Meeting through a fitness challenge on Instagram, Nico and Delilah not only inspired their social media followers with pics of their daily fitness progress but each other. Delilah moved from Toronto, Canada to the San Francisco Bay Area to train and compete in physique shows with Nico and individually. Nico, an athlete for life, enjoys the camaraderie of football, the stamina of boxing and the precision of bodybuilding. Together, Nico and Delilah support each other with meal prep and workout activities aimed at meeting their fitness goals. No matter how divergent their goals might be, Delilah training in dance and Nico back in the boxing ring, they find time to explore together, whether hitting local hiking trails or trying archery for the first time.

Delilah Abaya

What interested you in becoming a bikini competitor?

During college, I experienced the “Freshman 15” and decided to work at a gym to be around trainers and members I could learn from. I was never an athletic kid growing up, so working out was super foreign, but I fell in love with lifting weights and seeing progress! I used Instagram as a fitness diary of my progress, and through the app, I discovered bikini competitors. I loved that bodybuilding showcased these women’s hard work and dedication while allowing them to be feminine and glamorous.

What were you looking for in a coach when you started competing? 

When I first started competing, I thought a prestigious coach and team was the way to go. I learned the hard way that many of these teams are oversaturated, and I received a generic cookie-cutter meal plan many other athletes also received. Now I want a coach who keeps me accountable each week and tailors my activity level and macros to the changes in my body.

What was it like being coached by your husband, Nico, and what are a few things he taught you about preparing for competition?

Being his wife, I was very stubborn in the beginning because I had been taught that clean and restricted eating was the only way to compete. I was closed-minded to flexible dieting and that made it hard for him to coach me. Eventually, I began to understand the science behind calories and macronutrients. Nico taught me that I could be disciplined with my tracking but flexible with the choices I made. This made prepping for competition much easier because I felt in control of what I could eat. One of the best things Nico has taught me about health and fitness is to focus on daily habits such as water, macros, exercise and sleep. He taught me to be mindful of what I have control over and to work on the task at hand. 

Tell us about your journey to becoming the Novice Bikini Overall and Open Bikini Overall 2016 winner.

Delilah Abaya bikini competitor

The NPC San Francisco Championships in 2016 was my sixth show and the first time I did an entire contest prep with flexible dieting. I took some time off from the stage rebuilding my relationship with food. When I was ready to compete again, Nico and I planned twenty weeks of prep, so I had optimal time to lean down without feeling unnecessary pressure. That prep was the first time I implemented meditation and mindfulness every morning. I feel like those habits really helped me stay aligned with my goal and reduced stress. I went in with no expectations. I didn’t even tell anyone I was going to get back on stage! My only goal was to get glam and have fun on stage again.

Why is practicing flexible dieting right for you?

At first, I resisted flexible dieting and thought it was impossible to eat cookies and chocolate and somehow lose weight and make progress. I was conditioned for years to believe all of those yummy foods were bad and should be avoided, only to be enjoyed on cheat days. After years of constant restrictive dieting, I struggled with binge eating on my cheat days. I was in a place where I was either one hundred percent perfect with my clean eating meal plan, but if I messed up, I tended to go completely off track and give up on the whole day or even week if I wasn’t perfect. 

Clearly, I was struggling with my relationship to food and my body image. I hit a breaking point where I realized there had to be a way to maintain a balanced and sustainable way of eating and enjoying food. Flexible dieting allows me to enjoy the things I love in moderation. If I crave Oreos, I can track them into my day and plan the rest of my meals around them. I started having more fun meals like pizza omelets for breakfast, beef taco bowl salads for lunch, and a bison burger and sweet potato fries on a date night with Nico. This was a complete 180 from chicken, broccoli, and brown rice five times a day. Tracking my macros felt like a fun puzzle I got to solve each day and even helped me get more creative with my meals!

You’ve recently taken up dancing. What kind of dance are you learning and how are you enjoying it? 

I’ve loved watching dance videos and movies my whole life but always believed you were either born with the talent and ability to dance or you weren’t. Dance was something I was afraid to try because I feared the idea of looking foolish or silly. But, I decided to overcome my fear of learning dance choreography and began dancing in my mid-20s. I reached out to this amazing dancer Kayla, who was a cheerleader for the San Francisco 49ers, for some private lessons to get me started. 

I was such a mess in the beginning, but as I got more comfortable, I began going to her Sassy Hip-Hop with Shabre classes, which are upbeat hip-hop and jazz-funk. I had a blast at each class, and it never felt like a workout. I also discovered a type of dance that typically requires wearing stiletto heels where the movements are more fluid and sensual. I’ve also began taking ballet and jazz too. I absolutely love dancing and I am very passionate about it now. I am currently assisting an amazing heels choreographer named Ashley Worley, which is a dream come true.

