Natural Bodybuilding Doing It Right

By: Brent Swansen
Magazine16 #4

I was diagnosed with type one diabetes at the age of 4. Instead of letting the disease control me, I did my best to control it. I stayed active as a kid, played sports as I grew older, and lifted my first barbell at age 16. It does take some extra planning and regular monitoring of my blood sugars, but I am living proof that a person can live a normal life and even the life of a bodybuilder, while being diabetic.

My love for lifting weights was born the summer of my sophomore year. I weighed just 120 pounds and started to lift weights and eat a bodybuilder type diet to build my body up for sports. Since that time I have rarely missed a planned workout. I do take a planned week off every 6-8 months just to give my body a break.

I had achieved some excellent size gains by age 19. I was up to 220 pounds when a veteran bodybuilder, Murrell Hall, who had just won the 70 and over class at the NPC masters nationals saw potential in me. He suggested I try a competition and I entered my first show placing 3rd in the open heavyweights. My love for bodybuilding was born. Since that time I have competed in a number of contests, winning many, and attaining my pro-card in two natural organizations. In this article, I will tell you how I prepared for my latest natural competition, the 2011 NPC Team Universe, where I placed 3rd in the heavyweight division.

Side chest pose Brent


I started my diet on February 15th weighing 275 pounds. I dieted 20 and a half weeks and cut down to 207 pounds for the July 8-9 Team Universe. Although I lost nearly 70 pounds, I felt pretty good throughout the entire contest prep. Matthew Byerts, a friend and contest prep coach from California, did my diet and had me eating a lot of good foods that kept my metabolism at a very high pace. Every week I sent photos and measurements to Matt. He analyzed the data and sent back any necessary changes.

To give you a sample of what my diet was like here is what my journal says I was eating at 6 weeks out:
Meal 1: 10 oz. 96% lean hamburger, 3 oz. cream of wheat, 250 g egg whites
Meal 2: 8 oz. chicken, 1.5 cups white rice
Meal 3: 10 oz. cod, 6 oz. potato
Meal 4: 9 oz. chicken, 1 cup white rice, side salad with non-fat dressing
Meal 5: 10 oz. cod, 4 oz. yam
Meal 6: 60-gram protein shake approximately 3 scoops Muscle Provider
Post Workout: 60-gram shake Muscle Provider and 16 oz. Gatorade

In addition to Muscle Provider pre and post workout, Creatine Select was taken pre and post training as well. I was also taking 4 each Mass and Ultra 40 with each meal, along with 4 servings of Glutamine Select plus BCAAs, and a Super Pak daily.

I think far too many competitors starve themselves and under eat while getting ready for a show. It is nice being able to eat a good quantity of food while getting ready and still end up on point. Actually during my “peak week”, after carb depleting, I had to add more carbs than normal to fill back out. I carbed up with foods that were a staple in my diet, but we also added in a lot of simple carbs to fill me out in time for prejudging.

Cardio before breakfast

As we all know, cardiovascular training is part of getting ready for a contest. I did all of my cardio on the stair climber, before breakfast on an empty stomach. Some weeks I did 20 minutes, while other weeks I did 30. As the contest approached, I put more and more emphasis on my glutes while on the stair climber. Sometimes I’d skip steps; other times I did glute kickbacks. This really helped dial in my glutes for this contest. It should be noted that all of my cardio was done at 70% of my calculated max heart rate.

Squat rack Brent training in his garage


I come from the hard and heavy school of lifting. My strength was great up until the 8 week out point. I was lifting heavy in the 6-8 range for all of my presses, and 10-12 for my auxiliary work. At the 8 week point I did not have as much energy in the gym and I started supersetting more of my exercises. I upped my reps to 10 or more on everything. I don’t think I lost any size, but the supersets and slightly higher reps seemed to make my muscles harder, more dense, and better conditioned. For instance at 20 weeks out I was squatting 500lbs for 10 sets of 5. While at 3 weeks out I was squatting 315lbs for 10 reps and only 5 sets. The thing to remember is that while you want to keep your strength up, not one judge has ever asked me how much I could lift. For many bodybuilders it is hard to keep in mind that this is a physique competition, not a lifting competition. As long as your muscles are being stimulated and you are pushing past your breaking point, you will be ok.

