Transforming one’s physique to be stage-ready is a challenging task.
The training and nutritional diligence is arduous enough, but this transformation also challenges our self-esteem and the way we see our bodies’ natural flaws and unique features. But success on the stage demands a heightened awareness of the body’s appearance, and requires a harsh critique of every muscle cut and extra layer of fat. It seems ironic then, that a sport that is so challenging and critical of the sense of self would be the method that Emily Zelinka chose to become her personal best.
Growing up, Emily’s feelings of self-consciousness and unhappiness with how her body was developing led to some unhealthy behaviors and disordered eating patterns. She skipped meals to control her calories; she scrutinized her reflection in the mirror constantly throughout the day. It was only through the support of friends and family that Emily realized her behaviors were destructive and needed to change.
Emily joined a local gym and quickly became hooked on the rush of training. Her love of lifting inspired her to pursue a diploma in Fitness and Health Promotion, followed by a career in Personal Training before she made the switch to become a paramedic. The change in career focus did not lessen her addiction to train and maintain a healthy lifestyle. If anything, being able to manage the challenges of shiftwork, lifting and moving patients reinforced the need for Emily to stay active. But Emily’s new healthy lifestyle also proved to be a life-saver in other ways as well.
At the time Emily was beginning her new career as a full-time paramedic, she had just broken off a long term relationship and felt her self-esteem becoming deflated. Some of the familiar disordered eating patterns began to resurface. Beyond time in the gym and healthy eating, Emily felt she needed to find something to refocus her self-concept positively again; something that would make her feel good, healthy and confident.
In the back of her mind, Emily had always thought about competing on the physique stage but had her doubts — did she have what it would take to compete? By mid-2007, she felt ready to find out, and met with IFBB Pro Stephanie Worsfold. Under the coaching of Stephanie and her personal trainer Brad Fowler, Emily decided to train for an OPA (Ontario Physique Association) figure show that fall. She entered with the goal to simply not place last, and was astounded to win both her division (Figure Tall) and Overall. Walking away with the trophies in hand, Emily was also walking away with a renewed sense of herself.
Emily continued to train and eat for success on the stage through 2008. In May, she won first in her class again at the South Central Championships, and then went on to take 2nd place in Figure Tall at the provincials in June. Her placement earned her a place on stage at the Nationals in British Columbia in August 2009.
Whether in a competition prep phase or on an average off-season day, Emily follows the principles of PN to maintain her weight at 145 lb in between contests and transform her physique to a svelte 135 lb for the stage. Emily likes to get her day started right by training first thing – she finds it helps set the tone for the rest of the day. During competition season, Emily will get in 20-30 mins of higher intensity interval training before breakfast, but always sits down to breakfast before a heavy weight training session.
Whether on or off season, her favorite meal of the day is an egg white omelet consisting of:
- 8 egg whites
- 1 cup spinach
- Red onion
- Raw, whole grain oats
- Mrs. Dash (garlic and herb)
All added to a pan with 1 tbsp of melted coconut oil and scrambled up into a delicious dish.
The rest of the day, Emily sticks to simple principles to meet her nutritional and physique goals. She eats a meal or snack every 3 hours. Each feeding must have a minimum of 25 g of protein. She adds complex carbohydrates to breakfast and lunch, exercises portion control, drinks plenty of water, and listens to what her body says it needs.
Morning snack: a protein shake; veggies with hummus
Lunch: chicken breast (boneless/skinless), 1 cup brown rice, veggies unlimited (usually broccoli and/or cauliflower)
Afternoon snack: 1 can of tuna with veggies (sometimes Emily will put tuna and veggies on small whole wheat wrap)
Dinner: large salad (either with salmon, tilapia, or steak), homemade dressing consisting of red wine vinegar, O3mega 3-6-9 oil, garlic, lemon juice.
Evening snack: protein shake
Whether in diet or maintenance mode, Emily’s daily nutrition pretty much stays the same. All year round, she avoids sugar and artificial sweeteners, opting instead for stevia extract, and when she’s dieting down, Emily restricts her intake of dairy, boosting her calcium intake through dark greens in her diet and supplementation.
Emily also sticks to a fairly consistent training regimen year round, opting for mostly heavier training (eg. 6 rep sets), and changing how her lifting sessions are split, as well as varying the amount and type of conditioning work she does. Off season training means a max of 20 minutes of cardio a day and 4 days a week of body part split training sessions as such:
Day 1: Legs/abs
Day 2: Back/biceps
Day 3: Shoulders/abs
Day 4: Chest/triceps
After a 5-10 minute warm-up on the bike or step-mill, for each exercise, Emily will warm-up with 1 set of 10 reps, and then complete 2 sets of 6 reps. Her entire workout is followed by a cool-down and stretching.
Once Emily gets into the phase 12 weeks pre-competition, she shifts to a lower and upper body split program, rotating these lifting sessions with full body circuits. As the date of the show approaches, she’ll increase the number of circuits completed each workout, as well as add in up to an hour of aerobic cardio in addition to her morning interval session.
With a solid plan in place and consistency in her nutritional and training programming 365 days a year, Emily finds that most of the time it’s not difficult to stay on her plan. Where she does feel somewhat torn is when being social with friends and family, where food is the main event. It’s been a bit of a challenge but Emily has founds some good strategies to work around this. She has discovered “diet approved” restaurants where she can find foods and meals within her diet, and she explains to those in her social circle why and how she chooses foods that work best with her goals. Many times Emily will offer to bring a salad or dish that she can eat, as well as everyone else. She will use opportunities like this to show people that eating healthy, even when as strict as dieting for a show, doesn’t mean food has to be boring and bland.
This goes along with what Emily has learned in the process of prepping for the physique stage and is what she shares with both up and coming and veteran physique competitors. As she says:
“If you treat your body with respect by nourishing it, and enduring regular exercise, the rewards are endless.”
In doing this herself, Emily has come to appreciate her own body, and has moved away from the disordered eating patterns of the past to consuming foods that will help her perform at her very best.
The road to the competition has paved the way for Emily to find peace with herself and with her body. Presenting her best physique has allowed Emily to achieve the healthy and active life she strives for and hopes to continue living for a long time. Along with her lifestyle, Emily’s attitude has also shifted since her first wins on stage. Emily now knows that she can do anything she sets her mind to and that just going in to avoid failure is not good enough.
“I have learned that you should always strive to do your personal best. I now will always try my personal best and make that my goal for my shows. That way, no matter what place I get, I cannot be disappointed because I know that I have tried to be the best that I can be and I will be proud of myself.”
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