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Arrival Of The Fittest

Introducing the wellness entrepreneurs who are changing the shape of Britain

For Britain’s most wholesome entrepreneurs, it’s not enough to squeeze high-intensity workouts and protein shakes between meetings – they are turning their health obsessions into a business, swapping their suits for Lycra and riding a wellness wave that is washing over us all like never before.

We speak to the web millionaire behind a space-age powder that he says spells the end of food as we know it; two brothers who quit the staid world of professional golf for the beards and tattoos of CrossFit; and the Diet Coke man and pet store entrepreneur who has become the Mr Jamie Oliver of juice.

The fifth man, a Belgian coffee entrepreneur, is channelling this movement – and an industry now worth more than £20bn in the UK alone – into the first festival of its kind. Balance Festival in east London will welcome more than 16,000 fitness fans to a celebration of the latest trends in sport and nutrition – and provide a platform for entrepreneurs like these gentlemen. Because, away from the giants of the market, from Nike and adidas to the big players in nutrition and the corporate gym chains, they all have certain qualities in common: enviable physiques, and an understanding of a new landscape where there are serious carbs to be burned, and serious money to be made.

Mr Andrew Cooper

Mr Andrew Cooper, 35, is a Manchester-born model turned pet-shop owner and hotshot juicer. He got scouted as a teenager while shopping in London and went on to star in a Diet Coke ad (you might remember him: he flexed his pecs while mowing a lawn). Today, he part owns The Mutz Nutz pet boutique in Notting Hill, west London, and last year launched the Juiceman brand, with a recipe book and line of cold-press cleanses available on his website. He lives in Buckinghamshire with his wife and two young children.

How did you come to be the “Diet Coke man”?

I was flattered to be asked to do it, and it was a lot of fun. But it blew up a bit, virally. It worried me that it would be a defining part of my career. But, if I’m honest, it also makes it easier to get meetings.

What’s with all the juice – how did you get into it?

Part of it is my upbringing. My mum’s quite holistic and I reckon she must have had one of the first juicers in the UK. It took about 10 steps to make a glass and I can’t say they all tasted great. Then when I started modelling, I got obsessed with the whole modern juicing boom in New York and LA. I got a cold-press juicer in 2013 and started messing around with flavours and recipes.

What’s your favourite juice?

I’m massively into the shots, so this time of year, I’m doing a lot of lemon, ginger and turmeric, or celery and cayenne pepper. There’s one in the book called Thai Green, with coriander, ginger, pineapple and whatever greens I’ve got around.

Do you eat anything unhealthy occasionally?

A lot. My kids bring them to the table. I’m obsessed with ice cream and cheesecake and if I go to someone’s house, I’m not picky or worthy with food. As long as it fresh and feels like it’s farmed right, I’m happy.

Mr Julian Hearn

Mr Julian Hearn, 44, was a marketing executive for big retailers before he gave up his commute to run an online voucher codes company from his home in Aylesbury. Three years later, he sold it for several million pounds. He had a choice: retire early, or do something new. He created Huel, a nutritionally complete powdered food.

How did you get from vouchers to this?

I was a stay-at-home dad for about a year, but got itchy feet. I’m into health and fitness and my first idea was a comparison site. We were going to get guinea pigs to try different diets and regimes for three months and document their progress. I did the first one and worked with a trainer and nutritionist and it was successful, but I was weighing food, cooking from scratch and making seven meals a day. People don’t have time for that, so I started looking at protein powders and working out how they could contain everything.

Can a powder ever be as good as a square meal?

If you’re at home in the evening and you have time to construct a nutritionally complete, wholefood meal then it will be superior to Huel, but we believe Huel is superior to nearly everything else, including your cereal or toast for breakfast, or your sandwich and crisps for lunch. I have Huel for breakfast and lunch every day and then have an evening meal with my family.

But isn’t there a joy in real food you can’t get from a powdered shake?

Clearly foods can give us pleasure, but that’s short term and addictive. We’ve got an obesity and diabetes epidemic. And I like my food. I love my curries, and a roast dinner, but it’s about balance.

Are your family converts?

My wife doesn’t have any of it and we don’t recommend it for children – I have a six-year-old son – because they need different nutrients at different ages. But they help me test products, including a bar that we’re about to launch.

Soylent is a similar powder. Why do you think there’s suddenly a market for this stuff?

They launched independently at around the same time and I think part of it is a backlash against the way animals are treated, and people being turned off by meat production. I also think there’s an awareness of population growth. China and India are eating more and more meat and demand for food is growing. We have to find new ways to feed people.

Messrs Lee Forster and Charlie Turner

Messrs Lee Forster (above left), 33, and Charlie Turner (above right), 32, met almost 15 years ago as young swimmers. After successful careers with Team GB, injury forced their retirement in, respectively, 2008 and 2011. Desk jobs followed in London – Mr Forster was a management consultant and Mr Turner managed commercial partnerships for film studios – but the friends then joined forces to turn years of nutritional expertise into Neat Nutrition, a line of supplements.

What was nutrition like when you started swimming?

Mr Forster: It wasn’t talked about nearly as much. There was always education on eating the right carbs, fats and proteins, but not the degree of counting you see more of now. It was more common sense. And as an athlete, you learn to fine-tune your body and realise what works and what doesn’t. But you’re also surrounded by sports scientists and nutritionists so we took a lot of knowledge with us to develop the brand.

