Heaving a sack of protein onto the bench, Alex McAlpine prepares his third shake of the day.
He adds peanuts to the strawberry drink – already more than 1000 calories per serve – to give it added protein.
It is part of his ritual: his preparation for an hour and a half workout, four times a week.
His obsession is not unique. He is one of many young men who spend their days going to the gym and structuring their diets in the hope of getting big.
“Obsession – it’s what lazy people call dedication,” says McAlpine, a 21-year-old University of Auckland student.
A desire among young men to become bigger or ripped has become so common there is now a specific type of body dysmorphic disorder that describes extreme gym-goers.
Known as muscle dysmorphia or bigorexia, it refers to people who become consumed with gaining muscle and believe they are too skinny.
A representative of the Eating Disorder Association of New Zealand, Susanna Brittain, says eating disorders among men are a new trend.
“The major trend is this gym culture. Usually it [body dysmorphia] is a girl thing, but male’s obsessiveness with going to the gym is a problem.”
Brittain says the disorder, sometimes called the Adonis complex, is not common, but is not the exception either.
“Not every boy that drinks protein shakes or eats only egg whites for every meal has an eating disorder but we definitely see it.”
Another enthusiastic gym-goer, Jaxson Anderson-Smith, 20, says his choice to focus on his body is for his health, not just for the look.
Tom Pittman, McAlpine’s personal trainer, says he sees young men doing bad things to their bodies.
“Most people have bad eating habits that can’t keep up with what they put their body through.”
While for some it’s about looking to impress, for others working out is about control.
“It started off for the ladies but the more you get into it the more obsessive you get,” says McAlpine.
“I don’t see gym as an obsession, I see the gym as my dedication to my own preservation, my own will to stay fit, stay healthy, stay aesthetic. Only people who don’t understand use the word obsession to describe another who is dedicated in what they believe in.”
McAlpine and Pittman say the friends they make at the gym become their motivation, rather than the people they do not know, no matter how “buff” they may be.
“You watch YouTube clips of guys working out to get tips and you look at pictures of guys on the Internet but you’re really critical,” says McAlpine.
Both men say it is a matter of eating well and knowing your limits, but do not think there is a problem with working hard at the gym.
“Some people take it more seriously. Is that bad?” says McAlpine.
“F**k what the people say, create something out of yourself and use it to your success but always remember to stay humble, never put others down and only ever put yourself and others up,” says Anderson-Smith.
“That is why I started gym and why I keep gymming for life.”