We chat with the inspirational fitness athlete, entrepreneur, and TV host of MTV’s Get Fit, Maya Nassar. From her journey to becoming the first ever government endorsed bikini bodybuilding competitor in Arab history to sharing some of her tried and tested tips and tricks — this Lebanese superstar comes clean about it all!
How did you get into fitness bikini bodybuilding? Was this a life long passion?
Back in the day, I led an unhealthy life and never worked out. I lost 20 kilos and five dress sizes, which is when I realised I had a passion for fitness. I wanted to push myself and set more challenging goals. So I did a lot of research online and in 2013 I participated in my first show. While it is mentally and physically challenging, I feel competing is a great opportunity and good fun whether you win or loose.
How do sports empower women?
Reaching challenging goals is always empowering. It makes you stronger mentally, and a healthier, independent and more confident person. It also puts you in a happier state of mind, which helps you achieve other goals.
Why did you make the decision not to endorse any brands?
I wanted to prove that I’m credible. There are many diet pills and machines that make claims to make one slimmer, but I want to educate people about the proper way to train and diet.
How did the idea to create an app come along?
When I entered my first competition I started writing advice columns and shared pictures and videos of my progress. A lot of people found this interesting, and would ask me for advice — even strangers. Since I had a background in journalism and a passion for fitness, I decided to write about it so that others can learn from me, and thus started an online platform that provides free health and fitness information. Initially I created a website which used to get about 8,000 visitors a day, which is when I decided to build an app, as it’s more advanced and always accessible.
What is the one thing you hope people take back from your TV show, Get Fit?
I want people to know that anyone can get fit, that it’s never too late, and that you can train anywhere. My program only uses basic equipment and the workouts are targeted at people who don’t have access to the gym. The workouts from the show are also available on my website and YouTube.
What has been your biggest career challenge?
I would say criticism on social media. I’ve been lucky to have supportive friends and family, but people don’t always approve of everything one may do. I tried to stay unaffected by what they had to say, but it was a challenge. I had to accept that sometimes people think differently. My Arabic was also a challenge! I’m half Dutch and grew up in Nigeria and London before moving to Lebanon, thus I wasn’t fluent.
What are three of the most important fitness tips?
1. Lift weights. Women don’t realise how effective it is, and think they’ll look like a man, but weights are the best way to burn fat and tone your body. There are so many benefits and it really is not enough to run, in fact I would say weights are superior to cardio!
2. Don’t drink liquid calories. With sugary beverages, often times you may not even realise how much you’re consuming in calories.
3. Consistency. A lot of people want results in a week or two, but it doesn’t happen like that. Body transformations take a minimum of three months, so don’t be impatient.
What is the biggest exercise myth you want to beat?
I want people to know that there is no magic bullet or substitute to hard work. Don’t fall for scams — you will never see the results.
Just like Pakistani food, Arab food, can be unhealthy. How can people cook and eat these traditional dishes in the healthiest way?
Never fry your food, stick to items that are steamed. Stay away from creamy sauces and cheese. Don’t eat processed foods, have more salads and vegetables, and replace white carbs with brown carbs. For meat lovers, replace fatty cuts with lean cuts.
What is your favourite exercise?
What is an exercise that you find the hardest?
How many hours a day do you workout?
An hour and a half.
What is the oldest piece of workout gear you own?
A pair of Nike pants that I’ve had for 10 years. I still have a lot of old clothes, which I look at when I’m lacking motivation.
What does your workout playlist contain?
A lot of Chris Brown songs!
What do you binge on when it’s cheat day?
Pasta — it’s my weakness.
Who is your biggest motivation?
A body builder called Tom Venuto. He wrote a book called Burn Fat, Feed Muscle, and his words were so inspiring in my journey. I have interacted with him too and he’s a really nice person.
An Arab dish you recommend?
A Lebanese dish called lafitte, which is made of grape leaves.
What is your life motto?
Life is 10 per cent what happens to you, and 90 per cent how you react to it.