In Conversation with Iqbal Sayed – Amateur Mr. Olympia 2016 Silver Medallist

The world of Indian Bodybuilding is full of extra-ordinary journeys, unbeatable courage and resonating success stories. Indian athletes have proved by large, that nothing can subdue a dream that is fuelled by passion. We saw this yet again when an engineer went onto become a silver medallist at Amateur Mr. Olympia 2016. We wanted to bring to you Iqbal’s incredible journey that took him from Mumbai Metro to the international stage. We are pleased to share with you our conversation with the man himself. Read through to get inspired!

Iqbal Sayed with Robi
Iqbal Sayed with Robi

1.    At the first place, what has made you enter into fitness, since you are an engineer by profession and already working in this field?

I honestly never had any idea that one day; I would become a bodybuilder on a professional note. I had joined Reliance after my graduation and MBA in Construction management. When it comes to bodybuilding, I can say it grew out of passion driven in blood. I grew up watching my dad who is the first athlete I have seen lifting weights. I inherited the passion for fitness from my dad and became a fitness enthusiast myself.

Iqbal Sayed with his father
Iqbal Sayed with his father

Everyone has some day when he gets enlightened, counselled or motivated. So, I happened to meet Mr. Rohit Shetty once. He was invited as one of the guests for Mumbai Metro Project (Iqbal is the project manager for Mumbai Metro). During my conversation with him, I could feel that he ignited that fire. He compelled me to dream bigger. He was my first guide or my first mentor under whose guidance I could transform myself. I could do my first transformation for Mumbai Shree 2016 where I secured a bronze. So wining at my first competition ever came as a motivational kick for me to take up this sport professionally.

Before meeting Rohit Shetty I was just an ordinary fitness enthusiast. I was a regular gym goer for 6 to 7 years but not a professional bodybuilder. So my first step was under his guidance.

2.    What are your biggest achievements so far when it comes to bodybuilding?

Event Date Medal
Mr. Ghatkopar Dec 2015 Bronze
Mumbai Shree Jan 2016 Bronze
Mr. Andheri Jan 2016 Gold
Junior Maharashtra Shree 2016 Silver
Amateur Mr. Olympia 2016 Dec 2016 Silver

3.    Can you tell us more about your victory at Amateur Mr. Olympia 2016, how tough was the competition?

It all started as a dream for me. I had always dreamed of representing my country on an international platform for something that I loved to do passionately. Amateur Mr. Olympia really built the pressure. By the time I started prepping for the event, my family and friends already had high expectations of me and their expectations were rising higher with each passing day. It was the first international event for me and therefore it seemed really tough. There were around 400 athletes representing 30 to 32 nations from 4 continents. I represent IBBFF (Indian Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation) and I had strong support from Dr. Sanjay More and Mandar Agwankar. They were the ones who actually made me shine at the international platform.

Iqbal Sayed with Sanjay More
IBBFF General Secretary Sanjay More supporting the athletes at Amateur Mr Olympia

4.    Did you expect yourself to win a medal at Amateur Olympia?

To be honest, my family and I had expected that I would emerge as the winner at Mr. Olympia. It was more like a dream come true for me. Being a management student, I had studied a lot of case studies dealing with successes and more with failures. I have seen millions of athletes in India and even at international levels in terms of success and failures. There have been radically successful athletes and great role models for everyone to look up to and follow. Even I follow them. All of them had one thing in common, they never gave up. In spite of the difficulties they faced, the criticism they received, they never gave up. So I believe that one who has never-give-up kind of attitude will definitely get success. It all starts with what you have in mind.

5.    Tell us about the role models that you have

I follow Suhas Khamkar and Sangaram Chougale when it comes to Indian bodybuilding. I don’t know Suhas Khamkar personally but I have heard that he has been through the hard phases of life when he started his bodybuilding journey. But when you see him today, instead of just respecting and acknowledging his present, you should also see what kind of a past he has had.

Iqbal Sayed with Sangram Chougule

6.    You have been trained under master trainer Mr. Rakesh Udiyar, what made you choose him as your trainer and how did you approach him?

