2016 was the year of female fitness, from the increased coverage of athletes and strong women in the media as well as a whole host of web trends focused on exercise and diet. In the midst of this shift, I caught up with UKBFF Bodybuilding champion Krish Kataria and her partner Federica Autieri, who have dedicated their lives to fitness and keeping healthy. While Krish competes globally in body building competitions, both girls work together through the tough workouts and precise diets that come with regular training, supporting each other and embarking on a truly inspirational fitness journey. They answered a few of my pressing questions as well as being part of an awesome shoot that I had the pleasure of photographing. Huge thanks to the talented team who worked with me on the shoot including Meraki London (Hair & Make Up) and Arjun Shah (Videography)!
When did your health and fitness journey start?
K: I’ve played football since I was 4 years old. When I was 24 I quit football and started weight training in the gym. I found a gym buddy, Martin, who was about 50 years old and had the physique of a 25 year old! He taught me weight lifting technique and we ended up training religiously at 6 am every Monday to Friday for 2 years.
F: In 2015, I had actually never been to a gym before that! As a kid I was active, but never really into health and fitness.
How normal is your household with both of you so keen on fitness?
K: The freezer and cupboards and full of chicken breasts, supplements and tupperware. We get excited about buying things in bulk and food shopping at Lidl, which is quite normal to be fair. We both share the same passion, albeit we have different goals. It works for us, even though some of our friends might think we are nutters!
F: Oats & whey are the standard breakfast in our household, and one thing is certain – we never run out of chicken, vegetables or peanut butter!
Krish, so at what point did you decide that you wanted to compete professionally?
K: In October 2014 I joined Showgirl Fitness after another friend from the gym recommended Michelle Brannan IFBB Pro to me. She coaches competitors and non-competitors that really just want to get into shape. I decided to join her shape team in October 2014 and instantly saw results. I started noticing bikini fitness women on social media and was in awe of their bodies. I never initially considered competing, but as my journey with Showgirl Fitness continued I was inspired by seeing all the other girls Michelle coached. Seeing these people in real life made me think that it could actually be possible. Although, once I started I really struggled to stick to the diet, I was training 10 times per week and I looked no different from week to week. I was scared of the commitment and hardship of competition prep, and also worried that if I reached “stage lean perfection” (which is unsustainable) that I would never be happy with myself when I wasn’t stage lean.
I decided to compete in September 2015 and I gave myself enough time to do it properly in order to avoid failing. I realised, if I managed to do just one competition, it would be the hardest thing I did in my life to date, but it would be something that made mentally stronger to take on other challenges in life.
How did you find support to help you win the championship?
K: My coach, Michelle Brannan, and Showgirl Fitness have been absolutely fantastic. Michelle coaches over 200 girls worldwide; she has seen it all and she’s an expert at coaching all types of people from various backgrounds and body shapes to achieve that X-shaped bikini body. Her diet plans are also really flexible – we do have set meals and macros, but we have a very varied “food list” to choose from to make up the protein, carbs and fats.
We also have monthly team posing sessions with Michelle, where members from all over the UK come together to practice their posing. The Showgirl Fitness group is really a team – we all support each other, inspire each other and share ideas, experiences, issues and concerns. It’s a great reminder that whatever you face during the prep stage, you aren’t alone.
How do you guys support each other during competition season and what have you learnt about each other?
K: I try to not take out my tiredness and “hangry” moments on Fede, and she tries to not take it personally when I do. Fede is my biggest fan, and quite possibly gets more upset than me when I don’t do as well as I should have. Meeting Fede shortly after I made the decision to compete actually helped me find a balance between work, the gym and my personal life. She taught me that food doesn’t have to be bland, boring or eaten out of Tupperware. Thanks to her, I’ve discovered a lot of simple but beautiful food creations that work even on a strict diet.
F: I am super competitive as a person, so every time Krish competes, I feel like I am competing as well. Although we are different people, we share the same passion, determination and the same winning instinct. Competing is tough on Krish and on us, so I have definitely had to learn to be more patient and to compromise – two things I’m not known for in the past!
