Story by USS Nimitz Public Affairs
“You step on stage and you’re calm, cool and collected,” said Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Keithan Sinkler, a native of Lamar, South Carolina, and a Sailor aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68). “You haven’t had a carb in three days, and you haven’t had a sip of water in 12 hours, but you’ve got to have confidence while you’re up there. You’ve got to feel like the ‘baddest’ man out there. We’re all friends until we step on that stage. When I’m up there, it’s me against everybody.”
Bodybuilding is a sport that requires countless months of rigorous training and strict dieting. The sport demands dedication and commitment from individuals who partake, but this proves even more true for those who choose to put their bodies to the test when they live a military life. U.S. Navy Sailors spend months at a time away from the normal amenities that civilian bodybuilders have access to.
For Sinkler, bodybuilding wasn’t always such a big part of his life.
“I was a football guy,” said Sinkler. “Once I joined the Navy, and age started to catch up to me, I knew football was going to be out of the question at some point.”
Sinkler has been strength-training since he joined the Navy in 2005, but only recently started bodybuilding about three years ago.
“A friend of mine told me I had a great physique and a great frame, so I figured I’d give bodybuilding a try,” said Sinkler.
Over those three years, Sinkler has learned a lot about what it takes to be a service member with a passion for bodybuilding.
“Being in the Navy is one thing, but living on the ship and pursuing bodybuilding is something different all together,” said Sinkler. “A lot of people think the weight room is where all the magic happens, but it’s not. It is 60 percent diet and 40 percent weight training.”
He also talked about how the food we eat on the ship affects our bodies compared to the food of their civilian counterparts. Due to the nature of being on a ship at sea, food options are limited compared to civilians ashore.
In the civilian sector of bodybuilding, salt is a known enemy. Athletes tend to stay away from sodium because of its tendencies to be stored in the fat cells. They prefer fresh, low preservative foods that are cleaner and leaner. Even though salt and starch proves effective in terms of giving sailors lasting energy throughout the day, it’s a bodybuilding-Sailors biggest opponent.
“Some foods on the ship are processed,” said Sinkler. “If it comes frozen and in a bag, the sodium content is high. We all understand why we can’t always have the healthiest and freshest of options, so it’s just something that everyone has to work a little bit harder at to keep a fit physique.”
Engineman 1st Class Garrett Rochon, a Sailor aboard Nimitz knows just as well as Sinkler about the difficulties of finding healthier alternatives while underway.
“Instead of being home every day, you’re out to sea where you’re not able to prep your meals every day and have access to all the food you need. You have to put just as much effort into your diet and your daily intake as you do your time in the gym, and that’s not always easy when you’re underway.”
Rochon met Sinkler during a tour in Afghanistan in 2011. Although they weren’t involved in shows yet, a bond was formed and the interest for bodybuilding began.
“He was already into it and me and him hit it off,” said Rochon. “He’s the one that actually inspired me to look into bodybuilding and get started. He’s the one that finally put all the pieces of the puzzle together and finally got me to step on stage.”
Just like Rochon and Sinkler, many other Nimitz Sailors got into bodybuilding before they arrived aboard.
Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Terrell L. Conley, a Sailor aboard Nimitz, and a native of Bainbridge, Georgia, was introduced to the world of bodybuilding through a senior chief petty officer at a previous command.
“I always looked down on bodybuilding,” said Conley. “It’s not a sport, it’s an ego thing. It wasn’t until my body started to change and develop and people started to comment on my body that I knew I was doing something right.”
Together, the three train and share information and struggles within the sport.
“We all did a show just week before deployment,” said Rochon. “We had just gotten back from a six week underway and you can ask all of them; It was extremely rough. We were in the middle of our prep so we spent our money on our food. Things like tuna, rice cakes, and a rice cooker to try and eat as healthy as we could on the ship, but it was extremely hard.”
The prep for all three men differs slightly, but the main aspects stay the same. Approximately 12 weeks of hard work in the gym and a rigorous diet that changes week to week.
“I eat about a pound of food at every meal; anywhere from seven to eight times a day,” said Sinkler. “That goes on all the way till about week six. Then I start cutting carbs. Then I start cutting fats. After that I do another carb cut at four weeks, and then another carb cut at two weeks. The last week, I cut carbs completely.”
“I wake up every morning and work out from 3:00 a.m. to 4:15 a.m.,” said Conley. “That’s my low intensity workout. From 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., that’s my cardio, and then I go one last time from 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Along with that, I’ll eat between 6 to 8 meals a day.”
“Time commitment is huge,” said Rochon. “Prepping for a show is extremely hard, especially being in the Navy, and being out to sea.”
Between themselves, the three have competed in a total of 10 competitions and none of them see themselves stopping anytime soon. Although bodybuilding can present itself as a daunting sport, with payoff more than years down the road, the individuals who make the sacrifice find victory in knowing they’re pushing their body to the limit and exceeding at it.
“We can say as Navy Sailors that we are part of the one-percent club, as far as being part of a military organization, but look at how many people actually go to the gym or pursue bodybuilding; I can say I’m part of two one-percent clubs,” said Rochon.