Here is an example of my shoulder workout during the mid-point of my contest prep:
Military Press: 4 sets of 6-10 (start each rep at nose level for more medial work)
Military Press: 4 sets of 6-10 (start each rep at chest to focus on anterior head)
Behind the Neck Press: 4 sets of 12 (lower only to ear level, targets rear delts)
Lateral Raise or 1-Arm Leaning Laterals: 6 sets of 8-12
DB Front Raise: 4 sets of 6-8 reps (I use wrist wraps on this one and go heavy!!)
Rear Delt Raise: 4 sets of 10-12 (lying prone on an incline bench )
Shrugs: 5 sets of 4-8 reps. Wrap up, go heavy, then go home!


Everybody is busy. But, when someone tells me that they don’t have enough time to workout, it doesn’t hold much water with me. Most bodybuilders I know have at least one job and many have two, but they still make it happen. The key is to be prepared and have a plan.

Here is what a typical day looked like for me during my prep:
4:30-5:00 A.M.- cardio
5:00-5:45 A.M.- shower, eat and get ready for the day
6:00-7:00 A.M.- morning personal training clients
7:30-2:45 P.M. – teach school
6:00-7:00 A.M.- morning personal training clients
7:30-2:45 P.M. – teach school
4:00-8:00 P.M.- personal training clients
8:00-10:00 P.M.– workout
11 P.M.– lights out!
Pull-ups back development another home exercise

In bodybuilding it is very important to be prepared and have a game plan for what you are trying to accomplish. Whether it is prepping for a show, or trying to add some muscle in the offseason you need to have a plan. I prepare all my food in advance and carry my cooler with me everywhere. I love my life and all of my jobs, and wouldn’t have it any other way!

Another thing that has helped me over the years and especially getting ready for the Team U is to surround yourself with people who share the same passion about bodybuilding as you do. My longtime girlfriend, Autumn Edwards (who first introduced me to Beverly products), is always honest with me when it comes to my contest prep. It is so nice to have someone in your life that "gets" the lifestyle that you live, supports it, and wants to see you excel. I am the same way when it comes to her getting ready for a show. We both support each other and give honest feedback about how our prep is going.

Presentation half hour posing practice

I think that many bodybuilders slack when it comes to presentation. Most just don’t put in the necessary time. I have seen athletes who look amazing off stage, but on stage their posing makes them look worse instead of better. With a little more prep time they could have scored much higher. On the flip side I have also seen athletes who aren’t as genetically gifted improve their placing by hiding their weaknesses and displaying their strengths. The judges can only judge what they see, not what they think might be there. An athlete should always strive to make it easy for the judges to see them at their best. While getting ready for the Team U, I added a half hour posing practice after my workouts to make sure that I did everything possible to give myself a “winning” chance.

Tanning is another important factor. The right tan can put you over the top, and the wrong tan can make you suffer. I exfoliate 2 weeks prior to a show to rid my body of any dead skin. Applying your tanning product over dead skin will cause streaking and result in a messed up tan. I have used Dream Tan, Pro Tan, spray tan, and JanTana. I think all have great products, but you should test them to see how they look on your skin well in advance of the competition. Everyone’s body is different, and just because a certain color looks great on someone else does not mean that it will look the same on you. I used Jan Tana for the Team Universe and was very happy with the result.

I use Pro Tan’s Hot Stuff instead of posing oil. I spray on Hot Stuff while I’m pumping up. It doubles as a vasodilator and helps bring my veins to the surface. Since I normally sweat onstage, I pat it with a towel to where it looks like a dry sheen before I go out onstage. Then when I start perspiring on stage I get just the right look without being too shiny. The key is to not look too shiny. If you look too shiny it will hide your separation and cuts.

Mental aspects

Mental aspects are a huge part of bodybuilding. On one hand, you can’t let bodybuilding control your life, but on the other, you do need to put in the time it takes to be your best. I remember being disappointed with myself after a few of my early bodybuilding shows. I kept thinking I could have done more - trained harder, dieted stricter. That is one of the worst feelings an athlete can have. Now, when I compete, I make sure I have done everything possible to be my best. I am not as concerned with how I place anymore, but that I did my best throughout the entire preparation period. True victory is having had the discipline and dedication to do everything I could to prepare myself, that is a great feeling.

It’s important to start my day off on the right foot. One of the keys for me was my morning cardio sessions. During this time I prayed, read the Bible, listened to encouraging people talk, or filled my mind with good music. It is a tough journey but starting with the right mindset made a huge difference in my day and how I treated other people all day long.

Being a bodybuilder is difficult and demanding, but at the end of the road, it is also very empowering to know that you did something to the best of your ability. The discipline, dedication, and perserverence that go into being a bodybuilder can help you be a success in just about anything you wish to accomplish in life. Everybody’s journey is different, and I hope you enjoyed reading about my road and the journey to this last contest.