20/05/2016 9:53 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:52 PM AEST

From Hero To Zero: How I Coped When The Referee Blew The Final Whistle On My Career

When the roar of the crowds finally ended the silence was uncomfortable.

I was very blessed to be paid good money to play footy for nearly 20 years.
I was very blessed to be paid good money to play footy for nearly 20 years.

I was very blessed to be paid good money to play footy for nearly 20 years. As a young kid I dreamed of running out in front of big crowds, winning premierships, playing state of origin and representing my country, and through hard work and dedication I achieved all of this. But when the roar of the crowds finally ended the silence was uncomfortable.

It was not the pats on the back, the attention and spotlight that I missed but my teammates, the daily routine and mostly the chance to put a smile on a little or big kid's face. I discovered that having the opportunity to help others, whether through raising money for charity or participating in health and fitness programs at local schools, had been an important part of my life, and without it, I felt a bit lost.

I was lucky to find a new passion, but unfortunately in the saddest possible way, after my best mate passed away suddenly at 44 due to a heart attack. He was overweight and really unhealthy, like over 60 percent of Aussie men are now. He kept saying "I'll do something about it one day", but never did. And he left behind a wife and three young kids. I won't lie to you, it was a real kick in the guts.

It was also a major wake-up call, and it gave me a new purpose -- to help men lose weight so that they could feel better, enjoy life again and, most importantly, stick around for their family and friends.

I now had a way to put all my practical experience and study of sports science and nutrition to good use and once again be involved in something worthwhile. And the benefits went both ways: my new-found purpose gave my days meaning and structure.

Lack of structure is something many retired players struggle with, and it can often lead to problems. When I first retired, I decided to give my body a break and drop my training routine completely for 12 months. I ended up feeling the worst I'd ever felt: I started losing muscle mass, my old injuries started playing up and I just wasn't myself.

When I resumed going for my morning walks and doing my 10-minute workouts, everything came right again. My mind was clearer, the aches and pains went away and I felt fit and healthy.

It was the same story with my diet post-footy. For a while there, as I got busier with work and family, I often just ate whatever was most convenient, which usually meant food that came in a box and left me hungry again an hour later, or skipped meals altogether, which usually meant I'd end up eating enough for 10 men after dinner. Once again, when I went back to what I knew worked -- filling up on real food -- my health and my mindset improved.

All of this made me aware of the challenges people face to stay healthy. I get how confusing it is with all the mixed messages and misinformation out there about health and fitness, and how hard it can be to find the time and motivation to exercise and eat right.

But I've also discovered two key factors that are essential for good health, whether you're a footy player or an average bloke, like I am now.

First, a simple routine that incorporates exercise and healthy eating and that you can stick to, and second, appreciating the important things in life. For me, that's my family and the opportunity to help others every day -- and I count myself truly lucky to have both.

Adam MacDougall is the creator of
The Man Challenge and The Man Shake. Follow Adam MacDougall on Twitter: @adammacdougall5