Beach Body Fitness Champion and Vegan Deni Kirkova talks to us about winning a fitness competition on a plant-based diet and her future plans.
Entering a bikini fitness competition and winning is not something that many women would ever believe they could achieve or have the guts to do. Not only was 26-year-old Deni Kirkova awarded first place in the ‘Beach Body’ category but she did it whilst following a vegan diet and lifestyle. Proving just how strong and athletic a person can be when fuelled by tofu and other plant-based foods. “I went vegan a year ago after having an epiphany that we don’t need to and shouldn’t hurt animals for food, beauty or clothes and I’ve never felt so good mentally and physically,” says Deni.
Deni gave herself just 20 weeks to get into the shape of her life before competing in the prestigious fitness competition-the Miss Galaxy European Championships 2016. “At 10 stone I was way off peak condition. I was well aware of bikini fitness athletes and while I admired them, I never thought I could be one. I never saw myself as a potential. It was only when my friend Vicky Hadley signed up to compete in MGU and asked me to join her, that I decided to go for it. I was fairly fit to begin with, and vegan and thought this could be an amazing challenge. Would I be able to drop my body fat and build muscle just like a meat-eater? I was up for it-as long as she was there to hold my hand,” says Deni. Also a vegan, Vicky managed to secure fifth place in the same category, further strengthening the fitness ability of plant-based eaters.
Perceived by some as an event where women are simply strutting around the stage in a bikini, taking part in the competition made Deni realise there is far more required to win that just that. She said: “Miss Galaxy Universe is a bikini fitness competition-but it’s about more than flaunting your body on stage in a bikini. Hair, tan and makeup are all crucial elements as well as performing a ‘T Walk’ which involved a minute of carefully choreographed posing around a T shape on the stage. Beach body contestants are also judged on stage presence, body conditioning and overall package and presentation.”
What sets MGU away from other classic beauty pageants are the fitness tests known as Cybex fitness tests. Deni said: “Contestants are put through their paces doing sprints, squats, bench press, pull-ups and more.” However, the Cybex tests are not mandatory for those competing in the Beach Body or Bikini Body category.
To get in shape for the event, Deni worked with a personal trainer who put together diet plans, to ensure that she would be in peak condition in time for the Miss Galaxy championship. “I had to bulk up my muscles but drop body fat, which meant a diet that put me in calorie deficit but with a high protein intake,” explained Deni. “My regular diet consisted of porridge oats, quinoa, protein powder, flax oil, apples, berries, corn cakes, peanut butter, sweet potatoes, tofu, avocado and spinach.” Although her new plan required her to cut out a variety of food, Deni never felt as though she was restricting herself. “The diet plan included one cheat meal a week; I cheated more than this though, with things like lunches at Wild Food Café and overdoing the almond butter. I didn’t punish myself too much.”
In addition to the meal plans, Deni’s coach Lee Constantinou provided her with a variety of high and low intensity workout routines. “My training was broken down into four days of weight training along with three low intensity steady state (LISS) cardio and three high intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions-plus two core sessions. Resistance training was broken down into one upper ‘pull’ day (back and biceps), one upper ‘push’ day (chest and triceps) and two lower body or leg days. To make sure I was getting enough protein I supplemented with vegan protein powders. A favourite became Sunwarrior’s chocolate flavour made with pea and hemp. Before any training I always made sure I took a caffeine pre-workout supplement,” explains Deni.
Upon embarking on her intensive transformation into a fitness competitor, Deni surprisingly didn’t have any initial fears or doubts. “I couldn’t-because the idea of what I was doing was almost so ridiculous. I focused on the journey and not the destination; so sticking to my diet and training plan and enjoying the daily challenges, rather than aiming to scoop a trophy or placing.” According to the journalist, this was her attitude throughout the entire process. She said: “Right up until my name was called out and it was announced that I’d won first place that is.”
Much to her surprise, Deni is keen on continuing her fitness regime and entering more competitions in the future. She said: “It was something that I never thought I would do, yet my experience made me feel incredible. And I have Vicky to thank for taking my hand on this journey with her.”
When discussing her plans for the future-a freelance journalist for Metro.co.uk and MailOnline-Deni wants to continue sharing inspiring vegan stories via these websites. “I’m also doing a talk at VegFest this month all about vegan fitness, and I want to help inspire others to achieve their health and body dreams on a vegan diet.
“This is all I want-to inspire others to follow my lead, and to help others find health and happiness while living compassionately and consciously.”
Keep up to date with Deni on her website www.bikinigirlsdiary.com and follow her on Instagram @deniveganfitness and Twitter @deni_k