Exclusive Mike Vacanti Q&A: How I helped the Staples Bros transformation

Prop bets are as common as bad beat stories in the poker world, but few are as crazy and ultimately empowering as the Staples weight challenge. With brothers Jaime and Matt weighing 304 pounds (137.9 kg) and 134 pounds (60.7 kg) respectively, Bill Perkins offered them odds of 50/1 - their $3k against his $150k - on meeting in the middle after 12 months.

Given the extreme lengths the brothers would have to go to win - Jaime would have to lose almost as much as his brother weighed! - they had to call in for help. They turned to one of the world's most well-known personal trainers, Mike Vacanti and with his knowledge and motivation they not only won the bet and pocketed their $75k rewards, but have embraced their new-found physiques and are ready for round two.

This time, perhaps wisely, Perkins has only offered them 3/1 - their $50k to his $150k - on both getting to under 10% body fat in a year. Inspired, we grabbed Vacanti for a chat about the incredible journey the brothers have been on.

What did you make of the bet when Jaime first got in touch?
My initial reaction was that it was insane, not from a fitness point of view but from real life - looking at pictures of them side by side and thinking, can this really be done in a year? I immediately mapped out a weight range they'd both have to get to and thought, okay, this is definitely something that can be done. Then it was all about nailing it one pound at a time.

Bill Perkins gave them odds of 50/1 - what would your line have been?
I didn't know either of them personally before the bet so I couldn't really devise a line straight away. Two months into the bet I probably would have said it was evens.

It was a dramatic weight loss for Jaime, how did you get him to visualize that it could be done?
We were lucky in that Jaime had lost a significant amount of weight previously, not as much, but around the 80 pounds range, and he had obviously put it back on. So this impossible vs possible debate wasn't really there, he just knew he had to execute it.

If anyone can help get you fit, it's this man

And Matt? Presumably he hadn't put on that much weight before?
No [laughs] he had not, and he dealt with that doubt by hitting the ground early and adding as much weight as he could early on.

Can you talk us through what each of the brothers had to do?
It was a daily thing. Matt was lifting weights for approximately 90 minutes a day, five or six days a week. Jaime was performing usually two-plus hours of cardio every single day, in addition to a little full body strength training one-to-two days per week.

And their diets were a little different?
Very [laughs]. Jaime was consuming primarily lean protein. He was consuming a very low number of calories for someone his weight, with the goal to lose three pounds per week. Matt was eating everything in sight.

He got the best deal there...
Yeah, although eating became a job in itself in the last three-six months of the bet. We made sure he had adequate protein, necessary for muscle gain, some fruits and veg for health reasons, but then he was eating foods he enjoyed to fill the remaining calories - pasta, sandwiches, pretty much everything.

How did you deal with problems they encountered?
I like to go practical - let's address the specific problem and figure out how we can come up with a solution. Early on there was a period of a couple of weeks where Jaime was struggling with the nutrition and part of it was the chef was making unbelievably delicious homemade pizza, his favourite food. Matt was crushing it but Jaime couldn't and he wasn't getting enough of what he needed. No one is going to succeed in that situation. I talked to Matt and he got on board and we got the chef to stop making pizza and make more pork loin, more lean beef dishes, more chicken breasts and more vegetables, more of the stuff that Jaime needed, and that was the course correction.

Vacanti watches over the dramatic weigh-in for Jaime and Matt

If the bet wasn't there, which is a huge incentive, how would you convince people that something like this can be achieved?
I think what's really useful is looking at other people's journeys. If someone that looked like you, if they accomplished it, it shows it can be done. That's the proof. That doesn't make the journey any easier, it just shows it's possible. Helping people adopt a strategy of what they need to do each day and just focusing on that day. All you can control is what's in the present. Breaking it down into micro-actions is the only way it's manageable.

What's the best advice you can give someone who wants to lose weight?
There's so much bad information on extreme diets out there, but it's simple. Eat mostly healthy foods and track calories, making sure you're consuming less than you're burning most days, and be honest with yourself. Don't go off the rails at the weekends. You can't get abs in 30 days.

Talking of abs, the Staples' second challenge is to get below 10% body fat - that seems easier... is it?
I think it's about the same, slightly easier, than the first one. The consensus from Jaime's side is that they think it's a much harder endeavor, but that's partly down to the fact that not many people have been sub-10% body fat. It's back to that possible vs impossible thing. Getting below 10% is incredibly lean and it will take a whole year of discipline on training and nutrition.

And they'll have movie star abs at the end?
It's easier to get lean when you have muscle. Lean with muscle is what looks aesthetic, a ripped athletic body. That is going to be the end result. Sub-10% on these guys is going to look really good.

The Staples Brothers before and after, with Mike Vacanti

It's motivating for the poker community as well, seeing what's possible...
I've had many people reach out, Matt and Jaime have had a ton, and people have been saying they've joined in on their own. Some have lost 20 pounds, some have lost up to 100 pounds following the bet. The ripple effect is something all three of us take pride in.

Ready for change?

The poker player's hack to a healthy body

"For online players, meal prepping once a week, setting aside three-to-four hours and cooking large quantities of whatever it is - chicken breasts, rice, there are lots of good options for meal prepping. If you don't do that and you get to say Sunday and there are lots of tournaments on, you get to a break and you're starving, you're just going to eat what's there. That might be half a jar of peanuts or a bag of chips or crisps. Having good options to hand that aren't in need of your time eliminates friction and enables you to make a better decision.

If you're a live player, packing lunch or just making a good decision off the menu. Card rooms generally have good options, like double chicken stir-fry with extra vegetables... that's a much better option than the double cheeseburger with extra French fries.

Do some strength training three days a week. Even if you're on the road, getting 30 minutes in three times a week is what I'd consider the minimum. You can make really good process doing this and avoiding blowouts."

Dave Woods
@PokerStars in News