As a body building champion, Neal Blassingame Jr. will be the first to tell you that the key to fitness is actually nutrition.
"The change starts in your diet, in the kitchen," says Blassingame. "A lot of guys want to bust through the door and start working out. The change doesn't really happen here, the change happen away from here.
"We talk about working out a lot but nutrition is probably 80 percent of it. Your body can only take so much without refueling, repairing and that's where that comes into play."
The former Jefferson High standout and Oregon Ironman Masters Physique Champion works as a personal trainer at Matt Dishman Community Center. He has also served as the strength and conditioning coach at Jefferson and Parkrose High and currently serves in the same role at Grant High. He trains everyone from middle school students to elders to professional athletes.
"I enjoy having that wide variety because it doesn't let me just stop learning," says Blassingame. "It helps me grow as a trainer. When you specialize in one thing, I think your knowledge base kind of slows down."
He grew up around body builders and began weight training and conditioning around the age of 15. His uncle had weights in the attic and he started working out as a fluke. He soon took a liking to it.
"That first time—Feeling that soreness turns a lot of people off but for some reason I kind of liked that feeling," says Blassingame.
The early strength training and conditioning helped give him an advantage when he got into sports in high school. He noticed he was in better shape than his peers and that helped propel him to be a three sports star at Jefferson.
Blassingame went on to play basketball at Umpqua Community College and won co-defensive player of the year.
Although basketball was his favorite sport, he says he was more gifted in football and track in high school. However, he didn't have anyone to steer him towards putting more of his efforts into either of those sports.
Blassingame notes that the climate around high school sports is different today. Back in his day, it was the thing to be a multi-sport athlete. Now, many more athletes specialize in a single sport.
For example, he says young basketball players play the equivalent of an NBA schedule because of the rise of the AAU scene.
One thing Blassingame has noticed with the increased specialization is that serious injuries are more prevalent today.
He says playing multiple sports helped prevent injuries and develop athletes' bodies.
"You have more injuries now because women and guys specialize in one sport in which you're continuously utilizing the same muscle groups and a lot of women and guys, they don't do their homework as far as retraining the muscles that they're breaking down," he says.
It's a tricky era for athletes, but Blassingame suggests finding someone to teach proper lifting form and technique. He says first, you have to learn how to properly lift your own body weight. Then you can transition to properly lifting the bar and progress from there.
It also goes back to nutrition, he says.
As a body builder, he is required to stick to a strict meal regiment and pay careful attention to how he conditions. Blassingame thinks other athletes could learn a lot from body builders.
"I like to say, 'Train like an athlete, but eat like a body builder and you'll have less injuries,'" he says. "You're only going to run or play as good as that fuel you put inside you. If you put a low grade of fuel inside yourself, you're going to play at a low level."
Despite the questionable eating habits that tend to go along with teenage life, Blassingame says many of the young athletes he works with are receptive to his message.
Ultimately, his goal is to instill good habits in all of the young people he works with so they live healthier lives.
"My biggest message to a lot of kids is that it's not that I'm trying to make you a better athlete," says Blassingame. "I'm trying to make you a better, healthier human being after high school, after college so you at least have this knowledge to fall back on.
"A lot of kids respect me because I practice what I preach."
Blassingame trains twice a day. To perform well, he says body builders need to have 5-7 meals a day, portioned out by grams depending on their size.
Since he began competing, he had to stop playing basketball. High impact cardio, which includes interval running, eats at the muscles in the long run, so he and body building peers do low impact workouts like walking on the treadmill, the StairMaster and the elliptical machine.
"What I'm doing now is lifesaving," says Blassingame. "I'm preserving my body with all the work that I'm putting in versus taking that constant pounding every day."
Another aspect of his training is tanning. Even though he's already dark, he says the purpose for constant tanning is to accentuate muscles on stage. Under the bright lights, competitors can look flat without being as dark as possible. It also draws out excess water through perspiration.
Massages and monitored rest are also integral to his training.
Being that he grew up around body builders, Blassingame had always been a fan but he didn't know when he'd be on stage. He credits learning from people around him and going about it the right way for his success.
"I'm glad I did my homework," he says. "Now I'm stepping on stage at age 40 and I'm competing with the younger guys."
For more information on Neal Blassingame Jr., got to his official website.