Muscle men and women get ready for fitness contest
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
Starting a gym workout daily at 5:30am while living on chicken and broccoli for a while are part of the sacrifices a young man must make if he wants to shape up.
One young man, Sheldon Valjalo, is not only shaping though. He is among those who are bulking up for competitions that celebrate fitness and physique.
Valjalo competes in categories that focus more on physique, or as he calls it: “beach bodies”.
“Ours is more of a fitness look. It’s not about looking too big. It’s about building nice, lean muscle,” he says.
Valjalo plans to compete in the Mr and Ms Fitness SA Championships in Cape Town on September 28.
Valjalo, who is finishing his third year of financial studies at the University of Cape Town, only started competing in bodybuilding competitions this year.
When Valjalo moved from Johannesburg to study in Cape Town three years ago he was already playing various sports. He then started playing rugby for UCT.
“I’ve always loved a fitness lifestyle. I played sports since I was a young child. I played cricket, soccer and rugby,” he says.
As he was building muscle, he sought a new challenge.
“I couldn’t see myself just going to the gym just for the sake of it. I needed to have a goal. Some guys told me about these competitions and I decided to go for it. I’m a very competitive guy,” he says.
Valjalo says he had already been hitting the gym six days a week before he started showing off his results at competitions. With various contests underway, he now trains twice daily.
“It’s tough. I train for an hour and a half almost every day. But I like the feeling when I’ve worked hard in the gym. It was also worth it when my name was called out on the stage and I made the WP team,” he says.
Apart from training hard, Valjalo says building muscle also requires “what a lot of people struggle with” – a healthy diet.
“The way you eat changes. The diet is very tough. You eat very plain food. I had to change a lot of things. You cut out the fats and some carbohydrates,” he says.
“The amount of chicken and broccoli I eat is insane. I had to learn how to cook, but I’m not very good at it.”
Valjalo says working out for competitions also requires using supplements.
“There’s nothing wrong with it. There’s not much harm done. You need supplements to repair your muscles,” he says.
“There are people who use illegal substances. They’ll do anything to get bigger quicker and succeed. This training is very tough on the body, so I can understand why they take these substances. But that happens in every sport.”
Joanne Gonsalves, organiser of the Mr and Ms Fitness SA Championships, says their aim is “inspire others to work out, and this doesn’t necessarily mean only at the gym”.
“Our athletes range from martial arts specialists, to cyclists, surfers and have other sporting interests. We want to inspire others to keep active, eat clean and to stay in shape,” says Gonsalves.
Valjalo says pursuing fitness training has meanwhile opened up a new world to him.
“This sport is individual-based but I’ve met a lot of people doing this who have pushed me through the hard times. I’ve met very nice, supportive people, even if they look like intimidating muscle junkies,” he says.
“Making the provincial team has also been great because there’s a great spirit among the 30 guys and girls on the team.”
Valjalo believes bodybuilding is a “popular sport and it’s growing”.
“It can be intimidating at first. Some guys have very big muscles and it looks like you can’t speak to them. But they are just normal people, following their passion and loving what they’re doing,” he says.
Valjalo says while one could “become a professional and earn a living off it” he intends to follow his father’s footsteps and start a career in stockbroking.
“I’m moving back to Johannesburg when I finish my studies this year. That’s where the money is,” he laughs.