Here’s How a Pastry Chef Stays Shredded While Surrounded by Treats

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If you think it’s tough to go easy on the peppermint bark and Grandma’s cookies during the holidays, try being Andre Drapiza: A pastry cook at Spago in Beverly Hills, he fills his kitchen (and his Instagram feed) with decadent pies and deluges of homemade donuts each day. But for the past month-plus, Drapiza couldn’t eat a bite of his own drool-inducing creations. The 29-year old was cutting in order to take the stage at the amateur Mr. Olympia, where he looked shredded enough to crack the top 10 in classic physique.

“I think the more times you do it, the more preps you go through, you can dig a little harder. You know, you get ‘more comfortable being uncomfortable,’ he says about missing out on his creations while he cuts. Drapiza has some serious discipline training to fall back on: Before he was a pastry chef or a stage-ready bodybuilder, he was a paratrooper in the Army’s 82nd Airborne division, where he made 23 jumps. Still, even with Army Strong-level discipline, passing on pie during a cut “still sucks a little more each time.”

Drapiza doesn’t have the option to just “not have temptations in the house”—just as you might not if you’ve got kids or a spouse. When he’s at Spago, he has to make and be surrounded by souffles and other gourmet goodies. And when he’s at home, he can’t help but indulge his passion for baking: Every day, he’s trying out new recipes or wowing his husband with delicacies like his favorite—his rich, firm chocolate cream pie with graham cracker crust, and topped with fresh whipped cream.

Despite eschewing every bite, Drapiza finished off the podium in the classic physique category—a result he says disappointed him. But it’s safe to say that Drapiza is the most ripped pastry chef in America. If this man can sport a six-pack despite swimming in a sea of sweets, we slightly-softer guys can learn something from him about avoiding a cookie or two to stay lean(ish) over the holidays—or as the long COVID winter drags on. Here are Drapiza’s tips for dieting discipline in the face of overwhelming deliciousness—and the right ways to fit in that cream pie.

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Give yourself 20 percent of your calories for “play”

The cutting phase before a bodybuilding show, where Drapiza is completely sweets-free, is the exception to the rule. And that rule is 80 percent.

“I count my daily protein, [aiming for 1.2 grams per pound of bodyweight per day] … most of the time, when I’m eating it, I’m having rice with it. So that’s 80 percent [of my daily] calories per day that’s clean,” he says. Those clean calories are usually made up mostly of ground beef, eggs, and rice. Once he’s hit those protein numbers, though, Drapiza feels free to go wild with the other 20 percent—eating pizza, burgers, donuts, or whatever else fits into his daily numbers.

Don’t try to be perfect: Whether you’re trying to do a clean phase of muscle-building or just maintain leanness, make 80 percent of your eating quality, and give yourself 20 percent for “play.”

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When you use those cheat calories—or have a cheat meal—make sure it’s something you love.

When Americans gain weight around the holidays, it’s not the big meal on the actual holiday that packs on that annual pound or two: Studies have found that the weight is actually gained over the 10 days after Christmas, suggesting that mindlessly grazing on leftovers and piles of goodies does us in.

If you’re going to limit your cheat calories, make them count: When his show was over, one of Drapiza’s first indulgences was that chocolate cream pie he’d been lusting after during his cut. “It’s made with dark chocolate, and is richer and firmer than most cream pies,” he says somewhat wistfully. He’s also got his depth chart of cheat foods lined up for his bulking season—when he’s craving foods during his cut, Drapiza keeps a running list in his phone so he can scratch those sugary itches when he’s ready.

Drapiza used to try to eat protein-laced versions of his favorites, too—protein pancakes and muffins, for example. And “they were pretty good,” he says. But there’s something to be said for having the real deal: Saving his indulgences for the foods he really wants means he can really enjoy them. If you’re trying to keep it lean, make sure the indulgences you go for are foods you really love—enjoy the goodies on your own holiday diet bucket list to satisfy your cravings without wasting calories.

Do something on your cheat day.

“A lot of times people are going to have a huge cheat meal, and it’s on a day they’re already burning way less calories than normal,” he says. Getting in a Christmas morning cardio session won’t “offset” or help you “earn” the calories you’re going to indulge in, but they can make you feel better—and cardio exercise can help aid in digestion and relieve constipation .

Drapiza’s advice: Don’t cheat on your rest day. “Have a cheat meal on a leg day, or a day you’re really moving” as a reward.

Stay motivated with positive reinforcement.

Sometimes, dieting sucks. You’re denying yourself calories—and potentially, calorie-dense foods you’d really like to eat. And scientists believe that using your self-control literally takes fuel—meaning your willpower is a resource that gets depleted over time. So without motivation to refuel your will, you’ll eventually cave.

Instead of beating yourself up for wanting to overindulge, refocus on your goals and give yourself positive reinforcement for what you’ve done, Drapiza says. While he avoids extra cheats because “I know if I eat this, it’s going to set me back,” he also reinforces himself with photos.

“I take pictures a lot, so I can look back at the progress,” he says. As he came towards his competition, there were demoralizing days when dieting was a drag. But then he looked at the previous day’s photos: “This is the best I’ve ever looked, ever. It helps” to feel that pride in what he’d done. With his willpower refreshed, Drapiza was one step closer to his show—and eventually, a chocolate cream pie.

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