Body Transformation: Nate Thibeault Went From Depressed To Diced
Lifestyle Prior To Change
What was your lifestyle like prior to your transformation?
Prior to discovering the weights, I was your classic ectomorph, tipping the scales at 130-135 on a good day. The only kind of structure I had in my life was high school and music, which was my passion at the time.
Fitness was something that never interested me in the slightest. I had no direction, no real goals to speak of, and no drive to do much of anything.
What was your low point or turning point?
When I was around 15-16, I went through a serious bout of depression. I dropped some serious weight and took my already skinny frame down to around 115-120 pounds at 6 feet tall. I had a pulse, but I wasn’t living, I was merely existing and completely numb to any kind of emotion. I ended up being hospitalized due to malnutrition and an electrolyte imbalance.
I can confidently say that at this point in my life, I was closer to being dead than alive, and if I had continued down that path I certainly wouldn’t be here today. At that point, I had two options: Keep going down this road of self-loathing or find the intestinal fortitude to self-generate recovery and success. It didn’t happen overnight, but I slowly reclaimed my life and found comfort and purpose from weight lifting.
Were there any unique challenges or circumstances that made your transformation particularly difficult?
Challenges and hardships are necessary evils to anything worth having. Changing your body is no different. The human body doesn’t want to change. It finds a comfortable state of homeostasis that is tightly regulated, and in order to elicit a change, you must give your body a reason to do so.
In lieu of this, I found that gaining muscle is extremely difficult, especially if you’re going to stay natural. Eating enough food in particular was a personal struggle for me. Many times I had to force feed myself and walk around feeling bloated and uncomfortable, but in the end it is all worth it.
Describe your transformation timeline:
- Transformation Start: 2008
- Milestone: After about a year of lifting I was up 20 pounds and realized that diet is just as important as training.
- Milestone: By the time I was 18, I hit 17” arms, which was always a goal of mine.
- Milestone: By 19, my strength was improving very nicely and I was around 200 pounds; a number I never thought I would see on the scale. I also hit a strength goal of mine since starting. I referred to it as my 4, 3, 2 goal: 405 for reps on deadlifts, 315 for reps on squats, and 225 for reps on bench.
- Milestone: By age 20-21 I made some great size gains and also took the time to really get shredded. I took my weight from around 210 to the 185-190 range and ended up doing a little bit of modeling.
- Transformation End: 2013, 21 years old, and on to bigger and better things.
Nate’s Training Approach?
What was your weight training approach and split during your transformation?
I have tried many different approaches to training, and while I may adjust volume and frequency during different phases (ie. bulking or cutting), the basic premise of my training when looking to add muscle size revolves around progressive overload.
As previously mentioned, your body does NOT want to change, so every time you go into the gym, you must place a demand on the body that was greater than what you placed on it previously. This can be in the form of more weight, more reps, decreased rest periods, super sets, rest pause techniques, etc.
While the routine listed below is what I typically used over the course of the transformation, I did change certain variables often, so no claim of precise repetition is made.
Please add a workout that worked best for you:
Please detail your cardio approach during your transformation?
Having a fast metabolism, I really never incorporated cardio into my regimen, even when dieting to get leaner. I believe that if you are lifting with intensity and eating clean, you should rarely need to resort to cardio for weight loss. It is however, valuable for cardiovascular health, and I plan on implementing it for that reason.
Please list 3 things you learned about exercise, weight training and/or cardio during your transformation that helped you succeed:
- Leave your ego at the door. If you want to go into the weight room to lift the most weight you can in poor form to show off for your buddies, then that’s fine; but you are not a bodybuilder, you are a weightlifter. They are two different concepts. Bodybuilding is not so much about the weight you’re lifting, but rather it is about feeling the muscle work throughout the full range of motion and really isolating it and breaking it down. There are plenty of guys out there who can lift more weight then me, yet I have better development. Pick a goal and train accordingly.
- Do not undermine the importance of nutrition. Will eating a bodybuilding diet alone build muscle? No. However, you must be mindful of getting enough protein, carbohydrates, and fatty acids in their proper ratios. If your goal is to build muscle, then you must eat more calories than you burn in a day. Conversely, if your goal is to lose fat, then you must eat fewer calories than you burn in a day. This is a seemingly simple equation that people love to overcomplicate.
- Train smarter, not harder. Don’t get me wrong, transforming your physique takes remarkable effort, but the amount of effort you put in does not necessarily equate to success if what you’re doing is not optimal. Many beginners get into the mindset that if 3 sets is good, then 6 must be better. This is simply not the case. The mantra, “less is more” has some truth to it when it comes to lifting for size. You do not build muscle in the gym. You break down the muscle in the gym so that it can recover and make itself stronger and larger in response to the trauma it was exposed to. It is only when you rest that this is possible. A lot of people think you have to be in the gym everyday, but that is nonsense, and is counterproductive if gaining muscle is the goal.
How are you currently training, and has your training changed since the completion of your transformation?
Currently, I am hitting each muscle group twice per week, which I have never really done in the past. I’ve always done the traditional “Bro” split of one muscle group per week, but I am reading a lot of great information about the benefits of higher frequency training. You never stop learning!
Nate’s Diet And Supplement Plan
What was your diet/nutrition approach during your transformation?
My approach to gaining muscle was simple: Eat clean and eat often. I would typically eat 5 whole food meals, and a high calorie protein shake post workout.
Can you give an example of what your daily meal plan looks like?
- Meal 1: 1 cup oatmeal, 2 scoops whey protein, 1 cup skim milk, 1 table spoon natural peanut butter
- Meal 2: 6oz chicken breast (weighed cooked), 1.5 cups white rice OR 8oz sweet potato, 1 serving vegetable of choice
- Meal 3: (Post workout shake) 2 scoops whey protein, 60-80 grams of carbs from dextrose, 5 grams creatine.
