By: Ryan McKee

Five years ago, Matt McClellan stopped managing an Italian restaurant and opened his first pizzeria. Now he’s competing with Papa John Schnatter and the cartoon Little Caesar to be the new face of the pizza industry.

When McClellan tried to promote his bicycle-themed restaurant Tour de Pizza amongst the fitness-conscious, they complained pizza is nothing more than junk food. To prove them wrong, McClellan designed the 30-day Pizza Diet with health professionals. He used himself as the guinea pig and last July lost 24 pounds by eating only pizza and working out an hour a day, five days a week.

He has repeated the diet two times since. The second time to prove you can bulk-up with lean muscle mass while eating only pizza and the third time last month while bicycling from Florida to New York to promote his philosophy.

“It’s all teaching people how to eat healthy in the real world. It’s a lifestyle change, not just a crash diet,” he says.

McClellan spoke to about his controversial diet, his critics, and why Jared from Subway kind of sucks.

Can you give us your elevator pitch for the 30-Day pizza diet?

The creation of it started at Gold’s Gym. I was giving out free samples on their customer appreciation night. People complained that pizza is junk food and they couldn’t eat it because they’re on a diet. I tried to explain that pizza is the healthiest food of all fast foods. It’s baked, not fried.

The problem was that I wasn’t living what I was preaching. I got out of shape. So to prove that pizza is healthy, I did a 30-day pizza experiment. I ate slice every three hours and got the physical vale of a full day’s nutrition: vegetable, meat, fruit and different combinations. I worked out an hour a day, half an hour of weight training and half an hour of cardio, five days a week. Over thirty days I lowered my cholesterol 86 points. I lost 24 pounds. I lowered my blood pressure, lost 10 percent body fat and took five inches off my waist. That’s with no vitamins, no supplements, no pills, no protein shakes, no Creatine – just pizza and exercise.

Are you advocating that others try this diet?

Well, I did the extreme example because I had to take the critics away in the media. People who would say, “Oh, you ate salad for lunch and chicken for dinner, that’s why you lost weight.” I don’t recommend people do what I did. I certainly don’t plan on eating pizza everyday for the rest of my life. What I am advocating is that pizza is the healthiest fast food. If you’re in a hurry and need to eat cheap, you’re much better off going to your local pizza shop than any other drive-thru window.

Your critics claim pizza shouldn’t be considered healthy because it’s high in fat and sodium.

Cheese is high in sodium, but the pizza diet has always been about exercise too. You have to sweat every day. Matthew McConaughy said in an interview that he keeps in shape with the simple notion of trying to sweat everyday. I do the same, whether it’s running, biking, swimming … it doesn’t matter, just break a sweat.

When your body sweats, you need to replace the electrolytes. A lot of athletes use Gatorade to replace the sodium lost from sweating. Marathon runners use salt tablets. Although pizza is high in sodium, it’s healthy if you use it as a performance food. That’s how I lowered my blood pressure, my body regulated the sodium by sweating.

When guys go into a pizzeria, are there certain toppings or types of pizza they should avoid to stay healthy?

There’s a mindset with pizza where people tend to gorge themselves late at night with a liter of soda. Staying healthy with pizza is just like anything; it’s all about calories in versus calories out. Think portion control and try to eat five or six smaller meals a day instead of three large ones. That helps your insulin levels stay lower and your metabolism stay higher.

As far as my pizza diet, I only ate my protein slices, the ones with meat, after I had worked out. The reason why is after you’re done working out, your muscle fibers are ready to absorb protein. That’s why you see bodybuilders chugging protein shakes after working out. I only ate two protein slices a day, the rest where veggies, fruits, artichoke hearts, etc. And I only ate one at a time.

The TV show ‘The Doctors’ actually did a great article where they compared a slice of Pizza Hut pizza with a slice from an independent pizza shop. The difference between the two was about 600 calories. The Pizza Hut slice was about 900 calories compared to the independent pizza was 300. Some of these chains don’t use real cheese. They use fillers and processed foods. However, a slice of Pizza Hut pizza is still healthier than a Big Mac.

Are you the new Jared from Subway?

I love the comparison because Jared is an international icon for health and fitness. The downside to Jared is he never proved his health. If you go on Subway’s website and read his story, Jared really didn’t do anything. By his own admission, his breakfast was a cup of coffee. His first meal of the day was a six-inch turkey sub with no mayo or dairy. For dinner, he ate a foot-long veggie subway with no dairy and drank diet sodas.

He did no working out for the first six months until he lost enough weight to really move around. Essentially all Jared did for the first part of his famous Subway diet was lay in a bed and starve himself every day. We’ve never seen Jared with his shirt off. I didn’t take mine off for vanity reasons. I did it to show my life is an open book. All my health information is available. We don’t know if Jared had a gastric bypass ten years ago.

Taco Bell came out with a drive-thru diet with this lady Christine who said she lost 50 pounds in two years. So she obviously didn’t push herself too hard. But they’ve done no blood work, no workout regiment – it’s just about weight loss on a scale. That doesn’t mean they’re healthy. Thin people die everyday of hypertension, heart attacks …

The difference between those diets and the Pizza Diet is I proved it. I gave everyone my test results that prove I’m healthy. I’m not trying to call these companies out, but of the three fast food diets out there, mine, Subway and Taco Bell, I’ve had the most success and the most accountability.