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Among the many wonderfully deranged performances The Masked Singer has given us, Nick Carter belting Journey in a sequined pink crocodile suit is actually pretty run-of-the-mill. And he agrees his appearance on the show skewed toward the less outlandish side of things: When we asked how he tolerated being trapped inside a three-foot-long crocodile snout, he ensured us he’d had it easier than a few other contestants. (It took at least three people to remove the glittery top lip of Wendy Williams’s costume earlier this year.)
Which isn’t to say that Carter wasn’t already a pro at managing the physical tolls of onstage performance. The guy has spent every night sweating it out to boy-band bops since he was 13. These days, the dance cardio usually happens at home with his kids, while concerts are on pause—which he admits is a bit less of a calorie burn. Nevertheless, he’s doing what he can to stay active, hitting the golf course and jogging around his Las Vegas neighborhood before the kids are up in the morning. Following his big reveal as the man behind the crocodile mask and the release of his new single “80s Movie," Carter called up GQ to talk about eating clean, discovering boxing, and performing with a tail.
What does a typical day look like for you right now?
I don’t know if I’m getting older or what, but I wake up around 5 in the morning. I’ll have enough time to go on a morning walk or jog for about 30, 45 minutes. Then I get back home, and I’ve just got enough time before my daughter and son are up and at ’em. I’m pretty much just at their beck and call all morning. I chase my daughter around because she is extremely active. I’m constantly getting a workout with her and my son.
Recently I’ve been golfing a lot, so I’ll try to fit that in. Golfing has helped me get out in the world and stay active. I’m with the kids the rest of the day. We put on reruns of the game Just Dance on YouTube and do a dance party. We’re constantly trying to find ways to stay moving while we’re in the house.
Your history as a dancer in the Backstreet Boys has become pretty iconic. When you started in the band, did you already have dance training?
I went to dance school in Tampa, where I was pretty much raised, at the age of nine. It got to the point where I was performing at the halftime of Buccaneers games with a little dance troupe. I had these cheerleaders around me—they called me Nick and the Angels. It started with ballet, then went to tap, then jazz, and then pop.
When did you start doing actual fitness outside of performances?
Lifting weights and training for strength has always been a part of my program. I really started training with weights, probably around 28 or 29 years old. I realized the importance of strength as I got older. When I first started training, Gunnar Peterson put me on a program with this heavy, weighted vest. I was releasing one of my first solo records and kind of overweight at the time. And I was running up and down the Hollywood Hills in the mountains, trying to get in shape. It was one of the hardest things ever.
Then I started to get into more of the boxing and MMA world. One of my buddies runs Gloveworx, and my wife and I were with him in the beginning when he had the idea to start it. We started to go to his classes and do the boxing mixed with circuit training and weightlifting. I go to a mixed martial arts gym here in Las Vegas, where we do the MMA stuff and weightlifting. My wife and I spar together. She’s extremely motivating for me, so it’s something we can share together.
What do you like to listen to when you’re working out?
I’ve been listening lately to a lot of classic R&B music. Brothers Johnson, Dazz Band, the Spinners, Isley Brothers, Mary Jane Girls, The Whispers…a lot of Kool and the Gang right now.
What are your eating habits like?
What we eat and what we consume is obviously what we become. I have the celiac carrier gene, so I try to maintain a diet that is along the lines of gluten-free. One of my staples is fiber. High amounts of fiber. I recommend, like, 20, 30 grams of fiber a day at least. I substitute with psyllium husk, which I mix in before or after I eat a meal, so that way it can bind to the cholesterol in my body and help regulate it. A lot of times I’ll be eating a substantial amount of oatmeal throughout the week. I’ll put bananas, blueberries, honey, apples, oat milk in it.
Do you cook?
I love to barbecue. I try to get this wild-caught, sushi-grade salmon, which I really love. And I’ll pour a little olive oil over it, put some lemon pepper on it, and then I’ll sear it or grill it. I’ll cook ribeye or New York steaks on the grill, too, and season them with a dry rub. Sometimes I’ll just do steamed asparagus with a little butter over it, or also brown rice, which is another way to up the daily fiber intake.
As a lifetime performer, has it been difficult to be cooped up at home for so long?
When I’m on the road with the guys and I’m on tour, we’re doing two hours of dancing a night, five times a week. That definitely keeps the weight down, since it’s cardio. I put on my Fitbit, and I would average about 900 to 1,000 calories a night. I try to be more active than what I consume, and when you’re dancing, like what we do, you can pretty much eat whatever you want. So now that everything’s slowed down a little bit, I gotta adjust the calories in and the calories out. I feel like a retired football player or something, realizing how to live life without all the activity.
Would you typically not work out on days you’re performing?
Sometimes we would do upper body. The one thing we wouldn’t wanna do is too many leg workouts, because then we would have gelatin legs, and we wouldn’t be able to dance very well [laughs]. That’s why you gotta strengthen the legs up beforehand.
You just placed third in the newest season of The Masked Singer. What were the physical challenges of that insane costume?
It wasn’t as hard as people thought. When I had the tail on, I would accidentally hit people behind the scenes, and they’d have to kind of lead me down the hallway the right way so that I didn’t knock things over. I could complain, but I had a pretty decent deal. The only thing was that the mask in the front had to be screwed in in the back so it would squeeze my head, and then the front was weighted down a little bit. So it would kind of weigh down my jaw and push my jaw into my throat, which made it a little bit harder to sing. I’ve never worn anything like that in my life. I was gonna be on the last season, and I was involved in the designing of the turtle costume, but I’m actually happier that I got the croc because there were so many funny one-liners.
You’ve talked openly about your cardiomyopathy diagnosis and how it led you to a sober and clean lifestyle. Did that transition have any effect on your energy levels?
I'm at a point in my life where I've found balance. I’m just really grateful to still be performing after 28 years. Thankfully, I have very high energy. It’s definitely changed and I’ve slowed down a tiny bit, but I always believe that I can jump right back on the horse and still have those same energy levels. I love playing basketball, I love playing sports, I take my son to the park a lot to kick around a soccer ball, shoot basketball, and all those things. I’m very fast-paced. I like to believe I still have the same amount of energy, just the priorities are a little different.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Real Life Diet
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Originally Appeared on GQ