It all started with a very casual and random approach when I added him on Facebook initially. We have a Whatsapp group of bodybuilders created by IBBFF and Mr. Rakesh Udiyar is also a member of that group and I had no idea about him being on that group. I had heard about him from my friends and so I first started following him on social media – Instagram and Facebook. Finally one day I approached him via Facebook and he shared his number with me. Later in that month, I met him at a friend’s wedding reception. I had a conversation with him and he then invited me for a workout session. The meeting was co-incidental – nothing was planned.

He invited me for a session at Taj, Bandra where we did a leg workout. This was my first workout with him, in fact my first session with a different style of workout called MTUT which is a very unique concept of training, introduced by him through his master trainer Dennis James who is an IFBB pro, whom he follows. I always had in my mind that the one who would train me would be better than me. I always say, only a beast can train a beast. Mr. Udiyar has also been a professional bodybuilder in the past so I realized that he is the best option.

Iqbal Sayed and Coach Rakesh Udiyar and Team

7.    How was your training experience with Mr. Udiyar?

Every session with him was like pain reaping experience at its peak. He not only introduced MTBT but also NOS (Neurological Overload Sets), which is a unique neurological muscle cell expansion technique. He always used to quote to me, in fact he quoted this to me in the first session when I started crying, “Iqbal you will be ready to bear the pain only if you know how badly you want to grow.” He told me that every time I feel the pain, I should visualize where I want to stand and which title I am competing for. His words will remain with me for the lifetime.

Rakesh Udiyar Training

8.    How did you prepare for Amateur Olympia in terms of diet and training?

As per my diet protocol, anything that had sugar, I had to refrain from it. I was not loading myself with any form of sugar. I was practically on a zero sugar diet for the entire prep time of 4 months. I had a month of gaining, in which I had increased all my carbohydrates and calories and was following a very low fat diet. This was followed only for a month. Then we started with contest prep where I was following different diet protocols. Rakesh always kept changing my diet phase wise. He used to record the progress and then switch me to different protocols either weekly, fortnightly, or monthly – low carb diet, keto diet, etc. The last week is very crucial as that decides an athlete’s victory on the stage. He followed up every two hours to ensure that I am following my protocol. I salute him for that.

As far as protein intake is concerned, we altered the protein intake based on the phase. When I was on a keto diet, I used get 60 to 70 percent of my calories from proteins whereas when on a regular diet protein share becomes 50 percent.

The training protocol began with a 30 to 40 minutes of fasted high intensity cardio in the morning with just a scoop of isolate protein. Then I used to spend the whole day in office. In the evening it used to be weight training for 60 to 90 minutes followed by another cardio session of 45 minutes. My training included everything – regular workout, MTBT style, NOS style. The day would include 5 to 6 solid food meals with 2 to 3 scoops of protein shake.

9.    On a typical day what does your diet constitute of?

Actually even now I am on a diet. However, when I am off diet I go for a combination of food that would have vegetables, fibres, carbs, fat to optimum and non-vegetarians item. I am a hardcore non vegetarian guy. I don’t have a sweet tooth but I love ice creams. Once a week I have ice creams when I am off diet.

Whether I am on diet or off diet, I ensure that I have an array of fruits and vegetables as colourful as possible to have all micro-nutrients. I always believe that supplements are supplementary to your diet. You cannot rely on them completely. You should try and get all micro and macro nutrients from your food. Supplement will always be a part of the protocol depending upon your work out, goal, recovery patterns, lifestyle etc.

10. How does your diet change before the competition and during the off-season?

Bodybuilding is still a road under discovery. So there is nothing theoretical about it. We rely on coach’s experience that understands your progress and accordingly changes the diet. Like I said, in my gaining period I was on a high calorie diet. In the last weeks of competition, you need to understand the body science and hence, we were playing with the calories. We were following different protocols for different phases. In fact during the last week, the protocol was so detailed that my diet changed every day.

Coming to off season, I have seen many athletes, even my friends, they start on junk food. Since they have deprived themselves for the entire season, the moment the event is over, they start having junk food.  It is not only wrong but also very harmful. A month after the event, the body enters a reversal period. If in this phase, you load your body with a clean diet and high calories, you can see a good change in your muscles.

