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Getting to Know Jimi Sitko

July 16, 2014 2:53 pm by: Category: Featured Athletes, Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine 1 Comment A+ / A-

Lessons learned as this dedicated, hard-working, Alabama man became a champion vegan bodybuilder.

VHF: When did you go vegan and why?
I started going vegan back in 2007 after I had read the Skinny Bitch book (which I think I found by fate). I first cut out dairy and bread for a couple weeks to see how I’d feel. I felt great and couldn’t believe something so simple, as taking those two things out of my diet, would have such an impact. After seeing the body fat reduction and energy level increase, I contacted the author of the book, Rory Freedman, and gave her Kudos on such an awesome book. I also gave her a little bit of background information on myself (personal trainer, health minded, and bodybuilder) and she responded after a couple weeks, telling me to check out Robert Cheeke’s site, www.VBBF.com, since he was a vegan bodybuilder. I did go to the site and contacted Robert directly. He promptly advised that I read the forums for more information. So I did and now here I am. Ha ha. I initially wanted a way to get my body fat down to a lower percentage. It seemed no matter what I did nutritionally I still couldnt get it past a certain point (about 12%), eating and working out the way I was at the time. Once I read the SB book and did those two things for two weeks I knew there had to be something to the vegan diet.

Jimi SitkoVHF: When did you begin training and why?
I began weight training in 2000 when I first entered college and was just turning 18 years old. I never played sports in high school, nor did I lift weights. I was always the skinny malnourished kid who didn’t get all 3 basic meals daily growing up. So when I began college I had a job and a few bucks to eat on, so I decided I should become more muscular and stronger, to be able to handle myself as a bigger and stronger adult. I went through school always seeing crazy fights between people so I thought to myself, “If I ever have one of these fights I’m going to have to be able to defend myself and I want to be the victor.” (I also had in the back of my mind that as an adult I’d more than likely have to go to jail if I got into a fist fight, so I, yet again, wanted to be able to defend myself properly).

VHF: Please give a brief history of your evolution in your sport and accomplishments thus far.
When I started lifting back in 2000 I weighed 150 lbs. Within a few months my weight shot up to 160 lbs. It stayed at that weight for about a year and then it seemed I shot up 5lbs a year (which is really slow for someone who wants to be bigger and stronger now!). The gym was an escape from the life at home, so I was there quite a bit. I was really dedicated and took training, eating, and sleeping seriously. The friends I had thought it was crazy if I was at a party and would leave by 9:30 pm because I wanted to be in bed by 10 pm so I’d be well rested the next day to lift weights. I burned through weight-gainers upon weight gainers and burned through money for supplements as well. Fast forwarding a bit to 2005 or so, I had a great pain in my mouth. I thought it was just a wisdom tooth growing in at a later time (as it is believed in my family that happens). For two weeks I couldn’t eat anything with texture, so I was mostly drinking shakes and eating applesauce. I lost 8lbs (which I thought was pure muscle loss at the time) and after having the wisdom teeth removed I set out to gain as much weight as possible, and make sure a loss of muscle would never happen again. I had a few “muscle websites” I went on to ask questions and later provide advice. In an 11 month period I went from 192 lbs to 223 lbs. I was consuming anywhere from 8,000-12,000 calories every single day. I would eat two full subs from Subway and have my 3 cookies with lemonade as dessert and could still pack in more if I wanted. At this time in my life I worked professionally as a mover and was burning crazy calories all day. I ate like this mostly to maintain my weight, because if I didn’t, I knew I’d lose it quickly. If I had a day that was less than 10 hrs of working I would still go to the gym and lift heavy for an hour to an hour and a half. At ten hours or more I knew it was useless for me to go workout as I was “pooped.” My greatest accomplishments and goals at the time were to lift 315 lbs on just about any exercise that included a barbell. I was able to flat bench press and incline bench press 315 lbs for 5 reps on any given day. I was up to using the 145 lbs dumbbells (145 lbs in each hand) on chest press and 130 lbs for incline chest press. I could squat 315 lbs for 5 reps with my butt touching my calves. I loved this kind of strength and power! I could straight-leg deadlift 405 lbs (this took me almost a year to accomplish from just the bar). I was addicted to lifting heavy. My dream during this time was to get my body weight up to 230 lbs and then cut-down and compete in bodybuilding. One night I got my weight to 225 lbs, but never again did it budge anything past 223 lbs. I lost hope in gaining more weight. I was consuming a lot of calories, but it just seemed like I was defeated there. So I said “screw it.”

