Professional athletes don’t get to the top by accident. It takes superhuman levels of time, dedication, and focus—and that includes paying attention to what they put in their bellies. In this series, GQ takes a look at what pro athletes in different sports eat on a daily basis to perform at their best. Here’s a look at the daily diet of Jinder Mahal, who left the WWE and came back shredded.
Two years ago, Jinder Mahal was released by WWE following a stint in the sometimes fun but ultimately underwhelming comedy act known as 3MB. Less than two weeks ago, Jinder Mahal shocked the wrestling world by winning the WWE Championship. At the root of Mahal’s sudden and unexpected rise to the top of the card? A completely revamped diet-and-exercise routine that has dramatically changed his physique and has him oozing with confidence. (Enough confidence to state on live TV that he was going to be on the cover of GQ. Says Mahal: “I have the look, I obviously have the body, and as you can see on SmackDown Live every week, I have impeccable style!”) We caught up with the Modern Day Maharaja to find out what inspired his new lifestyle, what foods to eat in order to have veins in your abs, and why you’re likely to write off all his hard work and scream, “Steroids!”
GQ: A lot has changed for you over the past year or so. You’re now the WWE champion, but maybe even crazier than that is the physical transformation you’ve gone through. I was curious, when did you first decide that you were going to change up the way you work out and the way you eat?
Jinder Mahal: It started almost exactly a year ago. June 1st. I wasn’t signed back to WWE and I was eating a bunch of junk food and drinking too much beer. One day I just decided I was going to quit drinking, focus on my health, and start dieting again. One of the very first things I did was I contacted a meal prep company. It’s called Nutrition Solutions. So I quit drinking, got the Nutrition Solutions going, and just started training hard again. Two months later, I was signed back to WWE.
Talk about good timing.
I don’t think it was a coincidence. I was away from WWE for two years. I didn’t really care, and nobody cared about me. But as soon as I started caring about myself and putting in the effort in the gym and with my diet, quit drinking, two months later I was back in WWE.
It sounds like cutting out alcohol was a huge part of your new lifestyle.
That was the first big step, yes.
Have you picked up a drink since?
No, I’ve given up alcohol. And honestly, I feel great. I don’t miss it at all. Now, not drinking for so long, I’ve realized how horrible it really makes us feel. I’ve never felt better. I’m not even tempted to drink because of how good I feel. Having a drink now would probably give me the worst hangover in my life. I don’t need it. I’m more focused on my career and I see everything moving in such a positive direction that I’m not even tempted. I don’t want to drink. I don’t want to eat junk food.
Aside from the beer and alcohol, from a solid food standpoint, what was the biggest change to your diet? You’re so much leaner now compared to even a year ago. Was it cutting out carbs or sugars or anything like that?
I actually started being more consistent with my meals. Before when I was hungry, I would eat a big meal and then not eat for a couple of hours. Maybe have a snack. But what I do now, what’s made the biggest change in my physique, is I eat every two hours and I eat the same portion meal—about 350 to 400 calories, about 30 grams of carbs, and 30 to 40 grams of protein. I eat a meal with that same breakdown every two hours.
What’s the logic behind that?
When you’re constantly feeding your body like that, it knows that it’s going to be fed again in two hours. So it doesn’t hold any fat. Your body starts to hold fat basically when you’re inconsistent. You might eat a big meal and then the body thinks, “I’m not going to get fed for six more hours,” but then maybe an hour later you eat again. So the main thing has to be consistency. If you eat every two hours, your body doesn’t really hold much fat and it actually speeds up your metabolism. I actually eat more throughout the day now because I’m having seven or eight meals, but I’m leaner because I’m eating those meals so consistently that it speeds up my metabolism.
And you’re probably not overeating at any point either.
No, I don’t overeat. I eat my meal and then I’m waiting for the next two hours so I can eat some more. I’m never really full and I’m never really hungry.
I know you said you could be eating seven or eight meals a day, but what do those meals typically consist of? Could you take me through a general day of your diet?
