The Beginning Of Keto Savage, My Story: Part 1
Who the hell is this Keto Savage guy???
Well, let me tell you but first, a little background…
2009, THE BEGINNING
I started training and focusing on my nutrition when I was a junior in High School. Mostly out of desperation to get bigger, look better for the ladies, and feel more confident about myself. However, like many beginning fitness stories, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.
I would watch hours of YouTube videos featuring top bodybuilders in the 90’s like Lee Priest, Kevin Levrone, Flex Wheeler and, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger. I would read every single page of any bodybuilding magazine I could find. I would talk the ears off of any more experienced lifter I came across. I dove deep into the world of bodybuilding, convinced that I would become the next Mr. Olympia.
Growing up on a farm, my family and I lived an active lifestyle but we didn’t really do anything for additional exercise. My dad couldn’t understand the idea of paying for a gym membership to go “pick things up and put them back down.” We lived far out of town and, more often than not, my high school vehicle was broken down so I couldn’t even drive to a gym. I decided to make the most of the resources I had available to me. I fashioned a gym out of pieces of steel and tractor equipment we had in the shop. I used an old green ice chest for a bench. I taped pictures of pro bodybuilders on the wall for motivation, (you can imagine how weird dad thought that was…), and I was ready to rumble! My first weight set was a 180 lb adjustable set that I got at Academy for a $100 bucks. I had to screw the plates on and off every time I wanted to switch the weight. I welded together a makeshift weight rack and I would have my little brother come out and spot me on chest day whenever dinner was over. That is what I worked with for the first year of my training. I lived and breathed the lifestyle. I would watch YouTube videos, prep my meals, run out to the shop to train, think I was hardcore, and repeat the cycle. I loved it!!!
I committed myself to this lifestyle long before it was “realistic” to do so. I vividly remember getting into arguments with my parent’s because I was becoming too “consumed” with it. We rarely went on vacations but, I remember packing up to visit my grandparents in Georgia one day and getting into a huge fight! We were going to be gone for a whole week and I didn’t have any way of getting to a gym. I decided that I was going to sneak all of my weights into the car without dad knowing. I wrapped each plate up in an article of clothing and packed it as tightly as I could into my little suitcase. All went perfectly until Dad picked up my bag to throw it in the trunk. “What the Hell is this son! You can’t take these with us!” He then proceeded to throw all off my weights out and I was left in total frustration….push-ups it is...
I finally saved up enough to get a gym membership at the YMCA and that became my second home for the next year of my life. I would train there every day after school. I was so excited to have something besides a piece of rusty steel to work with. I met Shawn Boutwell, a seasoned bodybuilder, and he took me under his wing. I learned a ton from him and I am forever grateful to the knowledge he bestowed on me.
At this point, I was a senior in High school and, like most high schoolers, still not really sure of myself. I was always comparing myself to other kids that were stronger or bigger than me. I had this vision in my head of what I wanted to look like and I was far from that point. I literally never wore a t-shirt during the last two years of High school because I didn’t want anybody to see me before I had built a physique I was actually proud of. In fact, I made a little competition for myself that went something like this: I was going to train as hard as I could for the rest of my High school days. I was going to stay covered throughout that entire time so that nobody would have a clue what I actually looked like. Then, on the last day of school my senior year, I was going to do a little pose-down for my entire class and reveal the fruits of my labor…
That is exactly what I did too! I don’t know how I convinced Mrs. Humbard, my English teacher, to approve of a shirtless bodybuilding pose down in the middle of the classroom but she did! I brought in some dumbbells, got pumped up, stripped down, and posed for everyone in the class. Weird as hell I know! All I can remember is hysterical laughter.
