The next time three-time World Champion Steer Wrestler Luke Branquinho performs his crowd-pleasing “booty shake” following a good run at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, there will be less jiggle in his wiggle.Thanks to a big-time dietary change, the California bulldogger has dropped 30-35 pounds since February and is enjoying being able to see his boots again. Branquinho, a 10-time Wrangler NFR qualifier who won his gold buckles in 2004, 2008 and last year, said a combination of feeling bad and a chance meeting in February helped spur him to the weight loss.
“This winter, I just felt kind of slow and sluggish,” said Branquinho, who has won two Wrangler NFR average titles (2008, 2011). “I met a guy in Tucson named Matt Clary, who is a bodybuilder and dietitian from Canada, and he got me on a meal plan. So, pretty much what I did was changed the way I ate. I started eating exactly the way he told me, and five pounds fell off in a week.”
The 6-foot-tall cowboy had ballooned to 285 pounds, but feels much better at his current 250. The weight loss is a particularly important change for Branquinho, who has Type I diabetes and wears an insulin pump.“I used to use about 95 units a day, and now I’m down to anywhere between 55 and 65,” Branquinho said of his insulin. “I think cutting my insulin down has helped out more than anything. I just needed to eat a little cleaner, and I think it’ll help out in the long run.”
Branquinho said he hopes the change to his eating habits will stick and become a lifestyle change that keeps him around longer to enjoy his family, which includes wife, Lindsay, and sons, Cade and Jameson.
“I still feel strong, but I feel more athletic and have more energy,” he said. “My joints don’t hurt as bad, and I can do more. I’d like to (make this a lifestyle change), just for the simple fact that I think it’ll keep me around a little big longer down the road.”
Eating well when you’re at home all the time is challenging enough, but for a professional athlete living on the road most of the year, it’s an even more daunting task.
“It’s real tough,” Branquinho said. “We get a lot of microwaveable chicken breasts and potatoes or microwavable rice. When you do stop and eat somewhere, that’s the hard part. It’s not like you can go to McDonald’s and eat a clean meal.”
His friends in rodeo have been happy to see Branquinho happy and healthy, and the weight loss has also added to his already athletic nature as a bulldogger.
“He’s always been an agile bulldogger, but he says he feels a lot better,” said Branquinho’s buddy, two-time Wrangler NFR qualifier Billy Bugenig. “It’s great (for him), especially with those two young boys, and it’s good to see him feel better.”
Being involved in professional sports for the last 15 years, I’ve seen a common thread among elite athletes who have achieved great things: they still want to improve. While Branquinho’s weight loss stemmed from his desire to feel better in general, it’s inspiring to see a cowboy of his stature want to make changes to better himself.
“A lot of people who’ve accomplished what he has would call it good and not worry about anything,” said Bugenig, who finished sixth in the world last year. “He’s always trying to get better, and that’s what makes him a true champion.”
Branquinho has been encouraged by the weight loss, but hasn’t been completely satisfied with his 2012 season so far. Heading into August, he was 15th with $34,822, $26,665 behind world standings leader Ethan Thouvenell.
“I don’t know. I haven’t won too much this year, so I might need to put some more weight back on,” Branquinho joked. “I just haven’t been capitalizing as much on opportunities as I have in the past. It’s not like I’ve had a bad season, but I’m just used to being a little bit higher (in the standings) and having the Finals made by now.”
But Branquinho isn’t pressing or stressing too much yet. He’s just going to keep plugging away and let things develop naturally, all the while scarfing down grilled chicken breasts instead of fried concoctions easily found on the road.
“The last six or seven years have been just absolutely phenomenal, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” he said. “So, being in this position, I feel like I’m so far behind it’s not even funny. But, realistically, I’m in a much better spot than a lot of guys could be.
“I’ve got good horsepower and good guys to travel with, so I just need to do my job.”
Spoken like a true champion.