Fede, you’ve been on a remarkable fitness journey too. Does this mean you’re considering competing in the future?
F: Definitely not. I love the body shape of bikini competitors and very much train like a competitor, but the pressure of a competition and walking around on a stage in clear stripper heels really doesn’t appeal to me! Joking aside, I’m happy training seriously and it makes me feel good. With Krish competing I think it’s enough for both of us, personally I don’t need a competition to do what I do every day.
What impact do you think the current uptake of women in fitness is having, both positive and negative?
K: It’s changing the perception that weight training is only for men, and I like that people recognise the difference between “fit” and “skinny”. It is great to see how many more healthy food choices there are out there, although you still need to have some basic understanding of nutrition to prevent being fooled by clever marketing! From a negative point of view, I was personally hesitant to compete because I was worried about reaching stage lean, and then not being happy with myself once I wasn’t stage lean. Competing has definitely increased my confidence, but I also struggle when I gain weight post competition. I know it’s part of the process and I do need to learn how to deal with that going forward and really finding the right balance between effort and looks. After all, it’s impossible to sustain 12 sessions a week for the rest of my life!
F: I think it’s all very positive and sending out the right message to people. It’s nice to see people really embracing healthy living. I suppose the negative side of it is that people need to be aware that body builders do things to the extreme and long periods of extremity isn’t healthy.
Who do you look up to as having the ultimate #bodygoals?
K: Fede. She’s determined, disciplined and passionate and doesn’t need a competition to keep her motivated. She eats clean out of choice, and has a bite of chocolate when she wants.
F: Krish. When she steps on stage is always a winner to me. I know I am very subjective, but I’ve watched many shows and am becoming somewhat of an expert at spotting the winner in all the categories. I can honestly say that it is very rare that I see someone with a better body than Krish. However, it’s also important to point out that you don’t just win on the look of the body, but the overall package.
What are your favourite exercises to do at the gym?
K: I think I have a love/hate relationship with my Monday evening leg sessions. I dread it and equally love the DOMS the next day! Generally I enjoy weight training and don’t really like the cardio side – but competing requires both so sometimes you just have to suck it up.
F: Shoulders. I used to have skinny little arms so I really like having a “shoulder cap” (and knowing what a shoulder cap is!)
What’s would you both say was the best way of getting into fitness if you’ve never stepped foot in a gym before?
K: I think it’s about having a gym buddy, someone who knows what they’re doing and who motivates you to turn up to the gym. Over time you will build up the confidence and routine to continue on your own.
F: I agree. Before I met Krish I was training 3 times a week without really knowing what I was doing. Gradually I started training with Krish and I quickly saw results and that inspired me to train more frequently.
What advice would you have for someone that wanted to start competing?
K: Find a coach who knows what they are doing in terms of diet, training and posing. Also, talk to other competitors to understand what it takes to compete. It’s not something to take lightly, but equally not something to be afraid of. It’s extremely rewarding to step on stage.
F: Go for it. You will definitely feel a sense of achievement once you get on stage. But as Krish says, do your research first. Competing isn’t for everyone.
Do you have any gym hacks?
K: I use MyFitnesspal to track my food. I also like to find healthy recipes on Instagram so I can bake “clean treats”. I’m also sponsored by Culture Gym and Kitchen in Wandsworth – a real body building type gym with old school machines – I absolutely love it there. It definitely gets me in the zone and I can hit muscle groups that “traditional” gym machines don’t have. I also love oats and whey for breakfast, for post workout or for a quick meal if I haven’t had time to food prep. I find that you can’t go wrong with oats & whey. As soon as you get bored, you can just change the flavour of protein!
F: I just use Krish as my point of reference. I also got a FitBit for Christmas so now I can track my steps, distance and sleep which I love.
What would you say has been the best thing about getting into fitness and competing?
K: I once said that if I managed to step on stage, just once, it would be the hardest thing I ever did. So I really think it’s made me stronger, not just physically, but also mentally. When you look at my progress pictures from day 1 to my first competition, you don’t just see the body changing, but you see my confidence growing and posture improving. I’ve also met people that I never would have if I hadn’t started competing. We’ve travelled across the world to represent the UK at international shows, and people from all over the world commend me for my achievements and ask me for tips and advice because I’ve inspired them – it’s been a truly rewarding and unforgettable journey!
