Just five years after stepping into a gym for the first time, Diana Rivera is a physique champion. A trainer at LoveFix Gym, Rivera won her division in the National Physique Committee (NPC) North American Championships in Pittsburgh on Sept. 4.
The 36-year-old Gilroy resident took first place in the women’s bikini class E masters category, earning a coveted IFBB Pro Card. That means Rivera can now compete against the very best in the world in future events. She plans on entering her first pro meet in 2022 and will start preparations for that in January.
“I’m taking a little break right now because of Thanksgiving and Christmas,” said Rivera, who also did a competition two months prior to the North American Championships. “I have kids and I need and want to spend time with them. You need to be passionate about this sport because it’s very hard.”
No kidding. Though it takes some serious and intense training time in the gym for Rivera to sculpt her body into a proportioned physique characterized by a V-shaped torso, sculpted shoulders and a taut waist, that is only part of the equation of becoming a physique pro.
While sleep and recovery are also critical, maintaining the proper eating regimen is by far the most difficult part for competitors.
“The hardest part is the diet,” she said. “You have to be very strict with what you’re eating. The training is actually fun for me. But for the diet, you need to be very disciplined and strict about it.”
Rivera usually trains three to four months for a competition, and in that time her daily diet is the same: oatmeal and eggs for her first meal followed by meals that include either chicken, egg whites or fish for protein to go along with veggies and either rice or sweet potatoes for carbs.
In between those meals, Rivera pounds down three to four protein shakes a day. All told, Rivera eats six to seven small meals a day. Like any bodybuilder or physique competitor looking to be the best, Rivera stays away from sauces and condiments.
“You can have a little sea salt because it keeps the muscles looking fuller, but nothing really beyond that,” she said. “You have to keep the food very simple. If you’re going to compete, the prep has to be very simple and you’re mostly eating the same meals everyday.”
What was the impetus for Rivera to go down the physique path and sacrifice so much for her craft? Five years ago, Rivera got fed up with looking in the mirror and seeing an out-of-shape body. But it was her older brother’s death when she was 7, her own bout with meningitis in 2007 and her mom’s death three years ago that ultimately gave her a deep, inner motivation to improve her health and the wellbeing of those around her.
“I love the feeling of helping others, answering their questions and pushing them hard to reach their goals,” she said. “I often say love your body, eat healthy and try to be one percent better everyday.”
Rivera was born in Mexico but immigrated to the U.S. when she was 18 with her then-boyfriend and now husband. The transition was a rather rough one.
“I went straight to work and most of the employees were Mexican or South American people, so I never got to practice or learn English,” she said.
But working the night shift at a packaging warehouse eventually started to wear Rivera down, especially after she gave birth to two kids.
“I knew something had to change,” she said. “That’s why I decided to go to school (in 2016).”
Rivera enrolled at Gavilan College to take ESL classes and earn an Associate of Arts degree in accounting. She accomplished both, but it was another class she took that piqued her interest and ultimately got her on the path to the physique world.
“I had to take a class for P.E. and they had different options, so I chose weight lifting,” she said.
Having never lifted a weight in her life, Rivera started off with zero knowledge of the discipline. But it didn’t take long for Rivera to gain a passion for fitness, and in 2017 she started paying for a membership at Fit Republic. At the same time she was studying for her A.A. degree, Rivera started taking classes to become a certified personal trainer.
“But it was just for me to have knowledge so I would be able to use it myself and know what I was doing as I trained,” she said. “I didn’t think I would end up applying that knowledge to other people.”
Shortly after earning her National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) certification in summer 2020, LoveFix owner and friend Dalila Alegria asked Rivera to come work at her gym.
“She was super kind and I said, ‘OK, but I don’t know how to apply my knowledge to others,’” Rivera said. “She said not to worry and that she would give me the opportunity to learn and apply that knowledge to help others, which was great.”
Even though Rivera said the look of her physical appearance plays a part in her passion for physique competition, it’s the other factors that remain paramount.
“Obviously, we all want to look good, but this is more about your mental and emotional health than how your body looks,” she said.