Eric Tai: From fat to fitness icon
WELL-BEING - Mylene Mendoza-Dayrit (The Philippine Star) - January 18, 2016 - 9:00am

Eric Tai captured the limelight via the popular daily ABS-CBN noontime show It’s Showtime. Massive but graceful. Tough yet soft. He gets noticed not only because he is huge but also because he is talented. I remember the first time I saw him in the gym. He was using the studio to practice a dance number. That may be five or six years ago, but I clearly remember it because he danced extremely well.

“I want to do action movies, establish myself as a well-known brand in the fitness industry, have lots of kids, and continue to be happy and to inspire others,” Eric spills out his current goals. To inspire others to embrace fitness, he chronicles his fitness journey as often as he can and shares them via social media.

His celebrity friends Will Devaughn and Andy Smith are normally with him in the posts working out, showing off or even clowning around in the gym. Their respective significant others — his wife Rona, Roxanne Barcelo (for Will), and Diana Zubiri (for Andy) — complete the fitness-oriented barkada. Their friendship and shared passion for fitness even gave birth to a manufacturing and retail business, which deserves another feature story.

Much recently though, another friend started being part of Eric’s fitness journey. Meet Arnold Aninion, a former rugby teammate of Eric in Philippine Volcanoes and a neighbor in South Auckland, New Zealand.

Eric decided to take a break after Showtime’s Canadian tour in September of 2014. After a much-deserved vacation, he went back to his noontime show in December 2014. Working out again wasn’t Eric’s priority until he saw a picture taken by one of Showtime’s hosts Vhong Navarro. “I just couldn’t believe that it was me in the picture. I was just thinking that if I were to be a good role model for others to take care of themselves and be fit, this would not be a good picture,” explains Eric.

He started pumping it out in the gym again but results were slow. Then he remembered seeing his Volcano teammate Arnold (or Arnie to friends) who was in his fittest shape ever. Seeing his friend in his best shape ever inspired and motivated Eric to work out harder to get in better shape himself. 

“The first time I saw Arnie was in 2010 and his physique was massive. Then when I saw him again, he got ripped, which looks much better on him. I asked him what I could be doing wrong. He just said I already had the muscles, but they were just covered. To make them come out, I had to add fast- or high- intensity cardio to my program and really get the sweets out of my system and survive only on minimal carbohydrates, sources of good fats, and lean protein,” notes Eric.

Eric started his fitness makeover program with Arnie and saw amazing results in just a month. 

Adjustments he had to deal with were difficult to manage at first. He found it difficult to rely on minimal carbs and good fats as sources of energy for workout and daily activities.

“When I started feeling weak and hungry in the middle of my workout, I would call Arnie and ask him what to do. He would always advise me to finish a liter of water to distract me from my hunger,” Eric elaborates.

“He would say, ‘Eric, are you okay? You lack energy today. Remember that your title is Eruption. The viewers expect to see you all pumped up with adrenalin,’” he recalls his director saying.

He solved his problem eventually by rearranging his eating schedule in such a way that he would have enough energy either before working out or before hosting on TV.

“With the right eating schedule, I was able to manage my energy for my workout and for my TV hosting activities. And since this has worked for me, I am currently sustaining this way of eating healthy, ” he happily shares.

“With the positive comments I get from my followers, I am even more driven to sustain this level of fitness or even bring it up a notch so that I get to influence my followers to strive to be fit as well,” he adds.

Arnie tells us what Eric’s diet is all about. “His basic diet consists of oats, eggs, chicken, fish, broccoli, avocado, almonds, and asparagus. Occasionally, he would add other vegetables such as carrots. All his meals were low in sodium and would incorporate key ingredients such as turmeric, cumin seed and cinnamon, to name a few, which have great health benefits, such as reducing inflammation, being high in antioxidants and natural fat burners.”

“In addition, we made it a rule to consume these foods in small amounts to avoid bloating,” Arnie points out.

“When it came to the time to ‘cut up’ the muscles (definition), we simply lowered Eric’s  carb intake to a safe and reasonable level, anywhere from 50 to 80 grams. In his program, Eric started to perform faster cardio in the process,” Arnie mentions.

Fast-forward to a year later: With a six-pack and great physique, Eric became worthy to land the first-ever local cover of Muscle & Fitness. What Eric continues to strive for is a healthy balance of the different components of his life — spiritual, mental, social and physical. He wants to show others that fame and fortune are just distractions to what happiness really is.

“I was able to call upon my own experiences growing up in South Auckland and push Eric in a way that reminded him of the experiences at home which made him who he is today. Positively conditioning his mind by making him realize where he came from, and those who came before him and what they have accomplished, Eric developed a healthy obsession with training, eating sensibly, and the desire to be the best at whatever he chooses to do. Realizing and choosing this path to be fit and healthy, however, did not come immediately for Eric. It took months or maybe even a year before he committed to this change. But once he made that decision, there was no turning back,” says Arnie of Eric’s transformation.

“Before we knew it, we needed to address the obstacles that would get in the way of Eric’s success: his limited time for working out (given his TV hosting schedules) and his love for junk food.  He also had to unlearn some training philosophies that wouldl slow down his development. So on Day 1, I sat him down and asked him nicely to keep an open mind and to present a willingness to learn new things and in the process grow,” he continues.

“Eric’s initial program was very simple. We started by bringing his current conditioning up-to-date and incorporated High Volume Training (HVT) techniques (so high frequency at 90% max) performed as supersets.  We would perform one compound movement on a targeted muscle group, followed by another for the opposing muscle. For example, bench press, followed by bent over barbell rows at around 90% max. We would do around 4-5 sets and anywhere between 15 and 20 reps,” he adds.

“However, for the days where we only targeted his back and legs ,we still performed high-volume training on these groups, which is quickly followed by an isolation movement. Such as squats, followed by seated leg extensions. For the shoulders, standing military presses, followed by upright rows.”

“These small tweaks returned great results for him within a couple of weeks. Eric lost 25 pounds of fat as his physique transformed to that of a well-sculpted athlete, the Eruption as we know him to be. He had now embraced the name Eruption, the icon he had become to so many. His name was no longer just a title, or some showbiz nickname. It serves as his badge of excellence and like a true soldier of life, it is something he now holds on to with renewed pride and honor,” Arnie proudly quips.

Eric started lifting weights at 18 when he got a job as front desk staff in an Auckland gym. Part of his perk was a membership. While he extremely enjoyed that experience, an emptiness made him join the Church of Latter Day Saints’ mission in Naga for two years. He saved up the funds for his mission through his gym salary. He didn’t want to ask his parents for money since it was his decision to go on a missionary trip.

“We were just given two years to serve for the mission so that we could also achieve a sense of balance in other aspects of our lives. Through exploring other aspects of our lives, we can also discover other talents and gifts given to us by God and share these to benefit others,” Eric comments.

While Eric did return home after his two-year mission work in Naga, fate brought him back to a Philippine vacation with his Filipino girlfriend. It was during that trip that he was discovered and got his first TV commercial break. One break after another happened. Work kept him here and now, with a lovely wife and a self-imposed mission to be a fitness crusader here in the Philippines, he is perhaps forever anchored.

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