Best Version of ME

More important than any contest placing

By: Savina Nikolova, NPC Bikini Competitor
Magazine 20 #3


A year ago, I would have laughed at the thought of joining the bodybuilding world and getting on stage, especially as a bikini competitor. Before I met my coaches, I struggled a lot on my diet and exercise regimen. I hated my body and my eating habits reflected this. I went through periods from eating poorly, to not eating at all, to binge eating. I stressed all the time about food. I was doing multiple workouts a day and ridiculous amounts of cardio just trying to burn as many calories as I possibly could. I wasn’t making any progress and my health had begun to suffer, not to mention my mental outlook. That is when a friend recommended I get a coach and things began to turn around for me.

After training with my coaches, Gene and Tina Goode, for a few months they encouraged me to compete. I decided to go for it, but I continued to struggle mentally. I’d look at other women and I wished I looked like them.No matter how many exhausting workouts I put myself through, or how much I dieted, I still didn’t look like the women I idolized. It wasn’t untila few weeks out from my first show that I realized the woman I wanted to look like was myself, at my best, and I am a work in progress. I am my own motivation and my only competition.

My first show was the Kentucky Derby Festival, in which I placed 6th in Bikini Open B, 9th in Bikini Novice B, and 3rd in Bikini Collegiate B. My second show was the KY Open State Championship, where I placed 3rd in Bikini Open B, 3rd in Bikini Novice B, and was Collegiate Bikini Overall Champion.

Sure, everyone on stage wants to win, but what I’ve learned is that beating my previous best self is more gratifying than any placing. Don’t get me wrong, bringing home hardware is awesome, but looking back and noticing all the progress you’ve made is what keeps me going. That brings me to my first piece of advice– take lots of photos throughout your journey to track your progress.

My second piece of advice is to make sure you understand that preparing for a competition and dedicating yourself to a fitness lifestyle are very different. Competing requires a whole other level of dedication and mental toughness. Twelve months ago, the women who once I idolized to become, now is the woman I look at in the mirror. Through sacrifice, self-discipline and dedication, I now have two shows under my belt and my third competition prep is in full swing. My goal is to compete at Nationals and my dream is to one day be an IFBB Pro Bikini Competitor.

The following diet and exercise tips are how I approached my first two competition preps and how I’ve started on my third. My diet changes the closer I get to the day of the competition.

Savina Nikolova pose with trophy
Savina Nikolova NPC Kentucky Derby Championships
Diet Meals
The way my diet changes depends on my physique and how close I am to being stage-ready.
Meal 1 (8:00 am)
4 egg whites; ½ cup plain instant-oatmeal, ½ grapefruit. Eat within 30 minutes after waking up. Generally, I eat my grapefruit first to help kick-start my metabolism. I then cook the 4 egg whites in a pan lightly covered with non-stick spray. While I am cooking my eggs, I prepare my oatmeal with 3 oz. of water and two packets of Truvia in a coffee mug. Then, I mix together the cooked egg whites and oatmeal. This makes the perfect on-the-go breakfast when I am running late for class or work.
Meal 2 (11:00 am)
1 large UMP Rocky Road protein pancake; 1 tsp plain almond butter. In a bowl, mix 1 scoop of UMP Rocky Road, 3oz. water, and 2 tablespoon liquid egg whites. Spray a small pan with non-stick spray and pour protein batter in pan. The batter should be thick, but still able to spread across a small pan with the help of a spatula. Cook on one side until the top starts to bubble, then, flip. Cook the other side for 1-2 minutes, lightly pressing the top with a flat spatula. Check to make sure both sides are cooked as desired and serve. Goes great with a large cup of black coffee sweetened with Truvia!
Meal 3 (2:00 pm)
5 oz. chicken breast, turkey breast, Tilapia, or tuna; 2 cups spinach or salad of choice; 2 Tbsp Newman’s Own Lite Balsamic Dressing
Meal 4 (5:00 pm)
1 scoop UMP Cookies & Créme protein pudding In a small bowl, add 1 scoop of UMP Cookies & Créme and a little water. Mix. Add a little more water and mix again. Do this until the pudding is the desired consistency.
Meal 5 (8:00 pm)
5 oz. chicken breast, turkey breast, tilapia, or tuna; 2 cup low-carb vegetables (broccoli, asparagus, or green peppers)
Meal 6 (11:00 pm)
4 egg whites with 1 cup omelet vegetables, such as red pepper, mushrooms, or spinach (my three personal favorites)
Carb Loading (Monday & Thursday)
This meal should be consumed within the hour right before bedtime. 1 cup cooked-brown rice, 5oz. sweet potato, small banana, ½ cup low-carb vegetables, 1 Tbsp plain almond butter On Monday and Thursday evenings, carb loading replaces meal six. If you start to feel extremely full during this meal do not force yourself to finish it all at once. Never make yourself sick trying to finish any of your meals in one sitting.
Water Intake:
1 gallon of water throughout the day. Water intake is important to stay hydrated and, as crazy as it sounds, avoids bloating. Competitors, I advise you to drink more than a gallon the closer you get to peak-week and throughout peak-week itself. It will help you water deplete the day of the show.

Meal Prep Tips

As far as seasoning goes, I use Mrs. Dash seasonings on my meats and vegetables because they have no sodium. For my salads, I sometimes just use plain vinegar rather than dressing (I promise it’s not as bad as it sounds!). I cook all of my meats in a pan on medium to high heat and I steam all of my vegetables, except for the asparagus, which I generally bake for 15 minutes at about 350 degrees ° F. I suggest keeping a few cans of canned chicken and/or tuna as a back-up plan for days where you are short on time or just don’t feel like cooking. It will keep you from skipping a meal or eating something you normally wouldn’t on those hectic days.

