Unlike clean eaters or Paleo enthusiasts, PTs are not the enemy of Angry Chef. They have an important role in helping to fight obesity and encouraging people to lead healthier lifestyles. Gyms can be great initial touch points for anyone looking to improve their health and start making sensible changes to their diet. PTs giving out good diet advice can do a huge amount of good, but as is all too common, seductive messages from the world of pseudoscience can easily drown out common sense.
There is little barrier to entry for PTs and many will have a pre-existing interest in ‘nutrition’. Often they will enter the profession with specific beliefs about diet and, with all the terrible information out there, often these beliefs will be wrong. Although there are nutrition elements on PT courses, it is unlikely that these will be enough to enable them to differentiate between good science and dangerous quackery learnt elsewhere. To confuse things further, there is also a bewildering array of marketing material masquerading as evidence, encouraging them to push supplements, fad diets and poor advice.
There are real dangers here. Exclusion diets can leave people dangerously low in nutrients. Combine this with extreme exercise and you can do real physical harm. Poor practitioners are constantly pushing people into punishing regimes to achieve aesthetic goals and then subjecting them to a barrage of supposedly perfect body images, creating feelings of inadequacy as a form of motivation. There is a vile and growing underbelly in the fitness industry that is capable of doing real physical and mental damage to people who walk into a gym to improve their lives. Something should be done to help the innocent and vulnerable from being pushed into eating disorders. Something should be done to stop restrictive diets, bad science and the culture of body shaming. The fitness industry is a vital cog in any potential solution to the obesity crisis and yet it seems to be infected with a dangerous cancer that is destroying its reputation among medical doctors, dietitians and registered nutritionists. PTs have the potential to be as important as food manufacturers in improving the health of the nation and yet, if we are not careful, both of these vital functions will become demonised, marginalised and lost because of a few dangerously ill-informed idiots.
Angry Chef will now overstep his remit and arrogantly offer solutions to people who haven’t asked for them
As part of my research for this piece, I spent a long time talking to Alan Murchison, a chef who works as a consultant with a number of high-performance sports people. Alan has competed internationally as an endurance athlete, but I know him best for the 25 years he spent in the restaurant trade. He may not have the stardust of a Gordon Ramsay or a Raymond Blanc, but within the industry he has few equals. Chefs who know anything about cooking will talk about him in reverential tones.
As befits a slightly terrifying culinary legend, Alan is not that bothered about upsetting people. His work with athletes has developed from an insight that nutritional advice from the world of science, with all its evidence and experiments, often fails to take into account the practicalities of food and cookery. In short, in Alan’s opinion, most nutritionists and dietitians are shit at cooking. For a man who spent 25 years producing top-level cuisine, Alan’s advice on food is surprisingly straightforward.
“Every individual is different and will have different nutritional and dietary needs. I see examples of 50kg female athletes being recommended the same diet as 80kg men in the same sports. I work with 40 different athletes and they are all different. It is impossible to create a diet plan that will suit everyone and the problem with much of the advice out there is that it is over complicated and difficult to apply practically. Some dishes being recommended would take me an hour and a half to prepare.
“Eating well for performance athletes is not that different to elite-level cooking. You take good ingredients, you don’t mess around with them too much and you eat balanced meals. Don’t do anything extreme and don’t kill yourself. Psychological well-being is important – you need to eat good food, but that needs to be sustainable, so don’t beat yourself up if you want to have a roast dinner on Sunday. There is loads of bad advice out there: people being told never to eat fruits and never to eat carbs. No carb-free athlete can compete sustainably.”
Alan works with a number of athletes devising diet plans to help with performance and considers that one of the most important functions he performs is working with them to find easily available produce from every-day supermarkets that will meet their needs. He is also fully aware that most athletes do not have unlimited financial resources to spend on food, with many existing on the breadline. He finds the best produce that supermarkets have to offer and shows athletes how to make simple food that gets the most out of that produce. It is simple and effective and is showing powerful, measurable results in the performance of the athletes he works with.
And that is what inspired my moment of revelation. There are great sports scientists and dietitians out there and many of them know a bit about cooking, but I will guarantee that none of them know as much about food and ingredients as Alan Murchison. There are clearly really good PTs out there who have a positive influence on the health of their clients, but they are unlikely to be brilliant chefs and they do not have the knowledge or clinical experience of dietitians. Chefs like Alan and even myself (hey, it’s my blog article, I can put myself in the same category as him if I want to) have a culinary talent and a splattering of scientific knowledge, but we are experts of flavour, not of nutritional science.
There is huge knowledge and expertise out there, but the really interesting changes will occur when different worlds intersect. When cuisine meets food science; when the fitness industry meets dietetics; or when performance athletes and sports science meet a Michelin-starred chef. When worlds collide, great things can happen. Healthy food can become food people want to eat, rather than food they feel they should eat. Exercise can be combined with sensible, appropriate dietary advice.
No individual has all the answers, but all the answers are out there. It is an unfortunate fact of life that different groups tend to put up walls and create silos rather than encourage collaboration and sharing. There are chefs, cooks, dietitians, research scientists, personal trainers, athletes, journalists and food writers who read Angry Chef and many of you comment and interact. Everyone reading this will have some sort of expertise that can be shared. If there is a point to my strange little website, it is that it can be a single touch point where different worlds can intersect.
Hopefully here there can be sparks that will encourage collaboration and progress. I encourage dietitians and registered nutritionists to work with chefs to discover ways to make healthy eating interesting and sustainable. I encourage athletes and personal trainers to learn cooking skills from people who have dedicated their lives to food, and to get nutrition advice from qualified professionals.
The one thing I think people could do to improve their health is simply this: learn to cook. By learning some basic skills, everyone and anyone can make nutritious, balanced food taste so good it will become the food they want to eat. If we can all do that, there is a chance we can win the obesity battle.
About the author
The Angry Chef is a qualified chef with over 25 years’ experience. His straight-talking blog – in which he aims to expose the lies, pretensions and stupidity in the world of food − has quickly become a ‘must-read’ for other chefs, food critics, dietitians, registered nutritionists and many personal trainers. This is an edited excerpt reproduced with his kind permission from a blog (The irritating superstars of health and fitness) first published on his website on 2 May 2016. angry-chef.com Twitter: @One_Angry_Chef
Where to next? Read how obesity impacts on children’s livers as young as eight.