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Fitness & Health

19th Aug 2015

How British nutritionist gave CrossFit Games athletes ‘beginners’ gains’ with this revolutionary food science

This will change the way you think about nutrition forever...

Ben Kenyon

If you didn’t take nutrition seriously before, then this will change your whole world…

Matt Hodges is not your average nutritionist – he works with some of the fittest people on the planet…and makes them even fitter.

Hodges does this not with some secret supplement or pushing them harder in training, instead he squeezes an extra 5-10% performance out his elite athletes through pure nutrition alone.

It’s something Team USA does incredibly well, but elite British sport is seriously lagging behind…until now.

Like some mad scientist, the Somerset nutritionist doesn’t work in grams. He measures his athletes’ macro nutrients down to the nearest milligram and puts this clients through weeks of testing and research to see how they react to nutrition in order to optimise their training diets. The results speak for themselves.

Four of his athletes made it to the Reebok CrossFit Games 2015 – with Sara Sigmundsdottir missing out on becoming the World’s Fittest Woman in the final event but still finishing an incredible third in her debut year.

Lancashire CrossFitter Steve Fawcett, who finished 26th at Games, added 20kg to his 180kg back squat in just two months by tweaking his diet alone – gains it had taken him three years to accomplish previously.

Team GB Weightlifting prodigy Sonny Webster, only the fourth Brit ever to lift 200kg overhead, was reportedly drug tested because his strength and conditioning had sky-rocketed so much under Hodges’ nutritional guidance.

So how the hell does he do it? JOE spoke to the Buff Box Nutrition owner to find out how he is pushing the boundaries of performance nutrition in Britain…

Why has it made such a big impact so quickly?

It’s something that is taking the CrossFit community’s attention. I’m fortunate to be working with Sara (Sigmundsdottir).

I’ve been running tests with Sara for the past couple of weeks now doing different things with her, seeing what reacts well with her as a person and portion sizes.

It’s just facilitating her in the best way we can because her training is going to be so intense but she can’t really make it (food) herself.

Will this change the way we look at nutrition in British sport?

I think it will help the British economy in how they view food. The reason we are so far behind everyone else is firstly because of our training methods, but also massively because of our nutrition.

I went to Steve Fawcett a number of months ago and said the reason I want to work with you is not because I want to make a shed load of money,  it’s all about creating the elite athlete in England. The work I’ve managed to do with Steve, and hopefully Hayley (Knowles – British CrossFitter), with Sonny Webster (GB Weightlifting), is to be able to create that elite athlete.

Sonny Webster is a British Weightlifting hopeful for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, what’s it like working with him?

Sonny was in the British championships the other weekend. He’s the fourth person ever in England to put 200kg above his head and he’s only 21.

His conditioning has just come on so fast since starting the plan. He did something really interesting. Sonny clean and jerked 120kg for 30 reps. British Weightlifting sent someone to drug test him the day after that. Maybe you could understand why. That’s when we got the call from Loughborough and that’s why we got the stuff for the GB Weightlifting team.

It’s kind of a backhanded compliment that your meal plans are so effective they had to test him to make sure?

Yeah massively.  It was quite funny. The video got posted. He beat Steve (at 30 clean and jerks). Everyone’s money was on Steve to win because British weightlifters shouldn’t be able to lift any more than 10 reps. They’re absolutely blowing.  He did 30 reps in seven and a half minutes. His strength is there and he’s obviously got great technique, but what was really amazing was that his conditioning was really there and didn’t let him down.

What have you looked at in taking these athletes to the next level?

For me it’s all about case studies. I don’t believe in books…books p*ss me off. I love people’s research and I read a lot into that. Books tell me there’s a right and wrong answer in nutrition which I think is bulls**t. I literally don’t believe in it.

Everyone’s body is so different. I could tell you one set of things for Steve and it would be completely different for Sonny.

It’s a matter of running different tests with the guys in their off season. It’s about having the same respect for their food that they have for their training. The same with Hayley and Sara, I’m very fortunate with these guys that I can do what I have done with them and then be able to reflect upon it.

Are a lot of people doing this kind of case by case research and reflecting on performance?

No. It p*sses me off in England that people understand healthy food but they don’t understand performance food. Performance-based food is all about that client, is about that individual, is about the training programme and it takes a lot of time and effort.

But people generally don’t like putting a lot of effort in in England. They will tell them roughly how many macros they have to eat and work it out on MyFitnessPal and then go to the supermarket and buy it.

There are so many misdemeanours in there because MyFitnessPal isn’t exact as it should be. The consumers themselves won’t be putting them in the exact way they should be. Then the actual meats that they’re buying aren’t great because the supermarket produce can be full of steroids, vitamins and growth hormones. Then there’s the cooking process too. So they’ve got four misdemeanours there before they’ve even started. So that’s why when people do Buff Box they see results straight away.

