Since his rookie year, Ryan Reeves’ pro wrestling career has been defined by food. In 2004, he was a contestant on the fourth season of WWE Tough Enough, the sports entertainment empire’s on-again, off-again reality series about would-be wrestlers competing for a prime-time contract. Reeves lost that season—he would end up signing a WWE developmental deal intended to lead him upwards in the ranks—but his Tough Enough tenure lives on through a behind-the-scenes video package called “Ryan Reeves can’t stop eating” that’s still floating around online.
“How would I describe Ryan Reeves’ appetite? Uncanny,” TE trainer Al Snow says in the piece, proselytizing about the subject’s eating prowess like someone who has just seen LeBron James dunk a basketball. Footage of a young Reeves eyeing a selection of sandwiches and eating ravenously are juxtaposed with more commentary from Snow, who brings up shows like When Animals Attack! or Ripley’s Believe It or Not! as good showcases for this act. Reeves looks like he is savoring the physical act of feasting—the crunching, the chewing, the swallowing—more than the food itself. You also get the impression the guy wishes a camera wasn’t trained on him so he could chow in peace. “The guy is incredible,” Snow continues. “He breaks a sweat eating. That’s how much effort and energy he puts into devouring a meal.” Snow then sheds more light on Reeves’ abilities through stories that paint his appetite as a primal, never-ending compulsion: He has smuggled crackers and protein bars into pockets when he was forbidden to do so, was thrilled by the prospect of trying Cracker Barrel for the first time, and once received a punch to the face because he was unwilling to stop eating a sweet snack.
The guy is incredible. He breaks a sweat eating.
Reeves is a full-fledged WWE superstar nowadays, performing as Ryback (a combination of “Ryan” and “Silverback”). Soon after debuting as Ryback in WWE in 2012, he coined a new consumption-related catchphrase—“Feed me more”—that makes him sound like some heartless movie monster who has just wiped out a village and is now insisting on eating the army, too. Armed with a generally irate facial expression and stacks of rippling muscles (his traps are terrifying), he’s built like the human equivalent of a Belgian Blue bull. Ryback has so much mystique as a killing machine that one of his original looks was inspired by the Terminator, and he pulled it off without a hitch. The 32-year-old Las Vegas resident, who clocks in at 6’3” and 291 pounds, has undergone some character tweaks since making his big splash—he doesn’t have the high-profile spot he once did—but the monster is always there, lurking and ready to explode again at a moment’s notice.
Aside from being an entertainingly high-level Twitter troll and a believer in self-help strategies, Ryback continues to find food at the center of everything he does. His original and now abandoned character on the main WWE roster was Skip Sheffield, a small-cowboy-hat-wearing yokel nicknamed “the Cornfed Meathead.” Candid footage of Reeves conquering a wing-eating competition in a restaurant was recently picked up by TMZ. During a series of backstage vignettes where he started bullying people smaller than him, Ryback even used food as a weapon, slapping tuna across some poor schmuck’s cheek (right before throwing him through a table loaded with food), and pouring a pot of gazpacho over another guy’s head.
In advance of SummerSlam, one of WWE’s flagship shows, which unfolds live this Sunday, August 17, at Los Angeles’ Staples Center (viewable from home on WWE Network), First We Feast is discussing the intersection of food and pro wrestling with two in-depth interviews. The second edition, which focuses on the fascinating job of running WWE’s catering program, arrives tomorrow. For the first, we wanted to speak to a wrestler, and Ryback (who isn’t currently scheduled to perform at SummerSlam but could always get added at the last minute) quickly confirmed that he was the right person to come to: “Well, if we’re talking about food, I’m your guy.” We chatted with him about what his training diet looks like, why crab legs irritate the hell out of him, and whether he actually sweats when he eats.
Talking Food with WWE Wrestler Ryback
Let’s talk about the origin of “Feed me more.” You first said the phrase into a camera after winning a match early in your Ryback run. It just gained steamed from there, right?
Yeah, it happened when they were just giving me local competitors. I personally wasn’t happy. I wanted to be fighting main roster talents. I was getting guys half my size, then it was two guys half my size. One day, I just looked at them—to [WWE executives] Vince [McMahon], to Triple H, to Stephanie [McMahon], to Kevin Dunn, everyone in charge—and just screamed, “Feed me more!” It just came out. I’ve had other [catchphrases], like “Ryback rules!,” that were a little more premeditated. “Feed me more” was natural and just happened.
