The Physical Toll On A Chefs Body

Is being a chef physically demanding?

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to notice all the little aches and pains a lot more. Injuries that used to take a day to heal now seem to take a week! I’ve also begun to notice some of those bad practices that older chefsOpens in a new tab. warned me not to do, have started to come to fruition.

Like all young chefsOpens in a new tab., I never really stopped to consider the physical aspect of the job. When compared to the typical manual labour roles, being a chef doesn’t really fit in to this bracket. However;

After many years in the kitchen I can safely say that being a chef is a very physically demanding job. Spending long hours on my feet, coupled with short breaks and unhealthy eating habits have all had an impact on my physical health.

Having said that, I don’t want it to seem like I’m suggesting that all chefs have poor healthOpens in a new tab.. For many it can be the opposite.

Due to the high physical demands of the job, many chefs choose to devote a large chunk of their free time to exercise and healthy eating. These chefs understand that once their physical health fades, trying to continue a career they love becomes very difficult.

In this article we shall take a look at a few of the physical demands of kitchen life. I’ll also share some lessons that I learnt along the way; and how listening to the sound advice of the older generation would have proved wise.

Do Chefs Spend All Day On Their Feet?

Let’s start with the most obvious one, and that is the amount of timeOpens in a new tab. chefs are stood up at work.

At no point during the day will you see someone pull up a chair. Apart from the funny looks you would receive, it is actually incredibly awkward to prepare food sat down (try it next time you are in your kitchen at home!)

Even in a small kitchen, the amount of walking around, back and forth to the fridges and store, plus all around the stoves, adds up to many miles walked in a day.

I tried wearing a pedometer in the kitchen once (before the days of fit bits) but it ended up in the washing up sink as an ‘accident’ by a colleague. 

In terms of distance covered, all I can say for sure is that your legs and feet certainly know you have been at work by the end of the day, and you are very glad to sit down for a drink at the end of a shift.

What Do Chefs Eat?

Anyone who decides to kick start a new health regime knows that healthy eating is a large part of of being physically fit.

The unfortunate irony for chefs, who spend all day cooking amazing dishes, is that their own healthy eating habits tend to take a back seat.

Meals whilst working often consist of calorie dense food, hurridly scoffed down in between meal prep. I have witnessed Michelin star chefs preparing the finest cuisine whilst eating a microwave burger, as they have no time to take their break.

Unhealthy diets place a high demand on the physical fitness of chefs. I personally found that I would fluctuate from one extreme to the other – some days living on coffeeOpens in a new tab. and food nibbled here and there, other days woofing down big bowls of pasta and occasional desserts carefully ‘sampled’ from the pastry section!

Do Chefs Get Injured A Lot?

Chefs tend to get injured quite a lot. That may sound rather worrying to some, especially those considering a kitchen career. Fear not though as the majority of injuries chefs suffer are minor.

I myself have had some serious burnsOpens in a new tab., and also witnessed plenty of others having accidents as well. However, overall I would suggest that a kitchen is no worse for accident rates than any of the other physical occupations.

There are lots of little injuries that take a toll on our bodies. The little nicks from knivesOpens in a new tab., the odd burn from splashing oil, all add up. In fact, look at any chef’s hands and they tell a story of an occupation spent around hot and sharp objects.

Most of these minor injuries heal quickly, but there are a few which take a much larger physical toll. I’ve witnessed several friends having to have months of work due to bad burns or nasty falls.

There is no doubt in my mind that as a chef our bodies take a lot of physical punishment through injuries or one description or another, even if we do kind of become immune to it.

Do Chefs Have Bad Posture?

This is one of the issues that I was warned about in my younger chef yearsOpens in a new tab. but like most young people I didn’t really pay attention to the sound advice.

Chefs tend to develop poor posture due to the way they stand at their work bench for many hours a day.

Standing by a bench all day preparing dishes isn’t inherently bad for our posture. If I had stood square on, facing the work bench, it would have been judged as a textbook method for promoting good posture (hence the recent fashion for standing desk spaces in offices)

That is what I should have done. Unfortunately I did what 99.9% of chefs do and stood at a slight angle to the chopping board with one foot resting on the supporting bar off the work bench (picture the way you can stand at the bar in a pub, with one foot up on the foot rest bar running along the bottom)

Whilst a comfortable way to stand it puts all the weight on the one standing leg. This puts you in a twisted position for many hours each day.

As I got into running long distances, in an attempt to combat the physical demands of being a chef, the poor posture resulted in me suffering many injuries and lots of expensive trips to the physio!

What Can Chefs Do To Stay Physically Fit?

As I eluded to earlier, many chefs take an active role in balancing out the physical demands of the job, by living as healthy and balanced lifestyle as possible whilst outside of work.

Sporting activities are really popular among chefsOpens in a new tab.; I’ve mentioned golf in previous posts as an activity which many chefs enjoy.

Running is another hobby that many chefs choose to do. ChefWord favourite Gordon RamsayOpens in a new tab. is famous for his marathon running which he took up to lose weight and regain some health after many years in the kitchen.

I personally really enjoyed running. I found the extra physical fitness I gained was really beneficial to my career. I discovered that I did not get as tired during the working day and was able to maintain a happier and more stable mood through out.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing chefsOpens in a new tab. when trying to stay physically fit is finding the time. I know everyone protests about lack of time to exercise, but with regular 12 hour days, chefs do often struggle finding time to fit exercise into their day.

Like everything in life, if it is a priority we find a way to do it. When the job we love depends on staying physically fit, there is an added incentive to take it seriously.

There is no doubt that being a chef is a physically demanding job. However, in my opinion this is a good thing. 

When going home at the end of a long day you are physically tired from work but mentally happy that you have been creative and done a good job. In contrast, a day spent in an office, returning home to be mentally tired but physically awake is not an option most chefs would choose.

Cover Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

Dave Nicholas

Having spent around 10 years working as a qualified chef in high end restaurants, my mission is to use this experience to help others as they begin their career in catering!

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