Kevin Curry is one of those guys you may see at the gym and be totally intimated and inspired by at the same time. You’d think he has it all figured out. Well, we’re here to tell you that he does. But he didn’t always! It wasn’t until he saw a photo of himself on a friend’s Facebook page that he realized he needed to get in shape.
At first, he tried to out-exercise a poor diet. He’d eat whatever and then try to burn it off in the gym. When that didn’t work, he bought a bunch of books and magazines in order to really understand diets and nutrition.
<p?Now, he’s ripped (for a lack of a better word!) and the founder of Fit Men Cook, where he proves to his devoted readers that healthily eating doesn’t have to include a bunch of boiled chicken and plain broccoli. He loves good, flavorful food and is a firm believer that diet needs to be tied with exercise—especially for endurance training—so that’s what we were most excited to talk to him about.
You believe it’s not enough to just exercise—without also paying attention to what you’re eating. Why is it so important that diet be tied to exercise?
Diet tied to exercise actually helps to accelerate the results much faster. What I’ve learned from my own experience of trial and error—and also from talking to lots of people that I have helped out—is that results happen much more in the kitchen than they do in the gym. We gravitate towards trying to exercise first, because that’s easier for us to do. It’s easier for us to go and try to be active, and try to run something off, than it is to practice moderation and portion control. But really it needs to be 70 percent diet and 30 percent exercise. It’s just a fact. So getting your diet together will get you the results much faster than working out, because the reality is that you can’t out-train a poor diet.
You log a lot of time in the gym. How do you eat differently for that?
Eating for endurance means you’re going to give your body a lot more energy in order to perform at its best level. It’s different from just regular eating, because there is a purpose behind it. This would be the same thing as eating for fat loss. When you tie a purpose to your diet, what you consume is going to be different. That’s why you have a goal.
When you eat for endurance, you are looking at ways to give your body more energy. That way you can be more explosive and more powerful in your workout. Imagine, let’s say that you want to take a road trip, and you have the car, you’ve got all your stuff packed up. What do you need after that? You have to fuel up the car, so you can drive across country to go to where you want go. Similarly, you can do everything right, you can have the greatest workout gear, all the latest equipment and whatnot, but you won’t be able to perform unless you are giving your body the additional fuel that it needs in order to be able to get to that top level.
If you don’t eat enough before your workout, or for the goal that you have in mind, it’s going to show in your performance. You’re not going to be able to accomplish your goals. You won’t be as explosive. It could actually lead to injury in some cases—especially in terms of endurance because you’re pushing your body beyond its normal limits. Whenever you do something that’s going to be beyond the norm, you need to make sure that your diet is complementing that.
How long before a workout do you suggest eating?
Well, everybody is going to differ. I recommend fueling up at least 45 minutes before a workout. Some people take a little bit longer to digest food, so they may want to eat something an hour and a half before a workout. And while the pre-workout nutrition is important, you also need the post-workout nutrition. Because that helps you to recover.
What do you eat before a tough workout?
I like to mix it up. When I first started out, one of my go-tos was a whole wheat tortilla, a banana and some peanut butter. And I would enjoy that with either some cottage cheese, or some yogurt or a protein shake. That was just a quick snack before a normal workout.
I try to give myself complex carbohydrates because they are slower digesting. Your body doesn’t take it so quickly, and so that’s a good fuel. That’s why I had the wheat tortilla, and then the healthy fat of the almond butter, that also helps to slow down that whole process.
What about after a workout?
After a workout, one of my favorites is a sweet potato. I love to eat sweet potatoes, because they’re good complex carbohydrates and sweet enough. You’re usually craving energy after a workout, so the sweet potato hits the spot. There are different ways that you can mix it up, too: You can add a little bit of agave or some cinnamon. In terms of lean meats, I like a chicken breast or a lean flank steak. Seafood is also good.