Every human being, at their very core, understands “Feed me more.”
It’s kind of how I’ve lived my whole life. I’ve always said, ‘More is never enough.’ I feel like [“Feed me more”] could take off any chance we let it because every human being, at their very core, understands “Feed me more.” All of us have an ego. All of us are never satisfied. You give a homeless man on the street a hundred dollars. His first instinct might be to be thankful, but I guarantee you he wants more. It doesn’t matter what you apply it to: food, just life in general. Everybody wants more. It’s one of those things that the people understood and kids understand. It took off, so I’m very thankful for that.
The other reason we chose you for this interview was we saw that great package from your Tough Enough days where Al Snow talks about how you can’t stop eating and snuck food in. Was Al exaggerating those stories to make them more entertaining or were they accurate?
It’s funny ’cause everything he said was entirely true. I remember one thing that always bothered me [was him saying], ‘He sweats when he eats.’ I was very sick throughout all of Tough Enough with bronchitis. I got pneumonia shortly thereafter. I was a mess from being sick, which is the reason why I was sweating. I don’t sweat when I eat unless you put blazing chicken hot wings in front of me for a wing-eating contest.
He goes, ‘If you eat that Rice Krispies Treat, I’m going to punch you in the face.’ I said, ‘Punch me in the face. I’m eating this Rice Krispies Treat,’ and he did.
I’m not big on normally eating sugars or a lot of junk, but we were traveling and we would do these eight-hour training sessions—sometimes just all day. I ate a huge meal. I remember that I was still starving, and all I could find was Rice Krispies Treats, so I bought like three or four of ’em. I remember Bill DeMott, who was my original trainer at Deep South Wrestling and is now the lead trainer down there at the Performance Center, would get hot at me over little things. He was like, ‘You’re eating again?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He goes, ‘If you eat that Rice Krispies Treat, I’m going to punch you in the face.’ I said, ‘Punch me in the face. I’m eating this Rice Krispies Treat,’ and he did. He punched me in the face—not as hard as he could but not as soft as he could either. He’s a very large man, if you’ve ever seen Bill DeMott. I got up and I was very angry with him. I got on a moving escalator and right in front of him, ate all the Rice Krispies Treats.
Give us a food profile of yourself. What do you like to eat? Can you cook at all?
Right now, I’m here in Vegas. I got whole wheat protein pasta cooking and a whole pound of steak cut up, loaded on a low simmer, cooking as well. That will be my first real meal of the day. I’ll take that, pour it all in a big bowl with a little bit of pasta sauce. When I’m home, that’s usually my first meal every day. That, or low fiber oatmeal with natural peanut butter. From there, every two, two-and-a-half, three hours, I eat something. It’s usually steak, grilled chicken, tuna fish, eggs, egg whites, brown rice, sweet potatoes. I eat the same meals over and over again all throughout the day. I got my protein shakes. I usually try to get one or two of those down a day, just straight natural whey isolate. That’s pretty much it, as far as what I eat.
When I’m home, I got my places. We have a Port of Subs here near me. When I’m home, I usually like to swing out there once. I’ll get a foot-long wheat bread, light mayonnaise, and double steak sub. At Panda Express, I’ll get grilled chicken, brown rice. No matter where I go, it’s always pretty much the same regular foods.
For my first meal on the road, I always like to go sit down, especially on live event days. I’m very fond of Applebee’s because they’re the same everywhere you go. We’re always in different places, and I like to go to a place where no matter what Applebee’s I go to, it’s like the same one as going to the Applebee’s at home. It gives me a sense of stability while I’m on the road. Besides that, their food is awesome. I’ll go there and I’ll always get the French onion soup. I’ll get 10 chicken wings with the bone in, and then usually a steak, vegetables, and roasted red potatoes.
I’m pretty consistent with all that, but I can cook. I’m just very simple, though. I’ve got some garlic salt, some sea salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Those are pretty much all the spices that I use, and I go from there.
