An empowering conversation with Malaysian bodybuilder and fitness coach Perli Pan


By Ronn Tan

An empowering conversation with Malaysian bodybuilder and fitness coach Perli Pan

Ever looked at bodybuilder icons such as Denise Masino, Nicole Bass, Lisa Marie Varon, Chyna, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Lou Ferrigno; and thought, “Hey, I want to be like them in the future”? Well, meet Malaysia’s very own bodybuilding role model—Perli Pan. The #BossGirl is the very definition of inspiration; spreading the message of self-love, confidence, and women empowerment wherever she goes.

We spoke to the founder of Beauty Beyond Size and fitness coach at The Playground Fitness about a career as a female bodybuilder and her advice for anyone who wants to be one:

1. What inspired you to start bodybuilding?

I first started getting into bodybuilding competition when I heard from people around me that were currently competing. They said it is the hardest thing you can do to yourself—mentally and physically—and I always like a tough challenge. It wasn’t about how I will end up looking on stage, but the process and the journey to truly know what works for my body and how far I can push my limits. It really does help with my coaching career as well as I am more familiar with how the female body reacts to different types of food or exercises.

2. What do you love about the sport? And how is it different from other sports, in terms of training and diet?

I love the discipline, consistency, and the hard work that comes with it; and I live by that now. Nothing comes easy without those three aspects. Every sport is unique in their own way; some are purely performance-based and bodybuilding is about how you can present the best package on stage. Some may say that it is a very vain sport and you are solely judged based on how you look, but don’t forget the hardwork. People only see the three minutes on stage but it takes six months or more of strict training and dieting—depending on your condition. There is a lot of thought process to be put into consideration with your coach. Which part of your body is lagging behind? Which part is too over-powering? Symmetry of the body is very important. Diet-wise, figure out your macro-nutrients—are higher carbs better for you or do you respond with higher fats? What kind of food are you sensitive to? What food makes you feel good? There’s just lots to look into and will take four pages long to explain everything!

3. How often do you train and what do you do to relax/have fun?

If I am not prepping for a competition, I train four times a week. Currently, I train six times a week with cardio. Per session, it usually take an hour or a more; butnothing over 90 minutes. I find that that works best for me and my busy schedule. I enjoy having a cup of coffee at the cafe during the weekends and walking around—I have a step goal to hit everyday! Compared to my friends, I’d consider myself rather boring but I enjoy my routine very much and I do not need to find something fun or relaxing for me to do. I listen to podcasts a lot while I am at home while prepping my meals or doing chores.

4. What is your general approach to nutrition?

If I am speaking to my client or the general public, I can’t ask them to do exactly what I do—such as counting macros and keying it in on the app—because they will most probably feel overwhelmed and end up binging. I will teach them about mindful eating and send them some guidelines to keep it on their phone. If they are looking to lose fats, I would use the 80/20 rule: eat until you are 80 percent full and put the spoon down. Also—always pick whole foods over processed food.

5. As a female bodybuilder, what challenges have you encountered?

Definitely the hormones imbalances and the mood swings. I am constantly putting my body under a lot of stress so the female hormones are bound to go a little out of whack. When the body fat starts getting lower, a lot will change. I am a huge believer of supplementation.

6. Society still has an assumption of what a female body should look like. What are your thoughts on it?

How do you curb such negativity? I do receive comments once in a while saying that I am too muscular; that women should have some curves or “fats”. Honestly, I never take them personally because I chose to be like this and I am perfectly happy—and that is all that matters. It is not healthy to be on condition like that all year round and I will definitely gain some weight back but I am sure that I will still be very happy about the way I look post-competition. Self-love is everything.

7. What is your advice for women who are interested in bodybuilding?

Evaluate why you want to do this. Put into consideration the time, effort, and money that you will be spending—it’s not a cheap sport. You either go all in or you don’t do it at all. You want to commit fully and look the best you can on stage instead of looking average. If you are sure that you are ready, look for a good coach that can bring the best out of you. Everyone needs a coach. Even though I’m a coach myself, I still have a coach.

8. What is your proudest achievement so far?

My proudest achievement is definitely taking a step back from the safe corporate world—a nine to five job —and took a leap of faith to go into the fitness industry.

9. You are an inspiration to many. Who inspires you in the field of bodybuilding?

Thank you! It’s a dream come true to have people come up to me and say that I inspire them in many ways. To me, I am just being myself and being myself is an easy thing to do. Who inspires me? I’d say the top bikini girls in the world such as—Elisa Pecini, Ashley Kaltwasser, and Angelica Teixeira.

10. When do you feel the most powerful?

When I am in control of my life; when everything goes according to plan.

11. Who is your female role model?

Honestly, as funny as it sounds, I do not have any role model. Growing up, I am always focused on myself and to make myself my own role model. When I am down or feeling defeated, I would go back to the moments when I was strong and feeling unbreakable. If I’ve been in similar situations, I will tell myself that I will be fine and that I can push through. I can do it!

Now that you know more about a career in bodybuilding, it’s time to start working towards the end goal. According to Perli Pan, it is of utmost importance that you give your all when it comes to being a bodybuilder. A lot goes into getting to your best state but with a positive and determined attitude, you will be fine! But… make sure to work on your own pace and ability. After all, Perli once said: “everyone is beautiful in their own rightful way. Everyone deserves to be happy and we should prioritise loving ourselves first and foremost”.

Follow Perli on Instagram here.

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