5 Minutes with Gene Leong

Gene Leong

We speak to co-founder and coach of Grit Gym to learn more about healthy living and eating clean in the CBD.

Hi Gene! Please introduce yourself to our readers.

I’m one of the co-founders of Grit Gym. Besides running the day-to- day business operations, I’m also a Strength and Conditioning coach, and a very amateur Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitor. I’ve coached clients from various walks of life, from high-level athletes to senior citizens and jet-setting businessmen.

I used to have an incredibly sedentary background, so my primary concern when it comes to fitness and eating well is crafting programmes that are practical, safe, sustainable in results, and grounded in hard science, not gimmicks.

Your gym is located in the CBD where healthy lunches are readily available, but can be really expensive! Any tips to get around that, apart from packing your own food from home?

Eating well in the CBD - and for cheap - is not as daunting as some would think. Try to stick to a two-pronged strategy. First, you need to aim for perfection as much possible but don’t beat yourself up if you cannot achieve this everyday! Second, avoid foods that are obviously bad for you, primarily sugared drinks and desserts, and deep fried food.

For example, if you’re able to get a meal with a good amount of fresh vegetables that isn’t drenched in sauce, contains lean protein, and good carbs like sweet potatoes, go for it! But if that is too expensive or unavailable, look for places that serve as many of these foods as possible. The cheaper stalls may serve food that is more processed, less fresh, have a bit more sauce and dressing, but that’s okay. Look at the big picture: you would still hit a good amount of macronutrients you need in that one meal. 

Eating well is not a zero-sum game where you either eat well or you do not eat well. Healthy eating exists on a spectrum. You want to get as close to the perfect end of the spectrum as you can, but accept that just because your meals are not 100% “healthy” all the time does not mean that you failed. Keep staying on the good side of the spectrum! This approach will help you to be more consistent with your efforts to eat well, and stay on track for the long term.

What are your go-to meals when you’re pressed for time?

Yong Tau Foo! I just stack the bowl with fresh vegetables and eggs, and avoid the processed foods. If I have even less time, I usually go over to Ya Kun or some coffee shop and eat a bunch of eggs.

Cheat day – yay or nay?

Yay for sure. Some cheats would include burgers and ice cream, and a lot of hawker fare (important disclaimer: not all hawker food is “cheat food” though!).

Favourite cafes and/or restaurants with healthy eating options.

Budget is a big factor for me when it comes to meals, so I usually try and get my meals at Yong Tau Foo stalls, Economical Rice or Chicken Rice stalls (good place to get your protein and vegetables in too – just ask for meats and vegetables without the sauces and opt for white rice if you need carbs!)

Did you eat “healthy” when you were growing up?

The word “healthy” was thrown around a lot when I was growing up. Everyone stresses the need to eat healthy, including my family. Problem is, not everyone understands what eating “healthy” means. My current eating habits developed after I realised that my choice of meals affected my training, which was and still is very important to me. Nutrition was also a big part of my courses to become qualified as Strength and Conditioning professional, so education definitely helped shaped my eating habits.

Someone goes to you asking what to eat to lose weight – what do you tell them?

I usually start by trying to understand the person asking these questions. This means trying to understand their motivations behind losing weight, whether they have a specific and measurable goal in mind, whether they understand the effort and sacrifice required behind these goals, and what kind of sacrifices and effort this prospect is ready to put in to achieving his/her goals. Once these things are clear to both parties, the work itself towards losing weight is easy.

As someone who is in the know about the local health/nutrition scene, what do you think are some of the biggest mistakes/misconceptions?

The idea of eating “clean” is not the best – in my humble opinion. This approach creates dichotomies that imply that any foods that are not “clean” will fall into a “dirty” group. You get a lot of pop-up shops and salad stalls selling very interesting concepts and well-packaged products, and that is super cool. But, food availability and accessibility should always factor into any strategy to eat well, and the “clean eating” movement only serves to alienate a sizeable number of people.

More importantly though, one of the biggest mistakes is choosing short-term and unsustainable results and ignoring the impact of workout/nutrition choices and weight-loss methods on health. Most of this stems from impatience, but this is totally understandable given the amount of misinformation that hype up fitness and diet fads on the internet these days. We coaches and personal trainers need to step up our game!

What do you think is the healthiest “local” food one can get here?

“Local” food can be pretty healthy if we order right! Like I mentioned before, try and get close to the perfect end of the “healthy eating spectrum” as possible by choosing the foods that are as fresh as possible, and with as little sauces and gravy as possible. This does not mean your meals will end up being bland – for example, pan-fried and roasted dishes with some seasoning like salt and pepper is completely okay!

What is your post-workout recovery like?

Lots of water and a full meal if I have the time!