Mo McRae is built like a professional athlete—and even had NBA aspirations as a kid. But more recently, the 34-year-old actor was thrown a curveball when he was cast as Blip Sanders, a professional baseball player and teammate of the first female pitcher to play in the majors. One problem: he wasn’t much of a baseball player. But, with the close counsel of greats like Brett Jackson, Gregg Olson, Royce Clayton, and Kenny Lofton, and a tireless work ethic—he nailed the part.

We rode the bench with the star to talk fitness, food, and success.

1. Don’t think—just do.

McRae does a ton of prep work up front in whatever he does. For acting, he studies like crazy and researches his character. Then, he has to “forget all that stuff” and “be in the moment.” He's found that it really comes through while emulating a baseball player. “Instead of thinking about 'where is my shoulder,' 'where are my eyes pointed,' the angles, arm slots—stop thinking about all of it. Do all of the work and then when it's time to throw the ball, just throw the ball.”

2. Work out like you mean it.

McRae has two phases of fitness. His maintenance phase and his “shirt off scene” phase.  For the former, it’s shorter workouts two to three times a week, one to two exercises per muscle group. “If I do two times a week, I go once and do all upper body, then just hit legs later that week and throw in some ab work.” For his “shirt off scene” phase, he hits the gym five to six days a week. “It’s high intensity.” He’s on the treadmill for 15 minutes at a time—but it’s super high speed sprints mixed in with incline-maxed-out climbs. As for the weights, “I’m pushing each muscle group to the max and attacking it every possible way I can.”

3. Eat clean.

McRae is a follower of the Keto diet which is all about making fat work as your main energy source instead of carbohydrates. While it’s hard to initially get through (“They call it the carb flu. It’s just a disaster,” he says.) it eventually turns you into a lean, mean, fat-burning machine.

4. Cheat sometimes.

Burning the candle on both ends will catch up to anybody. A part of McRae’s “maintenance phase” involves letting loose and giving the body a break. “Right now I’m in the post-shirt-off-scene lifestyle,” he says. “I ate cookies this morning.”

5. Learn from your friends.

No Master of the Universe was born knowing everything. In fact, McRae “stole” some of his best workouts from a guy named Six that he grew with. He even credits fellow actor Omari Hardwick with that treadmill workout of death (above). “There was a couple times I’d literally have to lay down on the floor of the gym,” says McRae.

6. Keep things interesting.

Repeating the same thing day in and day out is an inspiration- and motivation-killer. “I tend to like to mix it up so I don’t get bored or get monotonous,” says McRae. That rule most certainly applies to leg day. Sometimes he’s feeling the “gritty 24 Hour Fitness vibe.” Other times he’s more into the “really posh and clean state-of-the-art” Equinox thing. And when he really wants to mix things up, he’ll do outdoor workouts that involve running to the park and bodyweight circuits.

7. Check your ego at the door.

The “go big or go home” philosophy isn’t always the secret to winning. Those that take things slow and steady end up on top. When it comes to working out, McRae admits to having had a little bit of ego in his younger days. “You want to feel like the man, you’re like ‘put three plates on,’” he says, “Now I rarely get two plates on the bench and that’s enough for me.”

8. Trim the fat…

And we’re not talking about body fat. McRae says his best piece of advice came from Denzel Washington in what he considered a “surreal moment.” “He said literally and figuratively when you want to climb to the next level, you have to trim the fat,” remembers McRae. “He meant extra people… You don’t need any baggage,” he says, “If you’re going to climb and move up, you want to be as light as you possibly can be.”

9. Always want more

A successful person never stops learning, growing, and evolving. Just as ball players grow to become coaches and managers, and help cultivate the young guys coming up, McRae, as an actor is looking to take his career to the next level. Along with his business partner, the two plan to take on the content and ad business. “It’s not the traditional 30 second [ads], we want to bring more cinematic flare,” he says. Given McRae’s current scouting report, we’re anticipating another home-run.

Don’t forget to tune in for the season one finale of Pitch this Thursday, December 8th at 8/9c on FOX.