Not everybody can eat an entire quarter-sheet cake, nor should they. But Rod Poulson isn’t like everybody else.
For weeks on end, the 56-year-old Modestan has been subsisting on 1,800 calories a day in preparation for a series of bodybuilding contests. His reward to himself after each event?
The entire thing.
All for himself.
“Win or lose … cake,” said Poulson, a supervisor at Silgan Container Corp. in Modesto. “It’s something to look forward to. It’s pretty typical for most bodybuilders. The conversations always end up on food. All these guys have been starving themselves.”
The cake not only quashes his hunger pangs, it also serves as a celebratory treat.
In the two shows in which Poulson has competed since resuming his bodybuilding career after a nearly 40-year hiatus, he’s has taken home five first-place trophies in National Physique Committee events.
On April 14 at the NPC Mother Lode in Reno, Poulson took first in the Masters 50-over category, first in middleweight novice and first in overall novice. Two weeks later, at the Fresno Classic, he was first in the 50-over and 40-over categories.
He’ll compete Saturday at the NorCal Fitness Class in Redding and then again May 19 at the Contra Costa Championships.
“For right now, this is it,” said Poulson, a 1979 graduate of Downey High School. “It’s time for a break. Mentally, it’s very taxing to diet this long and stay at this level.”
Poulson’s last “break” lasted 38 years. He won the first bodybuilding contest he ever entered – the 1980 Mr. Teen San Francisco contest – but quickly moved on to other things. He’s kept busy over the years running marathons, mountain bike racing and adventure racing, but his first love is pumping iron.
“I always end up in the gym again,” said Poulson, who stands 5-feet-8 and weights 170 pounds when he’s competing. “I always go away but I always come back. It’s where I’m most comfortable. I’ve always been a gym rat.”
He attended a bodybuilding show as a spectator about a year ago.
“I thought, ‘I can beat these guys,’” said Poulson, who began training for a four-show cluster in the spring.
He trains six days a week for 60 to 90 minutes per session. He’s had four shoulder surgeries over the years – three on the left shoulder and one on the right – so he’s had to learn to train differently.
“Anymore, I just try to stay healthy,” said Poulson, who avoids barbell squats and bench presses. “I don’t want any setbacks. Some of these injuries stem from my younger days when I was more abusive.”
His diet consists of six small meals a day that are low in carbs.
“Being hungry is nothing,” said Poulson. “The low energy level is hard. You have to force yourself to do workouts. I’m always feeling run down and this has been going on for 12 weeks.
When Poulson was younger, his mother, Alva, owned the Elaine Powers Figure Salon, and he started working out when he was a freshman in high school.
“I always thought guys should have muscles,” said Poulson. “For the girls, you know?”
He read muscles magazines and books and became a self-taught bodybuilder.
“Nutrition, dieting, food was almost like a hobby for me,” said Poulson. “I was always reading about things.”
He entered the Mr. Teen San Francisco to get some posing experience for the Mr. Teen Sacramento contest – he took second there – and was also named Most Muscular at the San Francisco show.
After the contest at San Francisco’s Japan Center, he sat down with a Modesto Bee reporter at a local restaurant and ordered steak and eggs, strawberry pancakes and a milkshake. He followed that with a hot fudge sundae.
“My first love is sweets,” said Poulson.
And Saturday after, the Redding show, he’ll return to his hotel room for a piece of cake.
One giant, quarter-sheet piece of cake.