Simu Liu says he doesn't work that hard on his body. His workouts? “Relatively undisciplined." Diet? “A little bit more lackadaisical.”
But keep talking to him and you get the sense that he's simply figured this whole fitness thing out. He's not a gym rat, but he's made playing sports with his friends a central part of his life—and learned how to chase the feeling of being “about to pass out” from a workout when he needs to. He loves food—stir fries, Korean BBQ, sushi—but uses intermittent fasting in order to eat whatever he wants.
Liu works hard: he's put out music and even written a book that pays homage to his family’s origin story. He says he spent the first part of his life pushing to achieve goals set for him by his parents. That said, he not only understands their struggle, he hopes to honor it by continually pushing boundaries in his career. He says a big step there was working with Cadillac on the new fully-electric Escalade IQ.
And all of that pushing has gone hand in hand with prioritizing his mental and physical health, and he recently caught up with GQ to share more about what he's learned about mental and physical well-being.
For Real-Life Diet, GQ talks to athletes, celebrities, and other high performers about their diet, exercise routines, and pursuit of wellness. Keep in mind that what works for them might not necessarily be healthy for you.
GQ: Let’s start with your workout, since you’ve definitely been bulking up over the last few years. How do you stay fit?
Simu Liu: I think my workout regimen when I'm on a movie versus when I'm off a movie is very, very different. When I have people around me that can really whip me into shape and force me to be disciplined, which, I will be very forthcoming, has never been my favorite place to be. I don’t live for the gym. I don’t live to lift and get swole, you know what I mean?
But when I do, it’s definitely about high intensity interval training. It’s getting to that feeling where it’s like you’re just about to pass out but you’re not quite there. I’ve worked with really phenomenal trainers over the course of my career to be able to make sure that I’m at the peak shape that I could be or just feeling good for being on camera.
I grew up an athlete, I was on my varsity volleyball, basketball and rugby teams. When I’m not on a movie, I actually much prefer sports to being in a gym and lifting weights. I put a home gym in my garage, which I use relatively infrequently, but I have a basketball net in my driveway, which I shoot hoops on every single day.
So that just goes to show you what my exercise regimen is centered around—my buddies and I are always on a group chat about where we can find a nice run and we’re all about finding a place Saturday morning to go and hoop. Growing up in the world of sports, it’s so much more fun to do it in a team and competitive environment than to be knocking out reps in a gym—so that’s kind of where I’m at philosophically. That to me is far more important than lifting X-amount or benching this much. It’s about range of motion, getting a sweat on and spending time with friends.
How long are you shooting every day?
A quick one would just be 15 minutes—I'll just do drills and some spot-up shooting exercises. But sometimes if I have a buddy that comes over and we get into a game of one-on-one, it can be literally hours.
I know a lot of people would be surprised with how relatively undisciplined I am, but I need to be active so I will always find a way, it’s just typically rooted in sports.
Are you picky about what you’re eating if you’re not training for something specific?
I’m sorry to say I’m not. I’m blessed with quite a fast metabolism and the rule of thumb that has kind of worked for me throughout the years is to always make sure I’m playing sports and sweating and that’ll allow you to be a little bit more lackadaisical with the diet.
I would say if there’s anything that I really participate in, it’s definitely fasting. I try to limit my eating to an 8-hour window and really keep midnight snacks to a minimum. I generally will only have a coffee in the morning and then my first meal will be lunch but it will be substantial. That’ll kind of start my eating interval. That’s probably the most disciplined I get with the diet.
How long have you been intermittent fasting?
I really was introduced to it through a movie I did three years ago, but there was a trainer that started to get me used to the idea of intermittent fasting. It was really sold to me with the premise of you eat what you want, you just eat less frequently throughout the day. And that was fine with me—I’m not a huge snacker. If I don't see it in front of me, I won’t feel the need to eat it. It’s just more about making the most out of your meals and still getting the tasty meals that I love—because I love food—but just not eating too late into the night.
What are your foods that you love? What’s lunch and dinner?
I really love all Asian food, which means like a lot of carbs. I love steamed rice and I love beef stir fry. I love dumplings and noodles. I love Korean BBQ. It’s really just cycling between different Asian cuisines—I love sushi. Not to say that I don’t love the other stuff too, but I can’t go too long without a bowl of white steamed rice, I think it’s just the way that I was raised. That’s what keeps me grounded. If I’m not near rice I actually legitimately start to panic.
Just plain rice?
I’m a rice purist. But I’m a big believer in that the rice absorbs the flavor of whatever else you’re eating—the saucier the stir fry, the better.
I’ve gotta say: I love fried chicken. I would have fried chicken every day if it was physically possible to not die doing it. There’s something about the crispy juiciness of fried chicken that is just something special. I love KFC.
I saw you mention that KFC played a role in your parents’ love story when you were talking to Chelsea Handler.
