Bodybuilder Adrian Tan clinches historic top placing at Mr Olympia

Cheryl Tay
Fit to Post Sports

Adrian Tan onstage at Mr Olympia Muscle & Fitness Search 2013 (Adrian Tan Photo)

Passionate about cars and motorsports, Cheryl Tay is a familiar face in prominent local, regional as well as international automotive titles. More of her at She also happens to be a recent gym and fitness convert. Here she chats with Singapore bodybuilding star Adrian Tan, who recently achieved an unprecedented top-six finish at renowned international competition Mr Olympia.

Joe Weider's Olympia Fitness & Performance Weekend is pretty much the Formula One of bodybuilding -- most famously known for launching the career of a certain Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The annual international professional bodybuilding competition by the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB) has also been around since 1965, but only one Singaporean has ever been on the Olympia stage: Adrian Tan, two-time Mr. Singapore and national bodybuilding champion.

In late September this year, Tan flew to Nevada, US to compete in the Mr. Olympia Muscle & Fitness Physique Search for the third time.

And he made history for Singapore by placing in the top six out of 65 competitors, a leap up from last year's top-16 finish.

What's stopping more Singaporeans from competing at Mr Olympia, though?

“The standard is pretty high compared to back home, " said Tan, who is in his 30s. "Taking part is one thing, but cracking the top few is tough."

Adrian Tan (in green shorts) is the only Singaporean to ever step up onto the Olympia stage. (Adrian Tan Photo)

Prep for battle

Indeed, as Tan revealed, it took a lot of discipline to get to where he is now. The body and wellness coach takes 12 to 16 weeks to get in shape for competitions -- and it is an impressive shape standing 1.73m tall, weighing in at 85kg and packing a measly body fat percentage of 5%.

He hits the gym six days a week, focusing on one or two muscle groups for each three-hour session, and registers cardiovascular activity through brisk-walking one to two hours daily.

A large part of preparation includes, of course, his diet as well.

Tan prepares his own meals -- seven a day -- and they comprise lean meats like chicken or salmon on top of vegetables and rice for carbohydrates.

Supplements form part of his diet as well and his sponsor Nutrifirst provides for his protein shakes and other needs before, during and after workouts.

Closer to competition, Tan only has carbohydrates for breakfast and the rest of the day is a protein festival. From then on out, he decreases his carbohydrate intake until the desired results are visible in the mirror.

Tan says he uses the mirror as a gauge instead of the scale. (Adrian Tan Photo)


Tan, who started bodybuilding when he was 18, confessed that the combination of rigourous training and strict dietary regime typically has him feeling "very fatigued" as the competition draws near.

"You just have to be strong mentally, and not miss your workouts no matter how terrible or tired you feel," he added. "You also need to stay on course throughout and not cheat on your diet.”

“If you did everything you possibly could to bring your best on stage, you're already a winner. Most of the competitors look great and it is very subjective."

"This year on stage has been the most relaxed for me because I put everything on the line – I didn't cheat on my diet nor my training and I came looking my best.”

Backstage with other contestants at Mr Olympia Muscle & Fitness Search 2013. (Adrian Tan Photo)

Post-competition, some bodybuilders typically reward themselves with foods they had to avoid earlier, such as pizza or chocolate. Tan, however, has never felt the urge to feast.

His diet is "clean" and sticks to specific food intakes all year round, with just more carbohydrates and some "cheat meals" during the non-competition periods.

(Screencaps from Adrian Tan's Instagram.)

Some people might it’s a form of punishment to restrict yourself that way, but Tan eats almost the same thing every day and doesn't find it a chore at all.

“The thing about me is that I eat very clean whether I'm preparing for a contest or not," he explained. "This is a lifestyle, I love every facet of it, and that's where my motivation comes from."

Over nearly 20 years of bodybuilding, Tan has become increasingly fascinated with what the human physique is capable of achieving.

"I love the challenge, the discipline, the workout endorphins... It strengthens me mentally as well as physically.”

No matter how tough the going, Tan is determined to stay invested in bodybuilding for the rest of his life.

“Fitness is... like brushing your teeth. You do it unconditionally and not just for, say, two months," he said. “And bodybuilding, it's 24/7. Competitions are just a means to an end. This is a lifestyle you need to live and breathe."

While Tan draws strength from his "#fitfam" (fit family) on Instagram, the national bodybuilding star is a source of inspiration to others as well, through motivational quotes and training videos posted on the social media channel. It is, after all, his life goal to “provide direction to people keen to change and improve their overall health and well-being”.

Tan uses Instagram to inspire and be inspired. (Screencap from Adrian Tan Instagram)

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