After I graduated Highschool, I enrolled at the University of Arkansas for college. I was much more “seasoned” at this point and I actually felt comfortable around the weight room. Thankfully, the college gym was well equipped and I was happy as can be. I was required to live in a dormitory the first year of college so I signed up for their “unlimited” meal plan. They lost money on that one! At the time, I was eating a traditional bodybuilding type meal plan that focused on carbohydrates and protein. I was convinced that in order to get big, I had to eat big. I ate really really big! I would eat every 2 or 3 hours and was consuming over 6,000 calories a day. In order to get the calories while on a college budget, most of my foods were very unhealthy. I would eat ramen noodles and 800 calorie, microwavable, macho chimichangas. I would eat WAY past satiety and was literally force-feeding myself every meal. My stomach was always upset and I always felt like I was going to puke. One day, I was trying to finish my meal and it just wasn’t happening. I decided I was going to get the calories in by drinking two glasses of whole milk. I sat by the milk dispenser, slowly fighting through the second glass. I finished the milk and started heading down the stairs of the cafeteria to go to my dorm room. It hit me hard. It was all coming up and I was in the middle of the largest dining hall on campus. I tried running to the nearest trash can but it was too far. All you could see was this blimp of a kid spewing whole milk like a ruptured volcano tumbling down the stairs. I was so focused on eating as much and building as much muscle as I possibly could. I ballooned up to 230 lbs and was absolutely huge. I had a ton of muscle and was very strong but I was also incredibly out of shape and unhealthy. At the time, I was trying to find my place in college and began attending various fraternity parties and other festivities. This lead to some drinking. I never really considered myself a drinker but I definitely drank more that first year of college than I ever had before that point or since. I was eating WAY too much, drinking WAY too much and not really feeling productive with my life. I knew something had to change.
I started to clean my act up in my second year of college. I rented a house along with two other guys and removed myself from the frat party scene. However, my other two roommates were still big partiers and I would often come home to a house party in which 100+ people would be getting drunk in my house, sleeping in my bed, stealing my stuff, and making a complete fool of themselves. After one such night, I decided I had enough and basically cut myself off from everything I had known to that point. I still lived in the house but I totally removed myself from the roommates. I made a commitment to enter a bodybuilding show and dedicated all of my time to training and studying. Shit was about to get real!
I decided to compete in the Kansas State Championship as a natural bodybuilder. I started my prep at a colossal 230 lbs and 28% body fat. I gave myself 12 weeks to get in shape and prep for the show. I chose 12 weeks because I thought 3 months was a typical prep length. In hindsight, I needed twice that time. I attacked everything I did during that three month period with absolute intensity! My nutrition was exact, every macronutrient gram was accounted for. I never missed a workout. At the time, I was really suffering from a serious case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. A lot of people say they have OCD but I REALLY had OCD. I’m talking serious, like Howard Hughs level OCD. However, I learned to leverage this to my benefit and use it as a tool during my prep. I applied my OCD tendencies to my food prep, I literally counted rice grains to get things exact. I applied it to my training and would perform reps and sets that were freakishly intense. I vividly remember crying in the gym because I would train so far past the point of what the human body is naturally capable of. There are many different types of OCD but mine often centered around something bad happening to my loved ones if I didn’t perform a certain task or tendency. This manifested itself in my training. I would imagine someone holding a gun to my parents head and saying, “If you don’t give me everything you’ve got, I’m putting a bullet between their eyes.” That is incredibly morbid I know, I hate even thinking about it but, that was my reality. I would take those thoughts and pump out an extra 50-100 reps on a given exercise when I only needed to hit 10-15 reps.
I wasn’t keto at the time and I followed a traditional bodybuilding style, “bro-diet” type of eating. I would have chicken, rice, potatoes, oatmeal, and tuna every single day. I would prep all of my meals in advance and make sure I consumed a meal every third hour without fail. This is an incredibly unrealistic style of living if you stop and think about it. The University of Arkansas campus is located in the mountains and I could be seen hiking up the hills carrying my backpack full of textbooks, my laptop bag, my gym bag, and a lunch box full of 6 or 7 different Tupperware containers. I spent more time fixating on the time of my next meal than any of the coursework at hand. I recall opening up a container of tuna and rice and chowing down in the middle of final exams on more than one occasion.
