CRITICAL BENCH: Ivan, tell us about yourself.
Gee, that's going to be hard to do in just a couple of sentences, but let me see how this is going to turn out. I am originally from Bulgaria. I moved in the US about 5 years ago. I've competed on both continents. In the US so far I have entered 6 competitions - 5 of them international. I've consistently placed in the top 5 in all of my international contests, and I won the overall title of the NPC Tampa Bay Classic'04.
CRITICAL BENCH: How is bodybuilding different in America from Bulgaria and what made you move from Bulgaria to the United States?
It's different in that people here in the US have access to food and supplements that are more readily available and affordable than for the regular lifter in Bulgaria. Athletes over there struggle to provide for their preparation year round. Usually those who compete are those who manage to secure sponsors, who cover their off-season and pre-contest preparation.
CRITICAL BENCH: What was it like competing in the Tampa Classic in 04, Drug free against drugged bodybuilders and won? Why did you compete drug free against roid users? Haha
Well, it's like competing and winning. Sometimes judges really honor more pleasing physiques even in the NPC shows. May not be the largest ones, but local and state wide shows... But you ask why I competed drug free against non-tested athletes.. One of the reasons was that Tampa Bay Classic was just a short week after the Superbody in Miami. I was in top shape anyway, so it made perfect sense that I stay in top shape (and even try to further improve) and compete in this show. The other reason was the show was held in Tampa of course, which made it very easy. I got to sleep in my own bed, cook my food in my kitchen, relax at home between the morning and the evening rounds...
CRITICAL BENCH: Tell us about your diet and training routine.
My training routine has changed a lot over the years. Most recently, as I continue to build knowledge on how the biochemistry works and how muscles grow, also how fat is burned in the body and is used for energy, I have settled for 3 and sometimes 4 workouts a week for my routine. I now train each body part mostly 3 times a week. My workouts are short and extremely intense. I usually train my entire body in one workout. In order to stay around 8% body fat and to maintain perfect cardio-vascular fitness I do at least two high intensity interval cardio sessions and one steady cardio long run session each week.
In contrast my diet hasn't changed much at all in the last years. I eat 6 times a day. I space out my meals evenly throughout a 14-hour day. I always go moderate on the carbs as I am more of a carb-sensitive person. I am on a rather high protein diet, which is not a big secret in the word of bodybuilding. My fats are moderate, too.
But that's not what is most important. I pay very close attention to eating fresh (uncooked) foods, fruit and vegetables throughout the day. That's of utmost importance to try to keep my diet balanced in regards to being less acidic. High-protein foods and meats are very acidic. Fruits and vegetables are alkaline and provide balance. Moreover, they contain natural micronutrients we need for better digestion. This in turn doesn't tax our systems a lot, and ultimately provides for a longer and better quality life. The body is far less susceptible to instabilities and diseases.
CRITICAL BENCH: What are your future goals? If and when you go pro, what will it mean to you?
You caught me here. If you asked me a year ago I'd say my biggest goal is to become a pro natural athlete. Nowadays my focus has changed some. I feel a lot stronger desire and feel more inspired of the thought to put myself in a position that will allow me to increase people's awareness about the importance of taking ultimate care for the body through proper nutrition, exercise and better stress management. I feel wonderful knowing that I am a role model for teenagers and seniors alike.
If that ultimately leads to me winning a world show and becoming a pro one-day, than that'd mean that I have become the first Bulgarian pro natural bodybuilder.
CRITICAL BENCH: You work as a personal trainer and a massage therapist.. What is that like? Do you have a preference in what job you like more? What are the best things about both jobs?
I was a trainer and massage therapist back in Bulgaria. When I first came in the US, it was natural that I do what I was best at doing and what was easiest to get started with. So, I did massage therapy along with a ton of other jobs like pizza cooking and delivery, car wash, clerical work. But that's all in the past. I haven't been doing massage therapy for a long time. I still do the personal training, but I try to gradually get out of the one-on-one work such as personal training. It makes much better sense for me to focus my energy on things like coaching and teaching a lot of people at the same time. I can give a lot more this way.
CRITICAL BENCH: Tell us about your nutrition software program "FITNA"?
For as long as I've been studying how the human body works and how it responds to different external stimuli, I've known that the greatest problem people face when they get on a quest for improving their body and health is they greatly underestimate the importance of nutrition.
