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If you’re a typical kid growing up in a working-class North Carolina town who listens to Alice in Chains and reads comic books after school, odds are good you’ll pick up a guitar and a barbell at some point. The odds you’ll make it big with either are much longer, however. Unless your name is Chris Daughtry, who’s now the biggest thing to come out of Roanoke Rapids.
“Growing up, I always had really bad bouts of asthma and was kind of frail and sick all the time,” the rocker says. “I was a stick.”
It was comic books and Muscle & Fitness that made all the diference to him. In high school he started lifting hard to look like his favorite superheroes. He began taking a mass gainer, reading tips from Ronnie Coleman and Flex Wheeler in Muscle & Fitness, and he put on about 10 pounds of muscle in a year. Although music turned out to be his calling, he reflects that he might have made a decent bodybuilder. Or actor. Or artist. “I could never really nail down what I wanted to do,” he says, “but then I found music.”
Not right away; not until after struggling for years at desk jobs. Daughtry was barely making ends meet when he started a family. And lifting and dieting weren’t a priority to him at the time, as he packed on pounds of fat. “You get into that kind of cycle and then you realize: Wow, this stuff actually catches up with you,” he says.
Even after his powerhouse voice revealed itself on American Idol and he was on the tip of every music exec’s tongue, Daughtry still couldn’t rein it in. “I hit the road,” he says, “and it all went back downhill. You start drinking a ton of beer, eating pizza and whatever else is in front of you, and you kind of just do that everyday cycle. And after a while you’re just so unmotivated to do anything.”
When he saw pictures of himself online, he decided that guy just wasn’t him.
“I have to change my eating habits,” he realized. “I have to change the way I look at food. I have to change my lifestyle and not make it a ‘diet.’ And so I started trying to dial it in and then, this last year, I got really serious about it.”
Daughtry now sticks to lean meats—chicken, steak—and the occasional fish, though he’s not a huge fan. He eats as much spinach and asparagus as possible, along with sweet potatoes. Two or three hours before a show, he’ll have some meat, but nothing big. The feast comes after the show, when all the adrenaline’s spent—it’s the hardest time to dial in the diet.
“Those are the definitive hours of what’s going to make or break you for the next day,” he says, “because it’s easy to go, ‘Screw it, I’m going to eat a bag of Doritos.’”
Nine times out of 10, he says, he does pretty well. But even if the diet is on track, the workouts present a huge problem. You can eat all the protein you want but you’ll never look like you belong in a comic book without the routine. And when you’re a rock star traveling on the road for months, it can be hard to find the time—much less a gym—to get a proper lift in. Daughtry makes due. He likes to stay in hotels with gyms for cardio and weights. He has a resistance band and a medicine ball in his dressing room. Sometimes, the concert venue serves as a gym. He’ll get a couple bandmates and run the stairs.
“I do a lot of stuff that involves core and not a lot of heavy weight,” Daughtry says. “A lot of times I’ll do stuff on a treadmill that involves a 12-pound medicine ball. For example, I’ll do side shuffles or backward walking on an incline, holding the ball out so my core is engaged the whole time.”
Daughtry puts emphasis on endurance, calisthenics, and his core because he needs it —his performances are workouts in themselves. It’s exhausting to think about what has to happen over the course of an hour and a half onstage: Your adrenaline is pumping, constantly in motion, singing, riffng on a guitar, feeling the music. That’s where the training comes in handy, a prep for something even more physical.
“When I started taking my health and fitness way more seriously, my stage performance just got so much better. The energy that I was able to pour out: I’m all over the place. I’m always moving,” he says.
Daughtry’s next move is a new album, the band’s fourth studio effort, and a summer tour. Daughtry, their self-titled debut, sold incredibly fast, peaking at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and, as the lead singer says, “Things have been going pretty steady ever since.” This summer they’ll be hitting half the U.S.—from New York to Iowa. (Check out daughtryofcial.com for more tour information and tickets.)
Recently, Daughtry had the opportunity to circle back to his childhood heroes—the comic books that inspired him to lift in the first place, and his short-lived dream of being a comic-book artist. He took part in the We Can Be Heroes campaign, which provides famine and water relief to suffering parts of Africa, partnering with DC comics artist Jim Lee to draw a Batman that would go to auction, with the proceeds going to the fund.
“I still can’t believe I did it,” Daughtry says, adding, modestly, that “Jim made it look a thousand times better.”
The band also donated an acoustic iTunes version of a song from their last album, Break the Spell, titled “Rescue Me.” All proceeds went to the fund. Superman and Batman might not be real, but they’re as real as any inspiration for Daughtry. “I always had this affnity for superheroes and comic books,” he says, “so I always had that appreciation for a superripped figure.”
This time around, we can really tell.