What are your dance goals, physical and performance-wise?

Before the pandemic, I was training to audition for the San Francisco 49ers dance team. My goal is to continue growing as a dancer until I get the opportunity to audition. I’m also working on increasing my power and projection when I dance as well as my stamina. It takes a lot of athleticism to perform like those amazing girls do on the football field. With hard work and patience, I will improve over time. 

You also make YouTube “how to” videos. What got you interested in making videos? 

I recently became a YouTube Partner, meaning my channel is now monetized and generating income through ads! It was a very exciting accomplishment because I had to gain a thousand subscribers and reach four thousand hours of watch time. I make videos as ideas come to me. My most popular video, oddly enough, is a review of a dog camera! 

What’s been really fun is seeing so many positive comments telling me my videos are helpful. I made a video about my camera and lighting set-up, and I got a hundred messages about how useful and informative it was. When I was making that video, I had very little expectation anyone would see it. Now, it makes me happy to know someone has learned something from it.

What role has fitness played in your life?

My motto is to find three hobbies you love: one to make you money, one to keep you in shape, and one to be creative. For me, fitness does all three. I played sports throughout middle school and high school. Staying active was just something I had to do. I boxed for a few years in college, but when I found bodybuilding, it soon became my entire world. Being a fitness coach went from being a hobby to my career. Through fitness, I met the love of my life, Delilah. Currently, my closest friends have all been a client of mine at some point.

What do you love about the sport of boxing? 

Of the eight years I played organized football, I only had two winning seasons. I love the brotherhood of football, but it was heartbreaking to spend year after year losing. At 17, I realized I was too small to play football at the next level. At the same time, a Filipino boxing superstar was fighting his way into the hall of fame and history books. He definitely inspired me to learn to box. I loved the idea of going from a team sport into an individual sport, where success was solely on my shoulders. I was almost always the smallest player on the football field at any given time. I played with heart and grit but was usually outmatched. Since boxing has weight classes, it presented a level playfield. 

How does boxing make you feel physically and emotionally?

I wasn’t interested in boxing because I was bullied on the playground or that I dreamt of being a world champion. It wasn’t because I wanted to run through the city to the Rocky theme song or that I idolized greats like Ali or Sugar Ray Robinson. It was only after I heard that some courts consider a boxer’s hands deadly weapons that I knew boxing was for me. To me, boxers are real-life superheroes. Boxing gives me a sense of confidence, power and security.

Tell us about how you discovered weight training and how it transformed your body.

My first experience with weight lifting was with my football team. I gained 30 pounds of muscle and went from riding the bench to the starting cornerback. Through weight training and consistency, I learned that I could will my body to change and train it to do what I wanted it to do. 

At my second to last boxing fight, Max Muscle (Now San Mateo Sports Nutrition) had a table set up to promote products. I saw before and after photos of a Max Muscle employee, and he looked like a superhero! I remember thinking, I spend all this time training and working out but never looked that good. That’s when I started training for physique shows, which are mainly about aesthetics. We don’t train for function or endurance, so it is very different from training for football or boxing. Over the years, my body has changed in size and leanness depending on what I am doing and how much time I’m committing to the program. 

Why did you decide to become a physique competitor, and what do you like most about competition?

I had to stop boxing because of concussions. I hired a Max Muscle employee as my first physique coach and wanted to compete just like he did. What I liked about being a physique competitor was similar to what drew me to boxing. I love the idea of having control over my results. Fitness is fair. You get what you put in, period. I love how universal it is. Almost everyone on earth, at one point or another, has tried to achieve a leaner physique.

Tell us about your coaching business and how you work to help others transform their bodies.

I’ll never forget the day my district manager at Max Muscle, Ian Powers, visited the shop and said, “There’s a guy at a Max Muscle in the Central Valley who made 100K last year selling meal plans.” I was finishing up business school at San Francisco State University at the time and had absolutely no idea what I was going to do after graduation. I knew I wanted to start my life with Delilah and was getting ready to propose. So I wanted to give it a shot. 

Nico Abaya fitness coach

I got certified as a Fitness Nutritionist and spent my first few months begging friends, family and acquaintances to follow plans I would write for them to get some before and after photos to prove I knew what I was doing. It’s been an amazing entrepreneurial journey. I’ll never forget the sense of accomplishment I had closing my second year of coaching and seeing that I made the coveted six-figure mark.

