Features

 It ain’t easy being a lean, mean, muscle machine but University of Ottawa student Jason Dizzell is a bodybuilding buff

Photo by Marta Kierkus

It’s a quiet Wednesday night in late November, and the Goodlife Fitness on Queen Street is beginning to clear out. People have finished their after-work workouts and are heading home for some rest and relaxation before starting all over again the next day.

But not Jason Dizzell. His work has just begun. He’s sitting on a ledge by the squat rack, head bent, ear buds screwed in tight, with his pump-up music blaring: Eminem, Rick Ross, and Jay-Z. He just pushed out a set of heavy squats and is taking a breather before his next set. After a couple minutes’ break, he’s ready to go again. He strides over to the rack in his sock feet, his training partner, Jeffrey Knock, behind him. The sock thing is common, he explains later. It’s a normal powerlifting practice.

Five 45-pound plates per side (and then some) wait for him on the bar. That’s 525 pounds. People are staring. He doesn’t seem to notice. Neither does Knock. They’re focused on more important things.

Dizzell drops for a low squat and pushes it back up slowly and arduously, his face red, sweat running down his shaved head, and grunting from the exertion. He pushes out another one, inching his way up, grunting loudly, then puts the weight back, shaking the whole rack in the process.

“That was a personal best,” he says, wobbling over to the window.  “I didn’t throw up. That’s a good start.”

Knock, who is nearby, hears that and starts laughing.

He has a story about how Dizzell had to wear maternity pants once, when he grew too big for everything else he had. Dizzell shakes his head with a smile on his face. At over six feet tall, and weighing 260 pounds, he’s surprisingly quiet for such a big man, confirming his mother’s description as more of a listener than a talker.

Dizzell, 22, is an up-and-coming bodybuilder on the hunt for his pro card, as well as a student at the University of Ottawa in his third year of human kinetics. He placed fourth in his first competition in the Junior division of the 2011 Ontario Physique Association (OPA) Ottawa Championships, and first in the 2012 OPA Ontario Provincial Championships in the Junior Heavyweight division. This qualified him for the Canadian Bodybuilding Federation Canadian Bodybuilding Championships, where he placed 13th in the National Junior division.

It’s the off-season now for Dizzell, but he’s not spending it relaxing. Disappointed with his nationals showing last year, he’s taking the time to come back better than ever. His first step is requalifying with a top-five performance at the 2014 OPA Ottawa Championships in November.

In the off-season, Dizzell is no stranger to balancing his passion for bodybuilding with university work, and his part-time job bouncing at Ottawa nightclubs.

It’s no surprise that his favourite class at the U of O is anatomy and physiology.

“It was one of the harder classes, but I was interested in it,” says Dizzell. “It related well to my personal lifestyle.”

He explains how learning the muscular structure of the body helps with a more thorough understanding of which muscles should be worked during a training session.

He remembers being frustrated with nutrition classes, as the material that the course covered was contrary to the information that he received from his coaches, as well as information he found through his own research.

Dizzell did have one hardline complaint about classes though.

“The only thing that sucked was how hot it was in there,” he says with a laugh.

Bodybuilding also had an effect on Dizzell’s social life, as the hard-drinking aspect of university doesn’t fit with the sport.

“I have a social life but I don’t party or drink,” he says. “My friends understand. I don’t feel obliged to (drink).”

Born to Christine and Orville Dizzell of Smiths Falls, Dizzell learned the value of hard work by helping out on his parents’ farm from a young age. Hours spent baling hay, splitting wood, and doing other farm chores kept him busy and active. He says his dad was the toughest boss he ever had, and that working out in the gym is easier than the farm work was.

Before bodybuilding, Dizzell fueled his desire for competition through running track for his Smiths Falls high school, playing hockey, and racing motocross. His mother Christine remembers her son ripping around their property for hours on his dirt bike, practising to be the best he could be. This dedication and competitive drive to be the best was something Dizzell brought to all sports.

“Jason is his own biggest competitor,” says Christine in a phone conversation.

Since he started working out at age 16, she remembers him always being in the gym. His time spent in the weight room, along with the influence of his mentor Hari Ghuman of New Global Vitamins and Dizzell’s thirst for a new challenge, prompted his journey into bodybuilding.

“I started training for hockey and ended up liking the training aspect more than the playing itself,” he says.