Since I didn’t really have any guidance during this 12 week period, I just kept pushing and pushing. My OCD became more and more amplified the closer I got to show day. I had pushed my caloric intake down so low that I was literally starving myself. I took “hangry” to a whole new level and began to accept the situation as my reality. I would do endless amounts of cardio, sometimes as much as 60 min sessions on the stair master at level 15. I would come home at the end of the day and need to study but instead, I would run around the neighborhood for additional cardio. I would run to the gym in between classes to get my stair master session in. If there was somebody on the stair master when I got there, I would have so much hate and fire consume me. I felt that if I missed a single meal or a single workout, I would fail at this endeavor. I would literally ask them to please get off the stair master because I have a competition coming up and my life depended on it.
Two weeks before the competition, I had a complete and total breakdown. I was at home visiting the family that weekend. I was just about to pack up and head back to college because I needed to train chest that day and I had an exam the following day. I got in my truck and turned the key, nothing…. I can’t remember what was wrong with it now but it was broken down and I was three hours from campus without a vehicle and under a time crunch, the gym was closing in five hours. My parents and brother came out to see what was wrong and I totally freaked out on all of them. It was the final straw, I couldn’t hold it any longer. I was broke and didn’t have the money or the time to replace the part necessary. I wasn’t going to make it to the gym in time. I wasn’t going to pass the exam. I was so distraught and, convinced this would be the determining factor in my prep that kept me from winning the show. I was in the middle of the yard in tears and totally depressed, I didn’t know what to do.
My Dad offered to help me fix the truck but I didn’t have the time, I needed to go train or something. I just needed to get out. Mom convinced him to work on it solo and I just started running. I dropped all of my things and just ran. We were out in the country and there is a 6-mile, dirt road loop around my parent's house. I ran the whole thing as fast as I could. Not sure what my goal was, I just needed to exert myself. To be completely honest, part of me wanted to die on that run. I wanted to push myself so hard that I would just explode, my heart would give out. Then, at least all of this tension and stress would be over and I would know that I gave it my all. If I pushed myself so hard that I died, I must have been giving it my absolute best. At some point near the end of the run, something strange happened. Call it an epiphany, call it Devine intervention, call it an Ah Ha moment, call it whatever you like but, I’ll never forget it. I felt totally outside myself, totally in-tune with the reality of my situation and its place in the grand scheme of things. In hindsight, I believe it was a moment of absolute stoicism. I accepted my situation for what it was and gained a much clearer sense of perspective. In that flash of a moment, I had absolute clarity on how I should go about the last few weeks of contest prep and the mentality I should have throughout the whole process. I came back home as cool, calm, and collected as a monk. For the first time, I felt like I had control over my life instead of the other way around. Going forward, I was going to evaluate my situation, void of emotion, and act in the best manner possible.
On the day of the show, I was in a constant state of meditation. The other competitors spent their time milling around, talking, pumping up, etc etc. I found myself a corner, propped my feet up, and plugged in my earbuds, I couldn’t be distracted. I spent the time visualizing my self on the stage, practicing every movement of my routine in my mind. When the time actually came for me to step on, all went black. There was no questions, no doubts. I just performed what I had already visualized so many hundreds of times already. I didn’t see the audience, I didn’t hear their screams. I looked out and all was dark. The only thing in the world at that moment was the lights and the cold floor beneath my feet.
