a different side of Israel

The Israeli Samson

Israeli body builder
Amit Saphir, Israeli body builder

by David Levy

Amit Saphir is Israel’s number one weightlifter and bodybuilder, and, for his weight class, one of the strongest men in the world. He bench presses 167.5 kilos, and can squat and dead-pull 250, almost three-and-a-half times his weight. Not only does this make him far and away Israel’s best squatter and dead-puller, it rates him as the eighth best in the world.

Saphir qualified for the 2004 Athens Olympic team, but dislocated his shoulder attempting to break an Israeli weightlifting record in the last trial round, and was forced to watch from the sidelines. Afterward, he decided to focus solely on bodybuilding. He placed a disappointing nineteenth at this year’s World Bodybuilding championships in Shanghai, four spots short of advancement to the semifinals. However, at 24, Amit has not yet reached his peak (A bodybuilder’s prime is from the late twenties to mid-thirties), and the finish spoke to his boundless potential.

Israel’s Samson wakes at 6:30 in the morning , runs wind sprints for 45 minutes. Afterwards, he eats the first of nine daily meals, consisting of chicken breast, cottage cheese, egg whites and nearly an entire box of oatmeal. Before the day is finished, Saphir will ingest over 300 grams of protein: His daily diet includes two kilos of chicken breast, 20 egg whites, numerous bowls of oatmeal, yams, and countless tins of tuna and scoops of protein powder. After breakfast, Amit heads to the gym, and begins the first two hour power-lifting routine of his day.

Saphir’s entire life is geared toward his profession. At 10 o’clock on a Thursday night, when Tel Aviv prepares for its night out, he can be found alone, working out at Everybody Gym on Dizengoff Street. The next morning, when most of the city is still sleeping off hangovers, Amit will rise at 6:30 to again begin his daily routine. Seven days a week. From dawn till dusk.

Israel has received Amit’s story with a collective yawn. He speaks with evident bitterness of his inability to evince interest from Israeli sports authorities in helping him. His letters and faxes usually go unanswered. The rare response apologetically explains that there is no money to be made in helping him.

Unfortunately, Saphir’s story is all too familiar in Israel. He is obviously a great talent, and has the potential, if given the opportunities enjoyed by members of his profession abroad, to bring Israel great honor on the international stage. However, if Amit is to represent Israel internationally, it seems he will have to go it alone. I spoke to Amit at Everybody Gym Friday morning, the day before he was crowned Israel’s Mr. North 2006 at the yearly bodybuilding competition in Tiberias.

Who is your trainer?

“I train completely by myself. I realized during the world championships that there is nobody in Israel who can give me the proper training. Everything I am doing, I am doing by myself.”

There is nobody in Israel who can provide you the necessary instruction?

“I talked to everyone in the business, and everyone I talked to gave me the wrong advice. That’s what I learned in China. My diet was messed up; my whole prep was not good enough. And with all that I still finished nineteenth. And I feel that if I had the right direction I would have placed higher.”

Tell me about your experiences at the Bodybuilding World Championships in Shanghai.

“It was amazing. I learned more there in 14 days than I have learned in 10 years training here. The saddest thing was that Team Israel consisted of just me and my father. For all the other teams there were personal trainers, and masseurs, and nutritionists and physical therapists, and there was a whole staff around the athletes. They had sponsors and were supplied with everything they needed. And it was just me and my dad. He was the one who had to put the body paint on me in the dressing room, if you can believe it.”

Are you happy with your finish?

“My aim was to make the top fifteen, I finished nineteenth. I lost because I couldn’t get into the semifinals, because my diet probably wasn’t right. I didn’t get the muscles adequately filled with carbs. I went on stage looking like a model, not a bodybuilder.

“My dream is to be Mr. Olympia one day, but you know, first I need to win the weight category world championship. This year I was in the 75-Kilo weight class. Hopefully next year I’ll be in the 80-Kilo competition, and go up from there. But, of course, I want to be the world champion. It’s been my dream since I was five years old.”

What are the benefits of being able to represent Israel on the world stage?

“First of all, I have the unique opportunity to bring pride to my country. It’s really an honor to represent such a small, special country internationally. There aren’t many people here who compete in high level sports, any sports. Listen, bottom line is, this is my dream, and every young athlete dreams of competing at a high level such as this. I am so fortunate.”

And the drawbacks?

“Nobody seems to really care here. There is no professional infrastructure for this sport in Israel. There are no trainers for my level, no sponsors, nothing. It’s really frustrating because I have worked so hard to reach this level, to become a world class body-builder, and I get no recognition or help. It seems to me that in Israel everyone just pays attention to soccer, and the rest of the athletes are pretty much ignored.

“I’m spending $1,000 a month on food alone. Just for food. Not to mention supplements, not mentioning all the training equipment I need to buy, let alone all the sacrifices I make, all the hours I work instead of putting the time into training. I’m training three or four hours a day and working eight or nine. I have no life outside of this. I go to bed at 11 or 12, completely dead. And I still can’t achieve maximum training effects because I need to work so much. I want to get down to training. I just can’t train as hard as I would like.”

Amit is also one of Israel’s best personal trainers. His training method, tailored to each individual’s particular needs and health situation, is a comprehensive system based on both exercise and diet. O. lost 20 kilos training with Amit in eight months. When she began with Amit, she could barely walk on the treadmill. Now she runs 40 or 50 minutes at a time. E. came to Israel from New York slightly overweight. After four months working with Amit, all his fat had been turned to muscle.

Tell me about your diet.

“From a bodybuilding point of view, you are doing a low-carb diet. You start gradually lowering your level of carbs four months before the competitions, until the last three weeks, you ingest zero carbs, just protein. I eat double broiled chicken breast, a lot of protein powder, egg whites, but that’s it. This is done to get all the water and the fats out of your muscles. You become like a cracker. Your face becomes gaunt, and after that you do one day of carb loading, and then you become weak again. And you become nuts because your body is depleting. You feel like a zombie.”

What would a sponsor bring you?

“First of all, I would have more time for training. I could work less and train more. Secondly, hopefully, I would be able get better spots at the championships in May, and from there, hopefully I could go to the States and train there, where they have the necessary infrastructure and know-how for someone competing at my level, because I don’t want to be just by myself. Of course, there is also the money issue. Every shekel I earn I spend on food and supplements. I don’t have a life except for this.”

Why do you love bodybuilding so much?

“I love knowing that I am the only person in Israel who can do what I do, not only here but out in the world. And competing internationally has been my dream since I was a child. And I love this. It’s fun—you’re the biggest, you’re the leanest, you’re the strongest. It’s the best feeling in the world. It’s keeping me a kid in some ways, because I’m still chasing after my dream.”

Is there anything else you would like to add?

“I’m asking anyone, please, help me. Help me fulfill my dream. Help me to make Israel proud.”



  1. What a heart warming (and wretching) story. Israel should be very proud! Amit is a beautiful role model for the children where the pursuit of a dream is concerned. Is there a P.O. Box or other place contributions can be sent? Hang in there Amit, dreams really do come true! Please keep us updated on the outpouring of support from Israel and others.
    Thanks for another great story David and Lisa!

  2. For donations use the donation button on the right. Please specify that the donation is for Amit Saphir.

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