Interview: Emily Duncan


Emily Duncan (@em_dunc)

1.How did you get started in fitness?
I got started with fitness as rehab from an injury… I started dancing when I was about a year old and danced competitively for my studio through my junior year of high school. That year, I suffered a hip injury (tearing/straining about 5 muscles on my left side) and began physical therapy. I joined a local LA Fitness to help with rehabilitation/strengthening my hip muscles back up. I finished out that season of dance, but when I tried to return the next year after some time off, the injury would flare up frequently and made dancing difficult, painful, and less enjoyable. Luckily, I had fallen in love with lifting weights, so I decided to focus my attention on that. I educated myself on proper form/different exercises/different training styles and their purposes, and I experimented! The more time I spent in the gym, the more I heard people talk about bodybuilding competitions. After learning more about it (and after falling in love with a picture of Amanda Latona, my first bikini role model and still my favorite competitor), I decided to weld my love for the stage (from dance/theater/singing) with my newfound love for health and fitness, and about a year and a half later, a bikini competitor was born!

2.Which supplements do you currently use?
The only brand of supplements I use and trust are my sponsors, PEScience. One thing I love most about them is that on their website, there are independent research studies backing all of the ingredients/blends used in their products. As a Sport Science major and a lover of scientific research, the fact that they provide legitimate research instead of just mass marketing ploys and unnecessary bells and whistles speaks volumes to me. Select Protein (my favorite flavors are snickerdoodle and chocolate peanut butter cup) is a great whey/casein blend that I can drink plain or cook into super yummy creations. My “pre workout stack” consists of High Volume (a nitric oxide/“pump” boosting supplement), Amino IV (branched chain + essential amino acids), and Alphamine (stimulant thermogenic powder). It gives me great energy and the Alphamine acts as a little extra thermogenic “boost” when I’m cutting down for shows. I also really enjoy Shift and Erase Pro when I’m cutting. I also take fish oil and creatine, two products that I consider to be part of every serious athlete’s “bread and butter” in terms of supplementation.

3.What does your workout schedule look like?
I just got my new programming a couple of weeks ago and things are really exciting right now! As a bodybuilder, my training consists of a strength training focus with emphasis on Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting, with more “bodybuilding style” hypertrophy work for accessories. I train very atypically for a bodybuilder, especially in the bikini division, but I firmly believe in emphasizing true strength training progressions for building a physique with dense, full muscles on show day. I also prefer training like an athlete as opposed to simply doing body part splits every day, so this program really hits that sweet spot! Currently, I do three days of speed/power centered training. Speed/power days consist of track conditioning (in the form of sprints), Olympic lifts for my “main” lift (some form of snatch, clean, and/or clean and jerk complex), plyometric movements, and usually some upper body accessory work. I alternate with three strength focused days. On my strength focused days, my “main” lifts are squats/and or deadlifts (some days I do both in one day), typically with some higher volume leg accessory work to bring up my weak point, my hamstrings. My current squat program is a modified Russian squat cycle. On the seventh day, I typically do some sort of “recovery” workout to help open things back up, alleviate any aching muscles or joints, and get my heart rate up a little bit. My coach (and boyfriend) Eric has a Master’s degree in Sport Performance, so he is quite excellent at programming and tailoring said programming to every athlete’s individual needs, goals, strengths, and weaknesses.

4.Best booty building exercise?
I am a big fan of compound movements for muscular development. A lot of people say “squats and deadlifts,” but I would also like to add Olympic weightlifting to that list! Olympic lifts also recruit a lot of leg muscles. Pulls are very similar to a deadlift, and the bar is caught in a deep squat position(whether that be an overhead squat for snatches or a front squat for cleans), and they also require a lot of speed and efficiency to execute. If you want to be fast and explosive, you NEED to have strong glutes! I do believe that there needs to be accessory work added in as well to fine tune things and further isolate the muscle. Some of my favorite glute accessory exercises are barbell and/or banded hip thrusts (a la Bret Contreras), “Monster” walks (banded forward/backward/lateral walks in a wide stance and slight bend in the knees), Romanian deadlifts, wide stance low bar squats for volume (as opposed to strength sets), GHDs (add some bands for extra points), and cable kickbacks kneeling on a bench. 