The first thing I do when I wake up is cardio on an empty stomach. I’ll just drink water or maybe I’ll have a black coffee with no sugar, and I’ll do about 25 minutes of cardio, six days a week. If I’m home, I have an elliptical trainer. If I’m on the road, I always go down to the hotel gym and just use whatever cardio equipment they have. I prefer to use the elliptical because it’s a little bit easier on my joints than running on a treadmill. But right after I do that I have my first meal, which is usually one packet of oats and two scoops of whey protein isolate. I just dump the oatmeal right into the protein shake and mix it with water. I’ll also have one banana. That’s meal number one.
About an hour after that I get my workout in. I’m training for about an hour and a half. I do about 30 minutes of stretching and then right after that workout I eat another banana, a packet of oats, and a few scoops of protein for my post-workout meal. An hour after that is when I start my regular meals. With the meal prep company, it makes it so easy and it’s a different variety every meal. Chicken and rice, pasta and turkey. Like I mentioned before, the main key is balance. Each meal has those balanced macronutrients—same amount of protein, same amount of carbs.
Do you differentiate at all in your diet between simple and complex carbohydrates?
I try to eat more simple sugar carbs like white rice earlier in the day, closer to my workout. Then I switch to complex carbs later on in the day. Maybe brown rice or whole-wheat pasta or sweet potatoes.
When you’re traveling from show to show with the WWE, does that make it harder to keep consistent with your diet?
I have a system. I bring food with me. I’ve got a six-pack bag where I keep food for the day. And in my checked bag I keep frozen meals on ice packs. So what I do is, I always make sure I get a hotel room with a fridge so I can refrigerate some meals and keep those other ones frozen. If the fridge doesn’t have a freezer, I just ask the front desk and they’ll usually put my meals that I need to keep frozen in their freezer. So the meals I thawed out in the fridge I’ll put in my six-pack cooler the next day with the ice packs. Then I put the frozen ones in my bag and by the time I get to the hotel the next night, they’re ready to be thrown in the fridge. I kind of have a system worked out. Half my suitcase is literally supplements and food in Tupperware and ice packs.
” The one that I really like is Taco Bell Hot Sauce. I usually buy it in the bottle, along with spicy mustard. Those two together on just about anything.”
Honestly, that sounds like a ton of work.
It is a lot of work, but it’s totally worth it because I see the changes in my physique. Another thing I do is that I always have microwavable rice packs. Uncle Ben’s, I believe it is. So I keep both brown and white rice. I try and not eat out when I’m on the road. Sometimes I might find a grocery store or a Whole Foods. Whole Foods is perfect because you can buy salmon filets or even cooked chicken breasts. But you can go to any grocery store and chances are they have cooked chicken breasts at the deli. I might even buy a rotisserie chicken, peel the skin off, and try to eat the white meat along with some rice. And I actually keep hot sauce with me, too. The one that I really like is Taco Bell Hot Sauce. I usually buy it in the bottle, along with spicy mustard. Those two together on just about anything, even plain chicken and rice, it tastes delicious.
I’ve spoken to some of your fellow WWE superstars about their favorite places to eat on the road before. If you are in an absolute bind and something goes wrong with the food you usually bring with you, where is your go-to spot?
You can actually eat very clean at Chipotle. They have white rice, they have brown rice, and they have chicken. I stay away from the guac and the sour cream. I just get lettuce, double-meat chicken, and a white or brown rice. Sometimes you don’t realize how bad you feel from just eating out all the time at fast food places. I haven’t eaten McDonald’s or any other fast food in I don’t know how long. Not even pizza.
You mentioned earlier traveling with supplements. Are you taking a bunch of different supplements, or do you keep it a little bit more basic?
