I met Stuart at our Level 4 Strength and Conditioning course back in August 2017. The guy’s massive. But with his huge muscles comes a huge heart, he is such a kind and genuine guy and I HAD to get an interview with him about his impressive Bodybuilding career.
In the interview we discuss Bodybuilding as a sport and the effect of social media. Eating disorders, cheat meals, training like a champ and men in Speedos.
So without further ado, I introduce to you, Mr. Britain, Mr. Universe, Mr Stuart Garrington.
How did you get into body building? Where did it all start for you?
I went on work experience with school to a gym when I was 15. It was a body building gym in York they used to run the local York body building show. Obviously I did work experience there so was interested in starting lifting weights. I had a little bench press set up in my room and a couple of dumbbells. Then after joining the gym, being surrounded by the body builders and then going along to see a show I thought, yeah, I’ll have a little go at this.
“You saw those tiny Speedos and tanned legs and thought yeah I love that?”
Hahaha! Yeah bit of fake tan and shaved legs, I’m alright with that.
I was always pretty skinny and tall. I played football and did cross country running, I was very sporty, so I was never un happy with my physique or thought I needed to change. But I watched a lot of WWF and stuff like that and just wanted to be big like them. When I was younger I always wanted to do something with sport, ideally, I would’ve liked to have been a leading striker for York city in the premier league (York City in the Premier League… that was ambitious) But I didn’t have the skill to become a footballer so I thought well what can I do that requires working harder than everyone else to win, so I thought, I’ll run. If I run more than anybody else and become faster than everyone else ill succeed. But I didn’t really like it, it was boring. So I got into the gym and thought I am going to push myself harder than anyone else in this.
So after you’ve won the worlds and Mr universe and gone professional, where do you go from here? Are you prepping for a show now?
I took a bit of time away, me and my wife were trying to have a baby (now 2 months old) but I will be looking to get back on stage. On the back of this strength and conditioning course we did I’ve been working a lot with York Acorn rugby team as their strength and conditioning coach and been playing Rugby with them. I’m going to see out the season with them and then look at getting back into bodybuilding. It’s been a nice break. Bodybuilding is such a solo sport and having done it since I was 15 to get back into team sports and having that lad banter is really good. Don’t get me wrong, if I never did another show again I would be very satisfied with what I have achieved, Universe was amazing. I thought if I never step foot on a stage again, I’ve done this, I’ve won Universe and think I did alright, but a part of me also thinks yeah let’s give it one more go.
Sacrifices for Bodybuilding…
I just wanted to give my body a bit of a break really, you push it to the limits with all the training and eating and it gets exhausting, so I just wanted to go back to being normal and spend more time with my wife after such extreme lengths. It took 6 years to go from winning Mr Britain to winning Mr universe. That was 6 years of counting every single meal, thinking where is my protein coming from? How do I get my carbs in? Am I getting enough sleep? I never stopped thinking about it for 6 years, so I wanted to take the opportunity to take that pressure off. It can put a strain on a relationship because it is such a selfish sport, so I wanted to put more time into the relationship and just be normal for a while.
If you’re going to get to the level that I got to you have to make sacrifices, you can’t it both ways. You can’t have the parties and that social life AND be a top athlete, there has to be a trade-off somewhere. There’s been times where I’m dieting 6 months out of the year and I’m not due a cheat meal, so were not having meals out. My wife Verity understands and has competed as well. It took me 6 years and took her one year to win her show.
“Yasss Queen… So Is that how you guys met?”
No, we’ve been together 13 years I was always Bodybuilding but she wasn’t. Verity went through anorexia and bulimia, bodybuilding actually pulled her out of it and she realised you don’t have to starve yourself to look good.
Eating Disorders around Bodybuilding…
A LOT of women enter bodybuilding off the back of an eating disorder. Do you think these women have enough mental health support and awareness around them, because it is still quite an obsessive behaviour.
It is fucked up. The amount of people who come into this and you wouldn’t even know they had an eating disorder, but you put them on their diet and they become absolutely obsessed about cake and donuts. For me, sometimes yeah after a show it’s like right let’s get to Burger King and Mcdonald’s, eat all this food, have a little blow out and after you feel terrible and are ready to get back to training.
But some people go crazy, especially a lot of women I don’t believe they should be doing the shows if they can’t handle the diet. Just train to enjoy training and if you want to eat healthy, eat a moderate and balanced diet, but if you can’t handle the mental strain of body building, then don’t do it.
I do think body building causes a lot of these eating issues. Don’t get me wrong for Verity it fixed her issue and helped her.
“If verity stopped body building and channelling her food focus that way, would she revert back to her old habits?”
No, because now she fully understands. We tried it her way to get better and nothing was working, so we gave this a shot of eating 4/5 meals a day and if she didn’t like how she looked after 2 months we would stop. All of a sudden she was eating more food, she liked the way her body looked, her skin and hair and energy were all better, she got a bit more body fat. She learnt starving was not the way forward. She will carry on the healthy balanced eating that she learnt from body building, but she won’t do it to the extreme. It will be more balanced. She had to gain weight for a show so she had to get used to adding that weight, and then realised by eating the right way she will lose that body fat again.
