Interview: Laurence Shahalei

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Laurence Shahlaei
Europe’s Strongest Man Laurence Shahlaei talks diet, professional rivalries on the competitive strongman circuit and his partner’s shopping ahead of his arrival in the region on 10 December

Hi Laurence. Just how much food do you eat a day?
I try and eat around 6,000 calories a day, split between six or seven meals. My breakfast is 200g of porridge oats blended with protein powder, peanut butter and a banana with 400ml of milk, drunk as a shake. Then most of my meals consist of either chicken or beef with rice and veg, protein shakes before and after training and I finish the day with a tub of cottage cheese before bed. 

Cottage cheese: is that nice?
Sort of... the reason being is cottage cheese is rich in casein protein which is slow-acting. It means you get a constant stream of amino acids into your body as you’re sleeping. Some people actually wake up and eat in the night. I don’t like doing that, so it’s just a good way of getting constant recovery of your muscles. 

Do you ever get to eat for pleasure?
Yeah. After the competition I’ll relax for a while then eat what I want, when I want. At the moment it’s regimented and becomes horrible sometimes. I love ice cream, so I’ll probably be having a tub of Ben & Jerry’s.

You train hard, but it’s the stuff you do outside of training that’s just as important. People think it’s just about the training, but it’s a total lifestyle change. You can’t be going out and getting drunk on the weekend with your mates. You’ve got to make sacrifices. People don’t realise how much you have to sacrifice as a top athlete for your sport. 

How did you become a competitive strongman?
I was always sporty as a kid. I played rugby for the South West; I was British Champion in martial arts. I played table tennis, believe it or not. 

I’d always watch World’s Strongest Man at Christmastime. When I was 21, I saw a show on TV, and wanted to try it so I went to a gym and started training. I then found a competition and went on from there. I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing: I just turned up at this show, did pretty well and got the bug. From there I progressed pretty quickly.

I’ve always been a big, strong kid. As far as I remember, I was always the strongest kid in school, so the transition to this was more natural than for, say, table tennis. 

It’s a really competitive world. Are you all big strong friends?
The guys are all friends actually. It’s a fairly small community: most of us know each other fairly well. Sometimes we train with each other. When it’s competition time, we all want to win – there’s no hiding that – but afterwards, we tend to get on really well. We’ll maybe all go and have a drink together after the competition. Hapthór Björnsson [The Mountain in Game of Thrones, whose super yoke world record Laurence is trying to beat on 10 December] is an incredible competitor but I beat him last time we competed.

Do you watch Game of Thrones?
I keep meaning to get into it. It’s one of those things. I’ve been watching The Walking Dead at the moment, and I think I’ll start Game of Thrones in the New Year.

I presume you’ll be cheering every time he gets attacked.
(laughs) No, I’m good friends with Hapthór. It’s all good.

Strongman competitions are undergoing a resurgence. Why do you think that is?
I think the whole fitness industry in general has become busier because people want to look good, get stronger and fitter. People pick what they want to do; they go to a gym and don’t enjoy doing loads of cardio so they do lifting and enjoy that. They then get into strength sports like powerlifting or strongman. It’s just become a lot more accessible. There are different weight classes. You don’t have to be the big, huge, freaky strong guy. Women compete. It’s become so much more popular.

What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever lifted?
We’ve done competitions where we lift people attached to different implements. That was interesting. They’re usually sat on a super yoke, where there are four people as weights rather than weights as the actual weights. 

Do you introduce yourself to them? ‘Hello, I’m Laurence and I’m going to be lifting you today’?
Not usually. When I’m competing, I’m so focused on what I’ve got to do that anything like that goes out the window. When I’m in that zone I’m focused. 

What else do you lift or pull in competitions?
We do lots of strange things, like pulling aeroplanes, flipping cars. The first thing I ever pulled was a small truck. The funny thing with vehicle pulls is that sometimes it can be harder than a plane, depending on the surface you pull it up. A seven-tonne truck on a slight incline becomes very difficult, while a plane on a flat surface isn’t as hard. 

Do you get roped in to lifting things in your downtime?
People are always volunteering me to lift stuff. Someone volunteered me to lift a piano once. I’ve been helpful before: there was a lady stuck in some snow a few years ago and I managed to get her back on the road. I got some purchase on the concrete and shot it across so the tyres could then drive off. 

Have you ever had a humiliating failure at lifting anything?
Speak to my partner. I can carry 200kgs in a farmer’s walk for 50 metres, but if she asks me to walk around town with her shopping bags, there’s no chance. 

Laurence Shahlaei will be competing alongside 11 other competitors at Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena on 10 December as part of the Ultimate Strongman World Championship. Visit www.metroradioarena.co.uk for more information, including how to book tickets.

Published in: December 2016

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