It was in the mid-1980s when a 12-year-old Jay Cutler, while flipping through a muscle magazine, got a glimpse of Chris Dickerson, who in 1982 became the oldest Mr. Olympia at age 43. “At the time, I said to my older brother—I’m the youngest of seven kids—‘I want to look like that,’” Cutler recalls. “And he said, ‘You’re crazy! You don’t want to look like that!’ But that’s what I wanted to do.”
Soon after, Cutler’s physique began to develop through concrete work he did for his family’s business in Worcester, Mass. And with each shirtless pass by a mirror, he became more obsessed with his look. Then on his 18th birthday, Cutler began a hard-core, four-year training program that eventually led to four Mr. Olympia titles (2006, ’07, ’09 and ’10) and six second-place finishes.
Today, Cutler, 38, is considered the face of bodybuilding. When not training in Las Vegas (he moved here from Southern California in 2002), Cutler tours the world doing special appearances and staging heath and fitness seminars. On April 7, he will host the 2012 NPC Jay Cutler Desert Classic at the Pearl in the Palms (JayCutlerDesertClassic.com). The event features contests in bodybuilding, men’s and women’s physique, women’s figure and women’s bikini, and although the 5-foot-9, 310-pound Cutler won’t be competing—he’s recovering from surgery on one of his 22½-inch biceps—he’ll be on hand for meet-and-greets and autograph signings.
What’s a training day like in Jay Cutler’s world?
When I’m training for a competition, I’m in the gym probably four times a day, at least an hour apiece. But the rest of the day is spent prepping food, eating seven to eight meals a day and pretty much following a strict schedule.
What’s the biggest misconception about bodybuilders?
That it’s all drugs—steroids, that kind of thing. [Critics] don’t understand how much dedication and hard work goes into it. And a lot of these supplements that we use and endorse nowadays have a lot to do with the advancement of the physiques from, let’s say, the [Arnold] Schwarzenegger days. There’s a lot of new equipment, and we now have nutritionists and guidance people that they didn’t have before.
How many supplements are you taking?
I take almost 100 pills a day, from vitamins to antioxidants to proteins and creatines and glutamines and recovery products, pre-workouts, post-workouts, things to put you in a deeper sleep. There are so many over-the-counter supplements that are great.
How long can you continue to be a competitive bodybuilder?
It’s hard to really say. Your body is at its best at 35, 36, somewhere around there. So I’m coming toward the end here, but I still think I have a little bit more in me. I had an injury last year; I lost the Olympia because of a biceps tear. But I just had that fixed, so I’m out of the gym until May, and then I can start training again and hopefully make another run at trying to win the title back, which I’ve done before.
So if most people aim for six-pack abs, what do you have?
I have an eight-pack. I’m a little overdeveloped!
What’s your advice to someone who’s 30 pounds overweight—what’s the first go-to move?
Everyone thinks, “Oh, I gotta go to the gym and work out!” but everything starts with the diet. It almost has to become a lifestyle, and that’s what people don’t understand. It’s not just [a commitment of] a couple of hours a day; it’s actually putting in 24 hours a day. The most important thing in a workout routine is, of course, the workout, but you need to sleep properly, you need to eat properly, you need to rest properly. You can’t just go to the gym and not eat [good] food and expect to get results. It’s like trying to run a car on no gas—you’re not going to get anywhere.
The best thing is to clean up your diet and get some sort of exercise program going. But I tell people: If you’re not going to eat properly, don’t even bother going to the gym, because it’s just kind of going backward.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Carrot cake, for sure. I had a piece last night. But I felt OK because I did cardio for an hour before, and I ate a good meal before the cake. So I didn’t feel too guilty.
Was there a certain moment when you said, “I can do this; I want to be Mr. Olympia”?
Well, it wasn’t really necessarily that I wanted to be Mr. Olympia. I just always wanted to be the best at something, but I wasn’t really sure what that was. I saw muscles [developing] when I was 12 or 13, and I liked that. Then at 16 I decided I wanted to be a bodybuilder, but Mr. Olympia was never really an actual goal until I landed second place in my first Mr. Olympia in 2001. That’s when I realized, “Wow, I can actually win this thing!”
What’s tougher for you: the mental or physical aspect of training?
The mental aspect, for sure. Physically I have a lot of great genetics to be a bodybuilder; I was blessed with every body part. But the hardest part is the mental challenge that it takes to actually go in the gym and train at full intensity every single day, follow the nutrition program. There are a lot of ups and downs, and every day in the gym is not necessarily the best day. So it’s really difficult for me sometimes to keep on track and be able to focus on what I need to focus on, and always stay positive.
Have you ever thought you’ve personally taken it overboard and that maybe you should scale back?
Well, of course. But to be competitive I had to push myself beyond what my ultimate goal was. I never wanted to be a 300-pound bodybuilder, but I had no choice to be competitive. I compete at 260, 270, and that means my offseason weight has to be a lot higher than that in order to diet down over those four months. At 240, I thought I had a great body. But in order to be competitive, I had to go further and further.
What’s the one part of your workout routine that you most dread?
Probably my back or leg training, because it tends to be quite tortuous. Usually afterward, your lower back and your legs are sore, so it’s hard to walk, it’s hard to bend over. Those are probably the worst body parts to train, for me.
How much can you bench press?
The best I’ve done is 550 pounds for two [reps]. I usually don’t train with anyone or use spotters.
What’s it like having your own event in Las Vegas?
It’s great. It’s my way of giving back, which is the greatest gift I’ve gotten from bodybuilding—getting to be an influence and a role model for a lot of people and give people a story that, really, this can happen to anyone. I came from a very small town in Massachusetts, and I had a dream to be something really, really great, and it ended up being a professional bodybuilder. I came from the bottom and went to the top. Now I’m just trying to teach people about health and fitness, what it can bring in your life and to focus on the positive things rather than the negative.
What do you think Jay Cutler is going to look like when he’s 65?
I’m sure I’ll still be fit. I don’t think I’ll be 300 pounds, but hopefully I’ll keep that image of good health at any age and still be out there spreading the word about bodybuilding, fitness and health.