Eight years ago—what some might call a lifetime in the world of physique competition—Nicole Wilkins burst onto the national scene in record-breaking fashion. At the 2007 NPC Team Universe Championships, she earned the overall titles in both the fitness and figure divisions.
That the feat hasn't been repeated since isn't all that noteworthy—that was actually the final show at which such a crossover was allowed. Instead, significance came in the form of Nicole's shiny new pro card. Since that day, the versatile gymnast from Royal Oak, Michigan, has ascended to the very top of the figure division, dominating the sport like no other before her.
Although she holds the most Figure Olympia titles in history, the four-time champion hasn't had an easy or uninterrupted reign. She won in 2009 at the age of 25—the youngest ever to win the sport's most prestigious crown—then lost it in 2010 to Erin Stern, regained it in 2011, and then gave it back to Stern in 2012. After reassessing her preparation plan, Wilkins returned for repeat wins in 2013 and 2014. Now, she's gunning for a straight three-peat at the 2015 Olympia in Las Vegas on September 19.
Currently hunkered down in the outskirts of San Diego, the 31-year-old is focused on her goal, locking down her training and diet, and clearing her travel schedule. In between bouts at the gym, she took a brief timeout to update Bodybuilding.com on her prep and her plans beyond her looming title defense. Here's what the Figure Queen had to say.
Q. Are you tweaking anything from your 2014 Figure Olympia prep?
My approach has been similar the last couple of years—similar foods, training style, and type of cardio. But, depending on progress, my diet can change as frequently as every 2-3 days. I felt I brought my career-best conditioning and shape in 2013 and 2014. I am going to try to match that this year.
In general, how do you determine what to change in your prep?
Most of the time, my diet is what needs to be adjusted if I'm behind or ahead of schedule. I see myself in the mirror daily, so it can be a bit harder to determine how, what, and when to change things, because I would second-guess myself too much. That's why working with a good coach like Hany Rambod is key.
Progress pictures help a lot, too. I'd suggest taking progress pictures weekly. They can help you decide whether your prep needs to be sped up or not.
Beyond winning this next Olympia title, do you have an overall career goal in mind?
I want to reach as many people as I possibly can to help them lead a healthier lifestyle. I relaunched nicolewilkins.com last year and offer an exclusive membership section for $10 a month. That is my number one priority. It's a real and raw approach to what I have done and what I have learned over the past decade.
I have also taken over Phat Camp, which is a women's fitness weekend that I will be hosting about 10 times next year all over the world. I feel like life is too short to sit back and wait. If I have the opportunity to jump on something and it feels right, I will give it a try. The worst that can happen is I fail and learn from it.
With all your other endeavors, do you have an "end date" in mind as far as competition?
Not right now. I am taking it one year at a time. I am still fairly young at 31, so I think I have some time left!
You've won four Olympia titles, but not in a row. What have you learned from the losses to help with the wins?
The losses teach you what not to do in the future. Honestly, though, placing second in the world isn't shabby at all. However, losing the title knowing you can win does hurt a bit. I came back after that second loss and looked the best I ever have. I was fired up!
What does your "shutdown mode" for contest prep look like? How do you keep your sanity during this time?
I get up around 6:30 a.m. every day and go run in a fasted state (no food beforehand) for about four miles. I never have a hard time keeping muscle on my legs, so the running doesn't hurt my physique. After that, I shower, eat breakfast, and then train clients from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Then, I go to the gym and lift.
Post-workout, I film videos for my site, answer emails, create programs, and make phone calls, and then at night, depending on my progress, I may do another session of cardio. The breaks I get are scheduling a massage, getting my nails done, or heading up to L.A. or San Diego for a night. My boyfriend and I are huge movie buffs. During prep, we usually see a movie every week.
What is your supplement regimen leading up to the Olympia? How does it differ from when you aren't preparing for a contest?
My supplement regimen contains the following products: Active Woman multivitamin, Triple Omega 3-6-9, Super Joint Guard, BCAA 2200, L-carnitine, L-glutamine and the Thermal Infusion X2 fat burner. This plan stays the same pretty much all year. I incorporate a pre-workout supplement like MET-Rx's Nuclear X during the offseason, but I cycle the products that contain stimulants.
I'm sure that you've been approached by numerous supplement companies for sponsorship. What made you decide to sign with Met-Rx?
MET-Rx has been around the longest and has the best track record. I used MET-Rx products before I started working with the brand, so it was an easy fit for me to promote them. I believe in the brand. The people are great and they treat me very well. I am really happy to be a part of the team.
Leading up to the Olympia, what are the staples of your diet plan?
I eat six times a day. The staples in my plan are white and brown rice, oatmeal, egg whites and whole eggs, almonds, salmon, steak, whitefish, chicken, avocado, broccoli, asparagus, cucumbers, spinach, and protein supplements.
How does your offseason diet differ from your prep diet?
My offseason diet is similar, but I eat more calories and incorporate fruits and some dairy, too.
What is your favorite clean food?
My favorite food is grilled or crispy salmon, or oatmeal.
What is your favorite cheat food, and how often do you indulge in it during contest prep?
Mexican and sweet-potato fries are my favorites. I don't have cheat meals during contest prep regularly. They are sporadic and depend on my progress, but my guess is every three weeks or so.
How many days do you weight train? How long are those sessions?
I weight train 5-6 days per week for an hour each session.
Do you normally do cardio separately?
I prefer to split my cardio from my weight-training workouts. I have much more energy when I do it that way. It does make for a lot of laundry though!
What are your three favorite exercises?
My three favorites are the barbell squat, seated dumbbell shoulder press, and bent-over barbell row.
Are there popular exercises that you find overrated?
I can't think of any that are overrated, actually. I think if you are performing an exercise properly, seeing progress, and you enjoy doing it, why not use it?
Years ago, you stated that you wanted to hold Olympia titles in both Fitness and Figure. Is this still a goal for you, or have you abandoned it?
Never say never, but if I had to make that decision today, I would say I have abandoned that goal.
Tell me the first thing that comes to mind: What is the number one lesson you have learned from each of these endeavors?
You can always work harder.
Running Phat Camps:
Everyone has a story.
Promoting yourself through social media channels:
No one is perfect, and to be authentic.
Build Your Figure:
Think you can train like a four-time world champion? Try Nicole's Olympia-Prep Back Workout on for size! Replace your current back workout with this one for a few weeks, or just try the session on your next back day as a challenge.