There is no question that becoming a Pro athlete requires the utmost dedication, perseverance, and determination. Day in, day out, honing the skill set to perfect the craft. Training, dieting, posing, every single day – while still managing to hold down a job, perhaps schooling, and the day-to-day responsibilities of family and relationships. It’s not easy for most. Sure, some athletes are blessed with extraordinary genetics or financial freedom which can make things somewhat easier. Some have grown up in near-perfect circumstances and have incredible support from everyone around them. But not all do. Not all of them smiling, seemingly perfect athletes that you see on that stage came into it easily.
Emily Zelinka is a shining example of what DESIRE and true will can accomplish. Through every adversity, she became stronger and more focused on the person she wanted to be.
EMILY ZELINKA IS A SHINING EXAMPLE OF WHAT DESIRE AND TRUE WILL CAN ACCOMPLISH. THROUGH EVERY ADVERSITY, SHE BECAME STRONGER AND MORE FOCUSED ON THE PERSON SHE WANTED TO BE.
Everything throughout my life has made me become who I am today.
I left home when I was 16. I worked two jobs to pay for food and rent and still made the high school honour roll. I also suffered from Bulimia and lived through an abusive relationship.
After graduating from Fanshawe College’s Fitness and Health Promotion program, I continued into the Paramedical program, where I graduated and was voted class valedictorian.
In November 2007, after spending a lot of time training in the gym, I competed in my first OPA figure show. I placed first and I was hooked.
IN NOVEMBER 2007, AFTER SPENDING A LOT OF TIME TRAINING IN THE GYM, I COMPETED IN MY FIRST OPA FIGURE SHOW. I PLACED FIRST AND I WAS HOOKED.
I am now 33 years old and compete as an IFBB Figure Pro. I won my pro card in 2013 which was 11 months after having my daughter, Brooke. I took off competing in 2015 due to a recent separation from my husband and promotion as Superintendent for Middlesex London EMS. My daughter Brooke was also born with a rare disease where she needed 2/3 of her lung removed at birth. That has been a constant battle. She is my life.
I needed to focus on my family and career. I approached Jean-Jacques Barrett (a Magnum-sponsored athlete) in September of 2014 to be my coach, as I wanted to compete again in 2016. I realized that health and fitness was something that truly made me happy and I was able to work towards a goal of showcasing that on the pro stage.
I REALIZED THAT HEALTH AND FITNESS WAS SOMETHING THAT TRULY MADE ME HAPPY AND I WAS ABLE TO WORK TOWARDS A GOAL OF SHOWCASING THAT ON THE PRO STAGE.
JJ started working with me just eating healthy and getting a basic program for maintenance. In January of 2016 we started gradually tapering my diet and training in a healthy gradual way. I had meals full of fats and my calories were still high. JJ and I talked about my mentality when training for a show. I told him that I have competed since 2007 and have loved every minute because balance is very important to me. I would rather diet longer and have days that I was able to go out and get ice cream with my daughter, or a family BBQ. He agreed and stood by his word. I was able to have these days once in a while. This is one of the things that made me persevere and work hard.
I compete and work hard and want Brooke to grow up and be proud of my accomplishments. Being the best mom I can be is my first priority. My career and my fitness are both huge commitments, too. My life is a series of commitments, but working out is not an option; it’s my lifestyle.
Right now, I’m focusing on making myself happy and trying to achieve some personal goals. We’ll see what the future holds!
Emily and I first discussed working together at the Olympia in 2015. She was about six months post-show and had already competed in 2 IFBB Pro Shows. Em was looking for a change, and she was intrigued by how my wife and I could consistently prepare our athletes and ourselves for the stage on well-rounded diets not typical of bodybuilders getting into single-digit body fat percentages.
It was clear through previous stage photos and from seeing her in person that Emily had a very gifted physique; we just need to do some fine-tuning. For many athletes, it’s a question of building sustainable year-round good habits. Getting the proper amount of sleep, sticking with a balanced nutrition plan, periodized programming to prevent stagnation, and getting them to minimize stress and any other habits that might limit growth, are all key.
Our first goal, from a nutritional standpoint, was to establish her caloric baseline (what she would need to eat to maintain her current body weight). I also opted for a ‘Zone-diet’ approach in the beginning, which I find is often the best option to lead off with. That means going for a 40-30-30 split in terms of percentages of total calories coming from carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, respectively. Even though my goal with Em wasn’t initially to lose weight, she still did. I believe in giving an athlete enough food to eat, and a wide variety of food selections but with clear guidelines. I want to give them the confidence to start getting more creative with meals, which ultimately helps them stay on track. This alone has an immediate positive effect on both their endocrine system and metabolism.
I BELIEVE IN GIVING AN ATHLETE ENOUGH FOOD TO EAT, AND A WIDE VARIETY OF FOOD SELECTIONS BUT WITH CLEAR GUIDELINES.
In January 2016, Emily weighed in at 158 lbs and was close to 17% body fat. After only two weeks she lost four pounds and 1.5% body fat just by following ‘maintenance’ calories. By mid-February, she had dropped down to 150 lbs and was down to 13.5% body fat! A lot of people make the mistake of slashing calories right away in order to get the body to drop, but I’ve found that you can get some pretty incredible progress by just getting the body on a program and regulating the metabolism. When you get the body into an intelligent routine, you automatically reduce a lot of stress and it just responds better.
