Even someone who spends his or her time binge-watching QVC has seen Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Pumping Iron. I know because I’ve done both. It’s basically written in the American bodybuilding instruction manual to be familiar with Schwarzenegger. But for one young man who was completely unaware of the American weightlifting culture, this film was not just a documentary, it was the ultimate motivation to leave his native country of Singapore and dedicate his life to his physique.
As a young teen approaching adulthood, Mike Wang wasn’t spending his time rambunctiously chasing city life or playing Mario Kart like I was — he was studying America’s sporting culture and its athletes, committing himself to transform his body to become a legend like Schwarzenegger.
“I remember I first saw pictures of Arnold when I was 14 and I thought, I need to be like him.” Wang says.
That’s a bold statement coming from a man whose country has little to no bodybuilding culture. At that age, the only thing I dreamt of being was an astronaut. But there was Wang — growing up in Singapore with a dream of becoming larger than life. His situation was as much of a long shot as me becoming an astronaut, only I didn’t have his focus and dedication.
“In Singapore, I was always told that being a bodybuilder or model was a waste of time and that I wouldn’t get paid for it and it wouldn’t give me a future,” Wang says.
Under outside high expectations, Wang put his personal dreams on hold to follow the path laid out by his parents. He earned a degree in business and education and opened his own business. His family was happy for him, but he knew there was more to life than just meeting someone else’s expectations.
“I was an educator for international students and helped prepare them for finding the right path, the right school and the right place to study,” Wang says. But every day that passed was another day that Wang kept his dreams at bay. “I had everything you could want — a degree, my own business, finances — but something wasn’t right with my life and I had to change it,” he says.
Fed up with watching his students move on to excel in their passions, he decided to reconnect with his bodybuilding dream and fully commit himself to the lifestyle he fell in love with at 14.
The next thing he knew, he closed his business, left his family and his belongings, and moved to Venice Beach, California. Gone were his business ties and suitcases and in their place an open-armed embrace of Schwarzenegger’s legacy complete with a membership to Gold’s Gym. “I knew what the costs and benefits were. Of course there was a risk, but I realized I needed to follow my passion.” Wang says.
Not only did Wang abandon his business and his family, but he also abandoned the way he ate. He ditched the rice and high-carb meals he loved and replaced them with a ketogenic diet.
Wang’s 6-foot, 200-pound physique is completely keto. He’s living proof that it’s possible to bulk and look like you’re cut from stone on a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb diet. In order to be the best, Wang knew he had to eat like the best. He experimented with low-carb diets, carb cycling and even carb backloading, but with keto, he saw the most results.
Wang’s diet of ground beef, steaks, whole eggs, chicken thighs, cheese and peanut butter keep his physique at a tight 10 percent body fat. He credits his results to his disciplined mindset, and training and sticking to keto was easier after moving to the U.S. To this day, he’s still amazed at the variety of food and the intense fitness culture in America.
Wang immediately noticed an abundance of protein bars and supplements — not just in stores such as GNC but also in every gas station, market and vending machine.
“In Asia, there’s a small circle of men who work out, but it’s nothing like that in America where fitness is for everyone,” Wang says. “There are women in their 60s going to the gym, and there are people in wheelchairs working out. That’s unheard of in Asia.”
Feeding off the energy of other fitness-minded people only fuels Wang’s determination and motivation to train and eat right. He now has the confidence to enter his first competitive bodybuilding competition.
Though Wang may have initially walked down the path of his parents, the decision to sacrifice a comfortable life in his homeland to chase his bodybuilding dream was, as he puts it, “the best decision I ever made.” As his discipline continues to progress into the Arnold Schwarzenegger that he wants to be, he shows no signs of slowing down.
I can’t help but think of one of the oft-overlooked quotes from Pumping Iron, the documentary that inspired Wang, and smile. In the film, Schwarzenegger says, “Keep your dreams, no matter what.” Despite what his family and peers think of his decision, every rep and every keto meal takes Wang one step closer to realizing his dreams.
Danielle Hazlett is a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, a bodybuilder, and an adventurer and health extraordinaire. She has competed in bodybuilding shows, works for her university’s Athletic Department and Exercise & Sports Studies Department, and is committed to learning how to become the best version of herself. [Editor’s Note: Hazlett was an intern at Quest during the summer of 2016.]