Ashley Parker Angel has long been a fixture of the pop music scene, but it’s his long run on Broadway as Hairspray’s Link Larkin and his recent role in the upcoming film Pizza Man that’s really turning heads. A committed fitness enthusiast, Ashley approaches physical fitness with an unbridled enthusiasm and contagiously positive mental attitude. We caught up with this uber-talented dude to talk the physicality of Broadway, looking as good as you feel, and the one thing he never leaves home without.
TDF: You were a big success as Link Larkin in “Hairspray,” and anyone who’s seen the show knows that it involves a ton of dancing and moving around. What did you do to prepare physically for this role? What did your training regimen look like?
APA: In the first few weeks of rehearsing for Hairspray, I realized I was actually losing muscle mass with how much cardio I was doing on top of trying to still work out in the gym. I was burning the candle at both ends to try and keep up with it all. I was training roughly 6 to 8 hours a day of continuous dance practice on top of weight-lifting and it became clear I was burning more calories than I could take in. I’ve always had a fast metabolism and been somewhat of a “hard-gainer” to begin with. It always amazes me how no matter what your goals are in the gym – diet is absolutely critical. I upped my calories immediately and realized I could afford to cheat much more during this period. Anyone who knows me will tell you I am all about health and fitness, but let me tell you I took advantage of this time to pig out on things I would never normally eat otherwise. For example, due to the demands of countless hours spent training in the pool – for breakfast, the olympic swimmer Michael Phelps eats three fried egg sandwiches, a 5 egg omelette, a bowl of grits, 3 slices of french toast and 3 chocolate chip pancakes. And that’s just for breakfast. He eats roughly 4,000 calories per meal…Have you seen a picture of Michael Phelps with his shirt off? The dude is ripped!!! Obviously, this is a very special circumstance. Someone working a desk job all day would never be able to pull this off without gaining fat instantly. So for me, while doing a Broadway show 8 times a week, I realized I would have to change the way I approached my fitness and diet entirely due to the demands of such high cardio activity. Sometimes we would be doing two shows in a day, which felt like running a 4 hour marathon. It became more challenging to hit weights as hard and heavy due to the subsequent soreness and recovery time needed to make that be an effective way to train my body during this time. My body simply did not have the time to recover and grow properly from this kind of training. I joined a Yoga studio in the city (Bikram Yoga) and started doing 90 minute long sessions at least 3 times a week to maintain the muscle mass I had without overly tearing down muscle fiber. I started doing more strictly body weight exercises like regular push-ups, body-weight squats and pull-ups which people tend to forget are a great way to stay in shape without needing a gym.
TDF: You’ve clearly made physical fitness a large part of your life. Why do you feel that it’s important to be fit? How does being fit and healthy enhance your life?
APA: I believe physical fitness should be of crucial importance to everyone. You only get one body in this life and if you take care of it – it will take care of you. I believe people are starting to shift their views about physical fitness as less an aesthetic pursuit and more preventative medicine. A healthy body is often taken for granted until some health problem sneaks up that could have very well been prevented by proper nutrition and diet. I’m not vegan and I do eat meat, but I also take in at least 2 huge salads with tons of veggies each day. I honestly can’t remember the last time I even had a common cold (knock on wood.) The benefits of engaging in regular, rigorous physical activity have been so well documented and are just too long to list here – but for me, the benefit is not only physical; it’s mental. When you are working out regularly and eating properly, your brain function and overall mood is significantly higher. Once you get in a regular routine and stick with it, you feel amazing…and when it comes to physical appearance, you always look exactly how you feel.
TDF:: How do you stay active while you’re traveling? How do you eat healthy when you’re away from home?
APA: While traveling I tend to do strictly body weight exercises like burpee push-ups, body squats, planks, and pull ups if I can. I do them in a circuit for 5 or 6 sets of 10 to 12 reps each or until I feel I’ve gotten a good workout. Eating healthy on the road is always challenging but I try to bring small snacks with me like nuts, jerky or fruit that can tide me over until I can find a decent place to eat. One of my favorite overall energy boosters is Maca Root powder. I usually throw it in my protein shake along with my L-Glutamine supplement. I’ve found the most important thing to bring when I travel is a protein shake mixer – the blender ball is a great one – so that I can easily make a protein shake that otherwise gets messy to make without a real blender on hand. This way I know I’m at least getting my protein.
TDF: What benchmarks do you use to measure your level of physical fitness?
APA: I keep training logs that go back a few years now. I always strive for progressive overload in my workouts. For strength and size, you absolutely have to be trying to lift heavier on a regular basis. The best way to know if you are actually doing that is to keep a small workout log with you. This way, I am constantly striving to beat my previous reps or lift heavier than I did before and I know I am getting stronger because I’ve documented the journey.