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M&F contributor Robert Irvine, star of Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible, is easily the fittest chef in the world. In his new book, Fit Fuel, he shares motivation, training, and a ton of restaurant-quality healthy recipes. The following excerpt offers a look into his book.
My morning gym session is as much a part of my daily routine as taking a shower or eating breakfast. It’s part of who I am. But as much as I love to work out, I would not categorize myself as obsessed. To me, being fit isn’t an end in itself— it’s something that empowers the other passions in life, whatever they may be. Being fit means I can keep up with a travel and filming schedule that would decimate a man in lesser shape yet still have energy left over to put into maintaining quality relationships with my wife and family. You may not travel as much as I do (I’m on the road about 300 days a year), but I’m sure you have comparable stressors in your life—family, job responsibilities, things to fix around the house, etc.—that could open the door to all sorts of unhealthy eating habits and the chronic illnesses that may follow. Being fit helps meet those life challenges.
Back in the day…
When I was 11, I joined the Sea Cadets, which is something like the Boy Scouts, with the difference being that the adult leaders more or less treat you like junior sailors—you go to marine bases and onto warships, physically training as if you were joining the Royal Navy.
I attacked the workouts, but being undersized was holding me back. One of the marines (a cook, ironically) noticed this and, in what might have been just a casual gesture of kindness for him, wound up changing my life: He handed me an old copy of Muscle & Fitness magazine.
I went home with the magazine held up high and said to my mum and dad, “Oh, look what I’ve got!” They nodded politely, not knowing what the hell I wanted to do with it. We didn’t have any weights, and it wasn’t like there was a local gym in our town back then, either. Even so, I pored over the pages and let it all soak in. I was awed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, wanting desperately to look like him and all the other guys in the magazine.
Before long, I was begging for the Weider weight set I saw advertised in the magazine. My parents, though, were not affluent. So when faced with my demand or a weight set—the need for which they didn’t really understand—mum and dad gave me their stock answer: “We’ll try.”
In the meantime, back at school, my phys ed teacher and the school rugby coach, Mr. Rogers, would take us through workouts. I’ll never forget the clang of the iron and the feel of the bar in my hands. It was intoxicating and liberating, the best opportunity I’d had yet to improve myself. My mum took notice, and one day when I got home, the Weider weights were there waiting for me. I’ll never forget how out-of-my-mind elated I was. It was better than Ralphie finally getting the Red Ryder BB gun at the end of A Christmas Story. I screamed, “Are you kidding me?!”
After that, my tenacity and stubbornness took on a life of their own. Throughout the day at school, I’d daydream about going home and lifting those weights the way other kids daydream about playing with toys. When I finally would get home, I’d set the weights up on our patio, flop open a copy of Muscle & Fitness, and get to work. I was mere weeks away from looking like Arnold; I just knew it! The fact that I never became a bodybuilder is irrelevant. So many good things in my life came from chasing that image.