But here is where my frustration was mainly coming from. Once I'd get people to really understand that, I'd then go on to explain how proper nutritional planning is done. At this point I would face reluctance for studying and learning meal planning. All that would come from the fact that there are so many factors that have to be taken in consideration, and there are so many formulas and equations...
This would usually scare people away. And I don't blame them. So, I though instead of trying to make a nutrition expert out everyone I consulted I'd rather put all my knowledge into a software program that does all the required calculations for creating a personalized meal plan. And these calculations are all based on ones own unique fitness profile and unique fitness goal.
That's how FitNA was born. In a few words FitNA is a very user friendly tool where the user is asked to provide the usual information a professional dietitian would ask for, punch a button and have a meal plan spit out. The user than can further customize this menu with the foods he likes, while FitNA is responsible to keep the servings within the estimated calories.
Once the user has made the menus to his liking, he/she can than generate a grocery list with the push of a button. What happens next is every time a single factor in the user's personal profile changes (like fat percentage drop) the program re-calculates the servings, while keeping the foods the user has already chosen. This way the user makes sure that his/her diet always supports his/her fitness goal. Of course there are other features, but the space is limited and I don't think I can get into more detail in regards to all that FitNA can do but
if you're interested watch the video below. Click the video, it will open in a new window for you.
CRITICAL BENCH: Tell us about your website.
A friend of mine started IvanNikolov.com in 2003. Initially the web site was just a simple "About Ivan" page and a photo gallery. Later on I took over and I had to learn to use the tools to edit, update and upgrade my web site. Gradually as I was acquiring web mastering skills I managed to turn it from a simple "about Ivan" web site to a major natural bodybuilding and fitness nutrition one stop place. And I am not done. This web site keeps getting better and better every day.
One necessary component - nutrition - is addressed by FitNA, available to members; another component - training - is addressed through scientifically proven to work training programs for muscle building and fat loss. All these come with weekly instructions for training and proper FitNA set up. It's all laid out for each day of the programs.
Education, which is another component, is addressed by providing access to my personal library of specialized knowledge articles. And last but not least, my private forums provide the support anyone needs when it gets hard and things don't seem to be going smoothly. This is the time when most people give up. Also, the private forums provide the answers to all the questions that a trainee could ever come up with. The answers are provided by specialists in different areas, related to fitness and weight lifting, by other members and by me personally.
Stop by my site for some great exercise and fat loss tips.
CRITICAL BENCH: Tell us about different meal plans you make for different people?
Some times people assume that if a diet (in other words a certain nutrition plan) works for someone to get him certain results, that diet can also work for them. But that's a wrong assumption. It's like thinking that because a pro bodybuilder said that training 3 hours a day gives him the great results, that if you train 3 hours a day you'll get the same results.
The simple truth is we all have a unique buildup and we all have unique fitness goals. That's why one diet can't work for any other person but for the person it was created for.
When I work on someone's meal plan, I take in consideration certain factors like morphological body type, age, height, body weight, body fat percentage, gender, fitness goal, calorie expenditure during training, calorie expenditure to support normal daily living activities and processes in the body, etc. Based on all these I determine how many calories a person should eat, how many times a day, and what ratio between carbs, protein and fat. Also, I recommend certain foods and I suggest that certain foods be avoided.
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CRITICAL BENCH: What makes the difference between 10% off-season bodybuilders and shredded bodybuilding winners? What's your top 10 pieces of advice for a 10% bodybuilder to cut to 5% body fat?
Here is the essence in ten bullets:
- Burn slightly more than what you eat during the day
- Cycle your calories to keep your metabolic rate high
- Train heavy and keep the durations of weight training sessions and cardio sessions short in order to preserve as much muscle mass as possible
- Eat clean foods, eat bland foods. It's really important that you get into the mindset of being on a restricted diet. That by itself will truly make you lose fat faster. It's okay to feel hungry if you know that there are nutrients in your blood although your stomach feels empty.
- Avoid insulin spikes. Try as hard as you can to keep your insulin levels as steady as possible
- Eat enough protein throughout the day to help preserve the muscle tissue trough fighting the catabolic processes and helping in the recovery and rebuilding of the damaged muscle fibers. Protein foods also possess higher termic effect. Meaning the body uses more calories to digest them, compared to carbs and fats.
