McGorry spills on his workout routine, diet, and meditation practice. (Photo: Ian Spanier)
You probably recognize Matt McGorry as Officer John Bennett on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black or Asher Millstone on ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder. But what you may not realize is that the talented McGorry was a professional bodybuilder before snagging those roles.
McGorry tells Yahoo Health that his diet and fitness regimen aren’t exactly the same now as they were during his bodybuilding days, but we love the levelheaded mindset he has toward healthy living: He’s a fan of intermittent fasting, but he’s not maniacal about it. He works out, but he makes sure he has fun doing it. And, above all, he values “moderation in all things.”
Read on for his workout routine, morning drink, and trick to keeping it low-stress in a high-strung industry.
Yahoo Health: Before hitting it big as John Bennett, you were a professional bodybuilder, power lifter, and personal trainer. What sparked your interest in fitness?
Matt McGorry: I was pretty un-athletic growing up. I did sports a little bit, but growing up in New York City, it wasn’t part of the culture necessarily. I went to a performing arts high school, and instead of PE, we had dance class. So I wasn’t particularly athletically gifted, nor am I still, inherently. But my parents asked me if I wanted to go see a personal trainer, and over time, I really started to like it. It sort of transformed me, not only physically but also in terms of my confidence. And I wanted to do that for other people.
I’m the kind of person who is into objective goals. The fact that the more you learn and the harder you work, the better you do — that’s empowering.
Why did you make the jump to acting?
With power lifting, there’s not much money to be made. And with bodybuilding, the people who make a lot of money are usually using drugs or steroids or things like that. It takes a lot out of you, bodybuilding. I basically had to make a decision: If I really wanted to pursue acting, I had to give it a shot.
How does your fitness background give you a leg up with acting?
I hated having my expectations let down when I was competing, and as an actor, I’m the same way. As an actor you see so many people who are so talented or have been at it for so long, or actors who’ve achieved great success and then you don’t hear from them for so long. This is a fickle business, and you do the best you can with what’s in your control. And it’s not that I don’t believe I deserve it, but there are a lot of people who are deserving of things that they don’t get, and that’s true in all areas.
McGorry competing in his first — and only — bodybuilding competition. (Photo: Instagram.com/MattMcGorry)
[Bodybuilding and power lifting helped me] to be able to say, “You know what? I’m going to focus on my own progress, without getting bogged down with what other people are doing. In acting, sometimes things don’t happen, and getting used to that is helped by an athlete’s mentality.
I think it’s less dangerous for other people to have [high] expectations of you than for you to have those expectations of yourself. Because in an ideal world, if my career keeps going at the pace it’s going, it won’t be an issue. But if unfortunate luck fell upon me and I didn’t work for a while, it’s good to understand that it’s not necessarily what I’m doing or my fault. That’s how the business works. Orange Is the New Black coming out, and that being the first show I’ve been on, for example — that was dumb luck. I was working hard and going after every audition and trying to get the most out of every one, but I could’ve been on a show no one had ever heard of. You have to recognize that you’ve been fortunate and manage your expectations.
You’re reportedly a fan of intermittent fasting. What does that entail?
I’m not as strict as I once was about it, but I generally do try to eat within a certain window and try not to snack throughout the day. After the world of bodybuilding and power lifting, where you’re coming out of one meal and thinking about the next one, I like the idea of just having two or three decent-size meals over the span of eight to 12 hours, and maybe a snack or two, instead of it being an all-day thing. So I kind of abide by that, but with moderation. Moderation not just in life, but in eating as well. Because, look, with any kind of strict diet, when you are very severe about your diet, there’s always a blowback.
Has it been hard, after focusing for so long on fitness and gaining muscle for professional bodybuilding, to see yourself onscreen now?
I remember the first shirtless scene I ever did on Orange, I was obsessively dieting, and when I saw that scene before the show ever came out, I thought I had blown it. I was like, “Oh no! I didn’t get as lean as I could’ve.” But then the show came out, and no one said anything negative about it, and it’s funny because from one perspective you could say, “Oh, he’s letting himself go,” but from another perspective, I just don’t need that validation I once did. I still love working out, and I think it’s good for my health, and I feel good doing it. I haven’t gone more than two weeks without working out in years. But I think with mental health, allowing myself to be who I am naturally in terms of my body, I think that’s sort of practicing more self-love that way.
How has your workout changed since you’ve become a full-time actor?
I’m really into boxing right now. For a long time, I considered fitness to be “training,” and that was a whole separate thing. Now I’m sort of working out and I’m like, “Oh, I forgot! People have fun working out!” So boxing’s been really useful for me because not only is it an effective workout, but I enjoy the process of it. I enjoy being in the moment while I’m doing it. Obviously it comes with practicing and embracing moderation. It’s “How do I actually enjoy it?” instead of thinking, “This is the most effective way to my goal. How do I do it?” But I always get excited with weights and cardio, and now that I live in L.A., a hike is something I’m always super-interested in.
What about diet — what healthy foods do you enjoy eating now that you’re out of training mode?
My favorite healthy food is Brussels sprouts. They’re not in season right now, and it’s really unfortunate. I love them with either some figs or a balsamic reduction and a little piece of bacon — that’s really delicious. That and my coffee in the morning. I drink cold brew with coconut oil. And I do use a Bulletproof mix too. It’s really delicious.
Any other tips for staying grounded?
I do Transcendental Meditation. It’s something I’ve been doing for a couple of years now. It’s a really big help, and you can’t really be physically healthy without being mentally healthy. I do it like once a day. I know that if, say, I had to do it twice a day, and I wasn’t able to do it twice a day, I would stop doing it altogether. It’s an exercise in itself to really embrace what I can fit in.