No, I actually take quite a few supplements. I have protein with me all the time. I always have branched-chain amino acids. I take those with water before my morning cardio. They prevent muscle breakdown. I take a magnesium supplement before my workout because it prevents cramping. You know, I have to wrestle every night and I have to train so hard—sometimes I’ll work out and then later on I feel my back starting to cramp up. So magnesium helps a lot with that. I take multivitamin packs. There’s like 10 different multivitamins and digestive enzymes all in one little packet. I take one packet of those every morning. I take creatine and a pre-workout before I work out. And I always switch my pre-workout. Every bottle I finish, I get a different one so my body never gets used to it.
Like, a totally different brand?
Yeah. Sometimes you find you’ve got to take two scoops now or three if the pre-workout is not working anymore, because you start to build up a tolerance. So just to keep my body guessing, every time I finish a bottle of pre-workout I go buy a completely different kind.
You’ve addressed this on your Instagram account before, but a lot of people see the physical transformation you’ve gone through and immediately write it off as PEDs or steroids. Why do you think so many people have that reaction?
I don’t think people realize the hard work that goes into it. Nobody sees the work I’m putting in the gym. Nobody sees me doing cardio first thing in the morning. Nobody sees me lugging around that suitcase. And just generally, people don’t have that much knowledge about diet and the effects that diet alone can have on your body. If you see a bodybuilder before they’re in competition shape to when they get into competition shape, that’s all dieting, carb cutting, and macronutrients. I mean, you can totally transform yourself just by cutting carbs and even something as simple as drinking a gallon of water a day. The average person—like, 90 percent of the average population—is dehydrated. That’s another thing that I do now, which has been a huge key.
Yeah. I drink two gallons of water a day. I’ve already drank one gallon by the time I finish my workout, and then I drink another gallon for the rest of the day. Every morning or every night, I go to the gas station to buy two gallons of water. I always have a jug of water with me. You can see it even when I walk into the arena, I’ll have a jug of water with me.
Do you drink just straight water, or are you staying hydrated with any other type of sports drink?
I put those branched-chain amino acids in the jug of water for a little bit of flavor. It makes the water go down a lot easier. Plus it gives me those amino acids throughout the day to help with muscle recovery. But you’ve got to build up to two gallons. You can’t just go from zero to two gallons. I recommend at least getting one gallon of water a day. I’ve seen some people who are overweight, the only thing they change is they start drinking a gallon of water a day, and they’ve lost up to 10 pounds within a couple of weeks. Like I was saying, though, generally there’s not a whole lot of education out there about nutrition and all of this.
Aside from drinking more water, what’s one thing that the majority of the population has no idea about when it comes to diet and nutrition that you think they should?
I never mix fats and sugars because it spikes your insulin and the fats that you’re taking in immediately get stored. If I’m eating a simple carb like white rice, I’ll try and keep the fat intake to an absolute low.
You’re so strict and regimented with your diet, which I think is amazing, but do you ever allow yourself a break? A cheat meal here or there?
This is all possible because the meal prep company has these healthy versions of meals like pizza. They’ll have a protein pizza, where they use a whole-wheat wrap at the bottom and lean chicken on top. So my taste buds get a bit of a break from just eating plain chicken breast and rice all the time. I think that’s key. Sometimes post-workout I’ll have a Lenny & Larry’s Complete Cookie. That’ll be like my treat. Plus after your workouts you need the simple sugars, you need the simple carbohydrates for glycogen. I wouldn’t recommend eating one before bed, but post-workout your body takes whatever sugar you put into it and refills the glycogen stores. You kind of need it.
Did you at least allow yourself a celebratory meal after winning the WWE Championship?
No, it was business as usual. I actually remember what I ate. I had brown rice and seared Ahi tuna. My family came down for the match and we all went out to eat, but I stayed on my diet because I know that the hard work begins now. Everybody thought I was working hard to become champion, but you should see how hard I’m working now. I’m going to diet even harder because to become champion is one thing, but I want to keep my championship. I want to be a long-reigning champion. I want to be a multiple-time champion. I want to go down as one of the greats, and I know that the hard work is just beginning now.