Ross Butler is ready to fake-graduate high school. The 29-year-old, best known for his roles on Riverdale—where he played a self-obsessed meathead Reggie Mantle—and 13 Reasons Why—where he plays self-obsessed meathead (turned wholesome fan favorite) Zack Dempsey—spends a lot of screen time in the classroom.
This perpetual state of high school wouldn’t be a problem if Butler wasn’t so built; he’s forced to slim down every time he dons a varsity jacket, or else look like a man child. “If they didn’t make me wear so many sweaters on [13 Reasons Why], I wouldn’t look like a high schooler,” Butler tells Men’s Health, half-jokingly. Thankfully, that’s all over soon, and Butler can do something different: get big.
Because Butler’s doing more action now (he played a beefy superhero in DC’s Shazam ), he can afford to bulk up. He’s excited to finally make the full transformation.
True to his characters, Butler says he was a big athlete in high school. During his his first year at The Ohio State University (before moving to L.A. to pursue acting), Butler roomed with aspiring bodybuilders who introduced him to protein shakes and frequent lifting sessions. Butler got buff following their programs, but he couldn’t keep up the weight forever.
“In 13 Reasons, I had to do the opposite,” says Butler, who started doing more HIIT than heavy weightlifting, a priority shift that took some getting used to; “HIIT kills me.” (Though, Butler’s learned to love non-impact cardio like cycling, which is more forgiving on his sports-ravished knees.)
Despite all the aspirations, Butler says he’s just emerging from an offseason filled with indulgence. He’s a foodie, which makes maintaining a particular physique more difficult. He needs routine to keep him on the straight-and-narrow.
“When I was prepping for Shazam, I met with Thomas DeLauer who’s my nutritionist, and he gave me this crazy diet plan,” explains Butler, as he flips through four panels of construction paper and notes taped to his fridge: fasting day plans, non-fasting day plans, non-carb day plans, etc.
Even though Butler can chow down, he’s also highly disciplined, sticking to apple cider vinegar and lemon in the morning (he fasts until 1 p.m.) and fruit to get his sugar fix. Butler says he takes “like 15 vitamins a day,” including fish oil for his joints.
When Butler’s not on any diet plan, he goes hard with potatoes and red meat. He’s a fiend for flavor—his fridge has a whole shelf of condiments and sauces, of which his go-to is hot sauce. HIs signature dish is his mom’s Malaysian chicken curry, but cheat days are dedicated to ramen.
Fitness is often Butler’s route to food. “If I’m going to somewhere where I know there’s good food, I’ll prep my body,” he says. And now that Butler is aging out of high school roles, he can do more indulging and bulking. Varsity track jackets can only cover up so much muscle.