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‘Put up with pain.’ In conversation with Macao’s buffest man, Joe Iao 

The undisputed king of Macao’s bodybuilding scene talks about bulking up, childhood illness and what he likes to do outside of the gym.




Less than 1 minute Minutes




Less than 1 minute Minutes

UPDATED: 02 Jan 2024, 7:08 pm

Since his professional debut 18 years ago, 47-year-old Joe Iao has won the Mr. Macao bodybuilding title a whopping eleven times. Proving that age is just a number, he last clinched the title at the Macao Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Championship held just over two weeks ago. 

Bodybuilding wasn’t Iao’s first love. He was originally a scrawny long-distance runner, but a casual visit to the gym with a friend in the late 1990s had him hooked. By 2005, Iao was taking part in bodybuilding competitions. Less than 10 years later, he took top prize at the 2014 Asian Bodybuilding Fitness and Physique Sports Championship.

Joe Iao took time out from the gym to speak to Macao News. 

This interview has been translated from its original Cantonese, and has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

What qualities do you need to be a successful bodybuilder? 

Firstly, athletes of any sports all require a competitive edge because if you don’t have that edge, then you’ll take home third prize and think it’s good enough. You’ll not have that desire to continue striving to do better. 

Secondly, if you’re bodybuilding, you must be strong willed because apart from the several hours that are spent in the gym, we can’t eat out. [In that sense] bodybuilders are training 24/7. When it comes to the diet, it is really painful. If I’m bulking up, I have to cook for myself and I rarely go out to eat. So, you need willpower and the ability to put up with pain if you want to get the results. Otherwise, it’s very difficult for a bodybuilder to bring their A-game to competitions. 

Can you tell us about your diet? 

My diet normally involves bulking up. There are two seasons in the bodybuilding industry – one is the off-season, which is the bulking season. In other words, you are putting on muscles whenever you are not competing. The two to three months prior to a competition is when you start to lose weight and tone your body. During these bulking and weight loss periods, I eat six meals a day. 

I don’t eat too many eggs nowadays – maybe 8 or 10, which I have during breakfast. Normally, I eat chicken breast, beef and salmon. 

Who are your idols? 

One is the eight-time winner of Mr. Olympia, a man by the name of Ronny Coleman. Everyone in the bodybuilding industry idolises him. 

[Another is] Bruce Lee, because he is a good representation of Chinese culture breaking into foreign countries. He allowed Chinese people to truly hold their heads up high in front of foreigners, and he’s a bonafide Chinese idol that foreigners genuinely idolise. Bruce Lee is the only one [to have achieved this] and even now this is still the case, so he is an actor and kung fu superstar that deserves our admiration [and] respect. 

[See more: Joe Iao wins the Mr. Macao title for the eleventh time]

What misconceptions do people have towards bodybuilding? 

Guys initially get into bodybuilding because they mistakenly think that the bulkier they get, the more popular they’ll be with the girls. Actually, the opposite is true. If you become really bulky, too bulky, it’ll have the opposite effect on the girls, who will be more afraid of you. A lot of people who initially go to a gym want to train to become buff and more popular, but the reality is opposite.

What is the biggest personal sacrifice that you’ve made in your pursuit of bodybuilding? 

I lost a relationship, because I have to make my own food and rarely go out for a meal. When you’re on a date, normally you do things like go out to eat and watch movies. The time I spent with my companion was reduced because my focus was on bodybuilding, so I lost my better half. 

Iao (centre) winning the grand prize at the 48th Asian Bodybuilding Fitness and Physique Sports Championship in 2014
Iao (centre) winning the grand prize at the 48th Asian Bodybuilding Fitness and Physique Sports Championship in 2014

What suggestions would you give to young people in Macao who are interested in taking up bodybuilding? 

Take part in the Macao Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Championship. The reason is this [government recognised] competition is a selection event for Macao’s [bodybuilding] team. If you win or achieve a good result there, you can be selected to join the delegation and be in the position to represent Macao in the World and Asian Championships. 

What other hobbies and interests do you have apart from bodybuilding? 

I play with remote-controlled models, like remote-controlled planes. I also play the erhu

What is something that few people know about you? 

When I was young, I was hospitalised twice because I had a heart condition. [The first time] I was hospitalised, it was for over a month. It was for emergency treatment and I nearly died. Another time, I went on a trip to Xi’an in the 1980s and my heart was acting up again. I ended up being admitted to the Xi’an military hospital and had to stay there before I could return to Macao to receive additional treatment. Ever since I was a kid, I had a  heart problem, and because my body was weak, I took part in sports and running. Later on, I participated in bodybuilding, and my health became better. 

Do you plan to continue competing in the future? 

In the past few years, I’ve started to work as a coach for the Macao bodybuilding team. We won four awards this year at the Asian Championship. We also achieved third and second prize at the World Championship. I’m currently weighing my options because I’ve competed for many years, so I hope to cultivate some newcomers who can take over from me in the World Championship and Asian Championship. I hope in the coming year, I can devote more time to my work with the team. 

UPDATED: 02 Jan 2024, 7:08 pm

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