The GLP-1 Takeover in North America: Threat or Opportunity?

GLP-1, a medication primarily used for treating type 2 diabetes, has gained widespread attention for its weight loss benefits. Keepme's Amy McDermott delves into how GLP-1 works, its impact on the fitness industry, and why gyms should incorporate programs to support those on this medication. Stay ahead of the curve and learn how you can leverage this trend for better gym member engagement and retention.
Amy McDermott
Amy McDermott
May 24th, 2024
The GLP-1 Takeover in North America: Threat or Opportunity?

What is GLP-1?

We have all heard about it. Whether that is in reference to the surprisingly fast weight loss among some of the Hollywood elite recently, or in hushed tones as your friend admits that their cousin has been on it. But what actually IS it? And how does it work?


GLP-1 stands for Glucagon-Like Peptide-1. It's a hormone that plays a crucial role in maintaining blood sugar levels. After you eat, GLP-1 is released in your intestines and signals your pancreas to produce insulin, which helps lower blood sugar. It also slows down how quickly food leaves your stomach, which helps you feel full longer and can reduce your appetite.

GLP-1 Brands: Ozempic, Wegovy & Saxenda

Names you might be more familiar with, Ozempic, Wegovy and Saxend are brands of GLP-1 drugs that have recently been approved for weight-loss and management. Ozempic in particular is a medication that has been primarily used to treat type 2 diabetes, and has been doing so successfully for nearly 20 years. It helps control blood sugar levels by mimicking the GLP-1 hormone in your body that regulates insulin. When you eat, your body naturally releases insulin to help manage your blood sugar. People with type 2 diabetes often struggle with this process, and GLP-1 drugs help to enhance it.

How do these drugs work?

Ozempic, and other semaglutide drugs, are GLP-1 analogues. This means they mimic the action of the GLP-1 hormone. By activating the GLP-1 receptors in your body, they can help increase insulin production when needed and decrease the amount of glucose your liver produces. This dual action helps to lower blood sugar levels and, in some cases, aids in weight loss, which is an additional benefit for many patients with type 2 diabetes.

Science lesson over.

Why is it so exciting?

It is no secret that the US has a serious obesity problem, with 41.9% of adults having obesity, (TFAH) and a study predicted that by 2030, there will be an additional 65 million obese adults in the US.

The possibility of combatting this without an entire upheaval of the food industry, or all of a sudden convincing an entire nation to exercise? That’s exciting. (even for exercise facilities - bear with me!)

Of course, while it seems like a miracle drug at the moment - we must note that it has only been used in the past 2-3 years in non-diabetics and therefore we have no oversight of potential long-term side effects. And the short term effects? Johan Hari does a good job of outlining the 12 main ones to consider in his book ‘Magic Pill’. They include:

  • Nausea

  • Increased risk of pancreatitis

  • Increased risk of thyroid cancer

  • Significant muscle loss

How has it Impacted the Industry?

We have witnessed a shift in the goals of the ‘fitness industry’ as a whole over the past few years, particularly in North America. We see more and more wellness style boutiques popping up, and the rebrand of industry stalwart IHRSA to ‘Health and Fitness Association’ is representative of the changing priorities of North Americans.

Americans are less focused solely on fitness, and more focused on their health as a whole. A paper by Murphy Research, indicated that Gen Z and Millenials (12-43 y/os) are interested in ‘inclusive wellness’ and ‘experimenting with new tech’ as opposed to Gen X and Boomers (44-78) who are more interested in maintaining muscle mass and long term health. The industry has been reacting to these changing needs.

A number of companies are now partnering with healthcare providers in a bid to be able to offer customers and members GLP-1 prescriptions:

  • Costco will offer its members access to weight-loss programs, including prescription drugs Ozempic and Wegovy, from online healthcare services provider Sesame, as the companies expanded their partnership. (Reuters)

  • Lifetime Fitness launched the Miora Longevity and Performance clinic late last year, which offers popular wellness therapies, including GLP-1 drugs, if successful, they plan to expand the clinic to their 170+ locations (Athletech news)

  • Xponential Fitness, the parent company of boutique brands such as Club Pilates, Rumble, and Pure Barre, has acquired a chain of weight loss medical clinics in Southern California. These clinics are staffed with doctors authorized to prescribe GLP-1 medications. (CNN Business)

Is it a threat or an opportunity for gyms?

Like most things in life - it totally depends how you decide to respond to it. 

It’s easy to think “Well if people can lose weight by taking a drug, it is going to be harder than ever to get new members in through the doors, and easier than ever to see them leave.” But this might not be the case.

It has been reported that when someone takes weight loss drugs such as Ozempic, as much as 20-30% of the weight they lose, is actually muscle. (Magic Pill) Anyone in fitness, wellness, healthcare - knows this is not a good thing, particularly for when we reach later life.

Dr. Peter Attia, a prominent physician, has highlighted this issue, noting that patients on Ozempic may lose muscle mass at an alarming rate, which is a significant concern for overall health. He emphasizes that maintaining a healthy body composition is more critical than just reducing weight​, as well as the importance of eating enough protein and exercising to retain muscle. (Medical Daily). And therein lies the opportunity for gyms.