Since I couldn’t gain any more weight, I went the opposite direction and dropped some weight to prove to myself, and my clients that it could be done (I became a personal trainer by this time in 2006). It was a slow process. It took me a whole month before I even saw a pound budge from the scale. I then saw how some people try to lose weight, but never see anything change. Being as strong-willed as I was, I knew I couldn’t just give up. I didn’t, and the next month I dropped 8 lbs. I was happy at 215 because I was still big and strong and was wanting to do powerlifting and enter Strongman competitions. That too was just a dream. I kept going and eventually got my weight to 211lbs before I read Rory Freedman’s book. Through the transition I dropped the bread and dairy, as described earlier, but then I started cutting out meat. I kept my red meats to just once a week. If I had a burger or steak on say Tuesday I couldn’t have another until the next Tuesday or later. It eventually turned into eating it once every two weeks, then three, then once a month, and then I totally cut it out. I still had eggs (for the cheap protein), and chicken from time to time, but not much because I was reading more and more about how animals were treated during slaughter (I was totally clueless before), and the impact that eating animal products had on my total health. I dropped even more weight and came back down to 180lbs (which I vowed I would never get back down to ever in my life). The thing is, I felt great and looked great as well. I was more defined, I could see all my abs, and I never had to guess what my energy levels were going to be because they were high all the time.

Jimi’s honest confession. (Don’t try this at home):
The summer hit and fresh fruits and veggies were out and I never had as great of an experience eating these sorts of foods as I did then. Every flavor seemed to explode in my mouth like I had never had before. Awesomeness! I ate strawberries, solely, for a couple months. My body fat was the lowest it had ever been. I was ecstatic that I was having to buy new jeans in a size 30! After 2-3 months of maintaining a body fat level under 5% (I was neurotic about keeping it down all the time then), I got sick. I had a fever that never went below 103 degrees for 3 days and it got up to 104.6 for 11 hours. It sucked. I laid on the couch from Friday to Monday and my vision was all wavy and distorted to a point where I couldn’t even walk straight. I went to a “doc-in-a-box” the Monday after this started and they tested me for the flu and strep. I tested negative for both. I did something wrong with my diet. I wasn’t eating enough, and enough of a variety. I was not uneducated on the matter, but very under-educated.

Competition begins, this changes everything:
Late in 2008, Robert Cheeke had told me he was putting together a documentary [Vegan Brothers in Iron] and was wondering if I’d be interested in competing with him and Giacomo Marchese in an upcoming competition in Phoenix, AZ. At the time he asked (late Novemberish early December) I was running about 6 miles every day and was lifting very little. I had to overcome the running bug in order to gain more mass and eat more without burning muscle. I dropped my running down to 3 miles a day, then to 1 mile, and then eventually stopped all together because of the advice I was getting from bigger people on the VBBF forum. So I prepared for the contest and in April of 2009 Robert, Giacomo, and I all walked on stage and gave it all we had. I came in 3rd out of 8 in the INBF Open Middle Weight division [drug-free]. I had beat out both Robert and Giac in my first ever competition.

But, I knew I needed more size for other competitions, so I worked on that. Then, I competed again that year and pulled 3rd/5th in Open Light- Heavyweight division, weighing in at only 175 lbs. They asked if I wanted to go to the bathroom or run out the 3/4ths of a pound needed to reduce my weight, so I could compete in the lighter weight class. But I declined and told the judges to “put me in with the big boys.” They all looked at me like I was crazy and asked if I was sure, and then said “Okay.” My last show of 2009, I entered in my original weight class of Middle Weight and got 3rd/4th in the Open didvision. The last two shows were both NPC and not drug-tested. It felt so great to be drug-free and vegan competing in a show where most everyone was all roided up and eating cold steaks/chicken right in front of me. I took maybe a month off and then waited to do the local Mr. Huntsville [Alabama] the following year. I dieted for 20 weeks and came out the leanest I’ve ever been for a show. Mentally it sucked, but physically I knew I’d pull higher than 3rd place. I did the show and won 1st place in the Open Middleweight division, once again being vegan and drug-free (the only one in this show).

