From her Olympic roots to the fitness stage, Sasha Kuznetsova has athleticism in her blood. Today, she’s using her influence to spread the truth about health and wellness.
As a five-year-old, Sasha Kuznetsova was already showing her athletic aptitude, teaching her grandmother exercises to help her rheumatoid arthritis. Now 47, she is spreading her love for fitness and good health through her career as a personal trainer, nutritional therapy practitioner, and bikini competitor – and, according to her, there are a lot of wellness myths that need to be addressed.
Sasha’s journey hasn’t always been easy. Growing up with a Russian Olympian for a mother, as well as her own promising athletic career, the pressure was on for her to be successful and to stick to the grueling regimens prescribed by her coaches.
“I’ve been an athlete since I was nine,” says Sasha. “Russian coaches heavily recruited me as a kid. I ended up following in my mother’s footsteps and became a professional basketball player at age 15.”
As she grew older, her athletic career slowed down, and Sasha shifted to interior design. She loved the change of pace, but there was still a longing for the mental, emotional, and physical challenge of sport.
Sensing that she needed some competition in her life, whether it be against others or her own abilities, Sasha’s husband hired a personal trainer – Lori Harder, who also happens to be an accomplished fitness competitor – for her to work with.
“She really motivated me to compete,” recalls Sasha. “After my first bikini competition, I became certified as a trainer myself and never looked back.”
This time around, however, Sasha quickly realized that the diet and training plan she had once followed as a basketball player wasn’t going to cut it on the stage.
“When I was a pro athlete, I ate a lot of food – three meals a day, sometimes snacks, primarily carbs,” explains Sasha. “I never cared about the calories, but I stayed away from fast food restaurants – and trained daily.”
On the other hand, as a fitness competitor, she followed a schedule of three-times-per-week strength training with cardio every single day.
Her diet was even more difficult. A strict plan of six meals a day with a balance of protein and veggies kept her fueled and building muscle, but along with it came a massive shift in her mood, digestion, and energy levels.
An aspect of the fitness industry that was even more unsettling to Sasha – a person who had learned how to treat her body for performance during her years on the court – was the hypocrisy that she witnessed. Appearances, she soon discovered, aren’t always the full story.
“While fitness competitors look ripped on the stage and promote a healthy lifestyle, many of them are mentally and physically exhausted, have no social life, and set unrealistic expectations for the general public,” she notes. This realization inspired her to pull back the proverbial curtain and expose the double standards of the industry, all while trying to determine what is right for her as a fitness athlete.
Intermittent fasting helped her get lean while providing her body with enough nutrients and energy to power through her grueling workouts. And while she still eats a mainly whole-food diet, these days she isn’t one to deprive herself, whether it be with a glass of low-sugar wine or an unprocessed sweet treat. She also applies this mindset to her clients, encouraging them to find a sustainable lifestyle that works for them, without restricting what they love.
“I don’t believe in depravation,” says Sasha. “I don’t believe in rewards after being ‘good’ – it creates the rollercoaster diets and eating disorders that are prevalent in our culture. It’s up to us as fitness professionals to spread this information to the masses.”
In this stage of her life, Sasha is savouring every moment, filling her spare time with creative pursuits such as graphic design, painting, and flower arranging. And a side effect of this new, less-frenetic pace is that Sasha is able to take the time to count her blessings. Aside from her husband, her biggest supporter is her dog, whom she considers her main source of motivation.
“I always want to be healthy, but I don’t feel like having the fitness competitor look anymore,” she concludes. “Getting a new golden retriever puppy forced me to go out and be more active.”
It’s just another example of the kind of laid-back attitude that Sasha is helping to spread throughout the fitness industry, for the better of all involved.
Phots by James Patrick