When it was all over, I returned to my corner and my meditation. After everybody had stepped on stage, we were called back out for placements. At that point though, the placements didn’t matter. I didn't care whether I was first or last. I had completed something from start to finish. I had done something harder than anything else I had ever done before. The 60 seconds of stage time wasn’t the paramount of this journey. The paramount of this journey was the journey itself. However, I did place well. In fact, I won my class. I competed for the overall title and got second there. It was a victory through and through, both in the superficial placings and in the mental and physical journey it took to get there. I would never be the same…
I was in a state of euphoria for the next three months. I had seen the light and tasted its pleasure. I knew now with absolute certainty, anything I wanted in life, I could achieve. The great equalizer is hard work. If the passion is there and you put forth the effort, you can accomplish anything. I totally wrote off the “old” me. He was dead. I was reborn into a new person. Like a phoenix, I rose out of the ashes of the mediocrity that plagued me up to that point. There was no looking back. I was naive to this new power though, and it caught up with me. Peaks and valley’s, what goes up, must come down. After the show, I didn’t have anything to pour myself into with that type of intensity. I didn’t have an outlet. The competition prep had become my addiction, it was my everything. Without it, I became lost. I began to lose my sense of purpose and my identity. To work so hard for something and to taste the success is empowering. Without that goal, without that drive, I no longer had anything. I fell into a deep state of depression and began to slip farther and farther into darkness. I looked at myself in the mirror and saw the fat that I had gained back since the competition. It’s not realistic to maintain a competition level conditioning year round. I inherently knew that, I just couldn’t accept it. I had worked so hard to achieve a look that was quickly disappearing. I began to develop severe eating disorders. Being so strict with my macros for so long and then abruptly losing that structure put me in a tailspin. I had no concept of hunger and satiety. I was so used to eating based on the numbers. Not having those numbers to guide me any more left me with no plan. I would go binge on plates of food, sometimes eating 10,000 calories in a single sitting. Then, I would feel guilty for not having the self-discipline to control my eating. I would try and redeem myself by purging what I had just eaten and then not eat for days. It was a vicious yo-yo cycle that screwed up my metabolism, made me obsessive with food, and damaged all of my relationships.
I learned to cope with this and it became my reality. I dealt with it but never truly overcame it. However, life must go on. I finished college, graduating with a bachelors degree in business management. I was offered a career in management at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. The handsome salary and the opportunity to move up the ladder appealed to me so, I accepted the offer. My family was all very impressed and I thought I had things more or less figured out. I attended 6 months of training and on-boarding before I moved up to Spokane Washington where I was stationed as a Terminal Trainmaster. I was working 12-hour shifts with a monthly rotation between days and nights. I was making more money than I ever had before and I thought I had things locked down. I bought a house, started investing in retirement, and was moving up the ladder quite nicely, all before I turned 23 years old. Impressive right? Not really. My folks were proud, my friends were impressed, my bank account was full, but my heart was empty. There was no passion in what I was doing, no excitement. Everybody I worked with hated their lives. They were stuck in the day-to-day and every word out of their mouth was a complaint. Laziness and complacency was a plague that seemed to fester 90% of the workforce. I felt it suffocating me and I knew this wasn’t the legacy I was intended to leave.
Throughout my time in Washington, I stayed active at the gym. I joined a local Gold’s and maintained my training intensity. In order to fill the void that was left from my unfulfilling career, I decided to compete in another bodybuilding competition. I trained religiously for that while working my butt off at the railroad to try and find happiness there. I still hadn’t heard of the ketogenic diet and was following a traditional bodybuilding nutrition routine. All the “rough tuff” railroaders thought I was a pretty strange dude rolling up with my rice cakes and chicken breasts. At this point in my life, I had developed a much clearer sense of self and had really begun to practice the stoic mentality. This competition prep wasn’t near as draining as my first. Still incredibly difficult, but not likely to kill me. I used a prep coach this time and he monitored my macros while I focused on the training and eating the foods to hit his suggested macros. That took a considerable burden off of me as well. Rather than try and juggle it all, I was able to focus on what I could control.
In 2015, I competed in two bodybuilding shows. The WNBF Washington State Natural Puget Sound Pro-Am and the NPC Empire Classic. I got first in my class at the WNBF natural show and placed second at the untested, NPC show. They were both a great experience and I learned a ton from them. I always came in very sharp and shredded compared to many of the other competitors but I knew I hadn’t tapped into my full potential.
