Health & Nutrition

Putting Exercise on the Menu

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Renowned chef, Gary O’Hanlon, swapped the kitchen for the gym in 2017, taking part in the celebrity version of the hit show, Operation Transformation. Irish Runner caught upp with the Donegal native to see how that transformation has been going.

IR: As one of Ireland’s top chefs, you regularly appear on TV, but how far beyond your comfort zone were you when you appeared on Celebrity Operation Transformation?

GOH: It was way beyond my comfort zone. I’d been asked to do it the previous year and flat out refused. But I watched the programme and only felt admiration for the people who had done it. Then, I decided that if VIP Productions were to ask me again, it would be a straight yes, and sure enough they did. Nothing prepares you for that first day when you are standing there in nothing but cycling shorts in front of the camera, but once I’d that out of the way, I was up and running – well almost!

IR: What is your general fitness regime now?

GOH: I live and work in France now (Chateau du Coudreceau). Most of my exercise these days is on a golf course (when I get the time to play). I’m still walking and getting the odd cycle in. We also have a gym on-site, so I get some weight sessions in when I can. I love lifting weights. For years, I never touched a weight but it’s something I really want to get back to and, also, boxing. I will be home a lot over winter, so hopefully there is a boxing club near Mullingar/Longford that takes beginners as I’d simply love to get into it.

IR: Do you run as part of your fitness regime?

GOH: I haven’t been running regularly. I’m really annoyed at myself that I never got stuck into it, but I will. I bought a number for the KBC Dublin Marathon this year and paid for the online coach. When I was at the beginning of my training programme, the opportunity to go work in France for two weeks came up and, before I knew it, I was made an offer to stay long-term. That was that. My race number got a good home though. Declan, a work colleague, did it justice and I believe I’ll run another marathon before long.

When I do run, I love to be near the sea. I’d trained for the 2006 Dublin Marathon in Salthill with my mate, Anthony, only to get badly injured a month before the race. I then trained for the 2007 marathon in Cavan where I was living. The experience wasn’t as enjoyable. No disrespect to Cavan but running the coastal road from the Galway Bay Hotel in Salthill towards Spiddal is hard to beat.

IR: What advice would you give someone starting on a fitness journey to help them stay motivated and avoid taking on too much too soon?

GOH: Do not underestimate the power of walking. I cannot stress enough how important walking is if you’re trying to get back running. When I struggled to run after gaps of many months, my confidence was shot, and I’d stop. Operation Transformation taught me that, after a week of walking and regular exercise I could get running again. The Longford parkrun crew are amazing, and welcomed me with open arms, like parkrun crews all over Ireland. It’s a wonderful, free event every week that caters to all levels of fitness. Do it. It really helps to be around like-minded people.

IR: As a chef, what top three foods do you recommend to people who run, exercise/play sports/are very active?

GOH: As a chef, let me start by saying I’m not qualified to dish out that kind of advice. I can cook anything and make anything taste good, but I can’t be telling people what to eat to achieve optimal health and nutritional benefits. What I will do is tell you what I eat before, during and after weight-lifting sessions or a round of golf.

I love barley and I almost always have a vegetable, barley and lentil broth in the fridge. I love a large bowl of that after a round of golf. For breakfast, I eat pinhead oats. I’ve only recently started eating porridge. I could run through concrete an hour after a big bowl. Just water and a couple of pinches of salt is how I eat it, so a tad boring but certainly healthy.

IR: What is your ultimate ‘cheat meal’ for someone who wants to shed some pounds, but more importantly, who wants to integrate healthy eating and cooking into their diets – without sacrificing flavour?

GOH: I wouldn’t even call it a cheat meal as it was part of my eating plan on Operation Transformation, but I loved the fish ‘n’ chips. The best investment I ever made was the De-Longhi Air Fryer. I breadcrumb my fish and pan fry it in vegetable oil instead of deep frying and I par-boil my chips (which you should always do anyway) and finish them in the air-fryer. Serve with minty peas and lemon. Tartar sauce is a must too. Always take dietary advice from a registered dietician. Just ask chefs how to make it even tastier!


“Think about your diet. Do not take dietary advice from chefs, influencers and bloggers. Everything I did was on the back of dietitian, Aoife Hearne’s advice on the show. Aoife is amazing, she is qualified – and her food is fabulous. She is also a busy worker and parent, so she gets it. Eat regularly, eat portion-controlled amounts and enjoy the odd treat. That advice comes from me via Aoife, by the way. I still follow her plans and I’ve her cookbook at home, which Netty and I love.”

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