a distance, I want to thank all the old school guys, who in my mindís eye, provide the inspiration for me to continue as I do with the same passion and insatiable enthusiasm. This is a tribute to all those that train every day simply because they love it and live for training. Passion breeds passion and irrespective of any formal competition itís the process of man against himself that inspires me most. At heart, I will always identify as a physical culturist.