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Adam Feature Image - The Man Shake

How a Footy Legend Built a $400M Fitness Empire From His Garage

In Partnership with The Man Shake


No athlete ever dreams of the day they retire. For most, the daunting, albeit inevitable realisation that sport is not forever comes all too soon and in an instant, a chapter can close. In truth, few athletes can admit when it’s time to hang up the boots, it is simply not part of their DNA. But for Adam MacDougall, the prospect of sporting mortality had always been at the back of his mind.

As one of rugby league’s toughest and most enduring characters, the man known affectionately as ‘Mad Dog’ had carved out a Hall of Fame career, earning a legion of fans in the process, and it hadn’t come easy. Countless injuries saw a career that spanned three decades culminate in less than 200 first-grade games, and when his beloved Newcastle Knights were bundled out of the 2011 NRL finals, he knew it was time to face up to reality. What happened next, changed his life forever.

“When I was transitioning out of football into retirement, the first step that I took was into commentary and training of NRL players,” he explains. “Unfortunately, at that same time, I had a huge moment in my life that changed the whole projection of it. I lost my best mate to a heart attack.”

“It was something that I would never have predicted, but he was working so hard at pushing the bank balance as a priority, rather than himself. Then when he passed away suddenly in his early 40s, I thought ‘Wow, did this really happen?’ So I looked into it, and I was shocked to see that it was more common than uncommon for a lot of people to, unfortunately, be overweight and not healthy.”

As a professional athlete who first emerged on the scene in the 1990s and played well into the mid-2000s, MacDougall had seen the evolution of nutrition and sports science first-hand. It had never occurred to him that he could apply the lessons he’d learned in his playing career to a world outside of the footy field, but the tragic passing of his best mate completely altered his outlook on life. Suddenly, the NRL legend had a new purpose.

“It became a passion project for us, bringing awareness and trying to find a solution to a big problem and the real pandemic that we’re all facing as men; our hope and health eroding in front of our eyes, and we didn’t have any practical solution for it.”

“Having a heart attack isn’t uncommon for men in particular. There’s a lot of confusion and helplessness about how to go about being healthy and lose weight,” he said. “I started looking around, and I just noticed just how hard it was for the average person.

The husband and wife duo went from a stable income to risk-taking entrepreneurs overnight. Starting an empire from their garage, they sold any assets that they had, ignored naysayers in the food and beverage industry, and took the risk of a lifetime with the end goal of helping Aussie blokes lose weight. What they didn’t expect to do was completely change the stigma around men’s weight loss in the process, making it more attainable, more attractive, and practical for all blokes.

“I was in Queensland for the State of Origin walking down Caxton Street with Petero Civoniceva. The first 100 metres into the walk, a lot of blokes started yelling ‘Aye Lockyer’, and I started putting my hands up because, obviously, all blokes with no hair looked alike at the time.

I see these three big blokes charging towards me and I think ‘Oh no I’m in trouble here’. And then one of them stuck his hand out to me and said ‘I want to thank you mate.

I loved to hate you when you played for New South Wales, but man, I love you now because I get to drink beer and lose weight and get that product actually works.’ That was a moment for me where I was like, wow, rather than being abused by a Queenslander. He’s thanking me.”

As MacDougall explains, staying in control is one of life’s toughest challenges. Whether that means sticking to your New Year’s resolutions, maintaining a healthy work-life balance, or something as simple as preparing for the upcoming footy season.

Sadly, too many men are losing control and the first thing to go is their health. The world is a confusing enough place without having to think about what you’re putting in your mouth, and when work gets a hold of you, life outside of the office becomes a priority. Food and your diet are often the first things to go.

“My biggest piece of advice is to be in control of your appetite,” MacDougall tells me. “Having a protein-first approach is a pretty simple and effective approach when you’re training for things like the footy season. If you want to go run on a treadmill, you’ll be shocked after an hour to see how few calories you burn. Compared to the gain you have from a dare iced coffee and a pie for lunch, good luck, you’re gonna strap yourself to the treadmill for a while.”

Speaking with the former NRL star, you really get a sense that he understands the challenge faced by Aussie men. In his words, most people associate losing weight with losing something. Whether that’s the ability to go out and be social, their favourite food, or time by having to spend countless hours at the gym to try and burn some calories. MacDougall’s goal with The Man Shake was to completely avoid that kind of thinking.

Working with local scientists and nutrition experts from Sydney University, the footballer-turned-entrepreneur employed a theory around hunger that was based on ‘protein leveraging hypothesis’.

“That’s the science, brains, and the magic sauce of our products. It’s super high in protein, it’s got all these things that keep you full and reduce that, that feeling of hunger.”

“In simple terms, the human body will continue to crave food, if it doesn’t meet its nutritional requirements, in particular protein,” MacDougall explains. “So if you don’t get enough protein to rebuild your muscles, your tissue, and give it what it needs to be sustainable, the human body is going to continue to be hungry.”

Ten years on, MacDougall’s dream of developing a sustainable solution for weight management and health is thriving. The former NRL player is continuing to shift perceptions, break barriers and restart the conversation around men’s health, and he’s doing with the backing of some of the nation’s biggest and brightest. Just last year, MacDougall sold a majority stake in The Man Shake’s parent company Cranky Health business for AUD$400 million, citing plans to expand across the ditch as the catalyst. It’s a far cry from the business that he started in his garage, but Mad Dog’s mission has not changed.

“I’m very fortunate every day, that I get to see so many guys take ownership of their health. That’s the biggest thing that I’m proud of, I think I’ve helped change the stigma around men’s weight loss. No longer is it something to be embarrassed about, because I remember when I first started the business, I would get guys emailing me and asking, ‘Whatever you do, can you please not send it in any sort of packaging that people know I’m trying to lose weight’.

“I don’t for one minute pretend to know how hard it is for people that are starting their journey at 100 plus kilos or have never exercised before or don’t know how many calories are in certain foods because I got paid to understand that stuff as an athlete. So the thing I’m proudest of is that we’ve given people the confidence to feel that they can take control of their health and their life.”

“Your health is a reflection upon your self worth, and your self esteem. Sometimes, we unknowingly sabotage our health to justify our mental predisposition of where we are as far as our self esteem goes. So we look at ourselves and think we’re not worthy, or we’re not good enough. That then is reflected in the choices you make around our health. So we punish ourselves and become overweight or don’t exercise because we don’t think that we’re worthy to be healthy or have a great life.”

If you want to get back in control of your health, pick up a packet of The Man Shake at the brand’s website linked below. My favourite flavours are banana, GO! Mocha, Choc Honeycomb, and Vanilla, but I highly recommend grabbing yourself a few different flavours as part of the Buy 3 Get 1 Free deal.

Check Out The Man Shake