11. You were diagnosed with Typhoid just a few days before Amateur Mr. Olympia was held and you could still manage to not only participate but also be a winner, how did you do that?

I had some weakness for a week long but since I had to compete I kept on pushing myself and managed somehow. However, one day, I was in office and my fever crossed 100 degrees. I was sent home for rest and I could not workout for 4 to 5 days. Blood tests were run and I was diagnosed with Typhoid. We consulted several doctors and all told me to leave the competition, and get back to regular diet and lifestyle. I burst into tears thinking about the 4 months, every hour I had spent into training at the gym. Then I approached my family doctor, Dr. Asha Dev, who has been my family physician since my childhood. She promised me that she will ensure that I go to Olympia and compete. I owe my recovery completely to her. When I was losing all hope, crying with doctors telling me not to compete etc. I remembered what my mother told me. She said that problems are not to deter you from your goal; they are the challenges that test you how well prepared are you for the next step. She told me to have faith in Allah and that I will overcome and conquer. Family has been the biggest support in all this time.

For these 4 to 5 days I was not supposed to follow any bodybuilding diet. My diet was regular boiled rice, with some dal and curd. I was asked to take protein only in the form of Whey and not from non-vegetarian food.

On stage, when I competed, I was in the middle of my typhoid. I had even forgotten to take some of my medicine with me. When I got off stage after pre-judging round, I was puking horribly. I slept for two hours due to weakness. After I came back home, I completed my medication.

12. You already have a full-time job with Reliance as a civil engineer, and you could still win at Mr. Olympia, how do maintain your work and personal life balance?

I would give credit to my office colleagues as well. I work as a project co-ordination manager for Mumbai Metro and I report to CEO of Mumbai Metro, Mr. Abhay Kumar Mishra directly who is an all India Rank 1 IES officer. With all the competitions, preps, and work profile, I could sleep for only 4 to 5 hours a day for those 4 months. I would sleep by 12 am and wake up again by 4 to 5 in the morning. I used to hit the gym by 6 and do cardio for an hour. By 7:30 am I used to be back at home and 9:30 used to be my office. Till 7:30 pm I used to work at the office.

I usually sleep for 7 hours at least in a day. But during this phase, I had to adapt to 4 hours of sleep which was tough. My boss and colleagues, in spite of the work pressure, ensured that I leave the office by 7:30 pm so that I can reach the gym. So in this journey I was not alone.

13. How has your bodybuilding association IBBFF helped you achieve your goal?

Basically what is required to promote an athlete to the next level is motivation. No person can help in any other form, I believe. Although, I had just become an athlete around a year back, my association had a strong belief in me that I would make it big in the competition. Mr. Mandar Agwankar, one of the officials of the Mumbai zone, used to follow up with me enquiring about the progress and whether I needed any help. They were in touch till I flew to Hong Kong. Even then they used to follow up through phone. Dr. Sanjay More was one of the guests at Mr. Olympia. So he ensured that he came to see us how we are doing.

Iqbal Sayed with Mandar of IBBFF
Iqbal Sayed with Mandar Agwankar of IBBFF Mumbai

14. You have already made a mark in the fitness Industry so what are your future plans?

My first goal is to make myself a benchmark in the fraternity where my fellow athletes and people who follow me will be able to imitate me. It’s a long way to go. I am just a small fish now. I am already preparing for Arnold Classic 2017 which will be held in Johannesburg, South Africa. It is one of the biggest festivals across the globe with 18,000 to 20,000 athletes participating in 70 different sports. Post this, I will also be competing Olympia Amateur.

15. What would you say about IBB?

I have been visiting this website even before I started competing professionally. I can say that IBB is actually doing a good job because it has given all the Indian athletes, irrespective of the association they come from, a common platform for all them to arrive at the same page. I wish you all the best.

We too wish Iqbal all the best for his future endeavours. It was a pleasure talking with this ambitious yet simple and humble young man whose actions and achievements talk louder than his words.

About Team IBB

Team of authors, content creators and fitness enthusiast behind IBB

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