Surviving GNC: A Mid-Life Crisis

by Jay Stern

I’ve been lifting weights since I was fifteen, so when I swagger into the mall GNC, lats flared, chest puffed out and face red with a mixture of high blood pressure and extreme gut-sucking, Derek, the pimply-faced teen behind the counter, knows I mean business.

At 43 and 235 lbs, I no longer resemble the nineteen year old version of myself who once hit the tanning salon every single day for eight weeks just so I could don a thong and flex my muscles to the thrilling beat of Alphaville’s ‘Forever Young’ in a teen bodybuilding pageant contest.

But that doesn’t stop me from flexing my triceps as I point to the latest ‘pre-workout’ supplement called ‘Drive’ and ask Derek if this stuff really works. Derek, from my vast experience as a carnival worker, looks to be about 137 lbs and doesn’t appear to have ever set foot inside a gym, but I won’t let that stop me from listening to his anecdotal testimony about having ‘packed on 40 lbs of muscle’ since he began using Drive last week. As a former bodybuilder, a part of my brain knows that this shopping adventure is all for naught. That GNC exists for men the same way that Sephora exists for women: We really, REALLY want to believe that there’s some secret sauce — besides growth hormone and plastic surgery — but deep down we know we’re just buying the fantasy. Still, the fantasy of having soccer moms drooling over the only dad who doesn’t look eight months pregnant is enough to keep my wallet fully erect.

After walking up and down the aisles for three minutes, I start to feel my muscles going catabolic so I pick up an Oh Yeah! Protein bar and ask how it tastes. When Derek tells me that they’re better than Snickers and that the proprietary amino acid complex hidden between the chocolate, peanuts and caramel helped him get ripped in 4 days, I can’t help stop myself from doing a really bad impression of Macho Man Randy Savage and squawking, ‘Ohhh Yeah!’ as I flex my 16″ 17″ 18″ guns.

I look at the ingredient list on the protein bar and come to the conclusion that this is, in fact, nothing more than a $3 Snickers with a cooler name. But anyone who’s ever strutted their way through the bench press area of the gym on a Monday evening holding a gallon jug of water knows that you don’t garner respect from your fellow unemployed lifters by chowing down candy bars. Any self-respecting Bodybuilding Douche (BBD) knows that in the same manner that 40% of your weekly calories must consist of protein, 40% of your weekly income SSI/Disability check must be spent on supplements.

Bogus Ads

Gain 100 lbs of muscle in days!

I peruse the aisles a bit more, picking up one shiny, reflective cannister after another, loaded with false promises to ‘DOUBLE YOUR MUSCLE’ or containing citations in 4 point font to scientific studies guaranteed to improve nitrogen retention (whatever that is) by 643% and wonder which product is going to allow me to eat Cookie Crisp for breakfast, pizza for lunch, Cheesecake Factory for dinner, skip my workout and still get JACKED. It’s about that time that I see a product called ‘Jack3d’.  I immediately recognize the ingenius marketing ploy to seize on the huge dyslexic bodybuilding demographic by reversing the ‘E’ into a ’3′. And I when I say ‘huge dyslexic bodybuilding demographic’, I’m basing that strictly on my own anecdotal reports of bodybuilders preferring books without words and not any particular NYU medical study.

Jack3d has made the news in recent months because some young bodybuilders have died while allegedly using the product. With a physician nowhere in sight, I ask Derek if the product is safe to use. “Oh sure. They took out the stuff that made it dangerous.” I breathe a sigh of relief and add it to my shopping cart.  And by shopping cart, I mean my aching biceps singing from lactic acid build-up from cradling a 3 lb box of Oh Yeah bars for the past six minutes.

I ask Derek if there’s anything else I need and he recommends a ‘Fat-Burner’. I suck my stomach in so hard I get a rib cramp and shoot him a quizzical look. Fat-burner? I actually swore I saw a row of abs in the mirror 11 or 12 years ago. Fortunately, this GNC has one of those Bodyfat scales. I insert a dollar, enter my age, remove my shoes and step onto the scale for a bodyfat analysis. The machine blinks and flashes and then lies that I am 251 lbs and 43% bodyfat. “I think the machine is broken,” I tell Derek,  ”the weight is off by about 15 lbs and the bodyfat tester just told me my age.” Derek removes a dollar from his wallet and steps onto the machine. It confirms that he is 137lbs and has a bodyfat of 12.8%. “That’s weird,” I say, “It must be my heavy tracksuit throwing off the scale.” I begin shedding my excess clothing to get a more accurate estimate, but Derek stops me right before I remove my boxer-briefs and tells me that he’ll take my word for it. Whew. No need for those fat-burner pills.


Charitable Posing in Mirror

By the time Derek helps me off the floor after tying my shoes, I’ve worked up a nice sweat and Derek guides me to the refrigerator where he suggests replacing my lost electrolytes and re-filling my protein reserves with a post-workout beverage. He pops off the cap and hands me a bottle of liquid resembling anti-freeze. The price tag says $4.99. I take a sip. “This takes exactly like Gatorade,” I tell him. “Gatorade for muscles,” he corrects me, and I immediately feel better about spending my son’s allowance on something that not only benefits me, but will also make his mother happy when she sees me posing in the bathroom mirror later that evening.

Our last stop is ‘The Vault’ — a heavily guarded and secured area of the store shelving protected by an impenetrable force-field of Plexiglass and a .99 cent luggage lock. I look past the reflection of the fat guy staring back at me with the double chin and bologna tits and ogle the treasure trove of muscle-building madness that lies behind the glass — it’s a veritable goldmine of high-priced products promising to do even more than the regular products on the shelves.

“Is this stuff even legal?” I ask. Derek furtively looks up and down the aisles, making sure that the undercover Homeland Security officers are nowhere in sight and whispers, “It’s grey-market.” I also lower my voice to a whisper. “Like steroids?” I ask. Disney-momsLegal steroids,” he whispers back. He pulls out his secret key and unlocks the compartment. I lean forward with excitement. He removes a small box containing a glued on label reading ‘Charg3d’ and hands it to me. It has no ingredient label. Just a price tag reading $119.99. “Wow, that’s expensive,” I say. He grabs a second box and whispers back, “I’ll hook you up with a Gold Card. BOGO, brah.”
My face lights up at the idea of getting two boxes of useless supplements for the price of one, and in my excitement, I can barely stop myself from striking a most-muscular pose right there.  As I follow Derek to the cash register, I quickly imagine myself on Spring Break, standing shirtless with my kids on the It’s a Small World line at Disney World and getting eyefucked by all of the Facebook moms like Magic Mike. Shit is about to get real, son!

Ohhh Yeah!


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