I just try to keep my meals balanced after a workout: I either have a high carb and good protein (like what I was just talking about), or I’ll have a good protein and higher fat (something like asparagus with an avocado in some olive oil).
So you haven’t sworn off carbs like so many other people?
Carbs have gotten a bad rap! I think we need to stop the narrative that carbs are a bad thing. Carbs are great. They give us a lot of energy, and they are good brain food. That’s why, when people say they are not eating carbs, they get kind of loopy and they get irritable. Well, that’s because of the absence of carbs! Carbs are really good for regulating mood, they keep you alert and they’re good muscle energy.
We hear you love sweets. How do you deal with those cravings?
I can look at any brownie and gain weight. So I try to stay away and limit my access to sweets. I stopped buying sugary treats, and it got weird at first. But the less I had in the house, the more I found it really helped me fight the temptation. I also learned, from trying the keto diet, that when I ate healthy fats—like nuts, seeds and avocados—that lessened my sweet cravings, too.
It also really helps to have a goal to think about. Whether you are trying to lose some pounds for a wedding, or you want to do another obstacle race, or marathon, or a weightlifting competition, goal based eating is great because it keeps you focused.
How do you eat healthily when you’re out at restaurants?
Eating out is not off the table! You can get a grilled chicken type of meal. You can get a baked fish type of meal. You can even get a grilled chicken sandwich over at McDonald’s. (Just ask them to throw in a salad!) But because the cost of these meals add up, you may start to find that it’s time to prioritize cooking healthy meals for yourself at home.
Right, but so often, that means eating bland food. What are some of your best cooking tips for adding flavor?
I cook with a lot of lemons and limes because they add a bit of acid and help replace the need for a ton of salt. Another thing I do that works time and time again: I’ll deconstruct a recipe. Let’s say you really like pizza. Deconstruct it and come up with a healthier substitute for different ingredients in there or a way to get similar flavors. Maybe, instead of having the beef burger that is 80 percent lean, I’m going to go with 95 percent lean beef. Or instead of having the brioche bun, go for a whole wheat, whole-grain bun.
But you’re still eating what you want. I’m not trying to scare people into fearing food. The goal is not to fear food; the goal is to embrace it—just in the right portions, and in a calorie-conscious and a much more nutritious way.
What are the kitchen gadgets that help you stick to your healthy lifestyle?
The Instant Pot is is a huge tool in my kitchen. There is no excuse for you not to be cooking something if you have an Instant Pot. Another gadget I swear by for calorie-conscious cooking is a good nonstick skillet. You don’t need any oil at all to cook in a nonstick skillet. I can just put some bell peppers and onions in a skillet and they have their own oils and can sear in their own juices. It’s such a simple way to cut calories. I also have an antique juicer. I swear by it because drinking fresh juice in the morning just puts you in a good mood. Starting out your day with a glass of fresh juice is a good way to help you make even more smart choices throughout the day.
You don’t eat a lot of packaged foods but are there any you swear by?
When I’m traveling, I do the RXBARs. I’ve found something else recently, too: They’re called IQ BARS. They’re like RX, but you know how RXBARs can be super dense, and chewy and they get stuck in your teeth? These are much more enjoyable because there are fragments of nuts, which help to break apart the bar once you bite it.
Quick! Name some of your favorite recipes on your site.
- Sweet Potato Lasagna
- Chicken Crust Pizza
- Low-Carb Jambalaya
- Tex-Mex Caviar over Sweet Potato with Chipotle Tahini (from my book)
If you could only give one tip to someone looking to get healthier in the new year, what would it be?
Start small. Don’t try to do everything at once—just ease your way into it. When we make small changes to our diet—little by little—we get happier. We think, “oh, I can do this!” And we get enthusiastic about sticking to it. Find one change that you can make to your diet. For me, it was realizing that I was spending way too much money on lunch. So I decided to start packing lunch. A healthier option, at that. Very few people can overhaul their diets and how they think about good in one fell swoop. We all just need to take a step back and slow down.