By Matt Wiley

They may be distant memories by now, but if your New Year’s resolutions consisted of losing weight, getting healthy and even packing on some muscle — like four-time Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler — consider visiting Wesley Chapel’s Max Muscle on S.R. 54 (next to Sweetbay Supermarket), your nutritional one-stop shop.

Cutler, a multiple world-champion-winning body builder, will be making an in-store appearance at the Wesley Chapel Max Muscle and signing autographs for local fans on Saturday, March 24, 11 a.m. Needless to say, store owner Fernando Salas is excited.

“Usually an appearance by [Cutler] draws a big crowd,” he says. “People will be lined up out the door.”

Salas says that part of the proceeds from any sales made that day will be donated to help a local child with spinal atrophy.

Max Muscle, which also has a location on N. Dale Mabry Hwy. in Carrollwood, is not your typical nutritional supplement store, ready to shove giant tubs of putrid protein powder in your face with a guarantee that you will see the results you’re striving toward.

Instead, Salas and his two employees provide in-store nutrition consultations to find out exactly what it is that each customer is trying to accomplish with their fitness/nutrition regimen, and then, using that information, make recommendations from Max Muscle’s exclusive line of supplements that fit into that customer’s personalized plan.

“More than anything, we provide the education necessary for the person to accomplish what they are trying to do,” says Salas. “Whether it is a mom trying to get healthier after she’s had a couple of kids or a person with high blood pressure problems, we tackle pretty much everything (from a nutritional supplement standpoint) with what we sell in the store.”

He said that consultations can last as little as 10 minutes to as long as two hours; it all depends upon how much time the customer has and what they are trying to accomplish.

“The education that we provide can be from very simple to very in-depth,” Salas says. “It all depends on what the person is trying to get, or the amount of time they have. I won’t put into somebody’s hand something that the person does not need. That’s something we don’t do. We pretty much tell you exactly what you need for what you’re telling us you want to do.”

Not only does Salas provide his customers with nutritional supplements to help accomplish their goals, it also provides other tools to assist in the process.

“We build meal plans for people,” he explains. “We help people identify what kinds of foods they should be eating and are able to put that in print due to the fact that we hold a nutrition certification. That’s another thing that sets us apart.”

Salas says that he has customers fill out a form detailing the types of foods that they like to eat and then, using that information, he is able to fashion a meal plan that includes those foods.

“They’re not going to eat something if they don’t like it,” he says. “I have to work around what they like to eat. You have to make the simplest thing for people to follow.”

He says that customers return every two to three weeks so he can measure their body fat percentage to see if the plan is working. If not, he may tweak it a little bit to better suit that specific person.

Max Muscle employees obtain their nutrition certifications from the National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association (NESTA), which offers certificates in a number of different nutrition programs including fitness, sports and even nutrition for kids. After taking a class at their own pace, Max Muscle employees must pass a nutrition exam to receive their “nutrition specialist” certificate.

Salas also has a Bachelor’s degree in nutrition, physical education and sports science from Manuel Sajardo University, the institute for strength, conditioning and nutrition in his native Cuba. He also boasts 14 years of experience in sports and fitness education at a number of Hillsborough County schools, including Chiaramonte, Mendenhall and Lockhart Elementary schools. He says that he went as far as he thought he could in that career and wanted to do something in which he could “call the shots.”

A friend introduced Salas to Max Muscle in 2005 and he says as soon as he met the people behind the scenes — such as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Joe Wells — he was hooked. Max Muscle has been around since 1990 and, according to the website, now has more than 100 franchise stores, with a projected 750 more expected to open in the next five years.

“I loved the concept,” he says. “I love what we do at the store everyday-the educational aspect of the whole business-the line of supplements, their purity, the way they’re manufactured-that’s what made me jump at the opportunity,” he says.

Salas bought the rights to a Max Muscle in 2005 and opened the doors in his current location in the Towne Center of Wesley Chapel plaza in 2009. Since then he has been using the store to educate people about fitness, as well as to give back to the community.

“We provide a lot of free nutrition classes that we teach in the schools,” Salas explains. “We are heavily involved in the education aspect of this industry, so we do a lot of education for the school district.”

He also has appeared at local gyms for special events where he provides free samples of supplements and products for the gym’s members and visitors.


Newton Shines In ‘Max Formation’ Contest

Another way that Max Muscle is involved in the community is through a nationwide body transformation contest called Max Formation. Max Muscle’s corporate entity sponsors and hosts the annual contest, the national winner of which is awarded $25,000. Thousands of people across the U.S. enter each year to see who can accomplish the greatest transformation, based upon weight loss, body mass index (BMI) and body measurements. Among those who competed in 2011, Wesley Chapel resident Darlene Newton made the national top 25 at the age of 47.

“I joined the website in February of 2011,” Newton says. “I blogged every day on the site and added about 25 people that I’ve never met face to face. But, we’ve been very supportive of each other.”

Upon entering, contestants construct their own profile page at They submit a picture of themselves holding a newspaper (to show the date), their beginning weight, BMI and body measurements. Fellow contestants add each other as friends and lend each other support as they each go through the same challenges and changes in losing weight and/or getting into better physical shape. Participants “weigh in” and add a new image once a month to document their “transformation.”

Newton, now 48, remembers her first time walking into Max Muscle.

“I was quite intimidated,” she says. “I took a Max Muscle magazine that Fernando had put on people’s cars in the parking lot with his business card. I read it cover-to-cover and did some research online. I carried it around for weeks before I was comfortable walking in there. I couldn’t have been more wrong (about being intimidated).”

She says that her first visit with Salas lasted more than two hours, mostly due to his welcoming nature and outstanding customer service.

“He made a seemingly difficult process very easy,” she says. “He is such a great source of info. Every time I go in, I end up staying 30-45 minutes.”

During her preparation for the contest, Newton visited Max Muscle weekly. He would test her body fat and give her nutrition recommendations. In addition, Salas also got Newton acquainted with her personal trainer, International Federation of Body Builders (IFBB) pro Mark Antonek.

Newton and Antonek were married this past Valentine’s Day.

Salas says that he hopes that this year’s national winner will be a regular patron of his Wesley Chapel store. He says that he has at least eight people that have signed up on the website for the 2012 contest.

He encourages Wesley Chapel residents who are interested to stop by the store for a free nutrition consultation.

“We provide the in-store experience and quality in our supplement line,” he says. “We have what pretty much no one else in the country has, which is a quality ingredient guarantee. But, the thing that separates us is the education that we provide. One thing we don’t do is sell people out.”

For more information, visit the Wesley Chapel Max Muscle store at 27245 Wesley Chapel Blvd. (S.R. 54) or call 973-9074.


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