So you’re looking at everything down to the last calorie or gram of protein?

I will weight the macro nutrients down to the milligram. We don’t deal in grams. For me it’s as serious as it gets. It doesn’t get taken that seriously, but for me it’s as serious as programming. If you want to programme an individual. Tino (Marini – Invictus) has got 40 clients where he individualises every specific training plan for that person to make sure he gets the best out of them. For me that’s the same but with nutrition.

People think they’re doing the right thing and getting the right nutrition with their chicken breasts and rice, but is that way off the mark?

You see people overeating and stuff. We work with a guy called Richard who’s the head nutritionist from Scottish Rugby Union. I’m working with them to set up some of their boys’ food for match days for when they’re travelling.

He tells me about their meals on a Sunday after the game on Saturday and they just go to a carvery or somewhere because they just want to get in as much food as possible and get their proteins in and carbs.

But they can’t just look at the protein and say ‘that’s my protein for the day’. Firstly it’s the worst meat possible, because carveries will get the cheapest stuff in they can. Plus you’ve got Joe Bloggs in the kitchen who’s left it in the oven to cook overnight then you’ve got it left under a hot lamp for six hours. So once it’s gone through all this you’re got 50% of the nutrients in that piece of meat.

So then they have to eat twice the amount. But if you eat twice the amount of that meat you’ve still got the same circumference of food but you’ve not got the same amount of nutrients within it. So then you have to burn off the excess calories and burn off the excess meat to be able to get any results.

So it’s not just a case of eating as much protein or food as you can and think ‘I’ve ticked that box’?

If you think about your body like a train you need to put a certain amount of coal in that train so the fire will burn. If you put too much coal into that train then the fire goes out because there’s too much in. Your body is very much the same – if you put too much food in it then it needs to use the calories to burn through that food rather than putting it down on the map.

A lot of my guys will tell me they’re still hungry even after they’ve had a meal – that to me is perfect. They’ve eaten the food, it’s gone down and I know there’s enough macros within that meal, but their metabolism is on fire.

If they want to surpress their appetite, they can have a big glass of water or a small handful of nuts. But then they can go and train half an hour afterwards. If I gave them a massive load of food, what’s their body going to do with that? What good is that where they feel full? It might be fine for Joe Bloggs, but its not fine for an athlete that trains three times a day.

What kind of gains have your athletes seen switching from sorting their own diet out?

I don’t want to sit here and blow my own trumpet. Speak to the athletes themselves like Steve or Hayley. Hayley has massively changed – she has changed as a person. The difference in her body is incredible. She is the lightest shes ever been but she’s hitting numbers that she’s never hit before.

Steve put on 20kg on his backsquat in just over two and a half months. He hadn’t done that in three years. His rep max was like 180kg when I met him, so you’re looking at going from 155kg to 180kg took him three years. To go from 190kg to 200kg took him two months. You tell that to anybody…

Why is Britain so far behind in terms of nutrition?

It’s 100% a lack of respect. In the States, when athetes are kids they are at schools where they’re fed by people that know what they’re feeding them.

Generally they feed them too much, because that’s the American way, but they’re always interested in eating. Food is massive in America, but in England it’s just not.

I work with Pete Howe who used to be on the Olympic bobsleigh team. He showed me a book the Olympic nutritionists gave to him and it shows what he had to eat for the day. They were eating croissants, ham and cheese – absolute crap that wasn’t having any effect on their performance, it was just putting food in their bellies.

That was coming from the GB squad. They would go into a hotel, which would always be a continental breakfast if they were away.

Then they were told to grab food from the continental breakfast to take with them because they’d be out training all day. Crazy.

Can this formula work for any sport? Like strongmen? Footballers? Even normal people?

Last year I helped someone lose seven stone in 18 months. A guy called Paul McVeigh. He was very interesting. He was 22st and could hardly sit down properly supporting his own weight. I think it was November time and I was training with him and he was squatting 140kg weighing 15st. He’s now out working in new Zealand. It literally opened up a whole new world for him.

We work with Scottish Rugby Union guys. I work with guys with cystic fibrosis. They’ve been getting their food from the NHS which is generally a microwave meal. It’s made massive changes. One of the girls was 7st – nothing to her, ill all the time and in and out of hospital. Now she does competitive pole dancing after putting 2 or 3 stone on.

How do you find what works for different athletes?

I work with some of the best performance athletes in the country because I’ve worked with them, they’ve put their trust in me and we’ve found the answers. Not because I went to a university where someone once found an answer to something and it as written in a book somewhere.

All these in depth, crackers things people talk about: carb fasting, not eating carbs after 6pm, not eating two hours before you go to bed, when you wake up you need a glass of water to get your metabolism going. Cool – that’s fine.

But if you’re a performance athlete like Steve, he will eat a bowl of porridge before he goes to bed because we found out that’s better for him to fuel his early morning session than if he doesn’t.