The Food Network chef Robert Irvine hosts the popular show Restaurant: Impossible, in which he and his team race to turn around a troubled restaurant on a 48-hour deadline. During a recent episode, Mr. Irvine renovated a community center in Washington that provides tutoring and healthful meals to children a challenge issued to him by Michelle Obama.
When hes not filming for the Food Network, he promotes nutrition and exercise at schools, and tours the country doing a live show that revolves around fitness and culinary demonstrations. Mr. Irvine, 47, also manages to squeeze in 5 a.m. workouts six or seven days a week, and in 2007, Mens Fitness magazine named him one of the 25 Fittest Guys in America.
Recently, we spoke with Mr. Irvine about his daily fitness routine and how a top chef manages to combine food and fitness.
You seem to be passionate about fitness and nutrition. Whats your personal philosophy on food?
I was in the military for a long time, and Ive always believed in physical fitness and health. But over the last five years I started to change my diet. Not completely. But when I met my wife, Gail Kim, she had a profound influence on my life because she doesnt eat dairy and a lot of other things like that, and it made me more healthy.
Im a classically trained chef. We put lots of eggs and cream and salt in food. But now, because of Gail, when I cook I use less butter and cream. Weve become so much more than that. And I try and emphasize that when I speak to young children.
Do you follow a strict diet? Do you have any indulgences?
I eat dairy and I eat a little butter, but my wife doesnt, so Ive moderated that. In the morning I eat oatmeal and Ill do eggs and egg whites. I eat a lot of vegetables and salads, mostly high-protein foods and not so many carbs. I try not to do carbs after 2 p.m. I try to follow moderation. I love desserts. I would eat a dessert at every meal. But Gail has really put the kibosh on me eating garbage.
As youve gotten older, have you changed your workouts?
I dont do heavy weights. Im 47 and too old for that now. I think the best way to lift weights is to do light weights and lots of repetitions. I do one body part a day. Normally chest followed by back, shoulders, biceps and then triceps. I very rarely do legs because I do cardio about 20 minutes every day. So I try not to do too many leg workouts other than running. I also like the elliptical machine.
You travel a lot and have a packed schedule. How do you fit in your workouts?
I spend 330 days a year on the road. I make sure theres a gym either next to where were staying or very close to it. Ive got 40 people on my team cameras, audio, production staff and 12 of them are in the gym with me every morning.
Every morning, we work out at 5 a.m. The only time Im not working out at 5 a.m. is when Im home. Then Ill sleep in a little and do the workout in the afternoon.
What mistakes do you think people often make in their workouts?
I think the biggest mistake people make when they first get into the gym is they push and push, and then they get so sore that they dont come back. They use too much weight because thats the macho thing to do. Or they lift with poor form and they get injured.
The exercise has to fit who you are and how old you are and your experience level. Start slow and work into things and youll come back. Ive got a 62-year-old guy on the set who does sound production and works out with me. Hes never been fit. But he started working out with me and hes done amazing things.
Heres a guy who used to carry a big sound boom, so his back was shot; he was always complaining. And now he exercises, he eats well, he feels better when he wakes up in the morning. You can see that hes losing weight and hes gaining muscle, and he gets excited for our workouts. In the beginning I started him out slowly. If I had given him too much weight when we started, he wouldve been so sore he never wouldve done it again.
Do you have any tips on how people can eat well and stay in shape?
Think about your meals ahead of time. You have to have breakfast in the morning. If you dont have much time, then eat instant oatmeal. Itll stay in your stomach for two hours. When youre running around with no food in your stomach, your blood sugar drops, you feel terrible and you get headaches. Two hours after that you can have eggs, whole-wheat toast, things like that. And every two hours from then you eat something. Small meals are way better than large meals. You can digest them faster.
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