FITNESS fanatic Maria Carlswärd Ahlberg arrived in Cambodia in 2009 and manages the InterContinental Fitness Centre, where she trains clients and reigns in carb-happy bodies with her no-nonsense take on food and fitness. The 43-year-old Swede is married with three daughters and occasionally performs on stage as Catwoman, with her Yamaha R1.
On your website it says, ‘70 per cent diet, and 30 percent training’. Does it mean you can get in better shape when you just change your diet?
Yes, much better.
Even if you follow the typical expat-routine of bed, tuk-tuk, elevator, office chair, tuk-tuk, bar and then back to bed?
Yes, that’s a problem. Everybody puts on weight here. They eat unhealthy, drink alcohol every day, and don’t move – it’s perfect for my business.
How can you change your diet to get in shape?
Resist rice, noodles, and white bread – all the bad stuff. It’s hard in Asia, but try to eat more protein like shrimp, meat and eggs. When you have carbs, they should burn slow like apples and potatoes.
Are there days when you open your eyes in the morning and think, ‘I don’t want to get up, exercise and eat all that protein stuff but stay in bed and eat croissants’?
Yes, that’s nice, especially the chocolate croissants. They are my favourite – but only on Saturdays. Every Saturday I have my bad day, and I promise my bad day is the worst in Cambodia.
Is there something you would never eat?
A hotdog. I don’t know what’s in it. And I wouldn’t eat bacon either. Sausage and bacon are the first I cut from my entire clients’ diet list.
Should you do sports when you are hung-over?
No, you need to rest and recover. Better go to the gym the day after.
Can smokers exercise?
Absolutely. They can do everything, but by the time they start to train harder, they want to cut down a little because it feels so much better. I have a client who said, ‘Maria, I will quit smoking!’ I thought it was a tough one. But I pushed her and she lost ten kilograms
What is your personal motivation to stay so incredibly fit?
I started training by the time I was 12-years-old. I was in different Swedish cycling teams, in a sports school and I was on my way to the Olympic games in Barcelona. But three months before, I got very ill, so I had to go to hospital and to rehab. My trainer over-trained me. After that, I cut all the cycling and started working out in the gym, and people there noticed that I was very good at building muscles. Then I had the dream to enter fitness competitions and became a fitness trainer.
What is it about being in good shape? Looking good or feeling good?
The feeling is most important. You have more energy. Looking better is an extra bonus. When I don’t work out and eat a lot of sugar, I get tired.
Do your clients come to you because they want to feel good or because they don’t want to feel fat anymore?
Most of them are older than 30. Men gain weight on the belly and women put on weight during pregnancy. So, obviously, they want to look better. And when you look better, you feel better. So it goes hand in hand.
You are the only female member of the Cambodian Bikers Club – what’s that like?
It is tough, and you need to be strong. We drive from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville in one hour and 50 minutes. With all the adrenaline, you burn a lot of energy; close to 2,000 calories on one way.
What exactly is this catwoman show you do with your motorbike? Something erotic?
Well . . . I come up on stage with my big bike, a Yamaha R1, and I wear very tight black clothes and a mask. Then I am dancing and do special moves like lifting up my whole body on my hands. I am tall and blond and have blue eyes and a lot of muscles. I am different and popular here.
Can you describe your lifestyle in one phrase?
I love power.