WHEN YOU GET THE BODY INTO AN INTELLIGENT ROUTINE, YOU AUTOMATICALLY REDUCE A LOT OF STRESS AND IT JUST RESPONDS BETTER.
At this point, I was ready to start her cut. I put her on a mild carb and calorie cycle, meaning she had two ‘high’ days, three ‘moderate’ days, and two ‘low’ days. I kept her 40-30-30 macros as her ‘high’ day and then reduced the carbs and calories for the other two types of days. Nothing too aggressive – just getting her body prepared for the next stage, and still getting some good progress with a generous amount of food. I ran this diet plan for about three weeks before she plateaued, and then I started to integrate 20-minute cardio sessions. I also replaced one of her high days with a moderate day. Four weeks later, I met with Em in person at the Arnold Sports Festival, and the changes were phenomenal. At this point, she was 148 lbs, and body fat had dropped to about 12%. When fellow Canadian IFBB Pro Ben Pakulski saw her, he said, “This is the cleanest I’ve seen you 12-weeks out of a show.” Things were looking good.
For the next four weeks, progress was steady, and then Emily had some pretty stressful life events that were out of her control. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how she would be able to pull it off and make it. She had to take three weeks off from focusing on her prep and wrap things up. After talking with her, my only goal throughout this time period was to give her support and enough guidance to do what she needed to do, but with no pressure to perform. To be honest, in my ten years of coaching and competing, I’m not sure if anyone has had a prep where they haven’t been majorly challenged. It just seems to be par for the course. If you can get through without losing too much ground, anything is possible. Emily did just that, and I’m really proud of her.
Naturally, her measurements after her time off were a little bit up, but nothing major. Most importantly, she was even more determined to bring her very best physique to the Toronto Pro Show. She was back in the game.
On all of her days, her carbs were reduced, but we kept calories the same by increasing her protein intake. Her cardio doubled at this point, and she was taking the Magnum Incinerator Stack (Heat, Acid, Mimic, Carne Diem) and E-Brake, an anti-aromatase. At three weeks out she had surpassed all previous body composition measurements. She was 10.5% body fat, and we could really see that her waist was coming in dramatically. Her V-taper was shaping up fast and even her quads were starting to separate. I could see there was still some room for improvement in her low back, glutes, and hamstrings. Em was really in the zone to keep pushing harder, even though she was on shift-work as a paramedic. So, for the last three weeks we cranked up cardio another notch and her carb cycle was now much more aggressive. She performed between 45 and 60 minutes of LISS (low-intensity steady-state cardio), and her carb cycle was now 5 low days, 1 moderate day, and 1 high day. I should add that her high day was much more conservative than it was in January. Her overall calories were substantially lower, but there were no foods that were off-limit. As long as they fit her macros, she could go for it. There were no refeeds these last 3 weeks. If she did get food cravings, she was allowed to eat unlimited green vegetables and lean protein, especially during shift work. In my experience, keeping athletes in a positive hormonal place where they really feel they can keep on pushing, is the key to successfully getting into low body fat percentages. Preventing binges before they can happen, addressing individual life realities, and making smart adjustments along the way is the best way to go.
IN MY EXPERIENCE, KEEPING ATHLETES IN A POSITIVE HORMONAL PLACE WHERE THEY REALLY FEEL THEY CAN KEEP ON PUSHING, IS THE KEY TO SUCCESSFULLY GETTING INTO LOW BODY FAT PERCENTAGES. PREVENTING BINGES BEFORE THEY CAN HAPPEN, ADDRESSING INDIVIDUAL LIFE REALITIES, AND MAKING SMART ADJUSTMENTS ALONG THE WAY IS THE BEST WAY TO GO.
Two weeks later, at the start of peak week, she was 9.1% body fat, weighing in at 144 lbs, 5’7”. By far, this was her best physique ever, and one might have been tempted to relax a little, but we knew the Toronto Pro show was going to be a tough stage. All the other women would be showing up crisp. We had to nail her peak week and keep on pushing. Based on conversations with Em on how previous peaks had worked, we opted for a very aggressive low carb and low-fat approach, we used Magnum’s new diuretic Drip Dry, and she water loaded with distilled water. She kept salting her food, and we kept training and cardio as per usual until 2 days out, as she was traveling to the show.
The morning of the show, she weighed in at 139 lbs, which was her lightest stage weight ever, and definitely her leanest. Judges and athletes who knew her remarked on her conditioning. She had nailed it.
Emily ended up placing 6th at the Toronto Pro Show, by far her best placing on a Pro stage. She then went on to compete three weeks later at the Vancouver Pro Show, down another 2 lbs and 1% body fat and even tighter in the glutes, legs, and low abs. She placed 5th in that show.
What was most impressive about Em’s transformation from a physique perspective was how much muscle she retained and how full she looked on stage. All throughout her prep, even on low carbs, she was able to have incredible pumps and stay vascular. This is a major sign that things are going well for an athlete who needs a low-carb approach. Despite many life stresses, Em stayed in a positive mindset and was really able to tap into her competitiveness. She overcame all the challenges life threw at her and keep pushing through it to finish the job. An athlete like that is a gift.
SHE OVERCAME ALL THE CHALLENGES LIFE THREW AT HER AND KEEP PUSHING THROUGH IT TO FINISH THE JOB. AN ATHLETE LIKE THAT IS A GIFT.
Now we’re focused on the upcoming 2017 season. Her off-season is going really well, and I know it’s going to be an even stronger year for her. It’s all about finding that balance and staying healthy.