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Odds-On Favorites

Sometimes, after grunting and sweating your way through a tough workout and choking down another plate of grilled chicken and brown rice, you can become frustrated or even impatient. “Is this even worth it?” you may ask yourself as you contemplate the many other pursuits you could be investing your time in. It’s understandable. Body transformation doesn’t happen overnight.

If that sounds familiar, take heart. The winners of The Vitamin Shoppe’s “Appear in Muscle & Performance” contest held during the 2009 Olympia Weekend are proof positive that patience and dedication can pay big dividends in the long run. One is our first two-time winner — a living, breathing monument to consistency and audacity; the other is a decidedly committed fitness freak, with eyes on competing in the national spotlight. Read up on their success and maybe, just maybe, that chicken and rice will go down a little easier after tomorrow’s workout.



Birthdate: January 2, 1985

Birthplace and Current Residence: Reno, Nev.

Occupations: Landscape designer, fitness model

Height: 6’0”

Weight: 185 pounds

Relationship Status: Single

Gyms everywhere are full of well-built dudes that are content — in fact, insistent — on staying out of the limelight, despite everyone’s urgings to the contrary. CJ Sanders is not one of those guys. As a first two-time Vitamin Shoppe contest winner, the 25-year-old is clearly not immune to encouragement.

“I entered the contest at the 2008 Mr. Olympia and, surprisingly, I won,” he says. “I was working at the 2009 Mr. Olympia booth in the expo for Versa Gripps, and the owners kept telling me I should enter and try to win again. I honestly didn’t think I was going to even make the semifinals after knowing how many people entered the contest. Once the contest started, I was amazed at the response I received. It was quite an honor.”

Sanders’ original impetus to familiarize himself with the weight room was about as distinctive as it gets. “I decided to start racing motocross when I was 17, and I knew I would have an advantage if I was stronger, so I started lifting weights and it worked,” he says. “That season, I took first place in my first series out of 150-plus riders.” 

With nine years of training experience under his belt, Sanders has been able to tailor his routine to stay lean and athletic year-round. He trains seven days a week, hitting a major bodypart with abs each session in a repeating five-day cycle. Several times a week, he says, he likes to get a jump on the competition by hitting the gym for an hourlong cardio session. Clearly, he’s doing something right.

But you don’t get abs like Sanders’ by just training hard. He eats a high-protein, low-carb diet and tapers off his carbohydrate consumption in the late afternoon to reduce the risk of storing fat.

“I am very passionate about fitness and the lifestyle,” Sanders says. “I love the feeling of being strong and powerful, of having all this energy to take down all the walls that are put in front of you in life, being able to take down any challenge that is thrown your way. That’s why fitness and health will always be a part of my life.”


VITAL STATS: Chrissy Zmijewski

Birthdate: TK

Birthplace: Madison, Wis.

Current Residence: Rancho Cordova, Calif.

Occupations: Lifestyle/wellness coach, personal trainer, author, fitness model, actor, college instructor

Height: 5’9”

Weight: 140 pounds

Relationship Status: Married to James Byron Astin for four years


Chrissy Zmijewski was an athlete just a few months out of the womb, taking swim lessons with her mom at the local community pool. Since then, she’s built an athletic resume that includes volleyball, track, softball, soccer, martial arts and yoga. Now, this Jill-of-all-trades is on her way up the physique competition food chain, with a chance to compete on the national stage — and a Muscle & Performance contest win in her back pocket, to boot.

“I played volleyball in college, and when that was over, I needed something new to keep me competing and challenging my potential as an athlete,” she says. “That’s when I took up track and bodybuilding. I’ve been training specifically for figure, fitness and bodybuilding since 2006. I earned my pro card in the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation in 2008 and am now nationally qualified in the National Physique Committee.”

Zmijewski’s penchant for all things active includes taking the stairs whenever possible, walking to nearby stores, and parking farther than normal from the front door of places she goes. All that adds up to “calories out.”

It’s not surprising then that her daily diet routinely surpasses the 3,000-calorie mark, which is unquestionably on the high side for a woman — unless said woman is a storm of kinetic energy.

“My diet is a bit different from most bodybuilders,” Zmijewski says. “My carb intake is at about 65 percent, fat intake around 15 to 20 percent and protein around 15 to 20 percent. High-protein or high-fat diets make me very lethargic, so I keep those lower to maintain my energy levels. I also don’t eat any processed foods, except for my protein powder. And my carbs come exclusively from fruits and vegetables. It’s the only way I perform my best.”

She may have lost most of you at “exclusively from fruits and vegetables,” but Zmijewski’s physique speaks volumes on her methodology. Lean and powerful — she recently managed a 285-pound squat — she has worked her training and nutrition down to a fine science.

“What I’ve done is nothing extraordinary,” she says. “Anyone can take small, daily steps toward a healthier life.”