Did you eat ridiculous amounts?

Mr Forster: I was a middle-distance swimmer, so a lot of up and down, sometimes three sessions a day in the pool. I’d have to eat seven to nine meals a day to the point where eating became a chore.

Mr Turner: I was a sprinter, so I needed a lot of protein for the explosive starts. When you’re a younger athlete, there’s this whole basket of supplements on offer and you end up trying a lot of them and thinking, “This is going to give me that 100th of a second to win.” Only in hindsight do you realise there isn’t magic science and only a handful of supplements work well.

Why do everyday fitness fans need all the supplements?

Mr Forster: When I moved into an office environment, people looked to me to ask what they should be doing. There was a lot of confusion. So we decided to make something that communicates what we learnt in a simple way. Even if you take basic whey protein, some companies have 30 derivatives with unpronounceable additives and flavourings. We wanted something that was clean, simple.

What’s the biggest training myth out there?

Mr Forster: A lot of people think supplements are just for bodybuilders, but they’re starting to realise that they can also fit into a busy lifestyle. If you’re running out to go to the office and would normally grab a coffee and a croissant, putting some protein into a smoothie with some fruit and veg is a much healthier start to the day and will satiate you for longer.

Messrs Richard Brockhurst, Caspar Chittenden and Mark Brockhurst

Mr Richard Brockhurst (above left), 34, from north London, is a former pro-golfer who quit coaching the game to set up 3 Aces CrossFit, a fitness studio in Kennington, with his brother Mark (above right), 30, and their friend Mr Caspar Chittenden (above centre), 31. The men, all now qualified CrossFit coaches, have launched a second branch at the Lee Valley Athletics Centre.

I’m guessing you didn’t have that beard when you were in golf?

Mr Richard Brockhurst: No and that’s one of the reasons I think I got one. As much as I get branded a hipster, it’s more of a rebellious beard. I used to wear the chinos and be all clean cut, but I got fed up and realised my personality didn’t fit into the constraints of golf. And I guess I have the CrossFit look. It’s men being men in a way, and the opposite to the bodybuilder aesthetic where everything is plucked and waxed. I know which I’d rather be.

My Facebook feed is full of CrossFit videos. What is it and why is it so huge?

Mr Brockhurst: The marketing has been very strong on how tough it is, with really crazy workouts that make you feel like you’re dead and loads of guys with bulging muscles and girls with crazy abs. But we try to build people up gradually. And they love it because of this sense of community and camaraderie in training, bringing all levels together. There’s a culture of going to the gym with headphones on and waiting for someone to get off a machine. That works well for some people, but we offer something more communal.

How did you discover it?

Mr Brockhurst: In around 2011, I was still coaching golf, but was spending more time in the gym. My brother was playing golf in the US and said he’d found this new thing called CrossFit. He sent me a video and that was it. We got into it and started coaching and opened 3 Aces in July 2015.

Are you worried CrossFit is just another fitness fad?

Mr Brockhurst: I genuinely think it has way more sustainability than, say, spin classes with rave music. There’s way more depth to it and if anything I think it could do with fading a bit because there are a lot of bad places not doing it right. When people put their trust in your hands to improve their strength and fitness, you’d better take it seriously.

Mr Ludovic Rossignol

Mr Ludovic Rossignol, 34, is a Belgian-born events manager who came to university in London and never left. He scored his first business hit with the London Coffee Festival, which started in 2011 and has spawned sister events in New York and Amsterdam. Now he’s hosting Balance Festival, a wellness, fitness and nutrition event, which launches at the Old Truman Brewery in May.

What will visitors to the Balance Festival see?

We’re going to have about 16,000 visitors over three days, with eight boutique fitness studios, and lots of nutrition companies and experts. It’s for people who want to be healthier but are maybe a bit confused by all the fads – “urban healthies”, as we call them.

That’s quite a leap from coffee.

We’ve taken the same approach. When we started the coffee festival, we wanted to represent the lifestyle and subcultures that surround it. There is now a wellness lifestyle and we realised there was a massive gap in the market for a festival to celebrate it. They already exist in North America, but not here.

What’s your own regime?

I started running marathons and got really addicted to the whole fitness lifestyle about five years ago. I still try to run a couple of times a week and I do yoga once a week, and I go to Barry’s Bootcamp on Mondays and Wednesdays.

That’s a lot!

It is, but it’s become part of our lifestyles now. There’s a blurry line between work and play these days, and I also have to be more active because I’m working in the wellness scene.

What are your big fitness trend predictions for 2017?

Wellness itself is still a mega trend that’s impacting all aspects of the economy. So you have airlines incorporating wellness as part of their customer experience, and students who don’t want to party anymore, but go to boot camps or buy a new pair of yoga pants. I think gut health is becoming huge, and food as a preventative medicine. In the gyms, I see more hybrid workouts. At Balance, we’ve got an urban triathlon, so Hiit with running followed by a cool-down yoga session. And I think elite fitness is going to become more mainstream, with DNA testing and personalised exercise.

Fitness style hasn’t always been great. Where are we now?

Surprisingly, activewear for men still has a long way to go. All the exciting startups coming from LA and Australia are women-focused and you get only a few brands such as Castore designing exciting ranges for men. There’s still space for aspirational brands that could do for general fitness what Rapha did in cycling.

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