Do you think the sport would ever introduce some sort of screening before you can qualify for a show?
Well, because it is at amateur level, anybody can do it. If you said you wanted to do a bodybuilding show today you can sign up and start dieting tomorrow and nobody will stop you. There are so many different federations as well dying for you to compete for their federation, so if you tell me you want to do a show I want your £15 entry fee and bring your whole family along and put bums on seats. So I can’t see it. Once you get to the professionals, and I’m not saying these issues aren’t about in the professionals, but, if you get there you’ve got a pretty good understanding of your body and the right foods you should be eating and a lot more knowledge than the amateur people. And it’s the amateur classes where the problem is. They’re not just dieting they’re ill.
The influence of Social Media…
Social media is much more relevant now and I think has a massive part to play in that (disorders of eating). Instafmaous people that show these great results and everyone sees it and want the same results yesterday. They take things to the extreme and do it all for the “likes”, instead of enjoyment. Do body building because you want to do it, not for fame and likes. When I got into this there was no Facebook, we had myspace. (Kids, google myspace if you don’t know what it is). I enjoy the sport, I enjoy the dedication and that structure, but I actually enjoy the regimen and some people just can’t handle it and shouldn’t be anywhere near a bodybuilding stage. But people are still going to do it, like you say, there is no real help and support.
Before social media age where everybody wants everything yesterday. People don’t have the same work ethic and patience. These youngens on Instagram just want everything yesterday without putting all the work and time in. There are kids doing their first shows and complaining they didn’t place, like, hold on a minute, you got to the British finals which is an achievement in itself but because you didn’t place you’re kicking off? What planet are you on, this is your first year competing! Some people wait 10 years to make them finals. They just want it all yesterday so they can update their Facebook profile and tell everyone how good they are.
I’ve got a lot of female friends that do bodybuilding. My best friend seems to do it the right way she bulks and cuts and bulks etc. But then I know others who joined body building after being anorexic and just seem to remain absolutely tiny year round, ribs showing and never regain much body fat. These girls are being called an inspiration and it honestly makes it hard to watch.
Yeah they’re getting on stage and you see all their ribs and I’m thinking it isn’t healthy. But I think a lot of these federations are to blame. There are these bikini categories now with your ribs showing and no muscle on you like a regular person and you can see better physiques on the beach half the time, but they want your entry fee, they want you to bring family and friends to the show ’cause that’s money to the federation. They’re not going to stop people from doing that.
These girls are being glamourized and the thing to do now is a Bikini Competitions. It’s just making it ok to look unhealthily thin which is not good for young girls watching and thinking “Yeah that’s how I should look.”
Yeah and Instagram is making it worse. You’ve got to really want to do it, not just for the sake of it. Instagram makes it looks easy to do this, and then filters are added. Nobody is going to post a bad picture on Instagram, and it isn’t real life. People are so sucked in to social media now and that’s what people look up to and aspire to. Its stupid.
Meals and macros…
For me, the exact macro number is not that important. (Macros are your fats, protein and carbs). I honestly don’t know how many calories I eat, I know for myself I roughly eat about 500g potato or 100g rice, about 200-250g of chicken and I start eating and recording. If I’m not losing weight ill just take out about 20g here or there.
“You’ve done this long enough now you must know how your body responds and what to eat?”
Yeah, but I just kind of know it for anyone, if I was doing it for you I would just look at your size and estimate. There is no exact formula for it. I would say let’s start you off at about 100g sweet potato 120g chicken and see what happens, if you start putting weight on where we don’t want it then we pull a bit of food out, or if you’re not gaining enough then we add a bit and that’s the way to do it for me. Every time I have done a diet my body has reacted differently. The diet I did for the 2012 didn’t work for 2013, I had to adjust it because I changed, I gained muscle and got older. I start with plenty of time, I don’t do a 10 week crash diet I give myself 20 weeks, put myself together a plan and monitor and my coach will keep an eye on me, look in the mirror and take advice from people I trust of what they think.
It is bullshit when people say “you need to be on exactly 1800 calories and the next week we will drop you to 1750”, when they don’t know how hard you’re working. They might tell you do an hour on the stair master and you dawdle away, or you could be running up it. So calories would need to be different. Maybe you take 30 second between a set or 5 minutes. Do you work in an office or on a building site. They all factor in, so you can never really give an exact answer, it has to be trial and error.
And so what if you have an extra 20g of rice, do they really think it will make that much difference to their physique? It really wont make that much of a difference in my opinion. But some people work better working off exact numbers and exact amounts and obsess over calories and carbs, but for me I can’t be bothered with it. I was never taught it that way. Again, social media and the whole IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) bollox has blown up, but back then it was eat your chicken eat your sweet potato and that was how it was.
