Interview: Brian Shaw Talks the Zombie Apocalypse and Conditioning Secrets

We sat down with Brian Shaw in the midst of the 2019 World's Strongest Man event.

Don’t try to talk to Brian Shaw when it’s time for him to eat.

Trotting alongside his massive, 6’8” frame in the Florida heat toward the air-conditioned World’s Strongest Man athletes’ tent, the four-time WSM winner was trying to escape throngs of selfie-grabbing fans.  And he was on a mission.

“Hustle, guys, I gotta go eat.”

“OK, but just one more, I gotta eat, guys.”

“Hustle, hustle, hustle. I gotta eat.”

His nice guy image is true to life — he gave a solid dozen pictures after telling them he had no more time to wait — and when it was just the two of us making our way backstage, I thought I’d try to save him some time by asking some questions before we sat down.

“Brian, your performance has been phenomenal so far, have you changed anything with regards to your recovery methods since last year’s competition?”

Eyes fixed on the athletes’ tent: “I eat.”

I closed my notebook. Maybe I’d better wait until he ate.

brian shaw selfie
BarBend editors: Not great at rushed selfies.

Ten minutes later I was beckoned into the tent and a sated Brian Shaw gave me his full attention. It was the end of Day 3 of the 2019 World’s Strongest Man, and Shaw had done so well during the first two days of the qualifying events that he had no need to compete on Day 3. He had accrued 19 points, tying for first place with fellow American Martins Licis, who would go on to be named the 2019 champion the next day.

[See the full results of the 2019 World’s Strongest Man!]

BarBend: You’ve had a spectacular showing so far. Have you changed anything about how you train in the last year?

Brian Shaw: I mean, I always try to evolve and get better and go back to the drawing board and look at where I can improve what weaknesses I have. The goal every year is to come in better. That’s the biggest thing. I feel like this year coming in, my prep has gone well. It was certainly challenging, I’ve got a very busy schedule so I had to work around a lot of things coming in. But I feel really good, I obviously made it through the qualifiers here and I’m just getting ready for the final.

BarBend: I had a great question from one of our readers: If you had to face the zombie apocalypse with another strongman, who would you pick?

I can only pick one: I would say Eddie Hall. I think we’d have a good time.

BarBend: You know, when I asked Eddie Hall who he’d want to be stuck on a desert island with, he picked you. Sounds like you guys make a good pair!

Brian Shaw: We should do a zombie apocalypse and then go to a desert island.

BarBend: That’s how it usually ends!

[Read that full interview with Eddie Hall here.]

BarBend: So, I read in a New Yorker article that during your basketball career, a player knocked himself out running into your chest. One video of yours that really resonated with our readers was the one about how you navigate life as a very large man. Do you ever wish you were smaller?

Brian Shaw: I can’t say I’ve ever regretted it, but there’s definitely been moments I’ve broken chairs, broken beds, broken couches. And it’s not like I’m trying to do that, it just happens.

So I mean, certainly when you go to a restaurant and the chair breaks or you can’t fit in the chair, those moments are always interesting. But I think as a big guy you just have to embrace it. It’s just part of my normal life. To somebody else it’s very unusual.

BarBend: Let’s talk about training. One slightly unconventional thing about Eddie Hall’s training is that he has a big focus on swimming for conditioning. What would you say is something unconventional about your own training that gives you an edge?

Brian Shaw: I think for me one of the big factors that people don’t think about is that I train in Colorado at elevation all year round. It’s basically at a mile-high elevation where I do all my training, and I think that it really helps with my overall conditioning and with my recovery as well.

BarBend: What’s a mistake you see a lot of newer strongmen make when it comes to training?

Brian Shaw: New guys coming in have to learn about themselves and how to prepare for a big contest. Every contest is a little bit different, all the events are constantly changing so you have to learn how to prepare for those events.

Probably one of the biggest mistakes is that newer guys tend to train the events they‘re very good at, because they’re fun for them and it’s easy for them. A big mistake is neglecting the events you’re not good at, because to be a good strongman you have to be well rounded.

[Learn more: 7 Strongman Lifts Every Athlete Can Benefit From.]

BarBend: Your longevity in the sport is remarkable. What are some of your strategies to maximize longevity in the sport as you age?

Brian Shaw: There are a lot of things that’ll lead to longevity. Training smart, not overtraining, not beating myself up unnecessarily.

Nutrition is a huge part of it, making sure I’m eating the right things. And then all the recovery work, I mean I’m constantly going to treatment sessions, working on myself, doing hot and cold baths three or four times a week, there are a lot of things that happen outside of training for recovery that are very important. So it’s kind of a combination of everything, really.

BarBend: You touched on nutrition here; I understand you follow Stan Efferding’s Vertical Diet.

Brian Shaw: I do, yep.

[See our full guide to The Vertical Diet.]

BarBend: So besides all the salt and red meat, what’s a nutrition tip that you feel has helped your performance a lot?

Brian Shaw: I think when it comes to nutrition, the biggest thing you need to do is constantly be fueling your body. I’m eating basically every two to three hours all day long, and that’s a big thing. If you’re only eating two or three meals a day your body can’t process it as well, so it’s kind of having those more frequent meals by eating a lot.

And then of course, you want your body to be able to digest what you’re eating. So that’s a big part of the Vertical Diet, improving overall gut health.

BarBend: Right, the Vertical Diet limits FODMAPs, right? Foods like cruciferous vegetables, foods that are hard to process for people with digestive problems like IBS.

Brian Shaw: Yeah, basically I don’t want to eat anything that irritates me.

BarBend: Especially when you’re eating 12,000 calories a day.

Brian Shaw: Exactly. With that amount of food, if I were eating things that were causing me digestion problems it would be a nightmare.

BarBend: Are there any supplements that you find particularly useful in your training?

Brian Shaw: All the supplements I take are from RedCon1. They have an MRE shake, which is all whole foods that are in there. So basically, if you get a plate of foods that are healthy, they’ve essentially made that into a meal replacement shake that I use.

And they’ve got a full line of supplements that I take before during, and after training, and for me that really helps me. The biggest window I look at is around the training session so what I take then is a big, big benefit. That combined with the whole foods I eat is perfect.

BarBend: I wrote about your 20,000-calorie Taco Bell challenge. Is that still your least favorite cheat meal you’ve ever done?

Brian Shaw: Yes. That was awful. It was not fun at all.

BarBend: What’s your favorite cheat meal?

Brian Shaw: Oh, I’ve always gravitated toward pizza and cheesecake.

BarBend: Last question: Who is an athlete from a different sport that you admire?

Brian Shaw: Gosh, that is a tough one. I always looked up to Michael Jordan. He was in his prime as I was growing up and his drive to win and to be competitive in every situation is something I definitely related to.

The fact that he was winning and he would still go back and practice and train to be better and to come back and win again and win again, that resonated with me because that’s what I was trying to do too.

Getting into strongman, it wasn’t about winning one time, it was about winning again and again and again. So if I had to pick one athlete, it’s just that competitive fire, competitive nature that I always saw in him. But there are so many other great athletes out there that you can take stuff like that away from as well.

BarBend: Great. Good luck tomorrow. Are there any projects coming up you’d like our readers to know about?

Brian Shaw: I’ve been filming a TV show for the History Channel with Robert Oberst, Nick Best, and Eddie Hall called The Strongest Man in History. That premiers on July 10 at 10pm EST.

BarBend: Great! Looking forward to watching it. Thanks for your time.

[See our preview of The Strongest Man in History here.]

Featured image via @shawstrength on Instagram.