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Posted on Wed. Mar. 12, 2014 - 12:03 am EDT

Area chefs cook up fitness

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That image of the roly-poly chef, plump from delighting in food, glorious food, just may be becoming as stale as month-old bread.

At least among several area chefs, there’s a new look – sleek, muscled and fit. It comes, they say, from connecting the dots between food, exercise and health.

These chefs work in the kitchen, but they also work out – in pursuits ranging from running and long-distance biking to weight training and CrossFit.

They say their health – and even their food – is the better for it.

Aaron Butts, 37

Executive chef

Joseph Decuis, Roanoke

Around noon, when folks who work in downtown Fort Wayne are seeking lunch, Aaron Butts is at Mad Apple CrossFit in the Lamplight Inn building seeking a good sweat.

It’s his time to fit in an hour or two of CrossFit training before going to work at the upscale four-star restaurant, which he often doesn’t leave until about midnight.

Butts says CrossFit training has been surging in popularity. He describes it as “a mix between Olympic lifting, gymnastics and cardio and body-weight work” that is done during classes led by an instructor/coach.

“I like it because it’s always different and it’s always extreme – no two days are the same,” he says. “As far as my fitness level, I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m going to be 38 and can lift more weight than I could out of high school. It’s really addictive.”

The 14-year Decuis veteran says being in better shape comes in handy because working in a professional kitchen takes stamina. Exercising “gives me energy for the day,” he says. “If I have to lift 50 pounds of potatoes, I know how and I know I can do it. When you work around a kitchen, somebody out of shape and overweight is not going to do as well at being on their toes.”

To fuel his workout, Butts says he and his wife, Carmen McGee, generally eat what he calls “a modified paleo diet” – meats, vegetables and fruit and nuts with no dairy, no wheat, no rice, no sugar and no processed foods. But he gives himself room for cheating.

“We’ll go in cycles, like maybe six weeks on a strict diet and then take a few weeks off. It’s how you stay sane,” he says.

To fuel workouts, Butts says he drinks protein-enriched homemade smoothies – spinach, banana, almond butter, green tea, protein powder, spirulina (blue-green algae) and whatever fruit happens to be around the kitchen. He also likes making a three-egg omelet with vegetables.

“And I still do coffee for fuel,” he says.

Matthew Capps, 26

Chef and co-owner

The Friendly Fox, Fort Wayne

Matthew Capps says getting into even better shape was his New Year’s resolution.

When his daughter, Ruby, was born three years ago, he started on the road to being more health-conscious. Now, he says, “Basically I’m at the gym six days a week.”

When he doesn’t go to the gym, where he trains with free weights, Capps runs in Foster Park and on errands. “Anywhere within a 3-mile radius, I try to run,” he says. He also rides a bicycle 35 to 40 miles at a time.

Capps says he didn’t have help designing his routine. “I just kind of took the areas where I wanted to see results and improvements and starting doing them regularly.”

The Ivy Tech graduate says culinary school could do a better job integrating knowledge about food and exercise. Since he’s gotten more serious about being in shape – he now eats a basically vegan diet – he has more energy, he says.

“Three years ago, I had a business in Michigan, and the output of my business from three years ago to today is a tremendous difference,” he says. “I can get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and put in a 12-hour day and feel like it’s only six.”

Capps doesn’t eat dairy – a bit of lactose intolerance propelled him in that direction. In the mornings pre-workout, he makes a fruit shake with strawberries, cantaloupe, purple carrots, Gala apples and grapes.

“The Vitamix is a friend,” he says of a high-powered blender he and his wife, Rebecca, received as a wedding gift.

Post-exercise fuel can include jasmine rice, a sautéed chicken breast with a blood orange reduction sauce and vegetables.

The Friendly Fox specializes in healthy and fresh food, often locally sourced, Capps says.

He wants customers to see a healthy lifestyle in the person behind the food.

“I don’t want to sound stereotypical, but I wanted to represent the restaurant and for people to see that we do cook health-consciously,” he says, “and that it’s not just about serving salads to people.”

Andrew Smith, 29

Chef and owner

Affine food truck,

Fort Wayne

Andrew Smith ran cross-country in high school and college, and “really aggressively,” he says. Then, he found himself falling into more sedentary ways. In late 2010, he made a turnaround.

“I had never been in a gym and had never been much of a gym person, but I got to really liking it,” he says.

Now, he works out about five days a week, “if I’m having a good week,” at Anytime Fitness in the Anthony Wayne Building downtown.

He started out doing CrossFit but found scheduling workouts around class times inconvenient.

“I’m the kind of person that if I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it well. I want to be good at it,” he says.

So, he switched over to circuit training and free weights, as well as running on the treadmill for cardio “at a heavy incline at a speed where at the end I’m basically falling off the back of it.”

Smith also is an avid summertime bicyclist who competes in mountain biking races – long ones that may require being in the saddle for 90 minutes to two hours at a stretch. He says such events require viewing food as fuel.

“The night before (a race) I’m going to eat a large amount of protein get my muscles ready and carry me through,” he says. “The day of, it’s all about the glycemic index. You want carbs, but not quick-acting ones, not simple sugars; (you want) long-acting ones, something like oatmeal. Right before the race, I’ll eat some simple sugars, like a banana.”

During races, he says, he carries honey packaged in a squeezable plastic bag for quick uptake. Post-workout, he makes a smoothie with fruit, protein powder and plain, full-fat Greek yogurt.

One of his favorite healthy meals from the food truck, which concentrates on serving locally sourced and organic foods, is a summertime tomato caprese sandwich.

It contains slices of heirloom tomatoes, basil, fresh mozzarella and lettuce or arugula with a balsamic dressing on a baguette or whole-grain bread. “With the cheese and the bread you get a complete protein,” he says.

Smith, who has a degree in nutrition, tries to eat six times a day, and lately switched to unsweetened almond milk because the proteins “seem to be carrying me much better throughout the day.”

For him, exercise is as much about mental fitness as physical prowess.

Exercising fuels “a lot of my creative process,” he says. “If I’m stuck about something, going for a run will get me unstuck. Like, I’ll think about menu items and business tactics, or a dinner I want to do.”

Plus, he says, “Generally, it just keeps me happy.”

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