The Real-Life Diet Of WWE Star Finn Bálor, Who Doesn't Have A Workout Plan
Real-Life Diet is a series in which GQ talks to athletes, celebrities, and everyone in-between about their diets and exercise routines: what's worked, what hasn't, and where they're still improving. Keep in mind, what works for them might not necessarily be healthy for you.
Even in a locker room filled with some of the fittest people on Earth, WWE’s Finn Bálor stands out for his physique. Specifically, those abdominal muscles, which he seems to have an endless supply of. But when it comes to hitting the gym, Bálor has opted for a more laissez-faire approach. “People would be pretty surprised at how little training I do,” the former champion explained.
That’s why diet has become such a key component of Bálor’s everyday life, helping to ensure that he is, as he likes to say, always four days out: “If I feel like I'm out of shape, I can tighten it up in four days with my training and diet and be exactly where I need to be.”
He’ll especially need to be in tip-top shape when he takes on Bray Wyatt this Sunday at WWE’s SummerSlam event in Toronto. We caught up with the high-flying Irishman to find out how he’s preparing to step in the ring against an opponent who has a solid 100 pounds on him, and also discussed the exercises Bálor has learned to avoid in the wake of a shoulder injury.
GQ: I cannot think of a better person to ask: Are abs made in the gym, or in the kitchen?
Finn Bálor: I think it's a little bit of both. Obviously, they go hand in hand. But I would lean more towards made in the kitchen. I can tell you right now that I do absolutely zero cardio.
See, if you had asked me to guess, I would have assumed you were working in a lot of cardio because of how defined you are.
If I go into a regular gym, I will sit on the bike for six minutes simply to transition my brain from being in civilization to the gym. Not for any sort of calorie burn or warmup or anything like that. Don't ask me why it's six minutes, that's just a weird OCD thing that I have. And I won't train for more than an hour. There will be a long period beforehand with some active stretching, and then I'll do a little bit of accessory work first. I won't do anything that's going to jeopardize what I do in the ring, so I'm not going to do any heavy squats, any heavy deadlifts. I'm more worried about the accessory work and making sure all the joints are in place with rotation, especially with my shoulder injuries in the past. I want to do all that accessory work first when I'm fresh, I'm concentrating, I'm focused, and then I'll hit a little bit hypertrophy bodybuilding towards the end, but we're talking maybe three drop sets of rows, or something like that.
Is there any rhyme or reason to what you may be working on each day in the gym?
When I walk into the gym, I don't have a plan. I don't know if I'm going to deadlift that day, I don't know if I'll box squat that day, I don't know if I'm going to do dips that day. I just go in, feel the workout, and take it from there. If something hurts, I'm going to stay away from that. If something feels good, I'll want to work on that. But there's no plan. You know, everyone's got different mentalities and different approaches. Mine is kind of slow and steady. I've been training now for over 20 years and I'd rather train a little bit for six days a week then go balls to the walls for four days. I'm putting my body in enough jeopardy every night in the ring that when I go to the gym, it's really just to work on the things I want to work on.
Was that always your mentality in regards to working out, or is that a philosophy you adopted over time?
Certainly when I was younger and still learning what worked for me, I would have went by what was popular at the time. For example, the four-day splits. There was a time when I was doing 10 sets of 10, doing my bench press. I don't bench press anymore. I don't ever use a barbell for chest press. But there was a time where I'd do 10 sets of an exercise and that would be it for the day.
I'm getting a little bit older now. When I was about 35, Sean Hayes, the strength and conditioning coach at the WWE’s performance center, told me that I needed to adapt my training so that I was walking out of the gym feeling better than when I walked in. You know, I couldn't be beating myself up in the gym more than I was getting beat up in the ring. You don't want to be walking out of the gym with sore legs or a tight back. For the last three year, the biggest change has been to do as little as possible to get by and maintain. Keep your diet on point. Once you're not going backwards, you're going forward.
In that case, the foods you are consuming on a daily basis must be critical for you.
I find that my diet really is the key. Training is more like my form of meditation or prayer. You can let the training slip for a couple of days, and miss a couple days at the gym here and there, but if the diet slips, that is where I start to lose control.
Take me through what a typical day in the life of Finn Bálor looks like from a diet perspective.
Normally I wake up and it's either a protein shake or eggs. I run a very low- to no-carb diet. I've done that since, like, 2010. It's not so much a diet as it is a lifestyle. It's not really an option for me to look at carb-dense foods and go, "Ah, that's edible." I like to tell people, I look at a bowl of breakfast cereal or a bowl of rice and I see dog crap. I've trained my brain to recognize that as not food. So I'll keep it very high protein, a lot of veggies, and pretty high fats, as well.
