António Barrias – also known as Mané – is one of Macau’s best fitness and wellness expert. We sat down with the CF-L2 e Strength and Conditioning Coach to know more regarding the state of fitness and wellness in Macau, how to be healthy in such a busy and expensive city, and what small things can people do in their daily routine to improve their health.
Can you better explain to our readers what Crossfit is about?
It’s actually very simple. It’s good if you are looking for a non-specific fitness program where specifics are bodybuilding or running a marathon. In life, if you get very good at a specific task, you get very bad at everything else. The premise behind Crossfit is the direct opposite. We don’t want to be the best at one specific thing, rather we want to be really good at everything! Basically, we combine components of gymnastics, endurance and weight-lifting then mixing them up into workouts. This results in you getting stronger, leaner and you learn to do cool stuff. With time, what we call your GPP (General Physical Preparedness) increases. With that, comes new abilities, which is what Crossfit is really good for.
You founded Crossfit Macau in 2013. Is Crossfit Macau the same as all other Crossfit gyms around the world?
Crossfit is highly adaptable, so if you go to other gyms, you’ll find different methods and workouts. Since my educational background and my expertise is strength and conditioning, I’ll always adopt a more structured program in my gyms. There’s a really famous Crossfit gym in Bali called Crossfit Wanderlust and they don’t even have classes! It’s a good thing that we’re all different because it enables you to have different training everywhere you go. The only constant is that there is a standard for coach quality so there’s always some form of quality control.
What are the major challenges you found, as an entrepreneur in Macau?
I think mine is the same as any other small-medium business owners in Macau. We’re extremely limited by various factors such as space limitations–just like anyone in Macau–and it’s extremely difficult to get licensing for these spaces. The government does not help, at all. Industrial spaces would be amazing for gyms, but licenses are very difficult to obtain for those kinds of spaces. The government is immovable and since it’s an international city, it must offer variety. We need to at least have the opportunity to succeed and that comes with the government’s permission and backing. Additionally, we are not competing against ourselves, but against gaming operators and hotel companies. I don’t mean we should be protected by the government, but I would like to see businesses have equality of outcome. If I was given the same opportunity, I might be able to have the same outcome.
What is the healthy eating climate like in Macau and do you think it will improve?
Macau is a casino city so, by nature, this makes it a tourist city. When people go on vacation, they don’t really care about healthy eating. The most successful restaurants are the ones offering tasty food, made quick. However, in Macau, what we have been noticing in the last five years is an increase in an attempt to be healthier. However, fitness and healthy options are still at the baby stage. We could look outside, to cities with the same nature as ours–like Las Vegas–where there are healthy options everywhere, and learn from them. Here, we are still applying the stuff that was done everywhere else during the 80s. We have the opportunity, as entrepreneurs, to put forth the best, and I still see a lot of fitness-related products being put out according to the coaches’ or personal trainers’ own personal beliefs and not according to the latest research. We live in a world where information is easily accessible so these mistakes shouldn’t exist.
What about the quality of food in Macau?
I love taking people’s body fat levels because it says a lot about our bodies. There are certain skin folds on our bodies where you can see heavy metal pollutants and that your liver has problems. Interestingly enough, 99% of the people whom I measure, have exactly the same issues. Our food sources here are extremely tainted and we are also confronted with the issue of sourcing for quality products. When we manage to do so, we are crushed with taxes and tariffs. I know a lot of people who could succeed in doing this, but they don’t see a reason to start because of the obstacles in the way. The only reason I am where I am is that I am stubborn.
You also own Food Tailors. When and why did you start this business?
Honestly, I couldn’t find food that I liked and some of the meal plan services in Macau put out great products, but I still can’t find meals fit for a bodybuilder. I’m Portuguese, so I enjoy home-cooked meals like chicken in the oven with roasted potatoes and rice. I don’t have time to cook for myself, so I talked to my personal and Crossfit clients to see where they got their food from.
I had no intention of making Food Tailors a big company. In the beginning, what we wanted the most was to expand and get to as many corners of the health and fitness market as possible. I quickly came to the conclusion that I didn’t really want that. In my skill-set, I am more about quality and not quantity for every business I own. You simply can’t keep the same level of quality in a mass-market business. With Food Tailors, my clients get specific meals tailored teach of their needs.
What do you do when you’re not at the Crossfit gym?
I’m a workaholic but during winter, I don’t do much, to be honest. I don’t coach Crossfit classes anymore, just personal training one-on-one. During summer, I try to leave the gym as much as I can and stay in the sun as much as possible. This year, I got a pedalboard, so I try to do as much as I can during weekends, as well as hiking, go to the beach and such. We have some well-hidden gems in Macau, and I’d like them to stay hidden (laughs). Of course, Macau is quite limited when it comes to this kind of resource, but we do have some amazing stuff. Then again, we have Hong Kong, that’s just a boat ride away and it has everything. When I’m off-duty, I try to stay away from the gym and anything that stresses me out. My main stress comes from being an athlete but not so much from being a business owner because the gym now runs itself with my team.
What is your advice for those you cannot afford a gym membership, but still want to stay fit?
I love this question because my answer might make my job sound useless (laughs). Let’s be honest, gyms were created due to people’s laziness. You drive a car to the gym where you burn calories–this is a ludicrous concept. The worse our health gets, the more demand there is for a coach. When I started Crossfit, everyone said there would be no future for my business. Instead, what I saw was less necessity for college jobs and more necessity for jobs taking care of people’s health. There are two types of medicine–preventive and when you don’t have a choice. People with a more educated background and sustainable income tend to go for preventive measures, which means gyms.