His age was a factor in his involvement in the sport as well, but age is less of a barrier to high-level competition in bodybuilding than in hockey and track.

Dizzell has altered his lifestyle to meet the needs of a competing bodybuilder, making changes to his diet and social life, and frequenting the gym as often as possible. He averages about six workouts a week during the off-season, and adds two cardio sessions a day during the grueling 14 to 16 week preparation for his shows. He admits that while his school doesn’t suffer much during his prep time, his social life does.

“They know when it’s show time. I disappear,” he says.

As demanding as the workouts can be, according to Dizzell, they’re not the hardest part. The most difficult part is the dieting. He is required to eat six meals a day, especially during show preparation, sometimes having to quickly sneak meals at work. The problem lies in the sheer amount of food that has to be consumed.

“I hate eating right now,” he says.

Nutrition is a central part of bodybuilding, and the quantity and quality involved usually causes grocery bills to soar, with costs averaging $50 to $60 a day during prep time. Luckily, the large amount of food helps Dizzell keep his supplement stack small, only choosing to use fish oil and protein powder for the most part. He remarks that his neighbours can usually tell when he’s prepping, as they can smell the fish throughout the hallway.

His girlfriend, Naushin Virji, with whom he shares his LeBreton condo, describes him as “a big teddy bear” and agrees that the kitchen is Dizzell’s domain. She laughs as she explains that he takes up most of the fridge and cupboard space in their home.

Dizzell’s strict diet doesn’t include the whole household, as Virji admits to eating what she wants, but tries not to tempt her boyfriend.

“I just eat it in the car,” she said.

Eating is so important that Dizzell’s downtime is split between eating and spending time with Virji and their dog, Cooper.

In fact, Dizzell has to eat so much that his parents stopped buying him steaks, and started buying whole cows.

“Now that he’s moved out, we have spending money,” his mother jokes.

However, even with the amount of food Dizzell goes through in a day, he takes great care to eat as cleanly as he can, swearing off alcohol, and even feeling guilty at the prospect of cheat meals, which are less healthy meals meant to satisfy cravings and keep him focused on the diet.

“The hard work and dieting pay off,” he says.

When prepping for a show, bodybuilders will begin to cut their body fat percentage. The more fat that has to be cut, the harder it is to do, and the bigger toll that it takes on the body.

Dizzell notes that his OPA 2012 victory was due in part to an incredibly strict and structured diet, while his show on the national stage was marred by a rushed and more difficult pre-show diet. He has since been dedicated to staying leaner, and isn’t about to let himself be impaired by the same mistakes he made before as he readies himself for another bid for national success and a pro card. This would elevate Dizzell to the level of professional bodybuilder.

His preparation for shows like these begins about 14 to 16 weeks out with a visit to his coach Donnie Ruiz, who helps Dizzell assess his build and tweak his diet to address specific needs with his physique. Meetings continue every couple of weeks until show time, with constant adjustments made to his diet, cardio, and lifting routines to perfect his look for the competition. Dizzell wouldn’t mind being coached full-time, but the high costs are a barrier to such constant, individualized care.

With Dizzell’s obvious passion for bodybuilding, he admits that the stigma attached to the sport can get to him.

“Lots of people think bodybuilders are just meatheads, but a lot of them are really, really smart guys,” he says.

For example, professional bodybuilder Layne Norton holds a doctorate in nutritional sciences, and Brian Whitacre is an associate professor at Oklahoma State University and former mathematician for the U.S. Navy, with a double major in math and economics and a graduate degree in applied economics.

Dizzell doesn’t let other people’s perceptions get to him though. And despite his independent nature, he credits his success to the support of his parents, girlfriend, friends, and coaches, who make the arduous journey from the off-season to show time bearable.

He also credits the community aspect of the sport, which is characterized by a camaraderie that extends from the gym to the stage, and where fellow bodybuilders wish genuine success upon each other as they push themselves in one of the most disciplined sports around.

Dizzell has his own advice for aspiring bodybuilders.

“If you want it that bad, then do it,” he says. “And if you’re going to do it, do it 100 per cent.”

It’s this attitude that had him and Knock walking out of the gym on rubbery legs. The employees at the gym had put out sandwiches and other food for gym-goers to snack on. Dizzell sees the sandwiches on the way out and pauses.

“Nah,” he says. “I might puke.”