Nana Al Haleq:
There’s no doubt about it, strong is the new sexy
Although juggling work and personal time can be challenging, Nana have made her passion her career.
By Reenassri Sekaran
Seven years ago, this fit bombshell received a ton of backlash for her muscular, toned body. As we move into a new era however, being fit and healthy has become the new standard in beauty. Today, both women and men looks to her for inspiration and advice. Nana Al Haleq talks about her journey to rock hard abs and proving to the world that strong is the new sexy.
“I always had big dreams growing up. My two options were between either becoming a plastic surgeon or a forensic scientist. I’ve always had this fascination and goal to help people feel good,” she starts.
“I was rather active in sports during my primary and secondary school years – I didn’t really spend much time in classes. From February to November, you would find me running for school or state championships. Form hockey, running, to basically any type of sports – you’d find me competing. The problem was because I was in a science stream major, my involvement in sports caused me to be left behind in a few subjects.”
“My results in physics, chemistry and additional mathematics weren’t exactly in flying colors so I didn’t get the course I wanted. I found out that there was a thing where you could study and work under a police academy to become a forensic scientist. However it’s a nine-year course! I really could not see myself doing just that for nine years,” she says.
Under the inspiration of a friend, Nana pursued communications instead. During that period of time, she stopped competing in sports completely except for the occasional rock climbing. “At the age of 26, I enrolled in my first ever gym.”
That’s when a friend convinced Nana there were no Malay fitness idols in Malaysia. “This was seven years ago mind you. He told me; Nana, you clearly have the passion and the genes, why not get more involved in the fitness scene? I was very doubtful. But I took the jump.”
A leap of faith
“Honestly Malaysia was not ready to embrace a muscular woman seven years ago. My first year into fitness – I quit my job to focus on fitness entirely. It wasn’t an easy ride,” she grins.
“The amount of hate mails I received at the beginning was overwhelming. It was a challenging first year. The second year of me trying to become a fitness icon took a slightly better turn, and as of now, I believe everyone has gotten used to the idea of muscular, toned women.”
“The perception of fitness has really changed over time. Along the way, I took a few courses on sculpting women’s body, fat loss, and hypertrophy,” she recaps.
Nana now dives into better nutrition. “I’m also a certified STRONG by Zumba instructor – it’s similar to HIIT (high-intensity interval training) but the only difference is you move in sync to the beat.”
What does a typical day for you look like?
“Honestly pretty insane,” laughs Nana.
“It really depends on what I have to do on that particular day. Last year, I had to wake up at 4am because I was in a show on TV which required me to be at the studio by 6am. As soon as the show finishes at 10am, I would have to attend to my clients – personal training. In the afternoon, if I have time, I will slot in a quick workout otherwise my schedule is pretty much attending shoots and events. That’s why I started my business last year. The idea came up because I needed a diversion to keep myself sane. That how the fitsambalbynana came to life! Which is my own recipe by the way.”
Like mother, like daughter
“I owe a lot of it to my mom. She was a netball player for Johor and she was the one who taught me how to rollerblade and cycle. She also taught me how to run as well. I still remember her first lesson – if you want to be a sprinter, you need to add on weights. During those times we didn’t have ankle straps, so she would take a plastic, fill with sand, seal it with a light and strap it to my ankle.”
Nana crushes fitness myths:
Carbs is not the enemy!
“One, there is no such thing as targeted fat loss! If you want to lose weight or fat, you need to practice a healthy diet. Diet comes first, then exercise. When it comes to diet, it’s not an 80/20 rule but a whole 100 percent because after all, you are what you eat.”
“Two, there’s always the common misconception that to lose weight, you’d have to banish carbs from your life. This is not true since we are brought up consuming rice. Rice is never the enemy here, it’s how you cook it and the portions. On my social media, I’m always advising that you can have your Malaysian food fix but just place a healthy twist on it – healthy nasi lemak, healthy rendang, its possible!”
What exercise has taught her
“Patience and that I can never force someone to do it unless they are willing to. It’s always about learning how to love yourself. When I started on my fitness journey, I did it because I knew I was unhealthy despite my skinny physique. I often hear this from my clients – they do it because they want to look pretty. Yes to a certain level it’s good, but sometimes they tend do it because their partner is placing pressure on them to lose weight. I always inform people that they should not do it for another, but only for themselves.”
Nana is currently a fitness instructor, entrepreneur, social media influencer and all-around Malaysian fitness advocate. — The Health
With Ramadan just a few days away, we got Nana to spill some tips which would be helpful for you.
“I believe everyone needs to treat the Ramadan period just like their normal days. There’s a reason why we need to break our fast with dates. Our body is not ready for heavy foods in our fasting state. So guzzling down food is often a common mistake amongst Malaysians. Dates are chock full of carbohydrates and contains all the essential vitamins our body needs. Just 3 pieces of dates and a glass of water. Let that digest for a good 10 minutes and you can proceed with your main meal. Do keep in mind, your meal has to contain carbohydrates, protein, fibre and good fats. You can even cook your meals with olive oil or coconut oil as this helps the nutrients to be released slowly into the system.” — The Health