Don’t recognise former Great Britain 110m hurdler Andy Turner? You’re not the only one. One minute he’s got the physique of a light, nimble sprinter – the next, one fit to grace the big screens of a superhero blockbuster.
Turner won European and Commonwealth gold medals and a bronze model in the 2011 world championships as well as competing in the Olympics three times. After retiring from athletics at the end of 2014, Turner needed some form of training routine to fill the void and, drawing inspiration from his brother who competes as a fitness model in Australia, he decided to see if he could get into similar shape. With a revamped diet and overhauled gym routine, the 34-year-old has put on 10kg of muscle with roughly the same body fat in just under six months, and says it’s taught him more about exercise, nutrition and his body than he ever expected. MF spoke to Turner to find out what he’s learned and how it can help you get similarly impressive body transformation results.
What inspired the body transformation?
When you’re an athlete you’ve got to target your whole year around competing for the Olympics or the world championships, but since I retired from the sport I’ve had a big void in my life and I didn’t really know what to do. I had nothing – no training, no goals. I’ve always been lean and slim because of running but I’ve never been able to hold on to muscle and be lean at the same time. My brother Garry’s a fitness model and he’s about to compete in the Arnold Classic [Schwarzenegger’s annual fitness event, now known as the Arnold Sports Festival, held in Columbus, Ohio]. I decided to see if I could do it too. I want to see if I can take my body to a level it’s never been at before.
How different is your approach to fitness now compared with when you were competing in hurdling?
It’s completely different. Cardiovascular training has become a thing of the past, which is nice to be honest. I’m enjoying not doing it. My gym routine as an athlete was about 75% legs and the rest just bits and pieces for my upper body and abs, whereas now I’m hitting a particular muscle group and trying to improve it aesthetically. It’s really interesting to me. I’ve always been trying to get explosive power in my legs but not get any size, whereas now I’m trying to get size and strength at the same time.
What have you found to be the most rewarding thing about your new sport?
Seeing the developments that I didn’t know I was capable of achieving. I never believed I could get into the shape that guys on the stage are in, but to know I’m on my way there – that’s quite thrilling. When you can look in the mirror and see your body shape radically changing after just a few months, you’re like, ‘Hang on, things are really changing’. As soon as you get that, you get hooked.
Is there anything you’ve learned from this type of training that could have helped you when competing at hurdling?
The nutrition side of it. I always thought I knew it all. But this has shown me I don’t know my body as well as I thought I did. I think my nutrition is something I should have paid more attention to as an athlete. I simply didn’t feed my body right, didn’t give it what it needed when it needed it.
How much has your diet changed?
A lot. I wouldn’t eat many carbs as an athlete. My diet was quite protein-based, because the coaches would want you to be as lean as possible even though you’re training a lot. Now it makes me think their approach isn’t necessarily correct. I’m still eating ridiculous amounts of protein, but now I am eating much more in the way of carbs – the key is eating them at the right time. As an athlete I was just eating when I could. It was especially hard when I was travelling during competitions when I had to eat at the times set by the hotels. Now I prepare my own food and make sure I have my nutrition on point because that’s the main thing.
What is your weekly diet like now?
Typically I have six egg whites and two egg yolks, scrambled, for breakfast. I’ve also been having brown toast but I’m about to cut that out and replace it with something healthier. I generally train in the morning so first I have a PhD Nutrition VMX² pre-training shake, then during training I have a PhD Nutrition Intra BCAA+ drink. As soon as I’m finished a session I have PhD Nutrition’s Pharma Gain, which is protein and carbs combined. When I get home half an hour later I have 70g of oats and a scoop of protein with water. Three hours later I have a tuna wrap with loads of veg, then another three hours later I have about 250g of chicken or steak with plenty of veg and a small portion of rice or pasta. Finally, just before bed I have Greek yogurt with a scoop of protein powder. For snacks I occasionally eat rice cakes. With this diet, I’m gradually decreasing my body fat but maintaining my size.
How important are supplements for your new training?
I really have to rely on them because they make everything much more convenient. But if I could only have one it would be a pre-training drink. I take PhD Nutrition’s VMX, which is like three or four coffees in one go. It includes beta-alanine, which can make my face start tingling but it really livens me up and gets me ready to attack a session.
What have you found is the most effective method for muscle growth?
Without doubt compound exercises – squats, bench press and overhead press – that involve more than one joint. Working these movements until I’m fully fatigued before moving on to another body part is what I’ve found most effective.
What was your hardest training session like for sprinting?
As an athlete my hardest training session would have been when I had to do lactic endurance training. I would sprint 500m then have ten minutes’ rest, sprint 400m have ten minutes’ rest, sprint 300m, have 12 minutes’ rest, then sprint 200m and turn right round and sprint for 100m. When you’re running at a 50-second pace for 400m the lactic endurance side of it is absolute murder – your legs are on fire, your chest is on fire. Now when I’m training, I’m training a particular body part, say shoulders, and I’ll feel just them alone burning. I handle that much better because when you’re training for aesthetics and you can see the results, it’s a completely different feeling and that’s what’s motivating me.
Have you ditched the sprint training now?
I go back to the track once, maybe twice a week and do a few sprints but right now I’m still trying to gain a little bit more ‘beef’ so I’m staying away from it. I’m hoping to get on the stage this year so when I get close to that need to burn off any extra weight I’ll go back to it.
What’s your hardest training session?
Legs, without doubt. My legs are used to explosive power. I used to focus on doing five sets of three heavy reps. Now I’m trying to go as heavy as possible for deep squats, usually for five sets. Once my legs are fried I’ll do four sets of ten or 12 reps on the leg press and the same on leg extensions followed by hamstring exercises. One session will involve nearly 20 sets and include every muscle in my legs. A typical week is legs on Monday, shoulders on Tuesday, chest and either biceps or triceps on Wednesday, back on Thursday, and Friday is either shoulders and biceps or chest and triceps.
Do you draw inspiration from the success of your brother and his fitness modelling or do you see that as competition?
As kids we were both hurdlers and yes, it was competitive. But right now in terms of bodybuilding, Garry’s in the Premier League and I’m in the Conference, so I know my place! He’s in ridiculously good shape. He’s in the process of planning everything out for me, I’ve told him I want to compete in four months’ time and I want to do his training and follow his diet. I want to keep my competitive nature no doubt, but right now my brother and me are working more as a team than against each other like competitors.
When did you realise you would be up to competition standard?
It’s not even something that crossed my mind at first. When I started, I just wanted to see what I could do with my body. After speaking with people in the sport and seeing how I’ve progressed, I’ve started to think I can and now that’s all I can think about. I just need to do it because once I’ve got that target I’ve got something to aim for. I feel like if I went there I wouldn’t even be looking to win it – I would see it as a marker of where I am and how far I need to go. For me it’s more about seeing if I can do it.
Andy Turner is an official PhD Nutrition athlete. PhD Nutrition is a specialist in performance supplements and sports nutrition. Click here for more information.
Check out the Men’s Fitness writers’ own transformation stories here.