The Real-Life Diet of Randall Park, Who Will Wake Up at 4 A.M. to Run If That’s What It Takes

Randall Park, currently 49, has had impressive career in both television and film. He first made notable appearances in shows like Wild ‘n Out, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office, and Veep—before landing a career-defining opportunity in the ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat. Park can also say he’s one of the few actors to have recurring roles in both the Marvel and D.C. cinematic universes, playing Agent Jimmy Woo and Dr. Stephen Shin respectively. 

But it took him a long time to get here. Now, as he approaches 50, he’s been prioritizing his health and dedicating more time to working out than ever before. “I feel like I started in this business so late. It took a lot of time for me to find my footing, so I have this plan to make this my best decade,” he told GQ earlier this year. That means his career, relationships—everything. But on the wellness side of things, he’s eating better, working on his mental health, and getting in eight workouts a week. 

Part of the reason for why Park decided to embark on this fitness journey is his upcoming directorial debut, Shortcomings. An adaptation of Adrian Tomine’s graphic novel of the same name, Park had a vision of adapting it for the screen since he first stumbled upon it shortly after its release, but felt discouraged by the lack of support in the industry. “It was hard enough for Asian Americans to tell any story, let alone something niche like that,” he said. 

When he got the green light, he found that directing is a grueling, high-demand job: “I definitely wasn’t eating as well as I should at the time and wasn’t being very conscious of my diet,” he said. “That’s part of the reason why I decided to embark on this fitness journey.” GQ caught up with Park to discuss his new philosophy on health and fitness, the tools he incorporates to stay mentally sharp, and gaining 15 pounds to play Kim Jong Un in The Interview.

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: The last time you talked to GQ, you said you started working out now more than ever? What motivated that?

To be honest with you, I realized that I’m going to turn 50 years old next year. This thought hit me to make my fifties the best decade of my life. The best decade in every way, health-wise, career-wise, family-wise, friendships, relationships—just to be the most alive I’ve ever been. For me, it started with fitness and taking care of myself—I started being more mindful of my fitness, my diet, and my health overall in every way.

How do you think your philosophy on your health and working out overall has evolved over the years?

I’ve always considered myself a healthy person in the sense that I’ve always exercised. I’ve always made time to run. I try to be mindful of my eating, just not being disgusting with it. I eat my vegetables and try to stay away from really heavy foods a lot of the time, but definitely not all of the time. I always thought of myself as a healthy person, but I really wasn’t as healthy as I could be. I had this idea of what it meant to be healthy, but I wasn’t mindful about it. It was more of an idea and less of a diligent practice. 

What do you eat now on an average day?

I generally eat two meals a day. The first meal will be just kind of whenever I’m hungry—it varies depending on the time, but usually it’s around noon or 1 P.M. Then I’ll eat dinner around 7 P.M., but it depends on how the day lays out, where I am, or if I’m traveling. Sometimes that first meal will be something really simple, like a protein bar, depending on my day. I don’t overthink exactly what I’m eating for the first meal, I’m just satiating my hunger at that moment. Then my second meal will be a little more substantial, heavy on protein and veggies. I haven’t cut out carbs completely, but I’m a little more mindful of my intake. I rarely eat desserts anymore, maybe once a week.

Do you skip breakfast on purpose as part of a particular diet that you’re following?

There are periods where I do active 16:8 intermittent fasting. I don’t do those all the time. I just do it for a couple of weeks, and then I stop for a month, and then I do it again for a couple of weeks. When I’m not doing it I generally let my body dictate when to eat. It usually falls in that time frame. Sometimes if I’m really hungry I’ll have breakfast in the morning, but generally it falls within that time frame. And I’m usually not that hungry during the mornings.

Do you tend to count your calories?

That’s one thing that I’ve been doing for the past six months or so: I’ve been writing down everything. For me, that really helps me be more mindful with what I’m consuming and with my workouts. I have a book where I log everything, and for me logging things makes all the difference in the world. It keeps me more aware of what I’m doing because I considered myself a healthy person, but I wasn’t thinking about the actions I was taking each day to take care of myself. Now I actually see it. I can look it up in front of me, I can see how I progress, how I’ve changed what I’ve eaten, or what patterns I might need to change. 

What does a quality workout look like now? How would you break down your training routine?

Sometimes it varies, depending if I’m traveling. Generally speaking, I run 4 days a week. I do 6 miles. If I’m working that day and I have an early call time, I’ll wake up at 4 in the morning and run before work. If I’m not working that day on a set, then I’ll run usually around 8 in the morning. That’s 4 days a week, sometimes 5 days a week. Then I do weights 4 days a week on top of that. Typical push, pull, legs and then one day everything that I’ve missed, and I do abs all of those days.

Did you play sports growing up?

I wouldn’t exactly call it playing sports. I sat on the bench a lot in games, and I’d run up and down the court and avoid getting the ball passed to me because I was so frightened of having to actually shoot it. I was not an athlete, in other words.

How’s the training process for you to get in shape for Marvel and DC?

