Cut carbs, ride bikes: chef eats his way back to health

NYC celebrity chef promotes super-low-carb ketogenic diet

Seamus Mullen was in a bad way. In his early thirties the restaurant veteran weighed 260lb / 118kg. He’d broken a leg in a motorcycle accident. He’d contracted a nasty parasite. And he had developed rheumatoid arthritis to the point that just getting out of bed took half an hour.

Then, he overhauled his diet — chopping out all processed carbohydrates — and got back on his bike.

Today, Mullen is 70lb / 32kg lighter, the owner of successful NYC restaurants Tertulia and El Colmado, a published author and an enthusiastic evangelist for low-carb ketogenic eating, even for cyclists like himself.

I went on a health protocol to heal my gut, with probiotics and supplements

BikeRadar caught up with Mullen in Arizona.

BikeRadarA bike rider who doesn’t eat carbs is pretty unheard of. How did you end up on this path?

Seamus Mullen: In 2012 I had a near-death experience where I was really sick. I was on a lot of immune-suppressants. I was doing drugs and partying on my own as a way of escape. I got a really bad headache and a fever up to 106 degrees. In the ICU, they had no idea what was causing it. I knew I had to change something.

I got in touch with Dr Frank Lipman, who said he wasn’t interested in treating my RA [rheumatoid arthritis], but wanted to treat the underlying causes. He said, if you do the work, you are going to feel between five and 90 percent better, but it will take six months.

Five year ago, Mullen looked and felt quite different than he does today
Five year ago, Mullen looked and felt quite different than he does today

For years, I would wake up and the bed would be soaked from sweat. It would take me half hour to get up because I was so swollen. I walked with a hunkered-over limp for years.

I went on a health protocol to heal my gut, with probiotics and supplements. It completely changed the way I thought about nutrition and food. Six months later, I woke up and felt great.

BikeRadar: You’re a proponent of the ketogenic diet, which is surprising for a cyclist, since it greatly reduces carbohydrate intake. How did that happen?

Mullen: I was really trying to lose weight. In 2011 I was 260lb; I’m now 190-196lb. And I was looking at it as a way of reducing inflammation (for the rheumatoid arthritis). It was experimenting. As soon as I was able to dip into ketosis, I was able to lose weight quickly.

I did a ton of research on bio-hacking. There is a lot of info around ketogenics for inflammation, all the way back to 19th century. Even studies on epilepsy — your brain works better on ketones than it does on glucose.

In order to do that, you have to trick your metabolism: eat a lot of fat and very little carbs, like 150g or less a day.

I would test my blood every day for ketone level. And moderate my diet around that.

For true ketosis, you have to eliminate all carbs and eliminate all sugar. That is essentially the Atkins diet.

We’ve had this idea in our culture that if you eat fat, you get fat. That is outdated. You get fat by storing excess, unusable glucose from eating too much sugar. If you eat healthy fat like avocados and protein, there is no irregularity in your blood sugar. LeBron James, Navy SEALs and many others use ketogenic diets.

There are applications for endurance athletes. It’s not the be all, end all. But for anyone looking for a weight/fat loss protocol, it is probably the best.

Mullen owns two successful restaurants in New York City and he loves to get out on his bike
Mullen owns two successful restaurants in New York City and he loves to get out on his bike

BikeRadar: How did cycling come into the picture?

Mullen: I had wanted to get back on my bike for years. This whole time I was working in restaurants in New York City I bought and collected bikes. For instance, I had a ’78 Cinelli Super Corsa Pista built up with Campy — a fully Italian track bike that was gorgeous — hung on my wall.

We get to ride in incredible places — Piedmonte, Spain, the Dolomites, Provence, Sicily, Tuscany

After I started working with Dr Lipman, I took out my old road bike and did six miles. The next day, I did six miles again. Then 18. I built up to 30-40 miles in a few weeks.

After working with him for a year, all my indicators for RA — which is incurable — were negative. I had reversed this disease and I was on the path to becoming a normal person.

So I gave myself a bigger challenge: La Ruta [de los Conquistadores]. I did that a year later.

Because I rediscovered the bike, the more I could combine the worlds of food and cycling, the happier I was. The two worlds I love are very complementary. The bike helped me get healthy in a way, not only as exercise, but because it was my meditation. It gave me sanity, sense of accomplishment.

Food was operating under the radar the whole time.

Because I rediscovered the bike, the more I could combine the worlds of food and cycling, the happier I was
Because I rediscovered the bike, the more I could combine the worlds of food and cycling, the happier I was

BikeRadar: And now you’ve been cooking for luxury cycling tours with Duvine Cycling + Adventure.

Mullen: Andy Levine, who owns Duvine, reached out to me with the idea of a chef on wheels, combing cycling and food. We’ve done it for three years. I love it.

It’s my favorite thing. We get to ride in incredible places — Piedmonte, Spain, the Dolomites, Provence, Sicily, Tuscany. Places with such rich culinary histories and amazing food.

BikeRadar: How does that work in Italy, cooking with low carbs?

Mullen: I buy what the local products are, but I cook it in the way I cook it. Low carbs, lots of protein, healthy fats.

BikeRadar: How do your clients on Duvine tours react?

Mullen: They love it. My thing is just letting the ingredients shine. Provence in June, for instance, cherries have just come out, you have extraordinary tomatoes.

Cooking in Italy or Spain — I love it. As a chef who has shown up and has access to these amazing ingredients, I’ll use Limoncello to cure fish — they would never do it. But they make it there and it’s incredible.

BikeRadar: What do you eat on long rides?

Mullen: Today, Bonk Breakers. Typically I like to eat almond butter. That is pretty much all I eat. I’ll have dried food towards the end of ride. Beef jerky. If it’s a long fun ride, a can of sardines.

For a long endurance race I will really look at nutrition beforehand and eat slow-burning carbs like steel-cut oats that have soaked overnight. Sweet potatoes. Then on the bike I will have a puree I make of almond butter, cocoa butter and chia seed and dates.

I’ve been known to have a sausage in my jersey.

Read more about Seamus Mullen on his website, seamusmullen.com or follow him on Instagram.

You should consult your doctor if you are considering making any major changes to your diet.

Ben Delaney

US Editor-in-Chief
Ben has been writing about bikes since 2000, covering everything from the Tour de France to Asian manufacturing to kids' bikes. The former editor-in-chief of VeloNews, he began racing in college while getting a journalism degree at the University of New Mexico. Based in the cycling-crazed city of Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and two kids, Ben enjoys riding most every day.
  • Discipline: Road (paved or otherwise), cyclocross and sometimes mountain. His tri-curious phase seems to have passed, thankfully
  • Preferred Terrain: Quiet mountain roads leading to places unknown
  • Current Bikes: Scott Foil Team Issue, Specialized S-Works Tarmac, Priority Eight city bike... and a constant rotation of test bikes
  • Dream Bike: A BMC Teammachine SLR01 with disc brakes and clearance for 30mm tires (doesn't yet exist)
  • Beer of Choice: Saison Dupont
  • Location: Boulder, CO, USA

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