There are videos out there of muscular guys like yourself shopping for food, and they’re astounding. In one documentary, a pre-WWE John Cena went around a supermarket and picked up tons of meat. There’s also a video of bodybuilder Ronnie Coleman doing the same. You probably eat the same way. Is it ever tiring for you to think about eating considering you have to have so much for your body?
I’ve seen those videos, and [bodybuilder] Jay Cutler actually lives here in Vegas. I’ve spoken to him a few times in the gym. I’ve seen the video with him going shopping at Costco and just buying loads and loads of food. I’m only home a day and a half a week, so [when] I go to the store, I can only get a little bit of meat and stuff. Usually, I try to time it where I have enough for the two days, and then where I maybe put a little bit away, so I don’t got to run right to the store when I get home.
It’s mostly eating out for the WWE Superstar. I’ve learned to eat healthy.
But it’s mostly eating out for the WWE Superstar. I’ve learned to eat healthy. I’ve gotten in better shape since I’ve been on the road with WWE. A lot of that has come with refining my training and upping my conditioning and all that stuff. It’s a lot of work, but I’ve been doing this since I was 12, and I love my job as a WWE Superstar. They always say, ‘When you love something, it makes things a lot easier,’ so to me, this is the only way I know how to live. I can’t imagine not eating. To me, life is energy, and food is the greatest energy in the world. I never eat and get sick, and I’ve structured [eating] in a way that doesn’t take away anything from my life because everything in my life is focused on becoming the no. 1 WWE Superstar of all time. Every decision that I make, everything I do is focused on that personal goal of mine. That all comes so easily. That’s all part of the process. Never once have I been like, ‘Oh, this sucks.’
If I had to go do something where maybe food’s not available, I can just bring a couple of protein shakes with me, and leave ’em in the car, put ’em in a bag, and everything’ll be fine. There’s times when I don’t eat for four or five hours, and it’s not the end of the world because I’m doing it 99 percent of the time anyways. It’s become quite easy for me.
There’s footage of you on YouTube just dominating a wing-eating contest. In a past interview, Daniel Bryan said that you guys were into crushing apples with your bare hands. Are there any other food-related challenges you or other wrestlers might have participated in?
I got home yesterday and turned on the television after I started my routine to get ready to go back on the road, and Man v. Food was on. When I get in my routine, I swing by my local chiropractor and get adjusted once a week to get reset, and then I swing by Fatburger out here. I’m a big fan of Fatburger, and they have the whole wheat buns there now, so I’ll get two XXL Burgers—whatever they are, they’re enormous—on the whole wheat buns. I get home. I’m sitting down eating, and I’m watching this Man v. Food, and I think [Adam Richman] was getting ready to do the 72-ounce steak challenge. As I’m eating and watching, I go, ‘Oh, that looks like that’s pretty complicated.’ While that’s going on, I just ate two pounds of beef, and I’m not remotely full. It hit me at the end. That’s not counting the bun and all the other [stuff]. I was like, ‘Wow, I wonder if I could do that if I wanted.’ That portion of meat that I just ate was very regular and not debilitating at all to me. It wasn’t like, ‘Uhh, I can’t move for three hours.’ If the situation was right, I would love to try my hand at some of those eating challenges.
I would love to try my hand at some of those eating challenges.
I remember a Brodus Clay story about him trying to eat one of those large steaks at one of the steakhouses. I don’t know if he succeeded or not, but I remember word going around in the locker room that he tried at one point.
The Daniel Bryan one—that was when me, him, and Cody Rhodes rode together for maybe about a month. It was after that I made the decision to ride alone for the rest of my WWE career just to stay focused and do things my way, because when you ride with others, it’s very complicated. I’m a guy that has to have things my way. I like to go to the gym for three hours at a time. Not everyone thinks the way that I think, so I learned I had to ride alone, but they were great riding partners. Dan is one of the guys I actually look up to at WWE, a guy that I’ve had many real conversations with outside of wrestling and have a lot of respect for.
