With all my travels throughout the world as a bodybuilder and as the owner of Gaspari Nutrition, the only place I've never visited was Brazil. I have always been intrigued with Brazil, mainly because part of my family actually came from Brazil. Both my Grandfather and Great-grandfather lived in Brazil, and my uncle was born there. With this intrigue, I have also seen the beauty of its beaches and iconic landmarks from movies, TV and books all my life. You might also know that Brazil has become the fastest growing economy in the world in recent years.
The people of Brazil are also known to be more health-conscious in everything from Brazilian jiu jitsu to CrossFit and bodybuilding. It's a country where working out and looking good are part of the popular culture. What better place for Arnold Schwarzenegger to hold the Arnold Classic than Rio de Janeiro, Brazil?
My basic task was to assess the Brazilian market for sports nutrition. Before going to the expo and show, I visited many stores throughout the Rio region; from smaller stores on the streets to the larger retail locations in shopping malls. It was great to see some of my products sold in these stores, as well as some of the other American brands sold in the USA. There were other Brazilian brands sold there as well. What I could see is that the people in Brazil are very into taking supplements like protein powders, weight gainers, creatine, Glutamine, protein bars, and fat burners plus many more. The Brazilian market also has more strict rules and regulations when it comes to sports nutrition. Unfortunately some of the ingredients like Beta-Alanine are prohibited, so some US products have to be modified to make them legal for sale there.
Assessing a market like Brazil takes a lot of research to learn what customers want and what competitor brands are selling, as well as learning the laws that pertain to ingredients so you can determine what you can sell without getting in trouble with their regulatory agency. After visiting the many stores in Rio it was now time to attend the first Arnold Classic Brazil!
There are always risks in running a show for the first time in a different country, but with Arnold and his people behind it, any event is bound to be successful. Success was not the word to describe the event on its first run. It was even bigger and more successful then expected. The expo had over 80,000 people attending, with even more people on waiting lists to get in waiting outside in long lines. They were allowed to go in one by one as other people left. For sure next year they will make the expo hall much bigger for all the people who missed out and had to wait outside. This first time they must have underestimated the amazing turnout the expo would have in its premier edition.
Inside you could see the various companies displaying their products, as well as getting to see the famous bodybuilders and other athletes from the USA, Europe, and more. I had the pleasure of getting to meet my Brazilian fans signing my pictures and taking photos with all of my fans. The expo was full of excitement with hundreds of great displays from the various companies playing music and exhibiting events within the booths to bring people over, as well as great deals on clothing and other fitness gear. The crowds were similar to the Arnold Classic in Ohio: a sea of people with all of them packed close to each other shoulder to shoulder. The hardest part was getting to the various booths you wanted to see. You practically had to climb over the thousands of fans to get from place to place. That's something that's not too enjoyable; but if we're talking about success and excitement, it was at the expo hall.
The Saturday Arnold Classic bodybuilding show had some serious controversy, with one of the main competitors Cedric McMillan disqualified for not attending the athletes meeting due to his cab being stuck in the horrific Rio traffic after he had missed the athlete bus from the hotel to the venue. Many people felt it would have been an easy win for Cedric based on his past wins and of course his great shape, size, and symmetry.
Without him in the lineup, Brandon Curry went on to be the winner. I thought Brandon has great shape with a small waist and a tremendous upper body. He had made some improvements to his legs, which are still lagging a bit behind his upper body. But I guess his overall package was good enough to win this show. Second went to Toney Freeman, who I personally thought should have won due to his mass, shape, and famous X-frame. What is even more amazing is that Toney is 46 years old and still going strong! I am truly amazed at how he continues to make improvements in his late 40's, proving bodybuilding is an ageless sport. Third was Johnnie Jackson, who has a thick, muscular physique.
Fourth went to Ed Nunn with nice shape and balance. Fifth place went to Fred Smalls, who in my mind was overlooked with a great presentation and to me should have placed at least third. Sixth went to Robert Piotrkowicz from Poland who displayed a dense, big and ripped physique but places out of the money because of his blocky shape.
Overall the bodybuilding event was competitive, even though it was missing the big names like Kai Greene, Victor Martinez, Branch Warren, Dennis Wolf and Phil Heath, who now only enters the Olympia.
The last day in Rio de Janeiro I got to spend time doing some sightseeing. The place I stayed was the Copacabana. From my hotel window, you had a panoramic view of the beautiful beach. I got the chance to jog along the scenic beach looking at the various sights and taking in the fresh salt air. Let me tell you, it sure beats running on a treadmill inside a gym! From the hotel I got to go on a tour to see the famous Cristo Redontor (Christ the Redeemer) statue on top of Corcovado Mountain. This is the most famous image most people associate with Rio. The view from the top looking at the huge statue as well as looking down the mountain on the city of Rio was spectacular!
From the Cristo Redentor, I went to the famous Sugar Loaf Mountain, which was something you have to see if you ever come to Rio. Its various views were even more unbelievable and hard to put into words. This is something you truly have to see in person to appreciate. To make it even more exciting, I took a helicopter ride viewing the sites from the air; which were even more awe-inspiring! Last but not least, the food was incredible with the many Brazilian Steakhouses that were even better than any of the steakhouse in the US, with different meats and foods you just don't get in the USA. I would describe the eating experience as exquisite.
Overall Brazil was a great experience and if you ever get a chance to go you should, because you'll never forget it!