About fifteen minutes into our interview, after he’s just detailed his stretching routine, a five-step core circuit, and his yoga practice, Wilson Cruz says something mind boggling: That was just a warmup. What follows for the 46-year-old actor is another hour’s worth of strength training, which he’s lately been doing using TRX straps and a flywheel machine at home.
Cruz wasn’t always a pre-workout workout type guy. He gradually picked up healthy habits while he was playing Angel in the original Broadway run of Rent, where he rapidly lost weight dancing around under layers of costumes. “I had to make up for it by eating a lot,” he says, so he started paying attention to what he was putting in his body. Once the show wrapped and he felt ready to take on TV roles, he started learning how to lift. These days, he’s careful to keep his body looking sharp as Dr. Hugh Culber, a doctor aboard the USS Discovery in CBS’s Star Trek spinoff. Plus, he likes to use his muscles for good every so often—he's been known to drop an annual thirst trap in honor of Pride Month or, more recently, to get out the vote.
GQ caught up with Cruz, who’s tuning into Season 3 of Discovery while prepping for a new role in Toronto, on how he’s fine-tuned his routine.
GQ: What’s your morning routine like right now?
Wilson Cruz: On a normal day I get up around 7:00 and have black coffee. I’ll get things done and answer e-mails and try to let that coffee kick in. Then I’ll work out from around 9:00 to 11:00. I'll continue to drink my black coffee through my morning workout 'cause I'm an addict.
Let me preface this by saying, I'm gonna be 47 years old in December, so my workouts are very different than they were 20 years ago. I have to put everything in place these days when I wake up [laughs]. So I get up and readjust my 47-year-old back so that I can walk through the day. A lot of it is waking up the body and getting it ready for physical exertion. Priming it. I'm stretching, I'm working on my flexibility, I'm working on my stabilizing core muscles.
I do about 30 minutes of core before I work out, because your core is everything. If your core isn't awake and ready, your workout is useless. It's an entire routine that consists of bird dogs, shoulder taps, the ab wheel, planks, and the one where you're on your back and you kinda hollow everything out.
I do my yoga after my core routine, for about 20 minutes. And then I can work out.
What does the main workout typically look like?
I'll pick a couple of body parts that I combine, and do about an hour, which usually gets me about eight different setups. Nowadays, I'm working out at home, so it's all right here. I have my TRX, I have my pull-up bar. I bought this new machine that my trainer introduced me to in the early days of shelter-in-place called the flywheel. However hard you pull, it'll pull back.
Do you always work out in the morning?
If I had my druthers I'd get up, have my coffee, and go. The earlier the better. But you have to be willing to adjust with filming schedules. Sometimes, like early in the week, it's easy to do it in the morning before work. Later in the week is harder. Sometimes it's just about sneaking it in where you can. Or you skip the day and make up for it the next day. I try to look at the whole week. As long as I'm getting a workout in five out of seven days a week, I'm doing all right.
Do you eat before or after working out?
I do intermittent fasting, so I don't eat anything until my protein shake after my workout, which is usually around 10 or 11. It’s usually some grass-fed powder that’s disgusting. That breaks my fast, and then I have my first actual meal within an hour of the protein shake.
I try to stay really high protein, low carbs. I try to stay low in the carb section the closer I get to bedtime. I don't count macros or any of that. I eat when I'm hungry. I'm trying to grow and stay healthy and maintain my fitness. That takes fuel.
What’s your go-to snack these days?
I basically live on coffee, protein, and berries. I enjoy a blackberry very much. My go-to snack is a big scoop of plain Greek yogurt, a little granola, some berries, and a little honey. That's all I need.
Also, I love Envy apples. They're hard to come by in some cities, but in L.A. they're readily available. I feel like I keep them in business.
How do you maintain the intermittent fasting when you’re on a shoot schedule?
The thing about the intermittent fasting when you're shooting is you finish at a different time every day. That makes it difficult to be consistent. Sonequa [Martin-Green, his co-star on Star Trek: Discovery] and I have our challenges. She's the one who turned me onto it. I try to stay on the same schedule and let the work day be what it is, but sometimes you have to adjust. It starts to have effects on your thinking capacity and your ability to remember lines and your energy levels if you don’t feed yourself.
In the last couple years I've started using meal plans so that I can take my meals with me to set. Because of my travel schedule and work, it's been easier to find a meal plan service in whatever city I'm in. I've been splitting up my time between L.A., New York, and Toronto. I don't actually have a place anywhere right now. Wherever I'm working is where I'm living. It's a little much—I'm not gonna lie. I think I have about one more year of this life.
Do you have any practices that make you feel more at home wherever you are?
My grounding force is yoga. If I get up in the morning and I'm able to go through 15 or 20 minutes where I'm in my body and quiet and really centering myself, it's helpful. I have learned in the last few years that I am my home. So I can be anywhere, but as long as I am centered and rooted in myself and a routine, I can function highly and get a lot done.
How were your habits different when you were performing on a nightly basis?
That was tricky for me. I started yoga in 1997 because I was getting ready to start my run in Rent and I needed to work on my flexibility. But I didn't really start working out in earnest until towards the end of Rent. I had been a dancer for years growing up, so most of my fitness came from that. I was way too thin at the time. I was wearing, like, four costumes layered on top of each other. So you're running around singing and dancing and everything and you're sweating profusely. So I was losing a lot of weight, and I had to make up for it by eating a lot. I was a pescatarian, so I was only eating fish and fruits and vegetables. It was really hard to make sure I was taking in the right amount of calories to make up for everything I was burning doing eight shows a week.
I wasn't lifting at all then, because I didn't want Angel to be big. At the end of that show he needs to be frail, but I still needed the energy that he has at the beginning of the show when he's alive and well and dancing all over that stage. It was a fine balance, that's for sure.
What made you start getting into fitness towards the end of the Rent run?
I was older and I wanted my body to match how I felt as a young man. I also knew that I was gonna have to start playing some older roles. Early on in my career I played high school students even though I was 19 or 20 years old. So I wanted to start playing characters closer to my actual age.
That's when I started really lifting in earnest. It was a pretty steep learning curve for me. I needed a trainer to take me through how to do it. I treated it like a college course: here's this thing that I'm gonna learn how to do, and this person is gonna teach me. I just devoted myself as a student. My body wasn't used to putting on muscle in that way. It took a while for it to click.
How did your eating habits change then?
I couldn't be a pescatarian anymore. I needed to take in a lot more calories to see some growth. So I started to incorporate more poultry into my diet. I still stay away from red meat as much as I possibly can. I think growing up in my Puerto Rican home, I’ve had my fill of red meat and pork for a lifetime. But when I go home for Christmas, there’s, like, an entire pig being cooked in the ground, so I eat it when I’m home.
How did you think about fitness when you took on your role in Star Trek: Discovery?
It was important for me to be in a certain physical shape for the show, because I feel like Dr. Culber is the kind of person who's always really busy taking care of everyone but he allots himself a couple of hours every day to work on himself. And I think it's important for people to see that caregivers also need to give care to themselves. How can we take care of the people we love if we are not first taking care of ourselves?
In your own life, what do you do to take care of yourself mentally?
I have my meditation that I do every morning during yoga, where I center myself. I think during these days when everything is discombobulated because of this virus, creating a routine that you can follow helps you stay focused. I speak to a therapist. I think we all need that. And then in the morning after my workouts when I'm having my first meal, I create a gratitude list. I list five things every day that I'm grateful for. If I have to repeat them from day to day, I will.
Real Life Diet
The actor views self care as integral to his work on the stage—and he's more serious about it than ever as he waits for Broadway's return.
Originally Appeared on GQ