People in Macau partake in sports and this can be seen in the crowded fields and badminton courts but why are we still unhealthy?
Yes, correct. The biggest problem here is the lifestyle, not so much doing sports or not. It also has to do with sun exposure, hydration and the quality and type of food one eats. Unfortunately, we live in Asia, a continent that relies heavily on carbohydrates, which is the worst thing you can put into your body. Our bodies don’t do very well under high stress, right? And everything has to do with lifestyle. If people don’t have money to frequent a gym, all they have to do is take a little extra care in having a bit more output and be more careful with the input. Not everyone needs a six-pack or a great bum. Nowadays, these are treated and seen in society as things that infuse people with happiness and it’s not true. I have eight abs and I can tell you, right now, it is not a source of happiness. All that people have to do to limit fat gain is walk 10,000 steps a day, which translates into two 10-minute walks a day. In countries where people walk or cycle to work are the happiest. People generally associate happiness with the gym because it’s where they move, but it doesn’t have to be like this. Go outside instead of looking at your phone when you wake up . If you have a little bit of extra body fat, just cut all carbohydrates such as pasta, noodles, bread and rice and eat vegetables instead.
Generally, carbohydrates especially in the form of rice provide us with energy. What is your view on this?
To answer that question, let’s go back a few millennia. Our species has more or less 140,000 years in the evolutionary chain but agriculture was invented around 15,000 to 12,000 years ago in norther Iraq. My question is, as agriculture is our main source of carbohydrate production, what were we eating for a 125,000 years? Meat. That’s my argument.
That being said, you can be a healthy vegan or vegetarian. For 80% of people, I’d actually recommend a vegan or vegetarian diet because that stops one from eating unhealthy and low quality products.
When you’re not eating your own food at Food Tailors, where do you like to go?
I like Blissful Carrot. It sounds a bit weird that my “cheat meal” is vegan, but “cheat meals” are not necessarily unhealthy or healthy. I don’t even like the expression, I’d rather call it a “free meal”. I usually go there because I really enjoy wholesome food. When I’m going out with friends, I typically go for a burger.
When I’m in the mood for Portuguese food, I’ll go to my mom’s house because I love home-cooked meals! Lately, I’ve been eating pizza as well from Honest Pizzeria. I’m low in dopamine now because of the cold weather so to help that, I need to eat something pleasurable like pizza.
Photo credit: The Food Tailors Facebook
When cooking at home, where do you buy the ingredients and products?
All my food comes from Food Tailors and we always support local, small suppliers. Also, they generally get their produce from Zhuhai and which is always higher quality. As for meat, we usually try to get it from New Zealand. It’s becoming very difficult though. Generally, grass-fed meat is the best. This is why our prices are a bit higher than other set meal companies. When I do cook at home, I usually buy from Park n’Shop’s organic aisle.
So do you always go for organic products?
Yes, and we usually suggest people buy the most expensive meat because the quality is better. When you pay for something, that’s when you’re actually taking a stance on an issue. Cheap meat is filled with antibiotics. It’s difficult to find organic and foreign products in Macau but we can’t accept the status quo. We can always do something! If we all start leaving the antibiotic-filled chicken on the shelf, the supermarket will stop selling it.
I usually tell people to always cook at home if you want to stay healthy. Studies have shown that meals, both healthy and unhealthy, eaten at home surrounded by loved ones, can have the same health benefits.
What other advice do you give people?
For people who can’t afford to buy all organic, aim for just organic protein and vegetables. Prepare and eat your meals at home and if you can’t, don’t eat where you work! At your desk, your brain is in stress mode which can affect the way you digest your food. Eating while stressed can cause bloating which could lead to other problems.
Macau society heavily relies on take-away food. How can one avoid this trend?
I understand Macau is an on-the-go city, so I stopped giving people strict meal plans. Instead, I provide them with the next best thing. Kitchens are getting smaller and smaller in Macau, but this is the society we live in. I won’t say people need to stop eating takeout, because it’s difficult not to. However, and I can’t stress this enough, take it away from your work desk and put your phone down. Most people take their phone to the toilet but when was the last time you wiped your phone? Additionally, the phone’s blue-light is bad for our eyes and the simple act of picking it up is stressful because you only pick it up to see if you have likes or messages. Also important is not to eat your food in plastic containers. Plastic has an estrogen effect and that can lead to issues in both men and women like screwing up menstrual cycles, for example.
What else can we expect from you, fitness market-wise?
We’re going to have a new gym under our supervision. It’s gonna be a hybrid gym, with commercial gym machines, and a functional fitness side, which includes Crossfit.
Are you also going to have yoga and other classes?
Most definitely! The place we found has certain restrictions but I actually wanted to include a one-of-a-kind system that I am working on with a Chinese company. I want to build a tatami for Brazilian jiu-jitsu which can be rolled out to keep the Crossfit flooring requirements. That way, we can have both and several other activities.
To know more about Crossfit, call +853 2855 0575, where you can also sign up for a free trial. Prices for Crossfit classes are all available online. For Barrias’ one-on-one personal training sessions, prices range from MOP $6,000—10,000, depending on the case and hours per week.
Opening hours: Monday—Friday, 7:30am—9:00pm; Saturday, 8:00am—4:00pm
Crossfit XVI 5/F, Edf. Industrial Si Toi, R. do Padre Antonio Roliz, Macau