Cheat meals and supplements…
I eat clean but I eat what I want. When I am in prep season though and on a plan then I stick to it religiously. I cut out cheat meals a long time ago. If I had cheat meals it would throw me off knowing where to adjust my food leading up to the show. In 2010 I cut them out and went on to win my first show and thought well that is the difference there.
A supplement should be a supplement, not a replacement with real food. You can’t have shakes all day. But there are a lot of good products and a lot of crap. A good creatine, a good whey protein but the majority can be done with real food. BCAAs have mixed reviews. I take them before my cardio sessions while I’m dieting, it’s a habit. Maybe they help, maybe they give me 10%, maybe not. If you can afford them take them. But you can get what you need from real food. You can find studies to show pros and cons on anything. There must be a certain amount of research done to have stuff on the shelves. It won’t make me worse, so I take them.
Training like Mr Universe…
I’ve trained many different ways; working one body part a day once a week such as chest on a Monday legs on a Tuesday etc. I’ve tried push pull legs Monday Wednesday Friday, I’ve tried doing 2 a days working a big muscle group in the morning and smaller later on. On the whole the way I have had the most success is one body part once a day 6 x a week. High volume, 8-12 reps, sometimes superset it up. I never really had a plan I just do it off how I felt. Just like nutrition advice, go off how you feel and look. All these people now say “you must do this, you must do that, must do keto, must do 10 reps”, but there is more than 1 way to skin a cat, more than 1 way to get the job done and people who are obsessed with one way only are bullshit. Some days I feel more strong than others and will push it harder them days.
I always find myself gravitating back to bodybuilding. With rugby I tell myself I’m going to train like an athlete and all round workouts and then I think naahhh ill lift chest. I am really interested in moving better and Olympic lifting helps with that so I will keep one session a week of movement training. It increases my range of motion and flexibility, so it won’t be a bad thing. And it is fun to challenge yourself. But I do always go back to bodybuilding, it’s what I’ve done for 20 years now.
Bigger ain’t always better 😉 … have you thought about losing size?
Ehhhh ermmm right now I’m actually thinking about putting size on for Universe again this year. But after this Strength and Conditioning course we did it has got me thinking more about movement and how immobile I am and trying to play rugby I am knackered. Everything I have done has been slow controlled reps, and now I’m learning to move weight as quick as I can above my head and more functional and its totally different. I’ve met with Tom (our S and C coach) a couple times a week to work on Olympic lifting and sprint work, but at the moment I’m working on my mobility and doing a lot of stretching.
So when you’re on stage, I thought you just get up there and twirl around a bit. But you’re properly working hard up there aren’t you?
Yeah, you are squeezing every single muscle as hard as you can and you’re up there about 15 minutes.
“Have you ever let out a fart?”
Hahaha! Not to my knowledge I don’t believe so. As for the guy behind me I don’t know. But it is hard work. Leading up to 2012 when I won the worlds I put a lot more time into my posing practice. It comes down to small margins and if the guy next to you can’t hold his poses and is sweating out his arse and you can stay in your position and look better, that will win it for you. And that’s what happened for me in 2012. Just get the body used to your event, so 15 minutes a night practicing my posing. I remember looking on stage and he was out of breath and sweating and his tan was terrible and I just stood there and posed and it payed off. All these small details add up. Some people have cramped up and especially if they’ve taken diuretics to lose more water.
You’ve also not had a drink for 24 hours before you go up there. You’re dehydrated, bright lights on top of you, its hard work. You stop water 24 hours before so there is water under the skin.
Do you get a lot of people comment on your size like, woah dude you’re effin huge?
Yeah you go out for a pint and people are like “eyy how much do you bench then!?” You get good and bad. Some are really respectful and admire it, and other people come and tell you they think you look disgusting. I was in Leeds with a few friends, big guys, and these guys were like ew no, not for me that looks disgusting. You would never think to go up to someone overweight and say oh my god that’s gross, that isn’t socially acceptable. You get it a lot with people who have had a drink. It’s really none of their business to comment though. If I didn’t like the way somebody looked I wouldn’t feel the need to comment on it, ever. If they’re happy what does it matter. But I don’t do this for other people’s approval I do it coz I enjoy it. I do it for me.
Advice to baby bodybuilders…
I really wish, if I could go back in time, I would stretch more, warm up better and keep mobile. It would’ve helped me become a better body bodybuilder. I get terrible knee pain which has stopped me squatting and having to use machine work instead. But had I worked on my mobility and flexibility and had that range of motion and movement, I could have squatted throughout my career, maybe I would have gotten where I am faster. But I also had tunnel vision thinking “Will this make me bigger… no” so put it on the back burner. But I love it now I work with bands everyday, stretching, foam rolling and feel a hell of a lot better for it.
Accept it is a lot of hard work and will take time. There are times I get back form the gym in Leeds and I’ll be here at 1am doing my cardio. People don’t see that side of it. If you truly love the sport and love why you are doing it then you can stick at it. If you’re hating the diet and hating the prep then just stop. Just don’t do it why put yourself through it. When it starts getting hard and you buckle you’re not doing it for the right reasons. If you don’t like football you don’t put yourself through playing football.