I had never dated anybody prior to my move, I was always so focused on work and business. I held the belief that a woman would just slow me down in life. I needed to establish myself and build a solid foundation before I focused on finding someone to spend the rest of my life with. However, things don’t always go as planned… At the time, Crystal worked as a barista in a coffee stand two blocks up from my house. I would walk to the stand for an occasional cup of coffee. After meeting her, my occasional coffee runs became more frequent.
She was unlike anyone I had met up to that point. She was sweet and genuine and actually cared more about others than herself. I didn’t have a clue how to be “smooth” with the ladies since I hadn’t really had any experience up to that point. I would drive through to get my coffee on the way to the gym and she would ask, “Hey, what are you doing today?” I would inevitably respond with the muscle I was about to go train, “Oh, today I’m doing legs!” Note to all guys: I don’t recommend this technique! She was convinced I was a “tool” and not worth her time. One day, she was having a bit of an emotional moment. Something was wrong with a family member or something of that nature. I stopped in and was genuinely concerned about her feelings and offered her somebody to talk to if she ever needed to get something off her chest. The next day when I came through for coffee, she apologized for assuming I was a "tool" and said she was impressed that I actually had feelings. We started to really connect after that.
A year passed and I started falling harder and harder for her. I feared what that emotion could lead to. I hadn’t yet made my millions as a business tycoon and I certainly wasn’t happy in my current career at the railroad. I figured a relationship would be the final nail in the coffin for me. I thought it would prevent me from creating an empire and it would leave me in a world of mediocrity, my biggest fear. I couldn’t bear the thought of living in regret, thinking I could have made it farther in life if I had just had the willpower to turn away love. I felt I didn’t yet deserve to have a beautiful woman that loved me as much as Crystal, I hadn’t accomplished anything yet. I remember it very clearly, we were both sitting on my old futon in my downstairs bedroom. I looked up at her and told her I loved her for the first time. Then, I said I could never see her again. She didn’t have the words and I didn’t either. She left in tears and that was the end.
Three months went by. I tried to focus on my career, focus on my business endeavors, and just focus on getting somewhere in life. The depression I had struggled with so much before started to rear it’s ugly head once again. Not because I had left Crystal, but because I felt like a failure with everything. At this point, I knew I couldn’t continue at the railroad but I didn’t have a plan b. I tried to create an Amazon store selling backpacks, knives, and flashlights. Failed that. I decided to get into real estate investing and took a test to become a licensed agent. I did that for a while but it was very difficult as I didn’t have an established network in Washington. I decided to partner up with a good friend who was also in the railroad and hated his career. We planned to invest in a small 4-plex apartment and make our riches with residential properties. We paid off our debts and submitted a loan application, things were starting to look hopeful.
At about the same time, I got offered a promotion at the railroad that would take me to Gillette Wyoming. This was a great opportunity if I wanted to make the railroad my career path but, I certainly didn’t want to do that. I saw it as a huge conflict because it would take me away from the real estate empire I was trying to build. To make matters even more interesting, the upper management at BNSF was engaging in some dishonest career placement activities that put me in a rather strange position. I was basically given an ultimatum, take the promotion and move to Wyoming or lose your job. Hmmm, decisions decisions. I knew I would be financially screwed if I quite the railroad. I also knew that if I quit, the loan that we had just gotten approved for the 4-plex would be revoked. I seemed to be between a rock and a hard spot. I needed to do some serious thinking.