Oh yeah! The first KFC that opened up in China was the date that my dad took my mom on the night that I was conceived. Which…might be entirely too much information to tell somebody in a GQ interview about diet and fitness, but I feel like the world needs to know much of the history of me is intertwined with the history of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
I’m a big scuba diving fanatic, and when you emerge out of the sea, the hunger that you feel after being underwater—because you really are burning calories just existing down there—is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. One of the only ways to curb that hunger is like fried chicken, gravy and all of that. The post-dive hunger is stronger than any edible I’ve ever taken.
How long have you been scuba diving?
I was training for a movie earlier this year and really really got into it. People often will scuba dive here and there, or they’ll get PADI-certified in a country they vacation in and just not touch it again for months, but I logged like 60 dives over the course of maybe eight weeks. So I got really familiar with the feeling of being underwater and I felt like I was a water baby my whole life.
Growing up in Canada on the east coast, cottaging was a big thing in the summer. We take our summers very very seriously because we know how rare and how special it is, so I was a big water skier, cliff-jumping—water’s just always been a natural place for me to exist. I feel like it just agreed with me. I really just fell in love with the sea and the entirely new world that is being under water.
Have you had any scary moments or close calls with scuba diving?
I think the only real safety issues that come up are man-made. I think ocean life for the vast, overwhelming part is very peaceful towards people as long as you don’t go disturbing habitats and fucking shit up, basically. Really it’s just equipment failure. Being able to breathe underwater at depth with pressure is a very unnatural state to be in and stuff just tends to go wrong like 30 to 100 feet deep. You just have to be ready for that.
Part of the zen of scuba diving is learning to exist in that environment and learning not to panic and to just keep breathing through everything, and if you can’t breathe, there’s always a buddy’s alternate air source. I don’t know if there’s some philosophical parallel to that, but I feel like there is. It’s allegorical to life. Just keep breathing and if you run out of air, have a good buddy with you.
Do you have any other mental health practices that you do regularly?
I think the biggest thing is just to go to therapy. Mental health is—I’ll speak specifically for the Asian-American and Asian-Canadian communities—it’s something that is not talked about a lot. A lot of mental health conversations being normalized, things like depression and ADHD… words like that just weren’t even in our vocabulary.
People from immigrant communities who don’t necessarily have the vocabulary to deal with whatever their mind might be struggling with, and it’s important to first and foremost have someone to talk to, and oftentimes it’s a professional. And then secondly, to have a very strong support system around them of friends and family who you can be vulnerable around. I place such an importance on those people around me, I think they keep me sane. Then, the last thing is just keeping that healthy lifestyle. For me, having it based in sports and something social has really been amazing. It’s so beneficial toward not just physical, but mental health as well.
It was through conversations with my therapist that I discovered that I had ADHD, for example. That has been a huge breakthrough for us. I’m starting to learn how to deal with it. In the beginning, it was like, “Oh, I’m an extremely forgetful person and sometimes I’m really lazy, but sometimes I’m hyper-motivated and I’m not sure how to make sense of it all.” It was my therapist who asked if I had considered that I may have grown up with ADHD. Once we had a name for it and we dove into the research, it was like a lightbulb went off in my head. So many things about me and my brain and the way that I lived my life became so clear.
It gave an answer where before there was just a lot of doubt and self-hate and shame. Now, there’s treatment and there’s coping and there's building systems around yourself that will counter and make you a functional human being in spite of all this other stuff. There’s also pride. There’s a lot of pride in the way that my brain works sometimes—in all its weird, impulsive, but also creative and wonderful ways.
I’ve seen you talk about how pride was a big factor for you growing up—that you always wanted to make your parents proud. What did that look like for you at the time?
At the time, it was ascribing to whatever their idea of success was. For my parents, who weren’t fully integrated into society, the things that made them successful was academia. So they passed a lot of those values on to me. I feel like from an early age, I generally meant to hold that line pretty well.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized just how much my parents—and really any immigrant parents—how much pressure and expectations are put on their children to succeed. So many families sacrifice so much to come here for the “American Dream,” and that very much is what they felt. Even though I grew up in Canada, I still think the precedent is fair. My parents wanted me to have every possible opportunity, but they wanted me to be worthy of their sacrifice. It’s the most stereotypical thing ever—getting straight As in school and being a gifted kid.
Well, the fact that you have, to bring it back to the Escalade IQ campaign, reinvented yourself from all of this.
I’ve had a very long and amazing journey over these last few years that has amounted to a series of happy accidents of one thing happening after another. Moments that have felt life-ending have turned out to be life-changing. That was one of the key tenets of Cadillac’s initial pitch to me—that they wanted to structure this campaign around redefining oneself. I was really touched. It’s very rare that a message from a brand is so based off of your life. It wasn’t just me driving around in a car, it’s the story of redefining yourself.
Originally Appeared on GQ
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