Executive Magazine - - Hospitality & Tourism -

By now, the story of Maya Nas­sar, Le­banon’s first fit­ness body­build­ing and bikini com­pe­ti­tion cham­pion, is rel­a­tively well known. As she re­counts it, Nas­sar used to be over­weight and felt in­se­cure so she de­cided to take mat­ters into her own hands and em­bark on a fit­ness jour­ney based on her own ex­ten­sive re­search on clean di­ets and weight loss pro­grams. So she set out a per­son­alised pro­gram which in­cluded both nu­tri­tional changes and work­ing out six times a week un­der the su­per­vi­sion of a per­sonal trainer. “I am proud that I did it my­self and no one helped me. I was fas­ci­nated with the sub­ject and ad­dicted to the re­sults of feel­ing good, hav­ing energy and con­fi­dence and los­ing weight on a weekly ba­sis,” en­thuses Nas­sar. In three short months, Nas­sar had lost more weight than she’d orig­i­nally planned to. With­out want­ing to stop there, Nas­sar chal­lenged her­self fur­ther by sign­ing up to take part in a fe­male body build­ing com­pe­ti­tion. “I thought of try­ing it for the chal­lenge and for the prepa­ra­tion train­ing it would in­volve, not nec­es­sar­ily to win. Just be­ing on the stage with the other girls would be like win­ning for me,” says Nas­sar, ex­plain­ing that since fe­male body­builders are rare in Le­banon, she had to train alone and had no one to share her ex­pe­ri­ences with. While train­ing for the com­pe­ti­tion and even on her ini­tial fit­ness jour­ney, Nas­sar, who was al­ways pas­sion­ate about writ­ing, recorded her ex­pe­ri­ences on her per­sonal Face­book page. To­wards the end of July 2013, she re­al­ized the pos­i­tive feed­back and fit­ness ques­tions she had been get­ting from her friends online and de­cided to launch a fit­ness web­site called Start Liv­ing Right which would mo­ti­vate and in­spire those think­ing of launch­ing their own health and fit­ness pro­grams. “There are a lot of scams re­gard­ing diet and fit­ness so I wanted to be very hon­est and pro­vide sim­ple, un­bi­ased in­for­ma­tion for peo­ple. I don’t have advertising and I am not try­ing to sell any­thing so I am not im­par­tial,” ex­plains Nas­sar. Nas­sar says the web­site did re­ally well be­cause a lot of users were writ­ing to her say­ing that she had inspired them in their fit­ness jour­neys. The web­site now has 8,000 unique visi­tors. Be­cause of the web­site’s pos­i­tive per­for­mance, Nas­sar de­cided to launch a mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tion with the same fea­tures of the web­site, in­clud­ing the calo­rie counter and the mo­ti­va­tional ar­ti­cles but with a few ad­di­tions such as the an­i­mated work­outs di­vided into the body’s mus­cle groups. The ap­pli­ca­tion has 15,000 down­loads so far and Nas­sar says she and her de­vel­op­ers are work­ing on a few more ad­di­tions. 70 per­cent of Nas­sar’s online clients are women, mainly from Le­banon and the Mid­dle East, but she says she also has users from Eng­land, Rus­sia, In­dia and Tur­key. The web­site and ap­pli­ca­tions are slightly geared to­wards the Mid­dle East in that the calo­rie counter in­cludes food items which are com­mon to this part of the world and not usu­ally found in in­ter­na­tional calo­rie counter ap­pli­ca­tions. Nas­sar has no struc­tured mar­ket­ing but says that what has helped her gain ex­po­sure was be­ing of­fi­cially en­dorsed by the Le­banese Min­istry of Sports to rep­re­sent Le­banon in fe­male body­build­ing com­pe­ti­tions, gar­ner­ing her a lot of media at­ten­tion. “I wanted to do this to counter the stereo­type of fe­male body­builders as be­ing very mus­cu­lar and un­fem­i­nine which is not nec­es­sar­ily true,” ex­plains Nas­sar. Nas­sar’s jour­ney in fit­ness does not stop here; the young health and fit­ness leader has plans to open her own gym soon. “My ad­van­tage is that I have a lot of fol­low­ers, on both my web­site and ap­pli­ca­tion. Many of them con­tact me want­ing to work with me but I don’t have a phys­i­cal lo­ca­tion to help them. I plan to drive traf­fic from my web­site and ap­pli­ca­tion to my gym when it fi­nally opens and use this as a phys­i­cal lo­ca­tion where I’ll be able to help the peo­ple I’ve been thus far help­ing online.” It is clear that Nas­sar’s heart re­ally is in it. “For me, it’s more about pas­sion than work. It’s some­thing I en­joy do­ing,” she con­cludes.

Among the big­gest chal­lenges Nazar­ian faced was find­ing qual­i­fied train­ers. He ex­plains that although both the An­to­nine Univer­sity and the Le­banese Univer­sity of­fer a Phys­i­cal Ed­u­ca­tion de­gree, he be­lieves that it’s not enough to sim­ply qual­ify to be a trainer, pre­fer­ring to train his staff in-house. “We give re­search work­shops twice a week for all our train­ers to bet­ter them­selves be­cause ul­ti­mately, per­sonal train­ers are like doc­tors in that they deal with your body and there­fore must be sure not to hurt you and make a prob­lem worse,” says Nazar­ian.

In par­al­lel to U Energy, Nazar­ian has also de­vel­oped a new con­cept called Go by U Energy. This is strictly per­sonal train­ing, where the cus­tomer books ses­sions with a PT, with one small stu­dio where one class called Go is given. Nazar­ian de­scribes Go as “the ul­ti­mate high in­ten­sity class: a com­bi­na­tion of ev­ery­thing you need to get toned and fit.”

The first Go by U Energy has al­ready opened in Gem­mayzeh and Nazar­ian plans to open a few more if the con­cept takes off. “It’s much smaller so you can find smaller lo­ca­tions with good rent prices and ac­tu­ally open more of these. Peo­ple want this be­cause they want per­sonal train­ers or smaller classes as I can tell from my clients at U Energy,” ex­plains Nazar­ian.

Nazar­ian ac­knowl­edges that Le­banon has a long way to go be­fore reach­ing global fit­ness trends and blames this on a lack of ed­u­ca­tion. “Le­banese have the back­dated idea of fit­ness be­ing mainly about body­build­ing, but abroad it’s com­pletely changed and is more about func­tional train­ing. To­day more and more peo­ple want to be fit and healthy, and this is a good thing be­cause it will get peo­ple more ed­u­cated about fit­ness,” says Nazar­ian adding that the re­cent surge in gyms in Le­banon is a pos­i­tive sign and that he wel­comes the com­pe­ti­tion as it pushes him to bet­ter him­self and ul­ti­mately bet­ter serve the clients and the in­dus­try.

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