Julia Thul is a second-year biology student at UBC with hopes of attending med school. Over the past 12 weeks, leading up to her first Bikini competition at the Kelowna Classic, Julia has undergone an incredible physical — and mental — transformation.
How did you first get started with fitness?
I started riding horses when I was four and eventually got into equestrian vaulting. From that I got into circus, where I did contortion and aerial silks. I was hyper mobile and I never really developed any muscular strength. I had a lot of injuries: joints dislocating, ribs coming out, stuff like that. When I moved out to UBC I stopped everything — I was focused on school, partying a lot, eating everything. When summer came I stayed at UBC and I signed up at Gold’s Gym UMP in late May. I got a trainer, Joanna, a few weeks later. I knew right then that I wanted to compete. I’ve competed all my life — it’s something I need to be doing to keep myself motivated. When I started going to the gym I went every day or five days a week. I didn’t really ease myself into it.
When you started lifting did you know already that you wanted to do bodybuilding in particular?
Yeah — I looked at Bikini competitions and thought, ‘I want to do that!’ — even before I started lifting… I kind of jumped the gun.
How did you start off? What was your routine like?
Building muscle, building my metabolism. I knew I had to lose a significant amount of body fat. I ate very little and had very low macros. When I started with a coach we knew we had to raise my macros a bit — from there you’re going to cut down, but if you start really low there’s not much to cut down on. I lost ten pounds overall but gained probably twenty in muscle. When I started the prep phase I gained a little muscle in some areas, lost some in others but also lost a significant amount of body fat.
What is your diet like?
Currently, I’m in peak week, which is very different from any other week. The thing about competing is that it isn’t sustainable — you’re pretty much putting your body into starvation mode… You need to be really careful that you’re not harming your body too much. In general, my body favours a higher protein, low carb, moderate fat diet. I do ‘if it fits your macros’ — eat whatever you want that fits the macros. Fat is fat, carbs are carbs — it doesn’t matter what form you get them in.
Do you find it easier to stay motivated with an IIFYM diet model?
Definitely. With a meal plan diet, there’s no leeway. Sometimes I’ll be craving something sweet so I can make protein pancakes with a bucket of Splenda in it.
What’s your favourite exercise?
Deadlifts. They’re a whole-body movement. They’re really good for balance and building muscle, especially in the posterior chain. I’m really quad-dominant, so for Bikini I need to focus on glutes and hamstrings more.
You’ve had a pretty incredible transformation over the past twelve weeks. Were you setting out with specific goals?
It was all part of my prep. I switched coaches and from then I lost 15 pounds in twelve weeks. But it was also a mental transformation. With school I had really bad anxiety and depression — I was hospitalized a few times for it. I had anxiety attacks at least once per day. My body was always in a state of stress, which was why I was having so much trouble losing fat — when your body is in fight or flight mode it will hold onto everything it possibly can. I was really able to deal with that through fitness… if I had really bad anxiety I would go to the gym. It’s an opportunity to turn your brain off and just feel.
Would you recommend competing to anyone else just starting out?
I wouldn’t recommend competing — it’s not something that can be recommended. It’s something that’s so intensive and such an extreme that you have to want it. You have to go for it even if people are saying no, don’t do it. That’s when you’re going to do well. If you want something — just go for it. Try to block out everything else.