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The Real-Life Diet of Below Deck Captain Lee Rosbach, Who Works Out Daily Even on the High Seas

GQ logo GQ 2/13/2020 Danielle Cohen
© Courtesy of Bravo

Captain Lee Rosbach is, in theory, a strange fit for reality TV. For one thing, he never even auditioned for the Bravo show he stars on, Below Deck. For another, in an industry that thrives on meme-able moments where it hits the fan, Rosbach actually aims for the opposite: he maintains a no-nonsense approach to managing his sometimes-rambunctious crew, with an steady emphasis on conflict resolution, all while keeping a mega-yacht afloat. 

And yet, any Below Deck fan worth their sea salt will tell you the captain is by far the best personality on the show. He peppers his stern rebukes with old-school zingers that sound like a cross between briny sailor smack-talk and grumpy grandfather gripes, and he’s not above absolutely gutting the crew with extended takes on his superbly spicy personal blog.

The only cast member who’s been on Below Deck since it premiered in 2013, Rosbach is a natural fit for the disciplinarian role, dating back to his days before reality TV. He spent his early 20s boxing his way to the Michigan state finals, before getting into the food business, eventually managing a restaurant in Turks and Caicos with his wife Marianne. It was there, at 35 years old, that he started studying to become a captain, relocating to Florida and logging over 720 days at sea to earn his license. A life-long gym rat, he’s kept up a rigorous workout and diet regime since his boxing days, modifying it based on what's available to him (in addition to his wife’s demands that he stop drinking raw eggs).

These days, Lee spends most of his time focused on the show—it films seven weeks per year, and then he spends six months dubbing his lines, followed by press tours. In an interview with GQ, he says he works out every day—even when he’s on the boat—and sticks to a high-protein diet governed by portion control. The only food he’ll never put in his body? Kale.

GQ: Towards the beginning of your Below Deck journey, Bravo dubbed you "Stud of the Sea." How did that hit you?

Captain Lee Rosbach: It's kind of embarrassing. It's flattering, but I don't do anything special. I'm just a guy who gets filmed doing his job.

How did you initially get into yachting?

I was living in Turks and Caicos when I ran out of money and needed work. I took a job delivering a sailboat to the British Virgin Islands. I was supposed to get paid $50 a day as a deckhand, and I was seasick the whole time. 

Did you ever find a way to prevent seasickness?

I got used to it, but it took a year—a long, miserable year.

On the show, it looks like being a deckhand takes some pretty hefty muscle. When you started, was it physically demanding?

When you’re at sea there’s not a lot of physical work involved. It’s when you stop—the cleaning, the overhead stuff, the heavy lines and heavy fenders—that's what's tough. But I’ve always been in pretty good shape. I’ve been a gym rat my whole life. I was an amateur boxer for two years in my early 20s. I promised myself I’d fight until I lost, which happened at the state finals in Michigan. Guy really rung my bell. I lost TKO.

After you stopped boxing, did you keep doing the same workouts?

I changed my workout when we moved out to Indiana and got our first restaurant, and I started going to a gym where a lot of the athletes from Notre Dame went. Some of the guys from the football team would come in, and they’re just beasts. I used to work out with them all the time.

a man standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera © Courtesy of Bravo

And you still work out seven days a week, right? Can you take me through what you usually do at the gym?

I’m usually at the gym for two hours. I’ll do a little something to get my heart going, then I’ll start with weight machines. I do a lot of repetitions without really heavy weights. On the bench press, I'll do 180 pounds, but I'll do three sets of 15 at that weight. I'll switch it up every couple of weeks so that my muscles don't remember the same routine.

I’ll also do some free weights, but I’m not a huge fan of free weights. All too often you’ll tear a related muscle just trying to balance and keep your form correct. I just had two tears in my rotator cuff, two tears in my bicep, and a torn ligament in my right shoulder.

What’s the recovery process like for those injuries?

It takes about eight months. You do a lot of stretching, a lot of physical therapy. The physical therapy didn’t start until I was totally healed. My doctor wouldn’t let me lift anything over a pound. I don’t heal anywhere as quickly as I used to. I’m more cautious now about the amount of weight that I lift. I’m not trying to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Do you ever do cardio?

I do the StairMaster. That’s the only one you can’t cheat on. I hate it with a passion. I call it vulgar, obscene names. We have this love-hate thing going on. And I’ll do anywhere from 300 to 1,200 crunches a day. If I’m doing just 300, I’ll add 100 pounds to that, because I’m not getting the repetitions in.

Do you play music to help you through it?

No, but sometimes I'll just put my headphones on so people will leave me alone. I prefer the silence so I can concentrate on what I'm doing, because my workouts are generally slow. You pick it up slowly, you take it down slowly. Does it add time to your workout? Yeah, but it also makes your workout twice as hard. I love the guys that grunt. I think they're grunting to show off. They wanna be noticed.

What’s your gym setup like when you’re out on the water?

It depends on the boat. If there isn’t a gym, I’ll take some weights with me or I’ll buy some when we’re docked. If there’s a local gym, I’ll hit that. Sometimes I'll have to break the workout up throughout the day. A lot of times I take workout bands with me. I have some that are thick and braided, and you can get a serious workout in with those. I'll use them in my room when there's not a gym available, or I'll go up early in the morning on deck, because I like working out outside. It just really puts you in a great frame of mind to start your day.

I almost always position myself where it's gonna go unnoticed [by charter guests]. Or I'll chase the camera boys out. They're like, "Cap, I'm just doing my job!" I'm, like, "Get the [expletive] outta here!"

What is your sleep schedule like?

I'm a morning person. Usually I get up at six. When we're filming, I go to bed anywhere between midnight and two in the morning. It’s not nearly enough sleep, so I try to squeeze in a power nap in the afternoon. Sleep is a premium. You get it when you can.

Does your diet change substantially when you're on the water?

It's hard to get my protein fill on the water, but I just eat what the chef makes. I'll tell him that I don't need a lot of pasta. Pasta is my weak spot. I love it. If I'm having a cheat day, I'm going straight for a big old plate of pasta. I mostly try to avoid large amounts of anything.

Is there anything you absolutely never eat?

Kale. It’s like somebody just cut their lawn and put it on a plate. So disgusting. There are other ways you can get the benefit of kale without actually ingesting it. In my morning smoothie, I used to add raw eggs, but my wife would get [mad] at me. I said, "I've been doing it for years and it hasn't killed me!" Anyway, now I hard-boil the eggs first to make my wife happy. Then I add 50 grams of protein, usually just whey, plus a banana, two cups of blueberries, two cups of strawberries, and two cups of spinach. I'll have that around nine, and it'll carry me through until the early afternoon. I don't do a lot of snacking in between meals, because usually it's something that I shouldn't be having. When I get the urge, I'll grab a protein bar.

How do you like to unwind?

With a good steak and a nice glass of Pinot Noir.

I read somewhere that you use the hot tub on boats when they have them.

Yep. The boat we have this year has a sauna and a hot tub. Last time we had a sauna, the sound techs filled it up with storage. I said, "Nope. That's not happening this year." I prefer a steam room, though, because you don't have to get it as hot as a sauna, and you get that instant sweat. I love to sweat. I live in South Florida. Doesn't bother me a bit.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Real-Life Diet is a series in which GQ talks to athletes, celebrities, and everyone in-between about their diets and exercise routines: what's worked, what hasn't, and where they're still improving. Keep in mind, what works for them might not necessarily be healthy for you.

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