- Meal 4: (1 hour later) 6oz chicken or 8oz steak, 2 cups pasta, 1 serving vegetable of choice, 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Meal 5: 16oz liquid egg whites, 1 cup oatmeal OR 8oz sweet potato, 1 tablespoon natural peanut butter
- Meal 6: 6 whole omega 3 eggs, ½ cup oatmeal, 6oz Greek yogurt, handful of almonds
This diet provides around 4,000 calories, which tends to be the sweet spot for gaining muscle while keeping relatively lean for me. I have gone as high as 5,000+ calories in the past, but ended up gaining more fat than muscle.
Were there any diet/nutrition mistakes you made that you learned from?
In the beginning I was not eating enough food, and once I got some momentum going, I was eating TOO MUCH food. I had to learn that gaining muscle takes time, and you can’t FORCE it to happen any faster by shoveling outrageous amounts of food down your throat.
Please list 3 things you learned about diet & nutrition during your transformation that helped you succeed:
- Eat clean, but eat enough. Many times I felt like I was eating a lot of food simply because I was eating frequently, but then when I would calculate it out and it was not nearly enough to support my training.
- You have to be willing to lose a little bit of definition temporarily when trying to gain muscle mass. It can be hard to transition into a “bulking” phase when you have a low body fat percentage, because some fat gain is inevitable, but it is easy to strip off the fat if you don’t let it get too bad. Every gym has these people. People that look EXACTLY the same year round because they’re afraid to put on a little temporary fluff. People also try to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time, but unless you are a rank beginner or have the aid of anabolic steroids, this will simply not happen under normal circumstances. Figure out whether you want to gain muscle, lose fat, or maintain and plan accordingly, but you can only do one at a time without spinning your wheels. Just some food for thought: Muscle takes years to build, and fat takes only weeks to lose.
- Protein is important, but so are carbs. Everyone seems to be afraid of carbs, but they are your friend! Your brain and body use glucose as a primary fuel source, and your muscles store carbs as muscle glycogen, giving your muscles a full and round appearance. If you’re looking to gain size and strength, don’t be afraid to include healthy complex carbs in your meals.
Did you allow yourself cheat meals?
In the beginning I would eat fast food once or twice a week simply because I liked the taste, but nowadays I don’t really implement them. However, when I am in a dieting phase, I have planned “re-feeds” where I will drastically increase my carbohydrates for a day to stimulate my metabolism and make sure I’m performing optimally in the gym, despite being low on calories.
I think cheat meals are fine for psychological purposes, but for me I simply don’t feel the need to include them when they do not directly benefit what I’m trying to accomplish. A fat steak, big baked potato, and a couple glasses of red wine would be about as crazy as I get “cheat meal” wise.
What supplements did you use during your transformation?
I was always very basic with my supplement use. A basic whey protein isolate, creatine monohydrate, multi vitamin, and fish oil provides a great foundation of supplement use. I will always include those and some kind of pre workout stimulant, like USP Labs Jack3d or Cellucor C4 to amp me up for training. Other than that and maybe some BCAAs, I really don’t see any other supplements as being worth the money.
Advice For Others
What are your best 3 tips for someone looking to make their own transformation?
- Do your homework. There is a lot of information out there and unfortunately, a lot of that is misinformation. Everybody claims to be a guru, so it can be daunting for beginners to know where to start. When you start training, just about any reasonable program will bring results, as it is such a shock to the body, but eventually you will need to change things up. Everything works, but nothing works forever.
- Be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your physique won’t be either. Gaining muscle is a VERY slow process but if you stay consistent and love what you do, then big changes will happen over time. I am living proof of that.
- Don’t look to external factors for motivation. Sure, everybody loves to get their ego stroked by receiving attention from the opposite sex, but that’s not what’s going to get you out of bed at 6am to go train legs before a busy day. Find intrinsic motivation and you will never see the transformation process as a chore, but rather you will enjoy the process of being a work in progress.
How do you stay motivated? What advice would you give to someone who’s having trouble staying on track?
I stay motivated because this is what I love to do. I’ve never seen it as a chore, and if I happen to have a day where I’m feeling sluggish, I think of all the people who are paralyzed or injured that would give anything to be able to lift weights.
I think about the marine that came home as an amputee who would give anything to be able to toss a football around with his kid. In my opinion, being able to lift weights regularly and eat healthy is a privilege, and I behave accordingly.
Your Life Now
What is your life like now that you’ve made a transformation?
Not only do I feel better mentally and physically, but I have also become a goal-oriented person in every aspect of life. Working out has taught me self-discipline, patience, perseverance, and positive thinking which translates into whatever task I have at hand.
Simply put, working out is a metaphor for how you go about your life. If you put in minimal effort in the gym, you’re not likely to put in much effort anywhere else.
What motivates you currently to keep improving yourself?
I often think about how far I’ve come, and how if that is possible, then the sky is the limit. I don’t ever want to look back and think that I could have been great, and I never put limits on myself for what I’m capable of. Most people think that natural bodybuilders can only get to a certain level without the use of drugs, but that is a horrible mindset that sets you up for failure.
Will Smith once said that being realistic is the first step to mediocrity, and I completely agree. I also think about my Uncle who passed away a couple of years ago. He truly believed that I was capable of extraordinary things, so everything that I accomplish is in his honor. RIP Uncle Ron.
Anything else you would like to share?
This process would have been a tremendous struggle without a positive support system. I am forever grateful for my parents and everything they have done for me throughout the years. I am grateful for my friends who were there for me from the beginning, and I am grateful for my beautiful girlfriend who is my number one supporter.
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