On a rainy morning at Angkor Muscle Gym, the air is thick with humidity, sweat and the grunts of splendidly chiselled young Khmer men – plus Paul Harris, the lone Englishman who will compete tomorrow in this year’s Mr Angkor competition.
Insider caught up with the 29-year-old as he was working his laterals and glowering ferociously at the mirrors on the gym wall, training for the contest which he signed up for three months ago, for fun, and has since been following a punishing exercise and diet regime.
“I wanted something to do outside of the usual getting up, going to work and going out routine that you see here. It seemed like fun,” says Harris, before describing a routine that sounded anything but.
This week, Harris has been allowed nothing but 20g of gummy bears after his daily workout, and lots of chicken. Even his water is rationed. For the month before that, he faced a reduced diet of 1400 calories a day, including strictly measured portions of pasta, chicken, tuna and broccoli, helping him lose his body fat.
“It’s really boring,” says the Angkor What? Bar manager, who hasn’t had alcohol since he started training. “And your social life goes out the window”.
But aside from the diet, gym-time and avoiding friends wielding French fries, Harris has faced other difficulties.
All contestants must be completely hair-free everywhere visible. “I’m going to have to wax my bikini line, and my underarms. I’d forgotten about that bit,” he says, looking a little unnerved
Contestants must use a product called Dream Tan which emphasises the definition of muscles and hairs, even short ones, will show up as black spots underneath the copper-coloured coating.
Harris has been advised to ‘tan up’ to help the process, which might be difficult as most redheads like him just end up red and white.
Harris is not the most obvious contender as a body builder. His natural frame is slender and he finds it harder to put on weight than most people, features that mark him out as a natural runner, which he is reportedly phenomenally good at.
The competition has five categories this year: under 60kg; 60-65kg; 65-70kg; over 70kg; Fitness Model, and Masters and Harris is worried about losing weight. If he drops below 70kg, he reckons he won’t have a chance of making it through to the finals as there will be too many contenders to beat.
At the moment, he’s playing a numbers game, and hoping that, as there won’t be too many in his over 70 kg category, he may stand a chance.
Contestants are judged not just on sheer bulk, but also on the definition of their muscles. And here, Harris also hopes that his discipline will see him through.
“I’m definitely not as big as some the guys I’m up against. But I’ve been really strict, and haven’t had any sneaky beers or blow-outs, so I’m hoping that I’ll have a lot more definition in my muscles. I find it quite hard to tell now though because I’m still so white.”
But Harris is already fixating on what he’ll do when the contest is over – eat something that isn’t chicken or broccoli.
“I’ve already worked out exactly what I’m going to have when it’s over, starting with a fish finger sandwich, a Carlsberg, about six cheese burgers and a pizza,” he says. “Then I’ve got a big jar of Branston Pickle at home, and I’m going to demolish that in seconds.”
Then it’s straight back to the gym for the buff barang, perhaps training for next year’s marathon as this means he has to eat lots of carbohydrates instead of protein. “Maybe next year I’ll do that instead,” he says.