An Interview with Figure Competitor and Writer Elesa Zehndorfer
Exclusive to Natural Muscle
Interview by Jon Harris

Natural Muscle talks to fitness enthusiast, competitor, sports scientist and author Elesa Zehndorfer about the release of her latest book which fuses two contrasting worlds together to reveal startling new insights, together with some far-reaching benefits of living the natural bodybuilding lifestyle.

Hi Elesa, let me start with wishing you many congratulations on completing your latest book! Can you tell our readers a little more about the subject matter and what inspired you to write about this?

Thank you! This book is the result of two huge passions coming together. Those two passions are basically natural bodybuilding/fitness, and business & finance. I qualified as an ETM instructor and PT over 20 years ago and know that hitting the weights and following a natural bodybuilding lifestyle has changed my life for the better. I can’t even imagine who I’d be without it. I’ve also taught a lot of young people whose lives have been turned around by sport. Over the years I’ve always wanted to know exactly why that is – why sport can change lives, and now I know. It is all in this book.

And that brings me to my second passion – business & finance, which I have a strong background in, too. My last book focused on the 2008 financial crisis, and I researched a lot of behavioural finance theory – which looks at how people trade irrationally. But I realised that physiological theory could tell us why to a much deeper level and – even better – how it could be reversed and managed extremely effectively through the use of diet and exercise. The benefit of bringing those two worlds together has been hugely additive, but I think that people from these academic areas have probably never really collaborated, so while the data is out there, these connections have never really been appreciated before.

Just for some background, what is your history in competitive sport and bodybuilding, and also academically in sports science?

I have a PhD from Loughborough University (Sport & Leisure Policy), an MSc in Exercise & Health, ETM, Pilates matwork, Spin certificates and I am also a qualified PT. I was formerly an A-level Anatomy & Physiology lecturer, a L1 weightlifting and L1 American Football coach, and was part of university sports (& business) faculties for many years. These days, I actively engage in sports-based research consulting work for organisations such as the SRA (Sport & Recreation Association), Sport England and Manchester Metropolitan University.

Bodybuilding-wise, I competed in the first ever NPA British Championships 14 years ago, and standing on the stage and coming 3rd with Andi Black in 1st place remains one of my favourite memories of all time. I’ve reached the NPA British Championships three times in total, with other placings including 2 x 2nd place in two NPA regionals. My best placing to date was winning the NPA Figure Heart of England championships & Best Presentation in 2005 which was amazing. I was also part of a national-championship winning cheerleading team and General Secretary of the International Federation of American Football for 4 years.

So, will this book be useful for natural bodybuilders, if so, what kind of help and advice can they expect to gain from it?

I think it will be hugely useful. First it gives a fundamental, comprehensive, science-backed answer to why natural bodybuilding makes you a better person, which I think might be very interesting, personally, to anyone who advocates lifting weights as a lifestyle. The book is applied in depth to traders but in reality, no matter whether you are a trader, a PT, a parent, a social worker, a teacher… we all have the same evolutionary design, and we would all benefit exactly the same way from the right fitness interventions. Natural bodybuilding can sometimes get a bad rap and be misunderstood, and it feels good to in some way be contributing to putting a positive message out there in terms of what strength training – alongside cardio, and other fitness interventions – can do. So I think natural bodybuilders might gain some real satisfaction from this book as it supports a lifestyle that they love, and also will help them understand themselves better. Yes it is focused specifically on traders but I think everyone will gain great insights from it. I think PT’s will also connect with a lot of clients better using the data in the book, too.

The trading aspect is very interesting. How did you come to learn about this field, and what led you to form a connection there with exercise and nutrition?

After I completed my PhD at Loughborough I wanted to step out of academia for a year, and ended up at a niche finance company, helping set up and manage their London & Jo’burg offices. I left in 2007, right as the 2008 financial crisis was ramping up, and I’ll never forget some of the crazy insights I got from visiting consultants at various investment banks. Then I went to work as a Senior Lecturer in a sports faculty for a number of years but I never lost that interest in trading, and kept up with the markets as a kind of hobby. Then I really focused on trading for my last book (Charismatic Leadership: The Role of Charisma in the Global Financial Crisis: Routledge, 2016). One thing that really interested me was an explosion in a finance-related area of study called ‘behavioural finance’ that categorised how traders are actually irrational people. Behavioural finance told me how traders are irrational but I knew physiology/sport science could advance that theory by explaining why they were irrational, and how a lot of that irrationality could be dialled back.

My husband is also a trader so he has been able to give me some really indispensable insights into the reality of trading so everything basically ended up combining together to give me a huge motivation to write the book.

Would non-traders also benefit from reading the book? For example, people with difficult or stressful jobs, or jobs that require complex decision making?

Definitely. In reality, we are all designed the same in evolutionary terms – so the risks and benefits of dopamine, cortisol, testosterone, GABA, DHEA, serotonin, and all these other steroids and neurotransmitters are also there for all of us. I’ve tied the science together, so it’s really a case of reading the book, and applying it to your own situation and it really can help anyone.

