A NATURAL bodybuilder who was about to give up his career just a few months ago has won a place in the British championships after launching his own gym and fighting back to fitness.

Justin Shepherd, 29, from Thirsk, says he is now “living the dream” and looking forward to the biggest challenge of his career.

He stresses his rippling muscles and superb physique are purely the product of training and good food and is keen to spread the word about drug free bodybuilding.

He started training seriously when he was 18, but in his early 20’s had a serious stomach injury which meant he had to have a major operation. But he built himself back up, working as a manager of a gym.

However, after doing badly in contests and leaving his job, he was about to give it all up.

“I really did think there was no point in carrying on, everything was going wrong," he said.

"Then at the start of this year I just decided to go for it, I started my own gym and really threw myself into training and it’s all paid off."

Mr Shepherd, who grew up in Darlington, finished third in the Natural Physique Association championships, earning him an invite to enter the British Championships in October for the Open Heavyweight title.

He said: “I really can’t believe it, I was so thrilled. Now I’m doing everything to get ready for the competition.

"I train four times a week using heavy weight training exercises. I do believe that the dedication and commitment to such intense training over ten years is the biggest factor in me reaching my biggest bodybuilding achievement to date.

“The Natural Physique Association do everything they can to drown out the cheats, with drug testing, it’s all about quality food, training and commitment, and we need to spread the word about that because it is so important.

“One of the most difficult things preparing for a contest is to strip body fat whilst maintaining hard earned muscle. I do this by eating six well balanced meals a day. A regular meal is eggs cooked in coconut oil with roasted sweet potato and green vegetables."

Mr Shepherd is keen to promote body building but says his gym, Definition Studio, near York, is about fitness, with 50 clients ranging in age from women up to 71 and men aged between 21 and 65.