By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express
Even on the hungriest of days, it can be tough for anyone to put away 5,500 calories.
But when Khashayer Farzam is getting ready for a competition, it is something he has to do. After all, it is what he needs to maintain his muscle strength as a competitive powerlifter.
So what is Farzam putting away in order to meet those high numbers? Is it lots of healthy foods? After all, healthy eating typically comes with the athletic territory.
“It’s definitely not clean,” Farzam tells The Oshawa Express with a laugh.
When getting ready for a competition, the Oshawa resident has to put away six meals a day. While he does have his fair share of protein shakes along with fruits and vegetables, Farzam also mixes in more than enough cookies, ice cream and other junk food to make anyone’s stomach feel ill.
“I’d be getting about 400, 500 calories of healthy food (per meal), but another 500 of junk food on top of that,” he says.
“Post-workout meals are about as unhealthy as it gets. McDonalds, Wendys…people are wondering how I get away with that, because I’m this athlete. But in order to recover from a four-hour training session, you have to be putting in as many calories as you can.”
But for Farzam, this is just part of what it takes to be a powerlifter.
Farzam is no stranger to the gym.
He has been a frequent goer since his days as a high school athlete, where he was a stalwart of his school’s track and field squad.
“In order to be good as a sprinter, you have to be in the gym a lot. That’s just how it goes. Runners tend to benefit from this kind of training, and being in the gym, a few times a week, I started setting gym records at school and other places. I was about 140 pounds, but I was breaking lifting records,” he says.
However, little did he know that his dedication in the gym would pay off in the long run in his future endeavours as a competitive powerlifter.
Farzam had first been introduced to the sport – which combines totals from bench presses, squats and deadlifts to come up with a total score – in those teenaged years. At the time, however, Farzam was focused on other sports.
“I didn’t want to do it at the time because our school environment was so focused on track and field, basketball and football. Those were our three big sports. But once I graduated from high school and started at UOIT, I got a lower back injury,” Farzam says, adding that while the ailment affected his abilities on the track, it did not affect him in the weight room.
“I didn’t have a choice anymore. But my lifting wasn’t affected, so I kept at it.”
Indeed, the Oshawa resident did keep at it, and grew stronger. By his second year in university, he signed up for his powerlifting debut. Those were followed up by more and more meets.
Come his third year of university, Farzam was doing competitions every two to three months.
Farzam’s appetite for more and more lifting drove him to take his talents overseas, competing in the 2015 International Powerlifting Federation’s (IBF) World Classic in Salo, Finland.
“I decided to go all the way, so last year I went to Finland and ended up getting a silver medal in bench press at worlds for my weight class,” Farzan says of his 175-kilo lift.
“That’s probably the biggest competition that I’ve done.”
Now that he has graduated from UOIT’s biological sciences program and is now on his way to medical school, Farzam says he does not have as much time as he used to for such events. Gone are the days of three-hour sessions at the gym five days a week during competitions, cutting it down to “only” three days a week.
Those near-daily sessions took their toll on Farzam – something, he says, that also hits other people in his sport.
“People usually can’t stay at it long term. They might take a break for a couple years and then come back at it, but it is really hard on joints,” he says.
“I was training five days a week, three hours each session. I could really feel it, especially after four, five months. Every morning you get up, elbows, shoulders, knees, everything is hurting.”
But even with the reduced workout load, Farzam is no stranger to injury. When The Oshawa Express met up with the powerlifter for one of his workouts, he was still recovering from a shoulder injury.
“At the last meet, they were really strict on holding the lifts,” he said, adding that holding the heavy weights for longer than expected led to a pinched nerve in his shoulder.
But despite the injury, Farzam was still at the gym, packing weights on the bar for bench press sets.
“I’ll just ice it if it gets sore again.”
The dark side of the sport
One thing that Farzam says he has seen affect many people in powerlifting is something that has tainted numerous athletes of numerous sports: performance-enhancing drugs.
While the Oshawa resident prides himself on being drug free, he says many others in the sport cannot say the same.
“You go to the gym and you see needles in those little boxes in the change room. Way back in high school, people would say to give it a shot. Just a few needles,” he says.
“But later on, it stopped being less of a joke and people were seriously on it, and they’d be talking casually about it. When it comes to competing, it is a little bit different.”
However, now that the IBF – and its national affiliates, including the Canadian Powerlifting Union (CPU)– has an affiliation with the International Olympic Committee, testing for doping is taken very seriously.
Under its guidelines, members of the CPU are subject for both in-competition and out-of-competition testing, meaning that athletes cannot use drugs while training, and work to have it out of their system by the time a competition rolls around.
However, Farzam laments, the strict testing regiment is not enough to deter some from taking the shortcut to success.
“They’ll be looking at everything, even social media, and tracking us. They’ll look at someone and say, ‘Oh, he’s improved a lot recently,’ or they’re raising red flags. I think in the last 25 tests, they’ve caught 15 or 16,” he says.
“You see a lot in powerlifting because it has a direct benefit. Bodybuilding is the only one that’s worse – you basically need to be on drugs to succeed there. But with powerlifting, it’s a little different, because you could just have good genetics. But the drugs can benefit because they affect the muscles and help with strength immediately.”