Justine Nyamao just turned 39, but rather than cut a cake or spend a night out with friends at some exquisite restaurant or nightclub in the city, the Intellectual Property lawyer asks me to meet her at the Afro fit gym situated on the first floor of Thika Road Mall (TRM).
Justine normally trains at Parkland sports club but for some reason, she feels a change of scenery on this day would be as good as going out.
She is all sweaty, spotting an orange crop tank top and dim grey scrunch butt shorts when we meet.
The mother of one isn’t short of confidence. You can tell she loves how she looks, she adores compliments, tell her how close she is to Venus de Milo-the goddess of beauty and physique- and her face lights with bliss, her waistline is snatched, her arms well-toned, an indication of one who has been working out for some time.
When did you start working out? I question after we exchange pleasantries.
“When I got pregnant I weighed 62 kilos and after having my son in 2010 I dramatically gained weight shooting to 90 kilos. Generally, I had never been big before and this bothered me,” she begins.
What actually bothered Justine wasn’t the kilos she had gained but how bad she looked in the mirror whenever she dressed up.
Her slim-fit clothes were no longer fitting anymore, and her suits- a fashion style she believes she was born to shine in-were no longer slinky. This disturbed her peace.
“That’s the only reason I started working out, it was for the appearance and not health reasons. You know when you have a body size, you are already used to how you dress it, but when you are that big, it becomes a bother. You have to start getting free-size clothes. I hated how I looked in those clothes, especially suits. I would dress and whenever I showed up at the office I didn’t see any difference between me and some of my colleagues of retirement age,” she recalls.
In 2013 Justine started exercising, she went back to swimming, a hobby she enjoyed back then (she still does), but that wasn’t enough.
“I started with home workouts by just watching workout videos. At the time I was doing my Masters, I was a working mother. I would work up to 4 pm, go to class and by the time I was returning home it was around 10 pm but would still work out for 45 minutes. At the time you couldn’t stream anything so I would buy the Shaun T and T25 workouts and have them on DVDs.”
Within a year Justine had lost all the excess weight that came with the baby, weighing 59 kilos in her new body.
“Honestly I wasn’t again impressed with my appearance because I ended up becoming too skinny. The home workouts were majorly cardio and that’s what cardio does. I wanted to have some flesh, bulk up a little bit in the right places (points at her butts and hips) and so that’s when the idea of finding a gym clicked."
To gain flesh Justine had to lift weights. At the time she worked at the Kenya School of Government which had a gym facility.
“I had been there but mostly used the treadmill. I was scared of weights because there was this narrative that weights aren’t meant for women. Initially, I didn’t care much but after being that skinny, I was ready for anything that would bulk me up. I desperately needed some flesh.”
A Facebook group strictly for women she belonged to, is what enlightened her. In the group, women would discuss, among other things, health matters.
“Women shared their journeys and ideas, there were those who were into weight lifting, cardio, powerlifting and such. This is where I learnt the narrative was all a fallacy, that women are actually encouraged to lift weights. I also did a little bit of research and I was convinced.”
For 13 years Nyamao has been doing nothing else than lifting weights, occasionally she would go for a run for cardio or swim and the gains are explicit.
“You will always hear ladies say they want to tone but don’t want muscles, those two can never work. To tone you will have some form of muscles. What they don’t understand is that men have much more testosterone hormones than us, which means even if we are to have muscles it won’t be to the same degree as that of men. That is why I have much respect for women bodybuilders because for us to bulk up, it takes a lot.”
At this point I find myself being cheeky. “So at what point did you realise your ‘assets’ were flowering?”
(Laughter). We had this baby shower and we were to wear some fitting dresses, that was the moment. You know when your friends who saw you when you were skinny start telling you, “aah! Your derriere is growing. It makes you feel nice and motivated. That’s when I knew my efforts hadn’t been going to waste,” Justine would love to see more women lift weight, especially after giving birth.
“Majority of us become lazy after delivery, the weight that comes with the baby makes you lazy but my advice would be, in the beginning, to combine both cardio and weights. Do more cardio in the beginning and a little lifting of weights maybe twice a week, and as you shed weight via cardio, lifting weights will help you tone and build muscle. Then gradually phase out cardio. Staying consistent is also important, do it even when you don’t feel like it,” she says.
Every Monday, its leg workouts for Justine where she focuses on the glutes and hamstrings, on Tuesday she switches to the upper body targeting the chest and triceps (arms).
On Wednesday, she does cardio which involves running 10 kilometres and on Thursday she goes back to working the lower body this time targeting the quads and the curves.
Fridays are dedicated to back workouts and biceps (arms) with Saturday another chance to do cardio.
“I will go for long runs of at least 10 to 21 kilometres. I never do anything below 10km. Sometimes I would have long swims,”
Justine's rest day is on Sunday when she gets to do more stretches and Yoga.
But the programme is never cast in stone, on days she feels fatigued, she takes a rest to recover.
To fuel these intense programs, Nyamao eats more fish and chicken. For her carbohydrates, she prefers oats sometimes blended with eggs.
For every meal she does, carbohydrates are always the least in amount with vegetables and protein taking the lion’s share of the plate.
“I don’t deep fry my white meat, I simply oven bake them. Another thing is that I avoid junk at all costs or any kind of processed food. The last time I consumed sugar or had a soda was 13 years ago. Whenever I have a sugar rush, I eat fruits.”