5.What does your diet look like?
I’m a big proponent of what’s referred to as “Flexible Dieting.” What this means is that I have a daily allotment of the three main macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) as well as various fiber and micronutrient goals, and I eat to meet those macro/micronutrient goals. There are no restrictions as to what type of food I eat nor do I have any food intolerances, so there is a lot of variety in my daily diet! I eat the vast majority of my carbs post-workout (I train fasted, so I don’t eat a pre-workout meal like most people). I love a big bowl of oats with PEScience protein and fruit or my famous “Smoothie Bowls” topped with fruit, cereal, granola, etc. I also love making protein pancakes and French toast. I’m a big “volume eater,” meaning I like to be able to eat a lot at once, so I like making big salads with freshly chopped veggies and grilled meat (chicken is my favorite). I also have a HUGE sweet tooth, so things like ice cream, doughnuts, and froyo are a pretty regular thing for me, especially during my offseason when my macros are a bit higher. I personally like to incorporate a weekly “free” meal where I don’t track the macros and take a “night off” from logging all my food all the time. It’s nice to be able to go out, enjoy a meal, not worry about the macros, and just relax/spend time with friends/family/boyfriend/etc. I’m also sponsored by the company Doughnuts & Deadlifts, so eating doughnuts is part of my job description… Such a tough life :P. 

6.Best advice for people in college looking to stay fit?
I don’t live what most people think of as the “typical” college student life… I’m not big on going to bars or drinking/partying because that way of living doesn’t align with my personal goals, so that part has never been a struggle for me in terms of balancing drinking and fitness. If you’re trying to stay fit while you’re in college, I would say time management and planning skills become really important. When you’re in school (especially during finals week… Oi), time is stretched so thin between classes, studying, work, and training… And then there’s still the eating part to think about, too! I’m really big on making lists and blocking out my schedule, that way I know when I have time to cook, study, train, work, etc. Even if it means getting up a little earlier to hit the gym before classes or spending a little less time watching Netflix so you can go to the grocery store and buy your food, it’s worth it at the end of the day. It’s not easy by any means, but once you fall into a routine, it becomes a habit (and a good one at that). I would also recommend finding quick, easy-to-make snacks that you can fit into your macros AND into your backpack so you can keep your nutrition on point. I think between training and nutrition, especially for college students who are on the go and not “rolling in the dough,” nutrition is the hardest part. I love fresh veggies and they’re super easy to throw into baggies and carry around. Protein bars are great, and some of my favorites are Combat Crunch bars from Muscle Pharm, and the cult classic, Quest Bars. Protein shakes with fresh fruit are a great grab-and-go snack as well, and the PEScience Select Protein makes for a great shake mixed with water. Overnight oats are awesome to make the night before and eat first thing in the morning before class/training/etc. You can also get things like yogurt, deli-style meat, nuts, and single serving peanut butter packs for quick and easy snacks! Above all else, make a lifestyle that works for you and your schedule. 
Above all, fitness should make you feel good about yourself, relieve some stress, and clear your mind. College is supposed to be a fun time, so you shouldn’t let your passion for fitness/nutrition get in the way of having a social life, and it definitely shouldn’t interfere with your grades. Learn how to strike a balance for YOU, and roll with it. 

7.What has been the most challenging part of your career?
I would definitely say the most challenging part of my career so far has been acknowledging that my career is still very new. I oftentimes get frazzled because things aren’t moving as fast as I would like. Eric (my boyfriend and coach) has had to remind me numerous times that I started competing less than a year and a half ago, so the fact that I have been able to make so many physical changes in such a short period of time as well as growing through social media/obtaining sponsorships/placing well/etc is a HUGE accomplishment, but I still have a long career ahead of me. I’m still paying my dues and learning the ropes. Fitness is something that I plan on making a life out of, and this is only the beginning. I often forget that the people I compete against typically have 5 or so years on me, so I’m extremely hard on myself. I have to remember that I’m still very young and that this point in my career is just the “warm up,” if you will. It’s easy to get caught up in where I want to be, so I have to remind myself often to take a moment to enjoy the journey and not rush things.

8. How has social media changed your life?
Oh wow… Social media. So many positives and negatives both! I would say that it has changed my life for the positive more than anything, though. First and foremost, I actually met my best friend Marie through social media, and I wouldn’t have her were it not for social media. A lot of my best friends are actually people that I’ve met through Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, etc, and it’s such a positive environment (for the most part). It’s really great to see people putting out encouraging messages, sharing a love for training and nutrition, and providing support and motivation. Social media has also taught me about staying true to myself and doing/posting what makes ME happy and what I feel is best for ME. I know that everyone uses filters, everyone chooses what they want to post, and everyone’s lives always look like so much fun on social media; however, there is always more to a person than what they post. Everyone struggles with something, everyone hurts sometimes, no one is perfect, and everybody cries, no matter how perfect their lives look on the Internet. Additionally, the larger your following gets, the more criticism/negative comments you will receive… I’ve been called ugly, disgusting, been made fun of, had people say horrid and nasty things to/about me on social media, and that can be discouraging. While it was uncomfortable and hurtful at first, it has definitely reinforced my strong sense of self. Whenever someone makes a rude comment or is unnecessarily judgemental, I think to myself, “Why does this comment bother you so much? Does the person behind this comment actually know you or care about who you are as a person? Is what this person said going to change who you are or what you’re doing?” The answer to those last two questions is always a big fat no, and every rude remark is always outweighed by positive and uplifting ones, so it’s really nothing to be worried about or hurt by. I love having the ability to do what I genuinely love doing (fitness/competing) AND having social media platforms on which I can interact with those who have similar passions, provide encouragement/motivation to those who may need it, and share little bits of my life, from recipes to show pictures to my dog or whatever it may be. I love connecting with people and I love being able to influence others in a positive way, and social media has allowed me to do that in bigger ways than I ever imagined.

