Anthony Bourdain Tells Us How He Got Abs At 61

From almost 16 kg overweight to shredded at the age of 61. If our favourite chef can do it, so can you

Daniel Duane |

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Beloved TV chef and host Anthony Bourdain is 61 and you can grate cheese on his shredded stomach. He’s the walking definition of fitness goals, even more so when you consider how much he eats and still is at the peak of his body game. We did a little digging and wrote a quick story about how Bourdain isn’t just the master of the perfect burger; he’s also a blue belt in jiu-jitsu, to which he credits his physique. But we wanted to know more, so we got on the phone with the man himself.

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Men’s Health: Brazilian jiu-jitsu seems to have transformed you. When did you start that?

ANTHONY BOURDAIN: Four or five years ago, my then-wife was a full-time martial artist and invited four of the least likely people she knew to take a private training session in the hope it would be hilariously funny and pathetic, one of which included me. I’d never been in a gym in my life. I was 35 pounds (16kgs) overweight, a chain smoker, flabby, zero cardio. Taking stairs was not fun. To my shock and surprise, I endured, barely, that first session. I found it very strategically and intellectually intriguing. I like problem solving and I also like being the stupidest person in the room. I like being at the foot of a very steep incline where you never reach the top. It’s one of the reasons I like Japan.

 Sounds like you got hooked fast.

It was the last thing I ever thought I would find myself doing, which is to say, enjoy rolling around on a mat with a bunch of sweaty dudes. But I started taking classes and these days I mostly train open mat, which means I show up at academies all over the world, walk in the door like everybody else, get in my gi, and do five-minute rounds with anybody who wants to fight. Even regular warmups in white belt class and four or five rounds of rolling get you whipped into shape pretty good. It’s also the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Getting my blue belt was easily the most difficult accomplishment of my life.

Ever gotten hurt?

I’ve torn a groin muscle. That took me out for a few months. Other than that I’ve been lucky. Just the usual bruises, black eyes, cauliflower ear. I had to have my ear reconstructed.

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A cauliflower ear is a badge of honour. Nobody picks a bar fight with you.

Yeah, it was too bad. I was proud of it. But look, I’m 61 years old. I have limited expectations of how I’ll do, but every once in a while I get to feel the will to live drain out of a 22-year-old wrestler.

Has your eating changed since you got focused on being fit?

I was never sitting at home with a bag of chips between meals. I eat for a living, so I was already conscious of carbs and sugar. But it’s not like I deprive myself. And I don’t think about being fit. I think about being able to do jiu-jitsu well. It’s not like I’m looking in the mirror saying, “Gee, you know, I need to work on that arm.” I’m 61! I don’t have that kind of vanity. It’s more like, “What will help me get better in jiu-jitsu, or suck less at it?”

If jiu-jitsu were a life philosophy, what it would be?

Humility. I’ve had my ass kicked everywhere, but it engages the mind and pushes the body to extremes.

You did a film about Jeremiah Tower, a chef who came out of retirement to run Tavern on the Green in 2014. Does his story have a lesson for you?

Jeremiah said it best: Never underestimate your own ability to delude yourself.

You still love doing Parts Unknown?

I have the best job in the world. I decide where we go and what we do when we get there. It’s pretty awesome. 

Related: Hugh Jackman Raves About This 7-Minute Exercise That Builds Muscle and Strips Fat

What’s your comfort food these days?

A bowl of spicy noodles on a street in Southeast Asia, pasta out of a cracked bowl at a family-run place in Rome, a pastrami sandwich in New York.

What do you love about being a guy right now?

I don’t know, honestly. I’m frequently embarrassed by my fellow males. Most of the people I turn to when the shit goes down—they’re all women. So yeah, not much! I enjoy having a penis, but that’s because I never had a vagina.

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