I don’t play a superhero—I play a civilian. I get to live like a civilian and not have to do much, specifically for those roles. While I was playing those parts I definitely was a lot less mindful of my exercise and nutrition. If I come back—if you see Jimmy Woo again, or Stephen Shin in DC—hopefully they’ll be in a lot better shape. 

Do you have any crazy stories about getting in shape for a role?

I have crazy stories about getting out of shape for a role. When I played Kim Jong-un in The Interview, the plan was to put me in prosthetics to make me heftier. But we did a screen test and it just didn’t look that right, so they decided to not do the prosthetics two weeks before my first day of shooting. I was like, oh, no, I think I’m not in the best shape, but I think I should be heavier for this part. For those next two weeks before shooting I ate everything in Vancouver. I was eating everything that I would normally stay away from: donuts, carbs, pizza, hot dogs. I probably did it in the most unhealthy way, but within those two weeks I gained about 15 pounds. It was glorious. I enjoyed it so much. 

What did you do to lose the weight again?

I just kind of snapped back into my regular lifestyle. I think it took me a long time to lose it because I didn’t consciously give myself a deadline. I just kind of went back to my lifestyle at the time and slowly lost the weight. Now that I’m 49, I wish I would’ve approached it more mindfully, which is what I’m doing now.

How do you approach balancing a busy work schedule with maintaining a healthy diet?

For me the best thing is to write everything down and to be very strict on that. Because If I’m on set, oftentimes the food that’s available isn’t the most healthy. And sometimes I just can’t help it—I’m starving or I’m getting really tired and I need a pick-me-up. I’ll see a cookie in front of me and eating the cookie will be great, but it’ll feel terrible writing down the word cookie in that book. This practice of logging everything has really helped me be more aware of what I’m consuming, and on set it helps because I’m forcing myself to be conscious of everything I’m putting in my body. 

Are there any particular foods or meals that you consider essential for maintaining your energy levels throughout the day?

Eggs. I’ve always loved eggs. Eggs are really great. Oatmeal’s something that I used to eat a lot, stopped, and now I’m eating it again and it’s been good for energy. I’ve been drinking a lot of yerba mate tea because I was told of its benefits. I also drink a lot of coffee. Probably an unhealthy amount. You gotta let yourself have your little vices here and there and I’d say coffee is my main vice.

How do you take your coffee?

One of the changes I made is that I used to always take it with cream and sugar. Now I take it without milk or almond milk, and I won’t add any sugar to it. It took me a while to get used to it because I like my coffee sweet, but now I’m so used to it that when there’s sugar in my coffee, it just tastes too sweet.

In terms of physical and mental preparation, is there a difference for you in preparing to shoot for a film or TV series as opposed to directing?

When I was directing Shortcomings, directing is such a grueling—especially an independent film—it’s such a grueling job. I definitely wasn’t eating as well as I should and wasn’t being very conscious of my diet. That’s part of the reason why I decided to embark on this fitness journey. After directing that movie, I looked at myself and I was like, Oh, gosh! I don’t feel good. I don’t look good. I need to make some changes. I don’t want to go into my fifties feeling like this. From here on out, I don’t think I’ll think in terms of getting in shape for a specific role or getting in shape for the arduous task of directing. For me, it’s going to be a lifestyle that I will always incorporate into my life no matter what circumstance I’m in. It’s about what it does for me, mentally and emotionally.

Would you mind elaborating a little bit more on the physical demands of directing?

When you’re directing, your job is all encompassing. You’re involved in every aspect of the process. When you’re an actor, you’re responsible for your lines and your role. You have your call time, you get there before your scene is about to shoot, and you leave after your scenes are done. A director is there before all of that and leaves after all of that. There’s so much constant interaction with actors, but also with every department—wardrobe, you’re talking to the editor, you’re talking to the DP. Your mind is constantly firing. You’re susceptible to mental exhaustion. I think a lot of exercise, fitness, and self-care revolves around staying mentally sharp, keeping your mood in a good place, and allowing yourself to think fast. Directors have to think very fast, because unexpected things happen all the time, and you have to figure out the answer to very complicated questions in a very quick short period of time. It’s that mental agility and problem solving skills that come into play. 

Have you incorporated any mindfulness or relaxation practices into your daily routine to tackle mental exhaustion?

I’ve incorporated meditation into my life. In 2020—in October during the height of the pandemic—I started getting panic attacks, and I had never gotten panic attacks like this before. It was one after the other. It would happen a lot at night. I couldn’t sleep. For like 2 weeks straight I didn’t know what was going on with myself. I ended up meeting with these specialists and a therapist. I had a whole team guide me through this period in my life. They helped me with a lot of tools—like when I’m feeling anxiety to take a moment, take deep breaths, find a quiet place, and sit in silence. During the time we made the movie, it was definitely something that I utilized a lot, because it’s so hectic. There’s so much going on. There’s so many decisions to make. To sit in a quiet place and listen to your own breath, it’s very centering and gets you energized to go back out there and finish the day. And physical exercise is very much for my mental wellbeing. I’ve been running a lot, and to me that’s like another form of meditation. There’re a lot of parallels there.

Originally Appeared on GQ

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