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Big Enough

Body image is a huge deal to many college students, and women aren't the only ones dealing with unreasonable physical expectations. Men feel the pressure too and, for some, the answer is steroids.

 by Thomas Keeling
 published on Thursday, January 19, 2006

/issues/arts/695314
On the cover
 
<em>Photo illustration</em><br>
ASU graduate Shannon Fabian says that muscle magazines like this pushed him to use harmful supplements. /issues/arts/695314
Tiffany Tcheng / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE
Photo illustration
ASU graduate Shannon Fabian says that muscle magazines like this pushed him to use harmful supplements.
 
<em>Photo illustration</em><br>
At his work out peak, Fabian says he could dead lift over 400-pounds and excersized for hours a day. /issues/arts/695314
Tiffany Tcheng / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE
Photo illustration
At his work out peak, Fabian says he could dead lift over 400-pounds and excersized for hours a day.
 
<em>Photo courtesy of KRT Wire</em><br>
With 50,000 dietary supplements on the market, it's easy to give in and add an extra
Photo courtesy of KRT Wire
With 50,000 dietary supplements on the market, it's easy to give in and add an extra "kick" to your workout.
 

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A young man sits in the corner of a room by himself. He is wearing only ragged gym shorts and a white T-shirt. He stares intensly at the wall as sweat slowly beads around his face. After a few seconds, he stoops over and picks up the dumbbells that are resting at his feet. It's time for another set.

To Shannon Fabian, working out is an obsession that started in high school. He says he started bulking up to overcome his lackluster performance on the track team and his social short-comings. Soon he became infatuated with the goal of getting bigger.

Grueling hours of torturous lifting became an escape from reality as well as a daily ritual for Fabian. He says he was "saved," by the gym. Everything he needed was there -- he lifted with his friends, the gym was close to home and most importantly he could feed his obessession: building a perfect body.

It was during that time that Fabian discovered a way to bulk up even faster and started using myriad excersise supplements. He says it was a quick way to get instant results. Plus, it was painless and seemed safe. Now, the recent ASU graduate admits that supplements like creatine and amino acids were definitely the key to his workout success.

The Gym

It's 8:10 on a Wednesday evening. Time to get pysched for another workout. A slight cross breeze is blowing through the darkened parking lot of Gold's Gym in Scottsdale as Fabian walks across the pavement dressed in black workout shorts and a T-shirt. There's a bounce in his step as the headphones underneath his black beanie blare the sound of Kanye West's "Jesus Walks," in his ears.

As Fabian enters the gym he begins to zone out, channeling his thoughts and focusing on a world of desire and sheer will. Within minutes, the relaxed man who entered the gym has turned into a Hulk.

As he scours the gym looking for his first exercise, Fabian resembles a lion scanning the plains looking for his prey. For him, it's a pair of dumbbells and an inclined chair.

"I hate this part," Fabian says as he begins his first set.

As he lifts nearly 250 pounds during his warm-up set, onlookers gawk at his brute strength. The dumbbells chime together with each passing repetition. His face morphs from a pale white picture of calm into a bright red mass telling a tale of the torture.

It's through this daily ritual of agonizing pain and suffering that Fabian says he comes one repetition closer to his "perfect body." Yet, as he shakes violently to finish his final rep in a set of 12, it's hard to gauge how much credit he truly deserves for this incredible show of strength.

Under Pressure

As Fabian slowly transformed from a weak high school kid into a pillar of incredible strength, he says he began to rely more on supplements. He experimented with a variety of supplements and at one point says he ventured into the realm of steroid usage.

By the time Fabian came to ASU in August 2000, he had grown from a paltry 160-pound high-school junior into a 190-pound man. With a chiseled chest, back and legs, he stood out among his peers.

Fabian kept his high school training ritual. Nearly every morning at 6 a.m. he was up doing some cardio work before class, and in the evening he was back at the gym lifting weights.

After a few months of this constant training, he says he became lean and toned instead of more muscular. As a result, his strength gain began to plateau and he felt he was losing his imposing physical size. He says he didn't understand this physical setback, but he knew a quick solution was necessary.

Fabian says that because he wasn't taking care of his body nutritionally, he needed to eat more food and even explore other options to increase his size and strength. While he changed his exercise routine and started eating more, he also turned to a more dramatic solution -- steroids.

Within five months he ballooned from about 220 pounds to nearly 260 pounds. With such a drastic change, Fabian says he had to hydrate constantly throughout the day so he wouldn't cramp up. He was eating nearly five meals a day to maintain his muscle mass. Among his favorite meals were midnight trips to Wendy's or Jack In The Box for a combo meal that would feed his cravings.