Which is funny, because most people would look at your physique and perhaps think you’re limiting fats more than anything else. What are your go-to fats?
I'll have a little bit of red meat, but most of my fats come from avocados, walnuts, and almonds. Nut butter has been my best friend on the road, especially for snacking on. I'll keep a tub of almond butter in my bag at all times.
What is the one part of your diet that people may be surprised to hear?
I recently introduced açaí bowls into the regiment, and those would be pretty high in carbohydrates for me. But they’re something that has a lot of fiber—a lot of vitamins and nutrients in there that I wouldn't normally get from meat.
I know that you began training to become a professional wrestler at a very young age, but when did you first start to take nutrition and fitness seriously?
I was 16 and looking, obviously, at WWE and guys who were in shape, and was like, "Okay, I need to start working out." But the mentality then was to get as big as possible. Even in my early 20s, I wasn't very aware of what a diet was. I just thought that I needed to eat more to put on more weight. I was eating a lot of pasta, a lot of spaghetti, a lot of rice, a lot of bread. This was when I was in Ireland, so bread and potatoes are sort of the staples of our diet out there. But that was really just to get physically bigger, because that was the expectation for a wrestler coming up. You’re supposed to be, you know, 215-220 pounds. I was 180 pounds in high school and was told, “You need to get bigger.” That mentality of not so much diet, but eating lots of food to put on that mass was the way I approached my early training.
When did that begin to change for you?
I think it was more when I was starting to get to where I wanted to be with my career. The wheels were moving and I wasn't so heavily reliant on the fact that I needed to be big. I was actually good at my job and I was able to perform in the ring. I started to think, Well, I would like to look aesthetically different, as opposed to just being this 210-pound, 5'11" wrestler in Japan. That's when I realized, maybe if I drop a little weight, cut up a little more, I'll look a little more aesthetically pleasing. So it wasn't until around my mid-20s that I started to tinker with my diet and change things there.
This Sunday at SummerSlam, you’re squaring off against Bray Wyatt. With a guy like Bray, who is so strong and fast and freakishly athletic for his size, is there anything you do in the weeks leading up from a training or diet perspective to better prepare yourself physically?
No, I'm a creature of habit. I find that I've gotten to where I am based on my skill and my ability. I won't change my style or my training or my diet if I'm fighting Bray Wyatt or Brock Lesnar or Seth Rollins or Braun Strowman. It doesn't really affect me. I'm comfortable in my body, I'm comfortable with my training, and I have confidence in myself as a performer in the moment, so I shouldn't have to adapt my training to help counter other people's strengths and weaknesses. I should rely on my strengths.
Especially with the risks involved, even a basic bump can be dangerous. And if you're trying to alter yourself physically just because someone in the ring may be bigger than you, that's probably putting doubt in your mind and actually increasing the chances of getting hurt.
Absolutely. You talk about a backdrop, a scoop slam, a hip toss—every movement we do in the ring is dangerous. To add another element of danger by adding weight, losing weight… Changing my diet before a big game is not an option for me. I know when I first came to WWE, I was about 185 pounds and a different coach at the time had told me that I needed to put on 20 pounds to be in this company. Being a rookie who was just coming in the door, I wanted to follow the rules and abide by the system that was in place. I put on 20 pounds within about eight weeks and I felt terrible. I couldn't run in the ring, I was blowing up fast, couldn't do any of my high flying. It affected my technique, my stamina, and my training. I just said, “I'm not doing this anymore.” Slowly, I started to lose the weight and came back down to where I was comfortable, at about 180 to 185 pounds. And now I feel great. Nobody asks any questions or has any complaints about my performance or my physique.
We are coming up on the third anniversary of your now-infamous match with Seth Rollins at SummerSlam, where you became WWE’s inaugural Universal Champion. You finished the match, but tore your labrum during the middle of it and were out of action for a while. Did that injury force you to make any significant changes to your training and diet?
A little known fact: I've been dogged by a left rotator cuff injury since I was 19. I've been coping with that my whole career. And then, of course, I completely destroyed the right shoulder. So pretty ironic that the shoulder that's been bugging me my whole career has now become the stronger shoulder. But I got to do my rehab with Kevin Wilk in Birmingham, Alabama, and he taught me a lot about stabilization and different methods of fatiguing the joint without having to lift overhead. So I won't ever do any overhead presses anymore. Everything will be nice and narrow. Really, it taught me how to train a lot smarter. I think, honestly, it's improved my physique in the last three years as a result of the accessory work and paying more attention to the details, as opposed to just going to that one-rep max bench press or big overhead press. Sometimes bringing it back to basics and working on the baby stuff is what's important.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.