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Disciplined dining fuels executive chef's raw power

Vegan chef Doug McNish, who is adorned in tattoos symbolizing his plant-based diet, strains as he works out with free weights in Toronto on Thursday, March 15, 2012.

Michelle Siu for The Globe and Mail/michelle siu The Globe and Mail

Before Doug McNish became a vegan chef in Toronto, he drank beer, ate pizza and grilled 200 steaks a night. His weight ballooned to 270 pounds Then he watched an animal rights video a friend recommended, inspiring him to follow a diet devoid of meat, seafood, dairy or animal products and get active. He has the fervour of a true convert. He recently published the cookbook, Eat Raw, Eat Well: 400 Raw, Vegan and Gluten-Free Recipes.

"I know what it feels like to walk up a flight of stairs and be winded; I never want to be that large again," he says.

He exercised with a personal trainer for a year, and after losing 100 pounds, another trainer for three months on a program that progressed from walking to jogging, then running. Mr. McNish was elated, but he had loose skin because his program lacked a crucial component.

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"A trainer explained that the more muscles you have, the less chance you have to gain fat, he says. Since starting the regime, "I feel strong and have more energy."

Now the 29-year-old faces a dilemma because at his new stage of fitness he needs to keep strength gains so that he has fat-burning muscle he needs if he wants to stay lean.

My goal

"To maintain my health and feel good."

My workout

"I workout three days a week."

"I do 45 minutes of weights, then 45 of intense cardio on bike or treadmill, except in spring and summer when I run outside. I try to keep my heart rate at 140 beats per minute, so I sprint on the treadmill at an incline of two and a speed of seven for three minutes, and then I'll turn the speed down to three, but put the incline at 15. Then I'll jog for four minutes at incline of two and speed of five, than I'll go back up and sprint.

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"A sample day is I do chest, arms, and shoulders, using free weights and I start with bench presses with a 45-pound dumbbell and do one set of 12 [reps] I move up to 50-pound dumbbell and do one set of eight to 10, and then do one more set of 55-pound dumbbell and do six to eight reps.

"In between sets I do advance training, performing an exercise set immediately after one with strength progression built in, such as dips on the bench for triceps and push-ups. It depends on how I'm feeling.

"I work more on triceps. I do arm extensions with a 15-pound dumbbell and do 12 to 15 reps first my right arm, then my left. Next I take two 15-pound dumbbells and do skull crushers at 12 to 15 reps. Then, I do 12 to 15 shoulder presses and bicep curls. I repeat this whole superset of exercise, but increase my weight load by five pounds."

My lifestyle

"I don't eat before I work out at 8 a.m. I drink a Mason jar full of water with some lemon to alkalize the body and I take L-glutamine [an amino acid which assists tissue repair]in powder.

"After exercise, I make my smoothie. I throw in some kale and four tablespoons of Mum's Original hemp seeds, which gives you five grams of complete protein in a tablespoon, water or almond milk, chlorella, spirulina, raw cacao.

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"After my shower I make a chia pudding. Chia seeds are from South America; they are high source of omega fatty acids, complete protein, high in calcium and high in iron; they look like poppy seeds and swell up like tapioca.

"Lunch is a big kale salad with creamy tahini dressing, hemp seeds, walnuts, some avocado, and apples.

"At 3 o'clock I have a handful of almonds and a piece of fruit or a chocolate smoothie.

"For dinner my go-to dish is a red lentil dahl with quinoa and lightly steamed broccoli or chard.

"A snack before bed might be almond butter and spelt toast or a Sweets From the Earth brownie. Or I'll have a raw banana cheesecake."

My motivation

"I know what it feels like to be extremely overweight. I'm 5 ft, 7 and I was over 270 pounds. I know what it feels like to walk up a flight of stairs and be winded. I know what if feels like to be made fun of by other people. I know what it feels like to not feel comfortable in my body. So when I get to do my workout, I know it's going to make me feel better at the end of the day."

My anthem

"I love Triumph by Wu-Tang Clan."

My challenge

"Being a workaholic."


Erik Alstrup, a Corrective Exercise and High-performance Kinesiology certified coach, provides advanced training advice for improving results.

Initiate strength gains

"Doug could replace one exercise per body part with a new one until the workout is completely different. Use the new program for a couple of months then reintroduce the original program using the same system."

Prevent muscle wasting

Mr. Alstrup, a former Canadian bodybuilding champion and triathlon athlete, observes that Mr. McNish's 90-minute session in the morning before eating breakfast can catabolize hard-earned muscle.

"To prevent that, a lower calorie protein shake made from high-quality plant-based products would be perfect, as this will ensure Doug's nutrient needs are met; I recommend one gram of protein per pound body weight daily."

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