I was set in my ways and I had my road stops that I would go to, and they wanted to go to Panera Bread before a show. It rocked me because I’d go to Subway and get eight grilled chicken breasts on the side, so I can munch on grilled chicken breasts throughout the show. I’m like, ‘What am I going to get at Panera Bread? I’ve never eaten this crap.’ I’d get pissed, and Dan’s like, ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry, we’ll help you with the menu,’ so I get in. I’m looking at the menu and I see all these weird items. I’m already pissed so I’m seeing red to begin with. I’m looking at the menu, but I’m not even looking at the menu. Then, [Daniel and Cody] just disappeared. Then, the lady’s like, ‘Would you like to order?’ and I just remember being so angry. I ordered 60 something dollars worth of food and it was barely anything. Dan and Cody thought it was the greatest thing in the world. It was one time where I’ll give Dan credit: he got me.
That sounds like Panera Bread. They’re not known for their portion sizes.
I remember getting triple or quadruple meat and then being like, ‘What? This is all? I just paid 30 bucks for this.’ But I’ve actually learned to eat there. There’s ways around it. I’ve learned what to get if I have to eat there.
Let’s talk about your experiences with WWE’s backstage catering. What’s it like there?
I have a routine when I go to WWE catering. I go in there, and we got the paper plates and the forks and everything. I always load up three, four, five plates—not individual plates, but three or four stacks on top of each other to reinforce my first plate. I put so much food on there, the last thing I want is while I’m walking from the food to the table is [for] the plate to break or slip out of my hand ’cause it bends. There’s that much food on my first plate. My first meal of the day when I get to TV is ridiculous. Every time, there’s somebody that just looks at me like, ‘Oh my God, you’re going to eat that?’ I’m like, ‘Every week, you guys say this. It’s not a surprise anymore.’ There’s always a large amount of food whenever I’m around.
What’s the food set-up at catering like?
It’s always either brown rice or white rice. You have your soup of the day. It’s not all the time we’ll have a chilli. They’ll put out the cheese and sour cream and the chives and the jalapeños. I know that WWE catering chilli is always a hit every time they have it. Sometimes, they’ll even do a turkey one or a little healthier one. Whenever we have that, I’ll make sure to get a bowl usually at some point in the day.
I’m pretty simple as far as what I eat. I’m usually steak and chicken all throughout the day. I go to tuna fish later on as I get closer to the show as that’s a little bit lighter for me. But early in the day, it’s usually chicken, steak, brown rice, or sweet potatoes, and then I go from there.
As we go down, we have our salad bar. The popular one is the sweets. Sometimes, we walk in and they just have the entire place decked out with sweets. They’ll have a sweet table. They’ll have a cake up right by the front. It’s like, ‘Why the hell’s this cake sitting right here? [It’s] just random. Are they trying to make us eat this or to see how strong we are?’ I don’t eat a lot of sweets, but that’s usually the popular place to go amongst talents after a Tuesday show taping SmackDown if you’re done with your match or you’re done with your segment or you’re not booked for the night.
Catering aside, let’s talk about your food preferences. What’s your absolute favorite?
I never eat it anymore—I think I’ve had it once in the last year—[but] I love pizza, as does any other red-blooded American, I’m sure, or human being in the world. With the way our schedule is with TV, I don’t do cheat days or anything like that.
If I see people eating crab legs, I get angry.
I absolutely love pizza. The last time I had it was when we finished a SmackDown taping in Las Vegas. I had wrestled Daniel Bryan in the main event on SmackDown. A bunch of the guys stayed in town and we ended up going out all night. The last time I went out was that night because it was a very long night [with] a lot of adult beverages consumed. I remember getting up later that day. We had a few days off, which is why everyone went out. I remember not eating anything all day because I was quite sick. Then, finally, around 9pm, I ordered a whole pizza from Papa John’s—the extra large with the cheese crust. I still have great memories of that pizza. It was unbelievable. That by far is my favorite. If I could eat that more often, I would.
On the flip side, what about your least favorite?
I’m not a big seafood guy. Not that I hate it, it’s just if I could eat chicken or steak, that’s usually going to be my first choice. Shrimp doesn’t bother me, [but if] I see people eating crab legs, I get angry because it’s so much work to get to the meat. If you put a plate full of crab meat in front of me that was all ready to go, I might feel different about it. Plus, I’m trying to do so much throughout the day anyways, I always try to make the most of my time. Breaking the crab shell to get to the meat just seems, ugh, relentless. You’ll never see me going to a Red Lobster or anything like that. I got my places and I’m set in my ways.