Fitness is a family affair for champion bodybuilder and trainer Valerie Pequeno.
By: Sarah Tindall
Photos by: Edgar de la Garza
Valerie Pequeno is committed to fitness. The 29-year-old bodybuilder took first place in the Bikini Competition at last year’s Battle on the Bay, the bodybuilding championship now in its second year in the Coastal Bend. Pequeno, who has only been competing for a year-and-a-half, says it’s a family affair for her, as her mother, Nellie Pequeno; her brother, Robert Pequeno; and her fiancé, Chris Zuyus, now also compete.
In fact, she started bodybuilding after her aunt and uncle in Austin, who compete themselves, encouraged her to start doing it. “My first show was last year’s Battle on the Bay,” she says. “I didn’t want to do it, but once I got into the training, I really started to enjoy it. I placed first in Battle on the Bay, and then I was hooked.”
After that, things snowballed. Pequeno has traveled around the country since, competing in national competitions and more often than not, placing in the top five. She is now sponsored by Rock’s Discount Vitamins, which gives her the chance to participate in more competitions and to make her way up the ladder. Her end goal is to qualify for a pro card, which she says will open up a world of opportunities in the fitness world for her and give her the opportunity to compete at the Mt. Olympia Competition in Vegas, which she calls the ultimate show in bodybuilding.
“I missed getting my pro card by one this year,” she says, “and my last chance this year is the last national show in Miami. If I place in the top two, then I get my International Federation of Bodybuilding pro card.”
What she loves about these competitions is the personal challenge – working every day at perfecting her body more and more so that it looks better and better at every competition. “I like to progress,” she says. “My body is constantly changing, and I’m so interested in the science behind it. Your body can change so much in a week, depending on sodium intake, water intake. The process is addicting; you can go from no abs to abs in one week. It’s all about choices: ‘Do I want this burger, or do I want my abs?’”
She loves it so much, in fact, that she’s built her career on it, working as a personal trainer to prepare other girls for shows, as well, and she’s finishing college with this career in mind, majoring in biology at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi. “This way I have the background to work on diet and nuitrition plans for my clients – to help them achieve their goals, whether it’s losing weight, getting into shape or actually training for a bodybuilding competition,” she says.
Her excitement about the sport was so infections, in fact, that she’s got her mom and brother in on the act. Her mom, Nellie Pequeno, is 48 and competes in the Master’s Division; she took home a fifth-place trophy at her latest competition in McAllen on Oct. 18. Her brother, Robert Pequeno, competes in the Men’s Physique category, placing in the top10 at the Battle on the Bay and fifth at a competition in Lackland in November. Her fiancé, Chris Zuyus, also competes in the Men’s Physique division.
“It’s addictive – you versus you, always trying to beat yourself every show, to look better than you did at your last show,” Pequeno says. And she’s spreading that addiction to her clients, who need help not only with the bodybuilding aspect of the sport and preparing for the show with physical training, but also with the showmanship portion of their time onstage.
“The judges look at our overall muscle tone, as well as symmetry, making sure the shoulders match the bottom half. But also, in the bikini competitions, it’s important to look confident and charismatic onstage,” she says. “Also, our overall stage presence must be good, from the skin complexion to a complementary bathing suit color to jewelry and hair and makeup that work together and make you look your most attractive. It’s all part of preparing for a show.”
So, for her show prep clients, Pequeno recommends 12 to 14 weeks of preparation, usually building muscle for the majority of it and then, as the show gets closer, going into a calorie deficit and cardio training to get just the right look. “There’s a lot of timing that goes into it,” she admits. And diet, she says, is 80 percent of the whole prep for each show. “It’s mainly composed of high, lean protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. We weigh our food for every meal and have all our food prepped even when we travel!”
She also offers eight- and 12-week programs for people who want to get in shape or improve the shape they’re already in. These programs offer weekly updated workouts that start slow and gradually increase the amount of reps and the weight range, as well as work on more cardio and create a customized meal plan and vitamin supplement plan for each customer based on their fitness goals.
For the future, Pequeno’s personal goals including getting a master’s degree in nutrition and opening her own studio so she can train her clients exclusively. She’d also like to write a book someday to show people that healthy living is possible for people living normal lives. Besides those goals, she’s got a 4-year-old son to keep her busy and a marriage to her sweetheart coming up next year, so Pequeno is looking at good things on her horizon.