"Never trust a skinny chef" was a maxim in the culinary world until a new breed of healthy chefs turned that saying on its head. Chopped judge Geoffrey Zakarian is one of those chefs who takes fitness seriously, and the results speak for themselves.
At 60 years old, Zakarian feels he's in the best shape of his life, both inside and out of the kitchen. So you'll definitely want to steal his workout and diet tips — whether you're a chef or not.
Deciding to Become a Fit Chef
Having worked in kitchens since his early 20s, Zakarian's weight gain was gradual. But when he was 35, he noticed that long days in the kitchen and constant temptation of delicious food and drinks were negatively impacting his waistline. His light bulb moment occurred when he struggled to fit into his usual pant size. He realized that if he didn't change his habits, he'd soon end up overweight and unhealthy.
Taking responsibility for your health and wellness is something that Zakarian wants people to take away from his journey. "You learn how to take care of your car, pay your taxes, do your job, but no one teaches you how to take care of your body," says the chef.
So with no guidance, he signed up for a membership at his local gym and began taking ownership of his health. He taught himself the essentials of strength training and proper nutrition but quickly learned he couldn't simply walk into the gym without a plan. Additionally, with a few lingering injuries from his time as a golfer, Zakarian had to figure out how to work around lower back and knee issues.
What Zakarian Typically Eats in a Day
With three children and a wife, Zakarian found that he didn't have as much time to focus on his own health. To be the best father, husband and chef he could be, health had to be a priority. The change began in the kitchen.
Sure, he can make some of the most delicious and complex dishes you've ever had, but his day-to-day meals are shockingly simple. "A bowl of steel-cut oats, some eggs and fruit are enough to fill me up in the morning," the chef says of his standard breakfast. He also takes a multivitamin and probiotic supplement each morning.
For lunch, salads with lean meats are his go-to. He likes to make his own dressing using olive oil and vinegar, since store-bought dressing can be loaded with calories. And for dinner, Zakarian prefers lean meat like chicken or fish over red meat. He has vegetables like broccoli or spinach and healthy carbs like sweet potatoes or quinoa.
If he needs a snack, he opts for almonds, and 70-percent dark chocolate is his favorite indulgence. At the end of the day, the Food Network star estimates he eats 1,800 to 2,000 calories a day. And aside from his standard daily meal plan, Zakarian also holds himself to these essential eating guidelines:
1. Stay Hydrated All Day: Zakarian is strict about how much water he drinks, consuming about 32 ounces a day.
2. Be Consistent: Another key to his success is eating breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Breakfast is around 6:30 a.m., lunch is around noon and dinner is around 6 p.m. He says he feels hungry and sluggish if he skips meals, so he doesn't let that happen.
3. Occasionally Give In to Temptation: Even though Zakarian is generally sticks to his eating routine, he leaves a bit of wiggle room. Every now and then he'll take his family out for a slice of pizza or a burger at a local restaurant if that's what they're craving. He doesn't want to let his food choices limit time spent with friends or family.
4. Cook Your "Cheat Meals" at Home: But in general, cravings for unhealthier foods aren't met with your standard fast-food fare. The chef will whip up a burger and fries at home made with fresh ingredients. That satisfies his cravings but isn't as unhealthy as eating fast food because he uses quality ingredients.
5. Compensate for Indulgences: Zakarian doesn't use a calorie tracker, but he does estimate the calories in a slice of cake or glass of wine and adjusts the rest of his day accordingly. "You have to trade that slice of cake for your sandwich" he says. Meaning, if you indulge in one meal you have to take away calories from another.
6. Limit Sugar and Refined Flour: Zakarian has eliminated sugar and refined flour from his diet, which helped him lose 20 pounds. Desserts and soft drinks, including sugary cocktails, were among the first to go. Processed flours in bread and bagels and white rice were next. He also limited red meat intake to once a month.
7. Eat More Whole Foods: When food shopping, Chef Zakarian recommends people stay away from the center of the store. "Move around the aisles" he says "where you can find fresh ingredients like produce and meat."
Zakarian's Workout Routine
Though the Iron Chef credits most of his fat loss to changing his diet, it took a strict weight training regimen to build his muscular physique. To cut fat, build muscle and avoid injuries, Zakarian's works with personal trainer Noam Tamir, owner of the boutique fitness studio TS Fitness.
"When Geoffrey came in, he wanted to work on his physique" Tamir says. "First, we had to address things like weak core muscles and tight hips because his lower back was bothering him. Then, we could work on building muscle and cutting fat."
Currently, Zakarian hits the gym three to five times a week for 50 minutes each session. The focus is on simple exercises that use dumbbells, kettlebells, the barbell and a cable machine.
Each workout, the Chopped judge likes to work one or two body parts paired with core exercises. So one day will be dedicated to chest muscles, one to back, one to arms and shoulders and one day for legs. If he has the time, he adds a cardio interval training at the end.
Upper Body Exercises
To target his chest, Zakarian does classic barbell (or dumbbell) bench presses because it's an old-school strength exercise that he can really feel in his pectoral muscles. For variety, he'll set the bench to a slight incline or decline or supplement with push-ups and cable flyes.
During his back workouts, pull-ups and chest-supported rows are his go-to exercises. And on arm and shoulder day, the chef works his triceps, biceps and deltoids with biceps curls, triceps extensions, shoulder presses and lateral shoulder raises, mainly relying on the smoother resistance of a cable machine.
Lower Body and Core Exercises
Leg day is a mix of bilateral and single-leg exercises. Squats and deadlifts — usually not more than 185 pounds — provide plenty of heavy lifting for one workout. He follows those up with Bulgarian split squats or walking lunges.
Sneaking abdominal exercises into every workout can be tricky, as they can get boring quickly. Hanging leg raises with ankle weights are one of his go-to exercises, and he also likes to do V-ups with dumbbells in his hands and ankle weights for an added push.
While conventional free-weight exercises are the backbone of his program, Zakarian likes to constantly challenge himself, and his trainer Tamir is more than happy to come up with complex and challenging exercises. You can follow the Zakarian's Instagram, @GZChef, to see some of their creative combinations.