Pushing the Limit

Fabian isn't the only one looking for a quick fix to his excercise woes. In the last decade the dietary supplement market has exploded. According to a study conducted by the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, more than two-thirds of Americans take dietary supplements.

In an August 2005 survey by the Brigham Women's and Hospital in Boston researchers found that "teens who fret about their bodies are much more likely to use risky body building supplements -- from protein-packed shakes to steroids -- to achieve the toned and buffed physiques they see in magazines and on TV."

According to ASU junior and former junior weight lifting national champion, Emmanuel Ramos, steroids are readily available to most people. After several years of competition in weight lifting, Ramos says he has seen the difference that supplements, including steroids, can make in an athlete.

"A lot of people were doing them [in high school competition] and as a result, such substances were easy to get a hold of," he says.

Ramos adds that although he never took steroids, the option to try them was always available. He also says that if a minor needs something stronger than over-the-counter supplements, all he or she needs to do is find the right people.

"You just got to know where to buy it, and if you want something stronger, you just need to have the right connections," says Ramos.

Fabian agrees adding that when his obsession began in high school he looked for ways to track down supplements that were not accessible to minors and found it was remarkably easy. He says he caved to locker-room pressure to perform better in his role as a discus and shot put player on the track team.

"It was always those guys from De La Salle [High School] who could rock the discus or shot put. I had good technique. What I didn't have was the size or strength to compete on that same level," Fabian says. "So I did the only thing I could do, and that was lift."

His routine soon included a variety of supplements, and, as he grew in size, the types of supplements he used -- creatine, ephedra, glucosamine -- increased as well. He started with creatine and amino acids, and says he even flirted with steroids.

As he got serious about lifting, Fabian says his desire to compete on the track team started to fade. He says his new goal was to create the perfect body and to look like the models in the muscle magazines.

Although Fabian attributes much of his incredible strength gained since high school to his work ethic, he admits the supplements he took have played an important role. Despite the contribution these substances made to Fabian's routine, not everyone feels they should be a part of a weight training regime.

For Antonio Zamora, a graduate student in exercise science at ASU, the thought of taking supplements is a contradiction.

"It's cheating your body from doing what it can do naturally, and as a result it strains the other functions of your body to a degree it's not supposed to undergo," he says.

A former Division-1 volleyball player, Zamora says he believes in rigorous workouts and adds taking supplements can create adverse effects on the body.

"The way certain supplements can change normal functions in the body is astonishing," he says.

Painful Setbacks

Because Fabian's body mass grew steadily, he says he didn't realize how powerful he had become. During one workout, he tore a ligament in his shoulder while warming up. He attributes this injury to getting too strong too fast.

"It was almost as if my body just grew too quickly to the point that other parts of my body couldn't keep pace," he says.

According to Zamora, overuse of supplements can harm different organs in the body. He warns that if someone does not take proper care of their body when working out, he or she can face serious problems with their body.

Zamora adds that common problems found in people who abuse supplements include pain in the kidneys and liver, as well as increased heart rate that could lead to a premature heart attack.

"It's something to not be taken lightly," he says. "You must take care of your body, or else you'll be facing the consequences."

Although Fabian's shoulder injury set him back a few months it wasn't serious enough to keep him from his passion. Thus far he has been lucky -- he hasn't experienced any other setbacks-- but his experiences have taught him to be very cautious while exercising.

Out of Control

Fabian admits that he has put his body through a lot with his use of supplements, yet he maintains he shows no side effects from abusing or overusing performance-enhancing supplements.

"There was a point when I was up to 270 pounds," he says. "It's sometimes too hard to control what your body is doing. It just gets out of hand."

Fabian says it was not the supplement usage that got out of control, but rather the lifestyle he got wrapped up in and the notion that he had to get as big as his body would allow. His turning point came when he set a new personal record in the dead lift of 495 pounds. He reached his goal but says he wasn't proud of what he had done. It was then he says he finally woke up, looked at himself and realized that his obsession had taken control.

"It was difficult at first, but I eventually accepted the fact [that] getting stronger isn't the most important thing," says Fabian.

Although this realization took time to sink in, Fabian says he has changed his outlook, and his obsession has subsided compared to what it was. Instead he says he wants to stay healthy and enjoy himself

Currently a rock-solid 250-pounds, Fabian continues to work hard on improving his personal records. With a dead lift record of 495 pounds, and a maximum bench press of 405, he still spends countless hours in the gym building up his size, but his outlook is different. Getting bigger is not his obsession anymore.

"It's not just about the size anymore," he says. "It's more about the fulfillment that I get from working out."

Reach the reporter at thomas.keeling@asu.edu.



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