9. Ultimate cheat meal?
I have a huge imagination and an appetite to match, so this could get dangerous! I’m assuming this is a full meal, so I’m going to treat it like one. For the bread basket, I definitely want some of the brown bread from The Cheesecake Factory because that stuff is some of the best restaurant bread I have ever had. There’s also a place in South Carolina called Carolina Roadhouse that has amazing honey butter rolls, so let’s throw some of those it too! For an appetizer, I’m thinking either chips with salsa and fresh guacamole or some walnut encrusted baked Brie dip. As an entree, I’m inspired by one of my post-show meals in Kentucky… I couldn’t decide if I wanted pizza or a burger, so my brother-in-law got pizza and I got a burger, and we split the entrees. Then I took some of the pizza and wedged it inside the burger, and that was one of the best decisions I ever made in my whole life. So I’m thinking good old pepperoni pizza wedged inside a bison burger with some cheese and fancy toppings, on a pretzel bun, with fries on the side. Dessert is the hard part because I have SUCH a sweet tooth… My favorites are cheesecake, doughnuts, and ice cream, so I’m going to combine the three of them. Cheesecakes have cake layers in them sometimes, so I vote they make a cheesecake with old fashioned doughnut pieces as a layer. Caramel turtle cheesecake with old fashioned doughnut pieces, served a la mode with salted caramel ice cream with some sort of Heath bar/toffee bits and peanut butter swirled in, all topped with a warm caramel drizzle. Now that I’ve typed all of this out and sufficiently stimulated my appetite, I need to find a way to actually make it happen! Maybe I’ll open my own restaurant next.

10.What do you look forward to in the future?
As a whole, I look forward to growing as an athlete, obviously. I hope that the fact that I’m a young athlete AND a student in a “fitness related” field gives me the opportunity to make some positive changes to the bodybuilding industry. I want to bring more science-based training into the field and encourage other fitness enthusiasts/competitors/etc (especially females) to put more emphasis on compound movements, functional training, and proper movement patterns. In terms of the near future, I have a couple of exciting things on the horizon. My sponsors, Doughnuts & Deadlifts, are doing a northeast “doughnut tour,” where we set up shop at local doughnut shops in the northeast US, meet up with fans of the brand, make/eat doughnuts, promote apparel, and spread the word about flexible dieting. My leg of the tour is coming up at the end of this month (August) in New York, and I can’t wait to hang out with my Doughnuts & Deadlifts family as well as meeting some of the company’s supporters. I’m also really excited about planning out my competitive schedule… I have a few regional bodybuilding competitions on my radar as well as a meet in another sport on my calendar. I’m not really announcing dates/what kind of meet I’ll be doing or any of that just yet, so I hope people are okay with being surprised on show day and meet day :P. I’m very excited and nervous to try and compete in another sport, but I can only imagine that it will help me grow even more as an athlete. I’m also trying to put a little more effort into my YouTube channel ( )and produce more content for my viewers/followers. I would like to do some sort of writing as well and maybe publish an e-book of some sort, but I’m not really sure on the topic/subject matter quite yet. And of course, it’s that time of the year when I start gearing up for fall semester… I have a lot of science courses on my schedule, which I’m sure will be a challenge, but I’m very excited to continue learning! Doughnut tours, school, bodybuilding shows, meets, so many activities coming up! I’ll be a busy gal, but I like it that way. I’ll be sure to keep everyone updated through Instagram (@em_dunc), Twitter (@em_dunc), and my YouTube channel. Thank you so much for interviewing me, it has been a pleasure!


  • Rebecca

    Ahhh! I just love her; she is so down to earth, funny, relatable, knowledgable and a total babe. So happy you interviewed emily!

  • Fitmess diary

    Em dunc is such a beautiful young woman! she has been my inspiration last couple of months when things got a bit tough for me and i am so grateful. she reminds me of my late granny emilia, so i just adore her so much! Good luck with your fitness goals, and life in general!
    your fan from croatia <3

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