The name Nikko Huelgas easily rings a bell for many Filipino sports fans. His being a two-time Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) gold medalist for men’s triathlon is quite impressive, and so is the fact that he is also the Philippine National Triathlon Team captain and the Philippine Olympic Committee Athletes’ Commission chairman. Did it come without fraught? Absolutely not, the man of many hats tells ABS-CBN Lifestyle. Yet, it didn’t stop him from pursuing his goals.
Lean as he is now, Nikko, 28, admits growing up insecure about his body. “When I was 11 years old, I was overweight with 36 inches on my waistline,” he recalls. “My mom had to control me from overeating and drinking a lot of milk chocolate.”
The elite triathlete decided a year later to make lifestyle changes for his health and well-being. For one, taking up swimming as an advanced course at 12. “I fell in love with it. My body transformed inevitably,” he declares, seeing the sport sparking an unusually intense interest.
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In 2014, however, Nikko was still the most overweight in the national triathlon team for the Guangzhou Asian Games. With a diet plan he had to follow—which, at that time, was “one of his biggest barriers”—he willingly kicked things up a notch to deliver good results from the competition. “I went crazy, stayed for a month in Portugal getting daily reminders by my coaches of my food consumption,” he reveals.
Nikko says he eventually developed a habit of eating the right way—all in moderation. “It was one of the most life-changing moments I’ve had. Feeling better because of what I ate made me a better person in general.”
He stresses his two-month training in Ho Chi Minh to prepare the Ironman 70.3 Phuket back in 2018 let him better understand how the body worked. “I went under a nutrition program with my coach David Greenfield. I was already aware of diet beforehand, the habit may have been fixed, but the awareness and education of nutrition and what I was taking wasn’t as solid,” says Nikko. “Over the course of the camp, I never ate rice nor bad sugars before or after training. I went crazy with that diet because I was accustomed to the Asian diet of rice on a daily basis and it was really tough but it was one of the best I’ve had.” To him, he continues, it was a health lesson that’s going to help him throughout his life. “Less hospital bills, less inefficient food consumption, thus a better quality life.”
Unsurprisingly, Nikko—who trains six times a week and six hours a day these days—can now easily give tips on how to stay fit and healthy. “Learn to consume food in moderation, eat slowly and indulge slowly with so much consciousness. Live an active lifestyle. Teach yourself to mandatorily have an activity as a hobby that involves cardio—biking, running, frisbee, martial arts, whatever that keeps you sweating and smiling,” he suggests, quickly adding, “Life tip: When sugar craving, just drink water until you replenish the sugar cravings. Water always saves the day.”
While he has been totally happy with his physique, Nikko stresses—as cliché as it may sound—that it’s about being healthy and not looking good for the ‘gram. “It’s never about how much you look outside but internally,” he says. “Create a habit out of it. Habits can be changed for the better. Do it not to look good, but to feel and perform good. Love the way of progressing. The progress is the journey, the happiness that it will bring you.”
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Photographs taken from instagram.com/nikkohuelgas