F: Looking at myself in the mirror and liking what I see. That definitely makes me more confident.
Victoria’s Secret Model body, Yay or Nay?
K: I think everyone has their own taste. I wouldn’t say nay, because quite frankly I wouldn’t like it if someone looked at a picture of me and made negative comments!
F: I think they are very beautiful, but I prefer fit bodies as opposed to skinny!
Have you felt like you’ve been stereotyped for being into fitness?
K: Of course. People think I don’t have a brain because I spend a lot of time in the gym. When they realise I have a day job working for a corporate company in Canary Wharf, suddenly they go a bit quiet. I don’t mind it to be honest, I think it’s a fun shock factor!
F: No, largely people around me just give me compliments.
What does the typical day in the life of Krish/Fede include?
K: When I’m prepping I’ll be up at 6 am for cardio. Then I get ready for work, eat my oats & whey breakfast at work. Meal 2 is at 12.30pm and meal 3 is at 4pm, then straight to weights after work. Post work-out I have a protein shake with oats and go home to prepare meal 4 and then food prep for the following day. I usually also enjoy some fat free Greek yoghurt or protein pancakes as a pre-bedtime snack. Occasionally we do get a day off together and we love having a lie in, going out for a meal or meeting up with friends.
F: I usually wake up at 6 and head to the gym. I then shower, eat my oats & whey breakfast and make my way to work. Lunch is usually around 12pm, after which I might eat some biscuits at work. I’ll usually come home at 8 and have dinner – luckily tomorrow’s lunch is usually prepared by Krish. I might wash up, but Krish has to dry! I also love having yoghurt as evening snack with chocolate (although most likely not for Krish) and then off to bed.
Do you put any restrictions on yourself when it comes to food, especially when you’re competing?
K: YES! It usually consists of 6 meals a day, which are specific foods that are on Michelle’s “food list”. Everything is also weighed and eaten at 3-4 hour intervals.
Breakfast/Post Workout: oats and whey protein
Protein: chicken, turkey, lean beef
Carbs: brown rice, pasta, sweet potato, cous-cous
Veg: green veg, tomatoes, peppers, beetroot, onion
Fats: peanut butter, almonds, eggs, avocado
F: Even though I am not competing I eat very clean, and more or less eat the same food as Krish – just not 6 meals a day.
What would be your ultimate cheat meal or snack?
K: I think any dessert really, I absolutely love Reece’s peanut butter cups. I also love pancakes and waffles with strawberries, milk or white chocolate, peanut butter and Oreos. I do also like when Fede makes me Italian style pasta!
F: A proper Italian pizza with mozzarella di bufala, I’m obviously a real Neapolitan!
What are your favourite clothing brands for working out?
K: Nike, Adidas, Gymversus, Ivy Park and a bit of Primark.
F: Adidas, Nike, Stella McCartney, Ivy Park and I actually really like some of the Primark gym tops.
What can we expect from both of you in the upcoming year, can we look forward to more competitions?
K: I’m carrying on with Showgirl Fitness, training and dieting, but I haven’t decided what shows to do next year. At the moment I am enjoying working on the bikini body without having the pressure of a competition date in mind. We’re going to Mexico for my 30th in March which will be my first beach holiday since 2012 and ironically the first time the bikini body gets to be on a beach!
I think I’ll most likely do my next show in June/July 2017. Also, I am going to start an Executive MBA in September, so we will see how I manage my time once that starts. Regardless, we will both continue being healthy and fit, and I hope to inspire and help more people going forward!
F: I’m going to continue not competing but still carrying on with my healthy and fit lifestyle. I’ve got a few personal goals that I am working towards in 2017, so it will definitely be another busy year!
A huge thanks to both Krish and Fede for answering my questions! If you want to check out the final shoot, then check out the portfolio section here.
Make Up – Meraki London
Videography – Arjun Shah