I flew home to celebrate Thanksgiving with the family and ask them for advice. In their eyes, the only sensible decision was to stay with the railroad, it was a no-brainer. However, that just didn’t feel right. BNSF has a two-year relocation program in which you are required to stay with the railroad two years after any relocation move. If you default on that you are required to pay for all moving expenses and then some. That was a contract I didn’t find appealing. It seemed that if I said yes to the promotion, I would only be postponing my endeavors to break free of the corporate chains. I had a call scheduled with one of the top managers the day after Thanksgiving in which I would have to let them know my decision. That was a call I’ll never forget. It seemed everything I had worked on up to that point had led me to this promotion. The 4 years in college, the degree, the multiple rounds of interviews, the 6 months of training, the relocation to Washington, everything! Was I really prepared to throw all that away? The call went something like this: “Robert, are you going to take this promotion and maintain your employment with the BNSF railroad?” Me: “Well sir, I don’t believe so. I don’t want to become trapped by the salary you are offering me and I know this isn’t my calling in life. I’m going to create my legacy elsewhere.” And that was pretty much it. My family couldn’t believe it, my friends couldn’t believe it, none of my coworkers at the railroad could believe it, and frankly, I couldn’t believe it. What the hell was I going to do now??
MAKING THINGS RIGHT
It was a hard decision to quit the railroad but, at the same time, it was an easy decision. I knew it my heart that it was the right move. I felt a huge weight lifted. One thing I’m very proud of is my sense of integrity. I’ve made a lot of hard decisions. A lot of uncomfortable decisions. However, I’ve always maintained my integrity. I always did what I knew to be right. Whenever I make a mistake, I feel it in my soul. I can’t sleep, my conscience won’t let me. When I do make a mistake, I do everything in my power to correct course. I didn’t get that feeling about leaving BNSF, I knew it was right. However, I did get that feeling about what I did to Crystal.
Enough time had passed now that I realized my mistake. It had been three months since I’d seen or spoke to her. I honestly meant it when I told her I could never see her again, I didn’t have any plans of returning. I knew now that was a mistake and I had to at least apologize. I’d driven by the coffee stand where she worked several times in the past, never having the courage to stop and talk to her. This day was different though, I was on a roll! I had just quit my career job, just lost my real estate loan, just went broke, what the hell did I have to lose? I walked up to the back door, knocked on it softly, and waited for her to open it. I didn’t know what to expect and I damn sure didn’t know what to say. She probably had moved on to somebody else by that point. She opened the door slowly saw me and then quickly shut the door! Perfect, exactly the response I was looking for. I was about to turn away when she slowly opened it back up. I looked at her and she was in tears. We started talking, still not knowing what to say or think of the other. It was clear that the feelings were still there but neither of us knew what to do with them. I didn’t want to hurt her again and she was hesitant to open herself up to me. We had to start over, I had to prove myself worthy.
It went on like this for a few months. I still hadn’t committed to her and we were both finding it very difficult to just be “friends.” I had to fly home for a weekend and she gave me an ultimatum as she dropped me off at the airport. She said, “Choose to be with me or choose to be without me. I have to move on with my life. My feelings for you are too strong to be bound in this friendship that has no future.”
I thought deeply about this choice that I had to make. I knew she was right. I knew she deserved the best. Could I give her the best? I knew if I said yes to her, I couldn’t turn back, not a second time. I felt like my whole future depended on this single decision. Some may find it funny that I put so much thought into it. After all, we weren’t even dating. I was asking myself the same type of questions men ask themselves before proposing marriage. I guess that is just my nature though, full throttle. 100%. If I said yes to this, it would have the same type of weight as proposing marriage, at least in my mind. I thought about her strengths and weaknesses and compared them to my own. Could we be compatible? Would she hinder my business and life endeavors at all? If so, how could I possibly be willing to pursue her?
She picked me up from the airport and I asked if we could visit the historic Davenport Hotel. The Davenport is a beautiful building that she and I used to walk through, admiring the artwork and talking about life. We did just that, walked through and talked about life. I hadn’t given her an answer yet and I knew she was getting anxious. As we were about to leave, I turned to the front desk attendant and asked for our room key. I had called in advance and booked the finest room. She had always wanted to stay there and we had never had the opportunity. I figured this would be a fitting occasion. Crystal had a look of total surprise and confusion as the attendant handed me the key. We walked up to the room and I poured us both a glass of wine. We sat by the fire, sipping our wine, and wondering what the other would say. I kneeled down, looked into her eyes, and asked her to be my girlfriend. She said yes.