I believe in flexible dieting, which is why the majority of the meals provide options. The times listed are based on a typical school/work day for me. Do I eat at exactly those times every single day? No. I do, however, always eat breakfast 30 minutes within waking, eat about every 3 hours, and eat my last meal as close to bedtime as possible. The point of a meal plan is to provide your body with essential nutrients throughout course of the day.

“I consider most important – stay true to yourself. You should pursue your fitness journey for no one other than yourself.”

Savina Nikolova cable V-grip tricep pushdown
Savina training triceps

Weight Training Schedule

Monday: Arms

  • Superset: Close-Grip Press & Barbell Curls (3x12 each)
  • Superset: Tricep Pushdown & Lying Cable Curls (3x12 each)
  • Superset: Skull Crushers & Preacher Curls (3x12 each)

Tuesday: Back

  • Chin-Ups 3x12
  • Dead Lifts 3x12
  • Superset: One Arm Dumbbell Row & Cable Row (3x12 each)
  • Tri-set: Close-grip Pulldown, Machine Row & Straight Arm Pulldown (3x12 each)

Wednesday: Legs

  • Squats 4x12-15
  • Leg Press 2x50
  • Superset: Leg Extension & Leg Curl (3 x 12 each)
  • Superset: Stiff Leg Dead Lift (3 x 12) & Calf Raise (3 x 20)

Thursday: Shoulders & Traps

  • Shoulder Press 3 x 12 Tri-Set: Side Raises, Front Raises & Bent-Over Raises (3 x 12 each)
  • Super Set: High-Pulls & Reverse Pec Deck (3 x 12 each)

Friday: Chest

  • Superset: Bench Press & Dumbbell Flyes (3 x 12 each)
  • Superset: Incline Press & Decline Press (3 x 12 each)
  • Superset: Raised Feet Push-ups & Pec Deck (3 x 12 each)

  Saturday: Rest

Sunday: Abs

  • 60 second Plank
  • 50 Crunches
  • 50 Reverse Crunches
  • 60 second Plank
  • 50 Mountain Climbers
  • 25 Hanging Leg-raises
  • 60 second Plank

Cardio Schedule

HIIT Training before Weight Training
Each weight training session begins with HIIT training. HIIT is not my favorite cardio type of cardio, but it definitely yields the best results. I think it is the most effective way to burn fat and preserve muscle. I stick to three forms of HIIT.

Treadmill: Warm-up by walking at a 2-3% incline for 2-5 minutes. Then, step to the sides and set the speed at a sprint. For me, that is about 8.4 mph. Hold onto the side panels and place yourself on the belt. Sprint for 20 seconds and then, holding onto the side panels, step to the sides. Rest for 10 seconds. Repeat. Do this for 10 minutes making your warm-up and sprint total 12-15 minutes.

Bike or Elliptical: Warm up by pedaling slowly for 2 minutes, gradually increasing the resistance to a relatively difficult setting. On a scale of 1-10, for me, that is about a 7. Once warmed up, sprint for 20 seconds and rest (pedal slowly) for 10 seconds. Repeat for a total of 10 minutes. Again, your warm-up and sprint total should be 12-15 minutes.

Stair Stepper: Warm up for about 2 minutes. I use the interval program and set it on intervals of 20 seconds at a high-speed climb and 20 seconds at a low-speed climb. Again, do 10 minutes of intervals, total of a 12 minute cardio session.

Additional Cardio after Weight Training

Each weight training session is followed by 20-30 minutes of cardio Monday – Friday. No cardio is performed on Saturday or Sunday. My favorite machines for this additional cardio workout are the stair stepper or the elliptical. On the stair stepper I set it on intervals of 20 seconds high-speed climb and 20 second low-speed climb. This is the same as my stair stepper HIIT workout, but the duration of the exercise is longer. On the elliptical I also do intervals. The intervals are 4 minutes at low to moderate resistance and 4 minutes at high resistance. I generally split each resistance interval and pedal forward for the first two minutes and backward for the last two minutes. Sometimes, when I am in a time crunch, I will perform my cardio at another time of the day rather than after my weight session. On those days I generally perform cardio at my apartment, where I will jump rope, go for a jog, or do another round of HIIT on the treadmill.

Presentation Tips

Presentation will either make or break you on stage. Unfortunately, the judges don’t see how hard we work or how much time we dedicate to diet and exercise. What they see is just the few minutes you are on stage. Posing is everything. Your poses and your routine should complement your physique. No two competitors have the same presentation because no two competitors have the same physique. My coaches and I worked on my routine one day each week. If you are a bikini or figure competitor I suggest buying your competition shoes early and practicing in them. Practice your routine as if you are on stage every single time – from your smile to the way you flip your hair. It’s all about feeling comfortable and natural. The way you practice is the way you will execute your routine come competition day.

As far as beauty tips go, mine are quite simple– go with what you know. Your spray tan will cover the majority of your flaws. I get my face sprayed each time and I never wash it. You should wash your face if you plan to use an all-over face make-up. I leave the spray-on to develop overnight and I use that as my all-over face color. I highlight my cheek bones with some bronzer and glam up my eyes with some eye shadow and liner. Then, layer onthe mascara for dramatic effect. Lastly, I usea lip rosy lip color to add a little sass and make my teeth look a little brighter. I keep my jewelry flashy, yet subtle, and I do my own my hair in some simple style I am comfortable with. Basically, overall, I just stick to what I know and am used to.

My final piece of advice is that which I consider most important – stay true to yourself. You should pursue your fitness journey for no one other than yourself. Committing to competing is tough, but it is also inspiring. Some people will appreciate your hard work and dedication and others will not. Not everyone will understand what you do or why you do it and I’ve learned to be okay with that. What matters most is that you makeyourself proud. Overall, just be honest, stay humble, and never settle.

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