Matt Haggard's 2016 got off to a rough start. In early January, Matt was experiencing severe digestive issues. He headed to the hospital, where the staff couldn't believe he was even still walking. His intestines were so swollen that doctors were worried they would rupture. Matt was diagnosed with Crohn's disease.
"The next thing I knew, they took all food away, and I was laid up in the hospital for 20 days," Matt says. "During that time, I went from 196 pounds to 166 pounds." As a bodybuilder, that weight loss was devastating for Matt.
"I remember coming out of the hospital and not being able to look at myself in the mirror," he says. "I was so depressed and ashamed that I had lost the results of all my hard work. To add insult to injury, people's comments—whether they were questions like 'What happened—did you stop working out?' or statements like 'Man, you really shrunk'—really got to me."
Matt was determined to get his old body back, but managing his Crohn's at the same time proved challenging. With determination and careful monitoring of his diet, Matt was able to gain back the muscle he had lost and then some.
This is Matt's story.
How did you get into bodybuilding?
Growing up, I had always been athletic and extremely active, but team sports didn't work for me. I was the quarterback on a football team, but I had a stutter, and other players would pick on me during the games. When I gave up football, I decided to try my hand at natural bodybuilding. My digestive problems made it difficult for me to progress, but I really enjoyed it.
Did Crohn's affect you before you were diagnosed?
For as many years as I can remember, I would experience digestive flare-ups. I never associated them with anything and just sucked it up. It eventually passed, but as you can imagine, it really impacted my bodybuilding progress.
How did you resolve to gain back the progress you had made before you were hospitalized?
I partnered up with my great friend and coach, Cliff Wilson. We were on a mission, and the plan was to drastically increase my caloric intake and use the extra energy to overload my muscles during the workouts. I rarely took a day off from lifting, and some days, I lifted twice. My diet was restricted because of my Crohn's, but for the majority of the time, I was averaging 650-700 grams of carbohydrates a day. I'm not sure whether it was the medication I was on that was finally allowing me to digest food properly or my aggressive intake, but I started to grow like crazy.
What does your diet look like?
I try to stay away from eating a lot of fat, so I load up on carbs. My "safe" foods are white rice, rice cakes, cream of rice, banana, chicken, and whey protein isolate—that's about it. Typical "healthy" foods that have a lot of fiber are terrible for me—carrots, for example, have actually sent me to the hospital, so I have to be really careful. A typical day looks like this:
What does your workout plan look like?
I'm not including reps/sets, because I just perform the activity until I feel fatigued—that's when I'm most satisfied. It could be anywhere from 2 sets to 7 sets depending on the body part and the day, but I would say most days I average between 8-12 reps for 3-4 sets. I'm careful to focus on the movement. I concentrate more on isolating the target muscle and less on the amount of weight I'm moving.
Did you have any setbacks?
During the year, I've been hospitalized twice more—adding over 30 days total to my in-patient stay. I've gone an entire week without food. I've had three colonoscopies and been on more medications than I can count.
How do you keep yourself from giving up?
I accomplished my goals, quite honestly, by getting my bulldog puppy, Hank. It sounds stupid, but that dog gave me a reason to live and a reason to be better every day. I've started my master's at USC, am advancing in the aerospace industry, and was able to attain the physique I have today by having that dog. A dog's life is so short in comparison to our own that it makes you realize just how precious every moment is. Just because my Crohn's can mess me up at one point in the day doesn't mean it has to dictate the rest of it. It's all about making the most of the time you have.
What was your biggest challenge?
Being in and out of the hospital was mentally draining. It was tough to stay mentally strong. Hank really helped with that.
What are your future plans?
I'm 20 weeks out from my first fitness competition.
What makes you want to compete?
I want to compete to show everyone what's naturally possible when dealing with health issues. It's only been 10 months since I was released from my first hospital stay, and just three months since my last trip. The human body is capable of insane feats, and I just want to set the example for those dealing with issues like mine.