- Drink plenty of water. Aim for more than a gallon a day.
- Take enough branched-chain amino acids
- Rest enough
- Don't stress out if you're not progressing fast enough. Stressing out will slow you down even further. Keep your focus on what you want to look like when you're at the 5% body fat level.
CRITICAL BENCH: What goes on in your mind before you are on stage, while you're on stage and after a show?
Before I get on stage and during my routine or comparison posing I feel utter excitement. I know that my friends watching. I want to perform for them. I know other people, who don't know me are watching, and I want to pass my excitement on to them.
After a show I always question myself whether I could have done better. I think that's how every competitor is after a show. Especially if you aren't the one, who got the title (smile).
CRITICAL BENCH: Do you see a lot of bad blood in the industry or do you think most bodybuilders get along?
Luckily, I've always happened to be around contestants, who are willing to help and share. I've always done the same thing for other brothers in iron, too. And maybe that's why I haven't been around athletes, who don't understand the meaning of the word "sportsmanship".
CRITICAL BENCH: What supplements do you use?
Plain and simple: slow release protein like casein, fast release protein like whey isolate for the special occasions when my body needs it, creatine monohydrate, glutamine, multivitamin and mineral formula, additional vitamin C, vitamin B-complex, calcium, fish oil, digestive enzymes.
My advice: Don't get too fancy with the supplements. If you are not growing (or losing fat for that matter) without a bunch fancy stuff, then you don't understand the true meaning of the word "supplement". Keep it simple. Focus on the core elements- proper diet, goal supporting training routine, recovery, and proper mindset.
CRITICAL BENCH: List us 5 experiences thus far in your bodybuilding journey that you will always remember.
I don't know about five, but here is one experience that I will never forget.
It happened back in my mother country. I still remember this absolutely clearly. It all happened when I decided that the time has come for me to finally compete in bodybuilding.
I went in the gym (it was a smaller gym and the atmosphere was "family like") and I announced that I had signed up for the National Bodybuilding Championship. The reaction was sort of "Yeah, right. Keep dreaming, buddy". No one actually said it with words, but almost all thought this way, and I could clearly read in their eyes what they thought in that instant.
You wonder why this reaction? Well, I was big, but I was also fat. I was close to 55 pounds over my weight class. I didn't look quite like a bodybuilder as you can imagine. But, the worst part was between the moment I signed up and the contest date there were only 16 weeks. (In fact I have a video on this story, posted in several places on my web site IvanNikolov.com. If you dig enough, you'll find it.)
Wanna know what happened? I trained so hard, I really busted my ass. And 4 weeks out I took my shirt off for the first time in may be years (before that I had always felt embarrassed to take my shirt off in public). Two of my friends asked me to wait for them and not leave the gym till they run back home and get their cameras to take pictures of me and them together.
Almost all of those, who knew me in this gym, actually drove for hours at the day of the contest to get to the distant city to personally support me and cheer for me. They were so proud that they knew me. It was awesome. I never felt so highly rewarded for my efforts.
CRITICAL BENCH: It's been great talking to you. Is there anything else you'd like to say?
Your questions game gave me a headache, man! KIDDING haha. The pleasure was entirely mine.
To all those out there who think that no matter what they do they don't seem to make progress or get the results they dream of, I have this piece of advice. Stick to what you're supposed to be doing no matter how hard it seems, how long it takes, or how no one actually believes in what you're doing and aiming at. One step at a time. YOU WILL GET THERE. Just never EVER give up.
Some day I will sit down and write my own story to prove that there is nothing impossible, but until then simply accept my words as being absolutely valid. That's all I want to say. Bless you all.
THANKS, CRITICAL BENCH.
Ivan Nikolov's Fitness & Bodybuilding Nutrition Program (FITNA)
FITNA - Bodybuilding Nutrition Online Software Program
"A top natural bodybuilder, trainer and fitness nutrition consultant teaches you how to build muscle fast by choosing and implementing the right training program and nutrition plan for you"
Here's How Easy It Is:
- You choose a training program
- Download the first cycle of training instructions and log sheets
- Set up the fitness nutrition tool FitNA according to the instructions
- Edit your meals to your liking
- Generate and print out a grocery list
All that's left for you to do is go shopping and then go lift weights. Astonishing, isn't it?
Think you can't afford it, think again! It's cheaper than you think, check it out.