I’m kind of the black sheep in my family. They work hard, but exercise wasn’t a priority at all when I was growing up. So no one ever taught me how to train or lift weights.
I lived in Monterrey, Mexico until I was 16 when we moved to different parts of the United States for my father’s job as a mechanical engineer. As a kid, I was your typical skinny kid. I didn’t have muscles, but I did a few sports growing up. I was probably around 15-20% body fat at the time.
Our family was a member of a sports club in Mexico where I played racquetball as a teenager. I remember once when I was 14, after finishing a game, the guy I was playing against went to the gym next door to lift weights. So I went to see what the fuss was about and joined the gym that day, which marked the start of my fitness journey. I started lifting weights.
Exercise has been an integral part of my life ever since and my day doesn’t feel complete if I don’t work out. But everything changed in 2020 after the outbreak of the pandemic.
The COVID-19 outbreak saw all gyms closed and I didn’t have the motivation to train like some people do at home, even though I’m a personal trainer. I had the equipment but didn’t have the motivation to do it, so I stopped training altogether. I found myself sitting around the house all the time, constantly ordering delivery from Uber Eats and eating fast food.
Before the pandemic, I was in pretty good shape, but as I became inactive over the course of 2020, I slowly started losing all the muscle I had gained. In addition to fast food, I ate cookies and donuts, as I have a sweet tooth, and I also drank alcohol from time to time.
I gained about 30 pounds of fat, bringing my weight to 200 pounds. I’m only 5ft 6in so it was quite heavy for my height. My body fat hit 25% in 2020. When I was fit before the pandemic, I was relatively lean and had around 12% body fat, so it doubled, and then some.
It was the heaviest I’ve ever had in my life, but at the time I didn’t realize it when I looked in the mirror. You see each other every day so you don’t notice the difference and neither does my family.
But others around me started commenting and saying, “Oh Lalo, you’re getting fat” or “Lalo, your belly is a little bigger than before” and I was just like, “Oh, I guess you’ve raison.”
After a while, I remember looking at myself in the mirror and thinking, “Okay, maybe this isn’t the Lalo I used to be.”
I had low points in my life and I was not sad or mentally struggling with being overweight. I was just going with the flow of life back then and eating without really noticing the damage I was doing to my body.
I have now been a personal trainer for about four years, but in 2020 I only had a few clients. These guys looked up to me and I knew I wasn’t the best role model for them. It definitely occurred to me that I had to lead by example.
All this pushed me to start my body transformation in January 2021. I already had the muscle on me, all I had to do was get rid of the fat that was accumulating due to my bad eating habits. So that month, I started making small changes like just getting out of the house more often, which I was able to do as more COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. I didn’t suddenly cut out all fast food. Instead of five times a week, I would reduce it to twice a week. I always had fun and drank alcohol maybe once a week.
Even at the gym, I didn’t jump straight into intense workouts. I started with low intensity training for about a month or two, where I did full body workouts three times a week with relatively low weights. Then I started to step things up with cardiovascular exercises and gradually expand the gym sessions to hour-long workouts where I did mostly weight training and hypertrophy sessions aimed at building muscle .
I then made the decision to start eating a little cleaner. My main goal was to keep my protein intake high to make sure I was repairing the muscle tissue I had lost during my inactivity. So I was on a high protein diet including dairy and meats.
I always tell people that you shouldn’t cut out the foods you love because it just wouldn’t be sustainable. My breakfasts at the time therefore included omelettes made with egg whites, cheese and ham. I also made egg burritos with tortillas, French toast with egg whites and sugar-free syrup because I have a sweet tooth, and high-protein pancakes.
Once a week, I cooked for an hour to prepare my lunches for the week, distributing them evenly in small containers. I would make a batch of rice and grilled chicken breast for the week. Other foods I ate for lunch were poke bowls, tilapia with rice, pork chops with pasta and shrimp cocktails, but it was mostly chicken breast cooked in different ways because I really like to eat it. Each meal had at least a cup of vegetables, usually zucchini as it is one of my favorites.
For dinners, I tried to switch things up and eat different foods from my pre-cooked lunches. Sometimes I had tuna with tostadas, sandwiches or tilapia with rice or pasta. Other foods I had throughout the day were snacks like protein bars, fruit greek yogurt, low calorie protein ice cream, popcorn, and sometimes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches .
It was just a matter of balance and balancing my life.
By the end of my transformation in December 2021, I had lost 30 pounds. I actually lost 35 pounds of fat, which brought me down to 165 pounds, but then gained an additional five pounds of muscle. My body fat percentage dropped to single digits, at nine percent. At the time it was the skinniest I have ever been in my life, but months later I went even lower than that.
I always wanted to take on one of my personal challenges and that was to enter a bodybuilding contest. By the end of December 2021, my body was already halfway to where I needed to be to compete, so I kept going. I went from really skinny to even more shredded as my body fat dropped to 6% and my weight dropped to around 155 pounds.
In order to reach 6% body fat, my workout routine had to change a bit towards the end. It had to include low-impact exercises that didn’t require too much energy; I had to remove all compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts or heavy presses. The key to getting even more shredded for me was to reduce my calorie intake and dramatically increase my cardio. By the end of my prep, I was only consuming 1,500 calories a day and doing about 80 minutes of low-intensity cardio a day; a specific diet to achieve my bodybuilding goals, rather than a daily routine that I would recommend to clients. I was still eating the same foods I was consuming at the start of my fat loss journey, just in smaller portions.
I entered my first competition in May 2022, winning second place in my category at the NPC Southwest USA Show in Arlington, Texas. Then in June 2022, I participated in the NPC Adela Show in Austin, Texas, where I won first place in my category.
Preparing for these bodybuilding contests was one of the toughest physical challenges I’ve ever faced and it’s not sustainable in the long run. My weight is now back to 170 pounds and 9% body fat, which is a much more balanced state for my health.
I exercise to live longer, not as a sport, so I’m not interested in bodybuilding as a profession. I am currently preparing to open my first fitness studio in Austin, Texas.
The biggest lesson I learned from my body transformation just came from being a reminder of what I’ve already known for years – that consistency and discipline is what will get you results.
Eduardo “Lalo” Rumayor is a personal trainer based in Austin, Texas. You can follow him on Instagram @infinite_motivati0n or find out more at Infinity-motivation.com.
All opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
As told to Soo Kim.