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Interview'I'm very extreme. I always take it to the absolute limit'

Israeli natural bodybuilder pumped to receive silver medal at world championships

Years of tough workouts and strict nutritional intake pay off for 25-year-old Lavie Kafra, who aims to show that hard work and discipline — not drugs — are the key to success

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Israeli champion natural bodybuilder and silver world medalist Lavie Kafra (Orel Sabran)
Israeli champion natural bodybuilder and silver world medalist Lavie Kafra (Orel Sabran)

All of Israeli bodybuilder Lavie Kafra‘s years of hard work at the gym and strict dietary discipline paid off when he earned the silver medal at the 2021 World Natural Bodybuilding Federation (WNBF) world championships in Las Vegas.

Kafra, 25, came in second in the medium-height competition in the men’s physique category, which requires bodybuilders to present an extreme V-tapered form with wide shoulders and a small, tight waist. Competitors, clad only in board shorts and greased up from head to toe, are also judged on how successfully they present a charming, sexy, beach boy-like appearance shown off in four required poses.

Kafra qualified for the WNBF world championships, which this year drew 257 male and female competitors from 32 countries, after being crowned Israel’s overall men’s physique champion in 2020. That earned him a pro card enabling him to enter WNBF competitions anywhere in the world. His hopes of competing in the 2020 world championships were unfortunately thwarted when the event was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Israeli champion set his sights on 2021 and continued to train with his coach and good friend Saar Sukar, who also represented Israel in Las Vegas on November 20, finishing fifth in the short-height competition in the men’s physique category.

“I’ve been into bodybuilding since I was 16. I initially did it on my own, and it was only three years ago that I took it to the next level in terms of working with a coach and getting very serious about the training and nutrition,” Kafra told The Times of Israel the day after arriving home from Las Vegas.

Kafra spoke in unaccented, fluent English — the result of having an American-born mother and having lived two years of his childhood in Kingston, Jamaica, during a temporary family relocation.

To maintain his ultra-ripped body, Kafra, who stands 1.78 meters (5’8″) tall and weighs 80 kilograms (176 lbs.), trains seven days a week. His workouts include 1-2 hours of cardio, and 1.5-2 hours of strength training.

“When it comes to nutrition, every person reacts differently to different foods, so you have to work closely with your coach and rely on their guidance,” Kafra explained.

His overall goal is to maintain muscle while burning fat. The result is that he is in a calorie deficit most of the time.

“I want to be really flat and lean, especially as I get close to a competition,” he said.

Lavie Kafra with his silver medal after winning second place at the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation world championships in Las Vegas, November 20, 2021. (Courtesy)

Kafra must eat every two to three hours, and consumes mainly protein. On a given day, he eats two tins of no-sodium, water-packed tuna; 400 grams (14 ounces) cooked chicken breast; six eggs; two high-protein yogurts; and small amounts of vegetables (for example, three or four cucumbers). He takes vitamin supplements to compensate for the lack of fruit and vegetables in his diet.

On specific days, Kafra carb loads and reduces his protein intake.

“I’ll admit that I do feel hungry a lot, but you’ve got to trust the process and overcome it through strong mental willpower,” he said.

Kafra is a strong proponent of natural bodybuilding, which does not involve any use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids. There are many bodybuilding federations worldwide, some requiring drug testing and some not. The WNBF requires competitors to take polygraph tests (during which they are asked about drug use in the past, present and future), and the top three finishers in each category are required to take a urine test.

For Kafra, there was no question that if he was going to engage in bodybuilding, he was going to push himself to be the very best. Growing up, he was an avid player of many sports.

“I’m very extreme in my nature. I always take things to the absolute limit,” Kafra said.

Israeli champion bodybuilder Lavie Kafra (Orel Sabran)

Kafra served in Sayeret Golani (the Golani brigade’s most elite battalion) as a counter-terrorism instructor. Following his discharge from the IDF he worked as a model in the weapons industry before becoming an online nutrition and training consultant. His current clients are all Israeli — some of them bodybuilders, others just trying to get more fit and healthy.

“I’d love to start working with people outside Israel, as well,” Kafra said.

Kafra said he has enjoyed only understanding and support from his family and friends.

“If someone is not supportive of what I am doing, I drop them from my life. I don’t need people around me who take me down,” he said.

According to Kafra, it was tough in the beginning for his mother to get on board with his strict regimen, but now she has his back.

“I like to cook, but my mom also helps me with cooking and meal prep,” he said.

Kafra’s father and two younger sisters are athletic and count among his biggest fans. His nonagenarian grandmother was there to give him a big hug as soon as he stepped out of the car in front of his home in Hod Hasharon upon returning from Las Vegas.

Lavie Kafra working out at the gym. (Orel Sabran)

“I met my girlfriend just as I was about to start intensive prep for the world championships, and I warned her about what my life would be like. She was understanding, and so far so good,” Kafra said.

He enjoys socializing with friends, but never drinks alcohol and avoids ordering off restaurant menus.

“My spending time with friends is about being with them, not about eating and drinking,” he said.

Kafra said he hopes to raise awareness of natural bodybuilding in Israel, where the sport is little known.

“Drugs have given bodybuilding a bad reputation, and that is really unfortunate. I’m here to show that you can do it without drugs. If you are consistent, you get results,” he said.

Knowing that some bodybuilders compete well into their 60s, 70s and even 80s, Kafra has no intention of resting on his silver-medal laurels. He plans on getting right back to training and returning to the WNBF world championships.

“I’m going for the gold medal and first place,” he said.

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