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.
When Criss Angel tells me his latest stage show in Las Vegas is called “Mindfreak,” it takes every fiber of my being to resist yelling the word back at him like the frontman of an early-2000s screamo band. The true Mindfreaks out there know why: From 2005 until 2010, Angel hosted a series on A&E that merged street magic and a heavy metal mentality, particularly with its theme song, which you’re definitely going to listen to now. But Angel didn’t exactly disappear when the TV series went kaput—in fact, since 2008, he’s hosted many, many live performances in Las Vegas that have made him a very wealthy man.
During his downtime, Angel occasionally ventures outside Nevada to do—what else?—magic shows. This summer, he fulfilled a lifelong dream by performing on Broadway. Specifically, the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, the same venue where his childhood hero, magician Doug Henning, performed in 1984.
Back in his normal routine in Las Vegas, the 51-year-old spoke to GQ about his interest in mixed martial arts, his personal 4,000 square-foot gym, and his high-protein, low-carb, razor blade-infused diet. (He does not recommend replicating that last part.)
GQ: How important is physical fitness in your profession?
Criss Angel: I’ve always been very conscientious about my physicality. I really got into it in the ‘90s. A lot of what I do is very, very physical. You have to have strong core strength and tremendous focus, because I literally take my life in my hands every single show, and there’s a huge, inherent danger. I’ve spent time in the hospital, in surgery, because of the risks that are associated with many of my demonstrations. A lot of what I do is real, and a lot of it is pure illusion. But the same common denominator goes into both: You have to be physically fit to do what I do.
Do you remember the origins of your exercise routine?
I was very, very fortunate because my pop was a great athlete in his own right. He had a scholarship to Penn State for football. They called him the Golden Greek. He was a bodybuilder in a lot of magazines back in the day, and he was also a wrestler and boxer. I grew up around that. When I was a kid, my dad and I would box in the backyard. I got into martial arts, started training when I was 14 in Kenpo Karate and kung fu. Bruce Lee was a huge inspiration as well. So I was always interested in keeping my body fit even before my career really flourished. I’ve been training for many, many years, even prior to the ‘90s.
Once I really pursued this as a full-time living and I knew the risks I was taking in some of the demonstrations, it really underscored the importance of being in even better shape. I dedicated a good part of my day to doing just that.
What sort of workout routine do you maintain now?
I have a really, really great gym in my house. It’s about 4,000 square feet. It’s got weights, some cardio equipment, boxing gear, and I’m getting really heavily into jiu-jitsu, so I added a spot with four-inch mats. I try to train five or six days a week. Sometimes it’s a 3.2-mile fast walk, or swimming, or getting into the gym and rolling around. I’m starting to get more into MMA again for a project that requires me to utilize some of those skills.
Do you think when people watch your shows, they’re aware of how much work goes into your fitness and being physically prepared for a bunch of dangerous stunts?
A real, real loyal fan knows, because I post things on my stories about how I’m able to do a full split at 51 years old, which isn’t bad. I’m pretty flexible. But it’s more than just that. Houdini made famous that he could take any man’s punch, and really, that’s what killed him—after a show, a couple of college kids came up to him and said, “Houdini, is it true you can take any man’s punch?” He said yes and wasn’t prepared, and they struck him and essentially ruptured his appendix. Instead of going to the hospital, he had a huge ego and didn’t do anything about it and died on Halloween. A few years ago, I wanted to do an homage to Houdini, and show that I could take some of the top MMA guys’ punches to the stomach. I had Frank Mir, who’s a heavyweight, he punched me in the stomach; I had Chuck Liddell punch me in the stomach; I had Randy Couture punch me in the stomach; and Paige VanZant punched me in the sternum, which wasn’t pleasant. So people know by watching me that I’m in that space mentally and physically. But you don’t want to do that, because you can hurt yourself and there’s a technique you have to use.
You can do a full split? Do you do yoga or other stretches?
I can! I don’t really do any formal yoga. I have my own form that I do every day for 30 minutes before showtime. I do a lot of spinback kicks and all sorts of things in my show—there’s a fight scene with other martial artists, for instance. I’ve been playing around with flexibility, because I think as you get older, it’s really critical to be flexible. It takes longer for your muscles to recuperate, and for me, doing so many performances a year, the more flexible I am, the less injured I get. If you’re not flexible, you’re going to pull stuff, hurt your back, do a lot more damage a lot easier in your 40s and 50s.
Let me tell you something: I have three herniated discs and a tear in my left shoulder. So what I do, instead of getting surgery, is some PRP injections on my shoulder, and I don’t do things that I know are going to do more damage like bench pressing. I’ll work around certain things. With my back, one of the things I do every morning when I get up is stretch. That stretching alleviates a lot of my pain. For me, surgery is a last resort. I don’t have six months to take out of my schedule to recover. My ability to perform and work around things is a really crucial element to what I do, compared to a pro athlete, who has the season and then the offseason to take care of their issues. There is no offseason for me.
This is not diet-related, per se, but how does one swallow a razor blade?
Well, I kind of invented the method that I employed for swallowing a razor blade. When magicians do that trick, they use fake razor blades and they buy it at a magic shop, just like my straightjacket. What I do is real—those blades aren’t dulled down, there’s nothing on them. I’ve cut myself countless times, and it really is not something I would recommend to anyone. But it’s about the mind, body, and spirit working together, and remaining in the moment by focusing on what’s in your mouth and not freaking out about it, not allowing your adrenaline or excitement being in front of an audience to get the best of you. You have to remain focused and calm with what you’re dealing with, but not overly cautious, because that can screw you up as well.
What does your actual diet look like nowadays?
To be fully transparent, I’m human, and things in my life have an effect on my diet. When I was putting my show together, I was working too many hours a day, seven days a week. My diet was really affected and I ate whatever, because mentally, it was very difficult. But when I’m in a routine, which I’m in now, I try to keep myself at least six days a week on point with the right diet.
Ultimately, diet with real food is a key component of being fit. High protein, low carbs, very minimal fats, lots of almonds. I’m a creature of habit. My diet—besides eating razor blades every show—consists of chicken, turkey, or filet mignon with some vegetables. Lots of greens. I have about a gallon of water a day, which is kind of difficult, quite frankly, but I am for at least three liters. I think that’s a critical component of physical fitness and well-being. And you have to allow yourself to cheat from time to time, so you mentally have those escapes of being in a regimented form. That works for me, at least.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Author: Alex Shultz