Hassan Gabr went from being overweight to a CrossFit fanatic, and in 2016 he earned the title of Egypt’s Fittest Man 35+. A verifiable powerhouse, his story is a truly inspirational one. A business owner by day and fitness guru by night, Gabr awakens a love of fitness through his work as a CrossFit coach, motivating students of all ages and walks of life to reach their goals and beyond. Cairo West Magazine spoke to Gabr about his incredible journey, and how others can transform their lives with fitness and healthy nutrition, just as he did.
CWM: Tell us a bit about your background in the field of health and fitness, how did the journey begin?
HG: I was always into sports, but never really into ‘fitness’ as we know it today – my real journey started in my 30s, when I became overweight. At 105 kilos, it was a wakeup call to change my life and I did; I turned into a gym rat, transformed my body, and then discovered CrossFit. I trained hard for 3 years and from there became Egypt’s Fittest Man 35+. Now, I’m a coach at BeFit, and I also host an online fitness show, AtoFit.
What is your daily fitness regimen?
I work out 5 days a week and take 2 days off. On workout days, it’s an intense combination of weightlifting, strength and conditioning, with one of the 5 days dedicated to cardio. I vary my workouts a lot so I don’t fall into the comfort-zone rut. The variations help me become physically and mentally prepared to take on anything in life, whether at a physical or personal level.
Generally, I start working out by 6:30 am, and have breakfast at 8:30 am, then head to my factory by 9:30 am. The rest of my day after the day job is spent coaching my students, ending the day by 10pm.And as with any fitness routine, nutrition plays a major part. I have 5 meals a day, starting with a champion’s breakfast by 8:30 am, a snack around midday, lunch by 3 pm, followed by another snack around 5 pm, and dinner by 8 pm.
What was your proudest fitness achievement?
When I won the title as Fittest Man in Egypt 35+. It wasn’t just because I won a title of that magnitude, but because I earned it after years of hard practice and determination, despite the odds I was facing at the time.
In your experience, what are some fitness challenges men in Egypt face, and how can they overcome them?
One of the biggest challenges is lack of information. Back in the day, you could only find regular gyms in Egypt, and they were surrounded by stigma and many misconceptions. The great thing is that the fitness scene in Egypt has changed a great deal in the past few years, where information is now readily available and many gyms now provide more personalized training experiences for their members. Beyond the gym, I believe the biggest challenge men face in Egypt today is finding a proper balance in their lives between fitness, family life, and work. When the going gets tough, it’s far easier for them to ditch the fitness part.
The key is to overcome, and stay on track. It’s not easy of course, but to maintain balance, they need to really set their priorities straight and understand that their health is just as important as other integral parts of their lives. They can overcome the challenge of balance by setting a time every day for a workout and sticking to it – there will be no excuse to skip it if you set it in stone. Secondly, stay persistent – no one can help you except yourself. I struggled with this balance until I understood that everything depended on this one crucial hour in the day. I took the decision and made it a priority. It’s the only way.
What are some specific tips for addressing the kersh – belly fat?
The kersh is endemic in Egypt! It’s because our diet is high in carbohydrates and processed foods. In my opinion, the best way to get rid of it is by learning how to eat properly, and limit carbs in a way for the body to start using fat reserves stored around the belly area.
Basically, your breakfasts and dinners should be made of proteins and healthy fats, with no carbs whatsoever. So go ahead and indulge in eggs and sausages at breakfast, and steak, fish or chicken at dinnertime with lots of veggies on the side. The only carbs you should be consuming is around lunchtime, making sure those carbs are healthy, gluten-free, and unprocessed. Your ideal lunch should consist of protein, veggies if you want, and one healthy carb; rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, or lentils. That’s it – no pasta, no bread, no gluten-laden food.
The key is to not stress over controlling portions – control the carbs! Take away the pasta and bread, and you’ll see miracles in the kersh! Beating the belly also requires drinking a lot of water. If you add a ‘fasted’ cardio routine to your day in the morning – meaning working out with no food in your system for 30 minutes first thing in the morning – you’ll likely see more miracles.
What fitness advice would you would give men in different age milestones?
The 20s and early 30s are the years where you really get to lay the foundation for your overall health. Make the most of it, because your body recovers quicker after training at that age. If you put the work in during these years, you’ll get maximum lasting results.
For those in their late 30s to 40s, it’s about training smarter. For example, a bit of caution should be taken when training because your body may not recover as well from possible injuries as it did before. Otherwise, there are no barriers for you; don’t believe it when people tell you that you’re done because you crossed the 30 mark! I started my transformation at 35. Just focus on your body and self, and remember: train hard, but train smart.
In your 50s, training is necessary, but also, use caution. Watch your training volume. For men 50 and older, it’s about maximizing the quality of your workouts and getting the best out of your efforts in training.
My advice to men of all ages when it comes to maintaining fitness is to pay attention to their diets, which makes up 75% of the fitness formula.
Any final words of encouragement for our male readers?
DO NOT fall into society’s view and misconceptions about fitness. Fitness is different for everyone, because everyone is different.
For me, my personal definition of fitness is being able to do CrossFit, and vary my workouts between weightlifting and cardio. For my mother, her definition of fitness is to be able to climb up and down stairs without losing her breath. It’s different for everyone, but still valid. Find what your definition of fitness is, whether it’s simply to look good in a suit, lose weight, or run a thousand miles, and start from there.