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‘Broscience,’ dehydration, and costly wardrobes: a student bodybuilder’s odyssey

Northeastern senior Julianne Mayville, who studies business administration in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business, has been competing as a bodybuilder for two years. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

Julianne Mayville was stunned by how quickly she reinvented her life. She hired a coach who overhauled her diet. She began lifting weights six days a week for 90 minutes, sandwiched between two daily sessions of cardio on a StairMaster.

Over the next half-year, she would undergo radical changes to her lifestyle, go from drinking gallons of water daily to barely any at all, allocate large amounts of money for a custom-made bikini and other wardrobe changes, and adapt to drastic changes in her weight.

It was all part of her transition from former high school athlete to sophomore bodybuilder at Northeastern. 

“I saw results pretty quickly,” says Mayville, a senior who plans to graduate in business administration next year. “My upper body leaned out the quickest, especially my arms. It took longer for my abs to be defined. And then came my legs.”

“I saw results pretty quickly,” says Mayville, who has rebuilt her lifestyle around her new sport. Photos by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

Mayville had been weightlifting casually when her older sister, whose choices she had been mirroring—each having enrolled for one year at the University of New Hampshire before transferring to Northeastern—showed an interest in competitive bodybuilding.

“I thought it could be something that we do together,” says Mayville.

The ensuing two years would teach Mayville all kinds of lessons. The first of them involved her need for achievement. It was a revelation. 

“I needed to work towards something, and I’m so glad I found that out,” says Mayville, who had played high school basketball and softball in Merrimack, New Hampshire. “Just going through the motions wasn’t working for me. I need to have goals and aspirations, I need something to challenge me, I need to make the training hard.”

She set out to prepare for her initial show, the NPC New England Championships in November 2017. It was six months away.

She had no idea of what she was getting herself into—beginning with the fact that the food she was eating would be at least as important as the weights she was lifting.

Her parents, skeptical at first, have been amazed by Mayville’s transformation. “She has become more feminine and more flexible and stronger,” says her mother, Mary Mayville, an assistant clinical professor at Northeastern’s School of Nursing. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

“A lot of the old-school coaches and bodybuilders use that diet—we call it ‘broscience’—where they only eat chicken, rice, white fish, and green beans,” Mayville says. “It’s a meal plan that can actually be detrimental to people’s health because they’re not getting enough nutrients.”

The limited food options provided an early test of Mayville’s resolve.

“I was pretty miserable because I was hardly eating anything,” Mayville says. “When you’re training really hard and doing a lot of cardio, your outtake is greater than your intake, which helps you lose weight. You decrease your calories, which helps you get that lean look, because you’re not eating as much as you’re burning.”

The costs of her new lifestyle were another surprise. She was forever buying groceries. She paid her coach on a monthly basis. Competition bikinis, custom-made to her dimensions, cost anywhere from $100 to $800. She had to buy high heels, and pay for tanning, makeup, hairstyling, and posing lessons. 

In the days leading up to her debut 2017 event in Boston, Mayville’s coach instructed her to cut back on water, which she has come to realize was another “broscience” tactic meant to enhance the definition of her muscles. She had been consuming as much as two gallons daily—four times more than the generally-recommended amount—but, by the day of the show, she was limited to small sips.

“I was so thirsty and dehydrated,” Mayville says. “It was awful.”

The time of judgment arrived. 

Mayville is training for the NPC Natural Northern USA Championships in Cleveland in October. Photos by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

She was alone as she walked onto the stage in her teal bikini and heels to reveal her new body to the judges.

“I was up there for about 15 to 30 seconds,” Mayville says. “And I was shaking. It was like I could just feel my whole body vibrating, so that I forgot my routine. I had to quickly get back in the zone.

“The judges are sitting right in front of you, and you need to be looking at them and focusing on posing. It really is scary. I had stage fright. But after I did it that first time, I became a lot more excited than I was nervous.”

She finished first in the novice class, second in the open class, and fourth in the junior class (for women aged 18 to 23). 

Mayville celebrated by feasting on the foods that she had foresworn over the last half-year.

One year after her debut event, Mayville won two categories at the 2018 NPC New England Championships in Boston. Photo courtesy of Julianna Mayville

“I had bought every box of limited-edition Oreos that was on the shelves that I could find, so that I could eat them afterwards,” she says. “It was like I was in a sugar coma for a week.”

So she has learned from her difficult, introductory experiences. Over the past 20 months, Mayville has hired a new coach who doesn’t severely limit her water intake on the day of the show. He preaches a more wholesome diet, encouraging her to make her own meals to precise measurements of carbohydrates, fat, and protein. On those increasingly rare occasions when she goes out to eat, she brings her food scale to the restaurant.

“I’ll ask for everything off to the side, and then weigh it and put it on the plate,” she says. “I don’t go out as often because I don’t want to make people uncomfortable; sometimes it makes me uncomfortable, too, because I feel like they’re looking at  me.”

Mayville is an all-natural bodybuilder who does not use steroids or other controversial drugs. She has learned to deal with the weight fluctuations that she experiences in between shows.

“For my last prep, I lost 24 pounds and went from probably a size 4 to a double-zero,” says Mayville, who is 5 feet 6 inches. “Being in such a deficit to lose so much weight, and then gaining it back again to my normal, healthy weight, is a serious mental game. I try and practice self-love as much as I can.”

In 2018, Mayville won the open and junior competitions at shows in both Boston and New York. She is training this summer from her family’s home in Merrimack in anticipation of the NPC Natural Northern USA Championships in Cleveland in October.

Mayville’s mother has overcome her initial shock (“My mom was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s my daughter on stage, half-naked’”) in addition to her skepticism over Julianne’s dietary changes. Mary Mayville, an assistant clinical professor at Northeastern’s School of Nursing, had been  wary of Julianne’s original “broscience” diet. But she is a believer now.

“It has been really interesting to watch this young lady become so focused and disciplined and controlled, when her peers are not that way,” Mary Mayville says of her daughter. “She has become more feminine and more flexible and stronger, and her diet is amazing. When other people are going out to a party, she’s saying, ‘No, I cant do that. Im focused on something else right now.’”

Mayville is considering careers as a dietician or in coaching. She is also going to pursue professional bodybuilding—the next high goal for a person who thrives on reaching for them.

“I feel much healthier, and I love the way I look,” Mayville says. “I’ve learned how far I can push myself, and how I can challenge myself in a lot of different ways. I’ve just learned a lot about myself.”

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