Who’s Good: A Q&A With Arnold Bikini Champion India Paulino

Whether you’re looking to bolster your wellness routine, learn more about healthy eating, or find an inspiring Fitstagram account, look no further than Who’s Good, a regular interview series from the editors of What’s Good that catches up with the best, brightest, and boldest the wellness world has to offer.

India Paulino is a certified professional life coach, three-time Arnold Classic Bikini Champion, and a BPI Sports sponsored athlete. Oh, and did we mention she’s also a new mom? Yup—she does it all.

When she’s not busy inspiring her nearly 200,000 Instagram followers, you’ll find Paulino being featured in publications like Muscle and Fitness Hers and Fitness Rx for Women, coaching her clients, and, of course, training. What’s Good got the chance to chat with her about her success story.

Thanks for chatting with us, India! Let’s talk a bit about your start in the world of fitness modeling and competition. You left your job as a police officer to dedicate yourself to fitness. What sparked your interest, and what was that transition like?

I was working the midnight shift as a road cop, and when things were slow I’d flip though fitness magazines. I still remember the one photo that inspired me to do my first fitness show: It was in Fitness Rx for Women, and it was of one of the top competitors at that time on the Arnold Classic stage. The lights, the beautiful two-piece suit, the glamour—and the amazing physique, which, to me, represented hard work and strength—made me fall in love.

I had no idea what I was doing or how shows worked—at all. All I knew was that I wanted to be in amazing shape and compete on stage.

I already worked out regularly, but I was practicing martial arts and doing a lot of police-type training. When I decided to compete, I changed my training to achieve that specific look.

Meals also became very important. I couldn’t just eat out anywhere; I had to follow specific macros. I started to prep and pack my meals with me everywhere I went.

After just a few weeks, I competed in my first show. I won one class and placed second in the other. I was hooked! From there, things just took off. A month later, I booked a flight to Germany to work with a supplement brand at the FIBO (the world’s biggest trade show for fitness, wellness, and health).

I continued to work my butt off in amateur shows to earn my pro card. Just months after going pro, I was sharing stages with the very women who inspired me to begin this journey in the first place. I even ended up on the cover of the very magazine that piqued my interest in fitness modeling and competitions!

What started as I just want to do one show very quickly turned into a career, and I’m very grateful for that.

Related: 5 Top Bodybuilders School You On Their Profession

At that point, I decided to take a break from police work and focus on the amazing opportunities I had in front of me in the fitness world. Everyone thought I was nuts, but I knew it was the right thing to do. Risks and challenges are two things I love so much. They help you grow!

Fast forward eight years and I’m still traveling and competing—while running a personal development and online training business, and spending time with my beautiful husband and eight-month-old baby boy.

How did you make the lifestyle adjustments necessary to begin training for your first-ever competition? Did you have to reroute your entire life?

Since I was still working as a cop those first two years, I had to really plan my days so that I was able to work, train, and cook all of my food. I’d get home from work around eight o’clock in the morning, sleep for a few hours, get up, eat, hit the gym for three hours, come home, prep my food, and go to work again. Sometimes, I’d even use my 4 a.m. break at work to train.

What kept you going in moments of difficulty or challenge?

I kept my eyes on my goals. I believe that visualization is very important for manifesting your desires and I did a whole lot of that! If I didn’t feel motivated, I would visualize myself accomplishing what I was after, and that usually did the trick.

What’s it like being a mother and a fitness model and competitor? Did you internalize messages or pressures about the body while pregnant or after pregnancy?

Oh my goodness—women put so much pressure on themselves to stay in shape during pregnancy. While I definitely didn’t want to gain too much weight during my pregnancy, it wasn’t my biggest concern. I was more focused on making sure that I was eating the healthiest I ever had to help my baby develop and grow.

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This photo was taken a couple of months ago and the 2nd one two weeks ago. My belly has grown and dropped since the 2nd photo and gosh am I going to miss it. I'm not going to pretend it isn't uncomfortable AF sometimes because it is, especially trying to sleep ( I use to be a stomach sleeper) get up from the couch or laying down ( I feel like a turtle now) and bending down to pick something up ehh forget it that's where it will stay- the floor. BUT despite those things I LOVE LOVE LOVE my 9 month pregnant belly. It's like it improves as I get further along 😂 It sounds weird I know. Maybe some moms and moms to be can relate ?? I can't wait to meet my little Angel but I will def also miss being pregnant, it's such a magical experience at least for me. I would take the bad days, the sick days the days where I could barely walk due to aches and I would do it all again for the reward that's waiting in the end. ❤️ . . Photo @maaxxwest . . . #indiapaulino #7monthspregnant #9monthspregnant #love #babyboy #homebirth #hypnobirth #whoknows #indigo #crystal #fitness #fitmom #pregnantnotpowerless

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I didn’t put pressure on myself. The physical body didn’t concern me because it’s just that: a physical body. I knew that after my body completed the wonderful journey of pregnancy, I’d get back in shape.

Because I had that mentality, I really loved my body during pregnancy and embraced every stage and every change. As long as my babe was good, I was happy. I focused on listening to my body, drinking lots of water, eating clean, and meditating.

What did you do to get back into physical shape after having a child?

I didn’t rush into it. Training just wasn’t on my mind. For me, it was more important to enjoy the special moments with my baby boy.

I was cleared to exercise just shy of six weeks after having Breton, and after that I started to train two to three times a week in my garage gym at home.

I started out slowly to be respectful of my body and the journey that it had just gone through. I knew I would need to learn balance in this new life, so I followed an eight-week program that eased me back into training.

Once I finished those eight weeks, I began my prep for competitions again with more intense training and cardio, and stricter dieting. Still, though, I let my body be the boss; whenever it told me to push through or slow down, I listened.

What are your favorite snacks and meals?

I love cashews, almonds, rice cakes with peanut butter, and popcorn.

What’s in your usual supplement stack? 

My current favorites are BPI’s CLA +Carnitine, Best BCAAOne More Rep pre-workout, and creatine (since I had lost a little bit of muscle during pregnancy).

Any advice or tips on people who want to do what you do?

Before anything else, identify the reason you want to accomplish your goal. If it’s for any reason other than YOU, re-evaluate it! Competitions will not give you confidence. In fact, you must find that within yourself first. Once you feel confident in yourself, your experience will be much more fun and joyful.

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