Neha Banu is an athlete, a powerlifter, a model, and a fitness trainer. She co-owns a nail spa called Paint Lab. She’s also a popular travel vlogger; her channel Samaya has 100k+ subscribers
Concept & Coordination: @esparshsarawagi
Photography: @photographer_coyo & @nurum_studio
Photo Edit: @gulember
Videography: @krish_sthapit (@aspiredigital_) & @suraj_lorent
Styling: @sham_vu ( Assisted By: @elisha_malla & sajja.kayastha)
How did you get started in the fitness industry?
That’s a funny story - back in 2013 after watching Dhoom-3, I was so enamored by Katrina’s physique that I decided to join the gym the next day. Then a few years back, I joined the Gymkhana’s team as an instructor where I used to take spin cycling classes. Before that, I started as an athlete in a very random way. During a photo shoot for a Women's squat competition, my friend encouraged me to participate and much to my surprise, I secured the second position. Realizing that I hadn't put in much effort and still managed to do well, I made a decision to work hard for a year and try to win the competition, which is exactly what happened.
How did the merger of fitness and modeling happen?
Modeling started before fitness. I always had broad shoulders when I was petite. During ramp walks I was quite unlike other models. Then I got into fitness; I had a good following on Instagram and I started posting fitness stuff. Then people started perceiving me in a new way and approached me for fitness modeling. I was never like - I want to be a fitness model, It just happened naturally.
Fitness or Modeling?
FITNESS!! With modeling, especially in Nepal, they make you wait and eat up the whole day, it’s not very professional. I hated that and it made me quit for a while. Now I see things are improving. Anyways, with fitness, I love that I can do it in my own time.
What does your typical workout routine look like?
I work out four times a week. I start at 2 and the session goes for 3 to 4 hours. I compete in powerlifting, which has three main lifts - squat, bench press, and deadlift. Sunday we do bench and squat, along with accessories. Monday is bench and deadlift, again with accessories. Thursday and Friday are lighter days with the same pattern: bench and squat and bench and deadlift. So we fit in 2 days of squats, 2 days of deadlifts, and bench presses every day.
Do you have some pre-workout rituals for a better outcome?
On workout days the diet needs to be on point, since we lift heavy weights. I take care of what I eat meticulously. Talking about Pre-workout rituals, it starts with a coffee, I prefer iced-Americano. Then I just chill for a bit, light up incense, listen to ‘O Mani Padme Hum’, and get into a relaxed mood.
What’s your favorite exercise?
I like bench presses a lot. I am really strong at it, I can lift heavy, unlike most women who generally find bench press difficult. I was actually the first one who did a 75kg bench press in a competition.
What’s your highest deadlift, squat, and bench press?
Deadlift - 150.25 kg.
Squat - 137.5 kg.
Bench Press - 80 kg.
How important are rest and recovery?
Very Important! I work out for 3-4 hours, which is very taxing physically. If I don’t get proper sleep and diet, then it’ll probably make me sick. I really focus on recovery. I usually sleep at 10:30 and wake up at 7.
Have you encountered any misconceptions or stigmas regarding women in fitness?
It’s rampant. Even now people comment on why I’m working out and that women should have a stick figure, especially the uncles. When I started there weren’t many women lifting heavy weights, but that has changed now, which kind of makes me proud. Also, there’s a misconception that working out makes you look like a man. That’s not true at all, I have been working out for a few years now and I have male friends who have worked out for the same amount of time, and they’ve gained far more muscles. Physiologically, for females, it's not possible to put in as much muscle as males.
Have you always followed a healthy lifestyle?
No, not really. It’s just in the last year or two that I’ve started following a proper diet program. Before, I used to eat just about anything. When you’re young that’s not a problem as your metabolism is high, but with age also it’s better to follow a healthy diet.
What’s your approach to supplements?
Using supplements is not mandatory, but I personally opt to include them in my diet. My supplement of choice is Whey protein. In reality, if you can fulfill your protein requirement through your regular diet, there is no need for supplements. However, I consume 150 to 200 grams of chicken breast for dinner, and I prefer to skip meat for lunch. Therefore, to reach my necessary protein intake, I consume a scoop or two of Whey protein after my workout. Other than that Fish oils are good, I consume them. I tried creatine once but didn’t think it was effective.
How important is the diet for powerlifting or any fitness activity?
Not just for fitness activities, a good diet is a must for any kind of lifestyle. You need to have a balanced amount of carbs, proteins, and fat in your diet. There are diets like keto with no carbs, but I don’t think we can avoid carbs for the whole of our lives. So it’s better to opt for a balanced diet for everybody, not just athletes.
What does your typical meal routine look like?
Right now I am on a cut. I am only consuming 1300 calories a day. I start eating around 12 to 2. I measure everything I eat. The first meal is 5ml of oil, 200 gm of rice, and two eggs. During the day I have popcorn. 100-gram corn made into popcorn looks a lot and is filling. After the workout I have protein. For dinner, I eat 200gm of chicken and 200gm of rice cooked in 100ml of oil.
How difficult is it to maintain a good diet using a staple Nepali diet?
I actually like the Nepali diet. It has everything: carbs, proteins, fats, and other nutrients. It just needs a little tweak. What we do is put a lot of rice (carbs) and then accompany it with other items. We just need to slightly decrease the carb amount and increase the protein. The general rule of thumb is that protein should be the first thing to go into your plate and other nutrients should complement it.
You’re a traveler and a vlogger, How do you balance your fitness goal and traveling?
It’s difficult to have both a social life and a good diet. Once you’re out with friends, you see food and it’s really tempting. It takes a lot of control. While traveling, we don’t restrict ourselves. Eating is a part of the traveling experience. So I eat whatever I want. I do intuitive eating since I’ve been dieting for a long time, and I know how much food is enough for me. But the catch is the minute I land back home, I’m disciplined. I don’t cut slack by saying, I’ll start tomorrow, or oh it’s the weekend, I’ll do it from Sunday. No! The minute I’m back, I’m on my diet and fitness routine.
Do you miss your workout while traveling?
I never skip a day of my workout routine. My workout schedule consists of four days a week, and I usually plan my travel for the remaining three days. However, there have been times when I have managed to find gyms during my travels to work out. For instance, during one of our trips to Boracay, we discovered a very old-fashioned and rustic gym, and we had our workout session. Though I may not complete my entire workout set, I make an effort to squeeze in a few exercises.
How do you find the motivation to work out regularly?
For me, it’s a part of my lifestyle. It’s like eating or sleeping. Also, there are 3-4 of us who work out together. So there’s always someone to push you to work out, even when you’re not feeling like it or the weather is not nice. We kind of motivate each other.
Have you competed in any fitness competitions? What are some of your best achievements?
I won a powerlifting competition in Pokhara in 2021. I won my bodyweight category and I was also the overall winner. Other than that, as I mentioned before, I won the women's squat competition.
Have you ever had any body image issues, how did you overcome them?
I have always had broad shoulders. It’s genetic. Working as a model I felt very out of place. I used to make myself small, to fit in with the others. That has been a major problem. Now I’m more accepting of it.
Do you want to get into any other sports?
Yes, I love everything fitness. I want to get into Muay Thai, kickboxing, and everything. Next year I’m planning to start CrossFit. I’ve done a month of boxing.