Gyms can capitalize on this by offering specialized programs that focus on resistance training and muscle preservation, tailored specifically for those taking weight loss medications like Ozempic. 

By providing targeted fitness plans, nutritional advice, and professional guidance, gyms can support these individuals in achieving balanced weight loss that includes both fat reduction and muscle maintenance. This approach not only addresses the physical needs of this growing user base but also positions gyms as essential partners in their health journey, fostering a more holistic approach to weight management and overall well-being​.

Equinox have not missed a beat here, and have already outlined a “GLP-1 protocol”. Coined an ‘internal education program’ they will offer training for members who are on these weight loss drugs, educating them on muscle preservation and healthy habits to maintain weight loss (webMD). 

What does it mean for me?

It means, if you aren’t already - you should be paying attention and forming your strategy accordingly. This is not a trend, fad or exclusive only to the Hollywood elite. 

Novo Nordisk, the company who produces Ozempic, has the patent until 2033, when it will expire. When it expires and other companies release their own versions of the drug, then it will be widely accessible. (Bloomberg Law). Analysts have also predicted that Ozempic could be subject to the next round of price cuts in Medicare’s drug price negotiation.

So if you are a single site club in smalltown Oregon thinking ‘this doesn't apply to me’, think again!

Advice to action now:

  • Train your staff on the impact of these medications and encourage them to follow the news in relation to it

  • Start building your own ‘GLP-1 protocol’ and have programs specifically geared towards muscle retention and fat loss 

  • When a new member signs up, ask if they are on GLP-1 medication as part of the onboarding process

  • Put a note in the contract saying if they start a GLP-1 medication, they need to notify you

  • Become an educator - people taking the medication may not realize they need to resistance train to keep muscle, produce content that is educational in nature on this. (The Fitness Industry's First Content Generator can help you here)

This means that in the future you will be able to segment your members into those who are on GLP-1 and tailor your messaging to them effectively. 

In the same way you have your current demographic and behavioral ‘data points’ on members such as age, gender, class attendance and may already tailor your messaging based on these, you will be able to target GLP-1 taking members. You might want to send them a tailored educational nutrition series on how to increase protein intake, send them an offer for x10 resistance training sessions or offer them a voucher for a free protein shake based on good attendance figures. 

You get my drift, by starting to collect this data now and utilizing a campaigns and automations suite such as Keepme offers, you will take your tailored messaging to a whole new level.

It is important to note, that before you start to embrace these possibilities, you should get input from a nutritionist/dietician before providing dietary advice. And also when creating training plans take into account that due to the hunger reduction effect of these medications, these members are likely to be less ‘fueled’ for their gym sessions compared to other gym goers.

How can I use this to attract new members? 

This development in health care unlocks a whole new audience. While historically you may have targeted students because you are situated close to a university, families because you have a wide range of facilities or young professionals because you are close to a city center - these groups all had one thing in common, a want to exercise.

People taking these weight loss drugs are less likely to have wanted to visit a gym and now, may only be doing so because it is a recommended accompaniment to their medication. They will therefore, require and respond to a different approach than your usual members. 

There is a huge opportunity here. Get out infront of local competitors and promote your ‘GPL-1 protocol’, position yourself as a welcoming environment for people who may be out of their comfort zone and provide them with the highly personalized experience that consumers have come to expect in all walks of life these days. 

If you have an integrated tours and trials booking tool like Keepme Scheduler, you will be able to create a tour booking page which is not only branded, but can include wording and information applicable to this specific audience. This will help them see from the get go that you are a club which not only understands their position, but wants to help them on their journey to becoming healthier.

Like I mentioned before about segmenting your members to send personalized messages, you can do the same thing with leads. Keepme’s automated Lead Scoring puts your leads in order of those most likely to convert you can then set up a filter criteria which may look something like this:

  • Has a lead score of 60 or more

  • Attended a tour within the past 10 days

  • “GLP-1 medicated” marked yes

  • Age marked 40 or more

When someone meets this criteria for this automation they will then be automatically enrolled in a communication sequence which may include a combination of email, SMS and whatsapp messages including an invite to a monthly evening hosted by the gym nutritionist specifically for Ozempic users, discounted offers for attending resistance training classes, an invite for a 1-2-1 session with a PT to showcase the resistance training machines and how to use them.

Sizing it all up

Basically, this is a huge opportunity and not to be feared by gyms and fitness clubs. The best thing you can be doing as an operator is keeping an eye on what the experts and analysts have to say on the topic. Once you have educated yourself on the topic, start putting together a ‘GLP-1 Protocol’ as part of your 2024/25 strategy for attracting new members.

Operators who are proactive will come out on top here, rather than waiting for everyone else to do it and following suit.

Ready to find out more?

If you're keen to stay ahead of what's trending, you'll be amazed by how your gym data can predict the future.

Book a discovery call to see how Keepme can unlock it.