Fundamentally fitness coaching and helping someone transform is simple but not easy. I write up a training and cardio program, monitor their diet and adjust things as needed. It often feels like I’m a therapist more than a trainer. Fitness transformations are so much more spiritual than it may seem. I’m blessed to coach for a living as it is something I’m truly passionate about. It is so fulfilling to help others reach their goals and to inspire greatness in all aspects of life.

How did you and Delilah meet and what coaching guidance did she need at the time?

We met through my Instagram G-8 Fitness page. I used the site for a photo a day challenge. It was an awesome fitness community where we kept each other accountable. I posted photos of myself one month and then I’d pick another Instagrammer who I thought was relatable, motivational and kind to post for a month. I remember seeing Delilah used the G8Fitness hashtag and I knew I wanted her to help me with a month of post.

She already had a bikini coach at the time. Since we’ve been married she’s had a handful of coaches, and I was her last. It’s tough to coach your significant other because prep can be emotionally draining, and as the one calling the shots, it feels as if I’m at fault. Luckily, she found flexible dieting and it wasn’t until she was very comfortable with it that she asked me to coach her. 

As a coach, what is it like to celebrate your clients’ wins, like Delilah’s 2016 bikini competition wins?

Competitions are only a few times a year, so it doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s amazing. After competing in eight shows myself, I’ve never won a first-place trophy. So, when my clients do, it’s as close as I’ve ever gotten. 

Sure, it feels great to watch my clients win shows, but it is just as fulfilling to see my lifestyle clients celebrate their small wins, like realizing a better relationship with food, fitting into smaller pant sizes, and impressing their friends or co-workers with a transformation.

But Delilah’s win, wow, I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of pride. I get chills just thinking about it. I knew all the struggles she had from past shows, issues with other coaches, wanting to quit prep, or overcome nightmare peak weeks. I was in the crowd with so many of our close friends, and everyone was going crazy. Even before she had the mindset, physique or the tools to win, I knew that she had it in her to develop them.

Nico and Delilah Abaya working out together

How’s the home boxing gym going? Are you enjoying “fighting” each other with gloves on?

The silver lining of the stay-at-home order has been growing the garage into an amazing multi-use space for all of our fitness hobbies. It’s a combination dance studio, boxing gym and home gym. We are excited for our new Inspire Fitness FT2 Functional Trainer so we can enjoy boxing for cardio and also get strength training in. We have a heavy bag, a double-ended bag, a reflex bag and a jump rope station. We like to do Rumble workouts on IGTV and work on combos with gloves and mitts on. It’s an amazing workout and we love that it’s something we can do together.

What does your meal planning look like as a couple?

We typically eat similar food but have very different portion sizes relative to our macronutrient goals. In terms of meal planning, we are flexible with the things we eat, so groceries may change week to week depending on what we are craving. For meal prep, we order premade meals from LoCal Foodz so we can have quick and easily trackable meals in the fridge. Delilah likes to make fresh salads and snacks and she’ll make one for me if I’m hungry. We aim for at least one date night a week that we don’t necessarily track. We’ve seen too many fitness folks burn themselves out trying to be perfect on their plan that they forget about their significant others. Definitely not something we ever want to do!

What are some of your favorite Bay Area hikes?

Nico and Delilah Abaya hiking

The first big hike we did together was Mission Peak. It’s a Bay Area fitness rite of passage to have a picture at the peak. We like going for walks by the bay like Foster City, Redwood Shores, or places in the East Bay near the bridges. 

Recently we took an RV trip to the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park. There were some beautiful hikes there, but our favorite was hiking The Narrows at Zion. For most of the hike, you are about knee-deep in water and a few miles in you pass through the most narrow part of the canyon. 

How do you support each other in your workout and nutrition goals?

Giving each other space to grow has been the best way for us to support each other’s health and fitness goals. We don’t always have to do the same things as each other. When we were competing, we had times where we competed together as well as individually. Delilah began dancing more and going to the gym less, and we embraced the change even though our fitness goals are now very different. Delilah supported me when I wanted to pick up boxing again and was the one who put all the equipment together for the boxing gym. It is important that we support each other in the activities we enjoy that help us feel fit and healthy.

Anything else you like to do together wellness wise?

We both love to try new things together, especially things outdoors in nature. We recently celebrated our six-year wedding anniversary in Carmel at Carmel Valley Ranch. One of the activities offered was archery. It was exciting to learn the technique. It was something we’d never done before but thoroughly enjoyed and would one hundred percent do again.

By Eva Barrows