Editor’s note: On March 20, Underwood announced on his Instagram account that he had tested positive for COVID-19. In an Instagram video, Underwood described his primary symptom as exhaustion and noted that it was hard to even climb a short flight of stairs without being out of breath. Underwood posted from Huntington Beach, California, where he was quarantined with his girlfriend from “The Bachelor,” Cassie Randolph, at her parents’ home.

Underwood’s Instagram post on March 25 sounded hopeful that he’d turned a corner, and we wish him a continued speedy recovery.

Long before Colton Underwood was handing out roses on the hit reality television show “The Bachelor,” he was passing footballs as a tight end for several NFL practice squads, including the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers.

Although a 2016 shoulder injury ended his football career, Underwood found a new calling in television. After appearing on both “The Bachelorette” and “Bachelor in Paradise,” Underwood was cast in 2018 as the male lead in season 23 of “The Bachelor” franchise. With the release of his new memoir The First Time (Gallery Books, March 2020), we spoke to the 28-year-old reality star about his struggles with self-image and bullying, why his fitness goals changed after he left football and his life post-Bachelor.

You’ve mentioned on the show and in your book that you were bullied as a child. How did that impact your life?

Growing up in Illinois, I was an awkward, goofy kid who was also a little overweight. A lot of kids picked on me, and I even transferred schools because of the bullying. In high school, I started playing football and found I was good at it. Being involved in sports really transformed my life while also giving me more confidence.

How has your fitness routine changed since you left football?

I struggled with not having a fitness routine after I first left football. I enjoy the physical benefits of being in shape and also the mental benefits of blowing off steam.

Today, my workouts are just as intense as when I was in football, but in a different way. I used to do a lot of workouts with weights in order to get big and bulky, but now I’m doing more yoga and cardio training and have lost about 30 pounds in the process. I think it’s important to find an exercise regimen you like and that challenges you. I’d never done yoga before, but I’ve found it really helps to shut my mind off and relax me.

What do your workouts look like now?

I try to get an hour of exercise in every day, even if I’m busy and can just make time for walking on the treadmill. I have a Fitbit and work to get 10,000 steps in each day. I might start out the morning with a cardio workout, alternating between legs, arms, back and chest, and then in the evening, I do stretches, strength training with kettlebells or yoga.

What kind of diet do you follow?  

Last year, I partnered with MorningStar and adopted a vegetarian diet to lose some of the weight I’d put on while filming “The Bachelor.” I was really intimidated at first to start a plant-based diet, but I learned that eating vegetarian means so much more than just dining on bland foods and lettuce.

I don’t think I could stick to an entirely vegetarian diet for the long term, but it did help me to lose weight and regulate my digestive system. I also learned how I can make healthy substitutions such as eating a black bean burger instead of a hamburger.

Recently, I’ve been doing intermittent fasting where I eat for eight hours and then shut it down around nine o’clock each night. When I wake up, I don’t eat my first meal until noon. I use a meal-delivery service that focuses on protein, carbs and veggies. I also have a sweet tooth and love peanut butter, so my go-to dessert is peanut butter on a rice cake sprinkled with honey.

Tell us about your nonprofit Colton Underwood Legacy Foundation.

I launched the foundation in 2015 after my cousin, Harper, who is now 6, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a progressive disease that damages the lungs. Harper is so resilient and really believes in living life to the fullest, and I wanted to share that spirit and help others with the disease. We raise money for CF organizations that conduct research, but I also wanted to do more. I traveled around the country last year to give 50 CF patients in 50 states an AffloVest, an airway clearance therapy that improves congestion by loosening mucus in CF patients.

What’s next for you?

I really hope to stay in the entertainment field and am exploring different projects. I’m enjoying life with my girlfriend, Cassie Randolph (who Underwood presented with a final rose on “The Bachelor”), and I’m also launching a line of CBD products, under the Backsplash label. I’ve seen how CBD gummies can help with sleep support, anxiety, depression and pain, and I’m excited about sharing this line with others who are seeking natural solutions to common health issues.

Photo credit: Creativeye99, Getty Images