I was honoured to be able to contribute a short section towards the end, talking about my own experiences in bodybuilding and how this has helped me, not just in developing my physique and staying healthy, but also improving concentration levels and improving productivity at work, and basically just keeping me on top of my game so to speak. It seems to be a seldom talked about upside of training, would you agree?

Your account of deciding to take on the World Championships actually closes the book, and there is a big reason for that. As you’ve mentioned, the mental benefits of bodybuilding are extraordinary, yet virtually never discussed. People know the basics of how running, say, can boost endorphins, yet the life-changing neurological effects of a natural bodybuilding style diet and lifting schedule has, until this point, been mostly ignored (outside of the natural bodybuilding community, at least). All the readers on this website will know what those benefits are, but you generally never see them quantified properly to Joe Public and communicating them can be tough. And that’s what this book does, for the first time. I don’t use the term ‘natural bodybuilding’ throughout the book as it is for a mainstream audience but it talks about testosterone, DHEA, GABA, etc a lot from the first chapter, then the last chapter is where everything ties together with fitness interventions. Wrapping it up with the words of a natural bodybuilding world champion pretty much finishes on exactly the right tone – it is a light touch and insightful way to communicate the real value of natural bodybuilding without alienating mainstream readers who might otherwise have had negative preconceptions about the sport.

I believe you've had some other contributions too, from people in other walks of life. Can you talk about those?

There are some amazing contributors, alongside yourself. I’ve combined some pretty extensive theory with expert insights of individuals as wide ranging as the CEO of a leading US financial fraud company, a CNBC executive producer, a hedge fund trader & portfolio manager based at an award-winning hedge fund, and the global head of trading for a leading international bank. In my opinion, there’s nothing like combining theory with practice to get the best possible view.

What formats will it be available in? Can you give us a brief chapter breakdown?

The book is published by Routledge, and will be available in hardback and on Kindle later this year. You can actually pre-order it already from all leading online retailers, including Amazon, Waterstones and Barnes & Noble.

As an author, can you tell us a little more about the process of book writing? Is this something that comes naturally to you? How long does it take to write a book and what are some of the hurdles and difficulties you need to overcome to actually get something finished and published?

It’s always been a dream of mine to write a book. This is now my third book, so I’ve found my style & comfort zone when I write. Training very intensively whilst writing intensively suits me best (to avoid over-focusing on one thing), so I was training for bodybuilding competitions whilst I wrote this. I basically lived the physiology in this book and it got me to the NPA National Championships last year and a manuscript for a very ambitious vision that I was, eventually, 100% happy with. Which I was very proud of because for the 2 months prior to the competition I had no gym to train in, and no childcare, so it took a pretty iron will (which all competitors have of course – I am no exception) to even get to the stage in the first place.

Definitely raised testosterone levels (as a result of lifting weights and protein ingestion) helped me with becoming super focused, for example; omega 3, 6 & 9 helped with mental clarity and processing, magnesium had been indispensable for great sleep which has maximised my cognitive abilities (and so on). The dual benefits of competing whilst writing a book about those exact benefits were unbelievably additive to each other. I guess that’s a very unusual approach but it suited me!

So, now this book is complete, are there more plans for the future? What are the hot areas of study right now?

One other interesting outcome of the book was that I found out exactly why sport is successful as an intervention with young, at risk kids. It relates to the immaturity of areas of the young brain, the effect of stress in that kids’ developing brain, the extra risk if that kid has high testosterone, and the interaction of his environment with his physiology. Apply the right training and diet and so much damage can be reversed. That in itself is amazing to me, so I’d like to look at that more.

The next dream I am pursuing is my first fiction book, and currently I am working as a freelance researcher, with contracts mostly focusing on sports-related studies.

And competitively in bodybuilding, do you have any future goals there? Any other hobbies away from the stage?

I am a lifelong fan of natural bodybuilding and it has made a phenomenal impact on my life, so I really want to support it as a sport, and I hope that this book might go some way to pushing the natural bodybuilding agenda. As a competitor, I’ve done a few competitions recently which were awesome and in particular getting to the NPA Finals last year and also coming 2nd in the NPA SE in a tough class was immense. I’m taking a break right now but never say never! As for other sports, I’ve been getting into water sports – mostly SUP and kayaking and also hiking – so I’ll be doing a lot more of that in the near future I think!

Well, best of luck with the book launch Elesa, and thanks for your time in doing this interview for Natural Muscle! So, to remind our readers, what is the title of the book, do you have a release date and where can people pick up a copy? Also, how can people get in touch with you?

Many thanks! It’s great to be interviewed on Natural Muscle. All leading online retailers stock the book in Kindle and Hardback – the release date is likely to be Dec 2017 but you can pre-order it now. It is called ‘The Physiology of Emotional & Irrational Investing: Causes & Solutions’ (Elesa Zehndorfer) and is published by Routledge.

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