Jimi’s notoriety begins to grow:
Fast forwarding again to December of 2011, I had a journalist contact me from the New York Times stating that she wanted to come down and do a story on me because I was a vegan bodybuilder who lived in Alabama (which seemed to be unheard of in the Nothern states). I had a photo shoot and then Mary Pilon came down for a whole weekend to shadow me to see what it was like as a vegan bodybuilder in the South. It seemed to be a real eye-opener for her, but just a normal weekend for me. I also now have a short “something” in an e-book called Sexy Raw Vegans.

VHF: Please tell us what you are currently working toward.
Right now I am physically working on doing the “flag pole” for more than a few seconds, doing exercises to prepare for American Ninja Warrior (maybe another dream, but I love that show and would love to compete on it), and getting ready for a Zombie 5K race in Orlando that has obstacles as well as zombies chasing everyone. Professionally, I’m working on starting my own kombucha tea drink line called Jimbucha and possibly a pre-packed vegan food line as well. I’m about to graduate in December with my bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Human Resource Management. I want to continue helping others in any way that I can. as long as I can change at least one person’s life through health or counseling.

VHF: What is your philosophy of training?
My philosophy in training is this: “Do what you feel like doing that day. Don’t hold yourself back to just one type of training.” If one day you want to lift heavy weights and the next day go a little less extreme and do a body pump class or yoga then so be it. It will help your physique and health no matter what. I see a lot of people who won’t do any kind of cardio or anything different than what they know with the weights. These people tend to always struggle with their body fat levels being higher and don’t see the gains they want.

VHF: What is your philosophy of training?
My philosophy in training is this: “Do what you feel like doing that day. Don’t hold yourself back to just one type of training.” If one day you want to lift heavy weights and the next day go a little less extreme and do a body pump class or yoga then so be it. It will help your physique and health no matter what. I see a lot of people who won’t do any kind of cardio or anything different than what they know with the weights. These people tend to always struggle with their body fat levels being higher and don’t see the gains they want.

VHF: Does it vary depending on upcoming events or times of the year and if so, how?
Yes, my training definitely varies throughout the year. If I’m getting ready for a competition, whether it be bodybuilding or a competitive race, then I train accordingly. I still lift weights no matter what and tend to not soley focus on one event or the other. I want my whole body and health to thrive, not just one part compared to the other (i.e. running vs. bodybuilding).

VHF: What are the biggest benefits to being vegan that you’ve noticed?
The biggest benefit to being vegan is feeling awesome ALL the time. I know that year-round my body fat stays low, even when other people are “bulking” and then trying to lean up. No need to go up and down. I want to be able to do anything I want whenever when it comes to my eating and physical abilities.

VHF: Have you had any experiences where you inspired someone else that really touched your heart?
I recently had a doctor client change his ways and start promoting healthy eating and exercise to his patients. Some of his patients have come back and told this doctor how great they feel and how he has changed their lives. While telling me this, he attributed it all to me. That made me feel really good!

VHF: Tell us about having Robert Cheeke marry you recently.
Robert being my minister was an awesome experience. He stayed with my wife Tonya and me for a full week. I cooked all my specialty meals that I’m known for, and after leaving he stated that my cooking was indeed better than the restaurants he’d been eating at. He was really cool about everything and even got ordained to be a minister at our request. Our kids saw Robert as a target and we didn’t make them hold back so we would have some sanity while he was there. Ha ha.

VHF: Is there anything that you’d like to add?
I would love to change the world, but I know that I cannot. Only people willing to change will change. I cannot force it on anyone, nor would I. When someone asks for help, I can do only that--help. I’m not there to hold someone’s hand while they’re eating something unhealthy or drinking a whole bottle of wine every night. People will change when they are ready.

 

Getting to Know Jimi Sitko Reviewed by on . Lessons learned as this dedicated, hard-working, Alabama man became a champion vegan bodybuilder.VHF: When did you go vegan and why? I started going vegan back Lessons learned as this dedicated, hard-working, Alabama man became a champion vegan bodybuilder.VHF: When did you go vegan and why? I started going vegan back Rating: 0

Comments (1)

  • Nick wilson

    Hi. Truely a motivating post. I am really inspired by the way Jimi Sitko did everything. His hardworking and positive attitude is what we all should have within us.
    Nick Wilson

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