As a teenager, Eddy Elwood's first sporting love was boxing, but a lack of local opposition in his light-heavyweight category forced him to step up a division to heavyweight.
The transition required more hours in the weight room, prompting the 19-year-old to enter a junior body-building contest. He won the novice competition, and, 15 years on, has added a few more trophies to his collection; twice British Champion, Elwood is the current Professional Mr Universe.
"Boxing was my first love, but when I won the junior competition, I thought I'd give body building another go," he says. "It just snowballed from there. I've always been an intense trainer, and I love competition."
Top-level body building requires a methodological approach to training and diet that is nothing short of scientific. In the gym, the human body is sculpted into shape by weight repetitions that target specific body parts. A gradual progression of weight resistance puts muscles under increased resistance, helping to define them.
In the run-up to competitions, Elwood, who now weighs around 20 stone, trains for about 2hrs 30mins a day, six days a week, pumping 15-20 repetitions per body part. "I train heavier now, with less reps and more weights."
Elwood possesses a near encyclopedic knowledge of muscle, anatomy and diet. "The last three days before a competition, you don't work out, but concentrate on loading up on carbohydrates to create fuller and better- defined muscles. You have to monitor your sodium and fat intake because your main aim is to reduce body fat while keeping all of your muscle tissue - it's quite a balancing act."
Training for top body builders extends beyond their workouts. The right kind of foods and nutrients have to be consumed at the right time in large quantities throughout the day. Elwood carries protein shakes with him when away from home for even a few hours.
In many respects, body building is as much about the 12 weeks prior to the competition as the day itself.
"It's often a selfish sport," says Elwood, who takes a religious approach to preparation. "You have to make sacrifices, and sometimes your family also goes without because you can't go out or have a drink down the local pub as you're totally focused on the competition."
His hard work has put him at the top of his profession, where, unlike in many other sports, his main competitors are often also British. In this year's Professional Universe competition, every class bar one was won by a Brit.
This feat is even more impressive in view of the fact that these athletes are largely anonymous outside body-building circles, and receive very little support or investment.
"If money and sponsorship were there, we'd be well known, but we're all realistic about the situation," says Elwood, who is sponsored by Allsports Protein powders and vitamins, but spends more money on his sport than he makes.
"I never started body building to make money or become a superstar. I did it because I like training hard and want to see results. Body building is one of the best ways of doing that because you can see the change in your physique.
"Some people put it all down to illegal drugs, but body building is 90 per cent nutrition. If it were all about drugs, everyone would be walking around with incredible physiques. Hard work in the gym is only part of the process; without nutrition, it's like trying to drive a car without petrol. I love competition, and whatever I do in life, I've always given it 100 per cent."
Without a significant change in perception, British body building will stay, in the main, outside the public eye. The one advantage many top body builders have is that they don't fade away into retirement . . . There's always a shot at Hollywood and a career in movies.
For more information, contact the National Amateur Building Association (01384 898578)
THREE PLACES TO PUMP IRON
Unit 5, Fountayne Road, Tottenham, London N15 (0181-808 6580). As well as conventional fitness training, staff offer advice on body- building programmes, including dietary and personal work-out advice.
Mon-Fri 9am-10pm, Sat 10am-4pm, Sun 10am-3pm. pounds 30 membership fee, pounds 2.50 per session.
Unit D6, Guy Motors Industrial Park, Park Lane, Wolverhampton (01902 306 584). Body-building programmes, plus dietary and personal work-out advice, are provided by trained staff.
Mon-Fri 9am-9pm, weekends 10am-2pm.
pounds 1.50 before 4pm, pounds 2 after, per session.
King Alfred Leisure Centre, Kingsway, Hove (01273 206 644).
Body-building programmes plus dietary and work-out advice, and competitions throughout the year.
Mon-Fri 9am-10pm, Sat 10am-4pm, Sun 10am-2pm. Annual membership pounds 170; sessions pounds 3.50 before 4pm, pounds 5 after.