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.
For over two decades, Spectrum News NY1 morning anchor Pat Kiernan has charmed a notoriously difficult-to-impress audience: half-asleep New Yorkers. Kiernan has even managed to make himself recognizable outside of New York City, thanks to various cameos helming news desks in Marvel movies (that was him in Spider-Man: Far From Home).
This week actually marks Kiernan’s 22nd anniversary since he became the anchor of New York City’s go-to morning news program. During that time—with lots of trial and error—he’s trained his body to live in open defiance of natural human rhythms. He rises hours before the sun does and sustains himself on small pockets of sleep. He does this, somehow, without coffee.
I was still waiting for my caffeine boost to kick in when I met Kiernan at his broadcast studio in Chelsea last week; he, meanwhile, had already chatted with the New York State comptroller about the MTA, interviewed Ken Burns about his new mega-documentary Country Music, and sampled apple babka for a segment about local bakeries. (“I’m aware of the irony that we’re going to talk about my diet right after I ate babka on television,” he says.) Kiernan squeezed in an interview with GQ before his post-show nap to share how he navigates a wonky schedule that most people would get exhausted just thinking about.
GQ: When do you wake up every morning?
Pat Kiernan: I’m up at 2:15 A.M. I’ve been doing that—or something that approximates it—for 22 years. It really doesn’t bother me that much, though I’m actually not a morning person. I don’t get up at 2 A.M. on weekends. Typically on a Saturday I’ll wake up without an alarm clock at 6 or 6:30.
When you started this scheduling shift, did you have to make any adjustments or try any tricks along the way?
I tried all of it. The food ends up being a component, and exercise ends up being a component, but the number one thing you have to deal with is figuring out when you’re going to sleep, both from a physiological perspective and from an editorial perspective.
The most conventional way to do it—some of our team does this—is say, “Okay, I gotta get up at 2 A.M., and I need seven hours of sleep, so I’m going to back it up from there, and that puts me at a 7 P.M. bedtime.” I tried that for the first month or two when I was on the job here in 1997, and I hated it. I experimented with other versions too.
What are the different versions?
A guy I worked with in Canada in the early 1990s [Ed. note: Kiernan was born and raised in Canada] swore to me that the way that worked best for him was to come home at noon, sleep from noon to 7 P.M., get up, have your social life, go for dinner with friends, join a 24-hour gym and work out from midnight to 1 A.M., and then go to work. So your sleep is entirely in the daytime. Then you weren’t matching everybody’s breakfast vs. lunch schedule, but you didn’t remove yourself from social life. I didn’t do the gym membership part of that, but I tried the rest of it for a week. My wife would go to bed at 11:00 P.M., and then I’d just be sitting there. There wasn’t really much to do but turn on Letterman.
Where I’ve ended up, the prevailing approach that I have taken for coming up on 22 years now, is I try to get a two-hour nap in the afternoon, and then I will add on roughly four hours at night. And this isn’t a nap like I’m putting my feet up on the sofa. This is in bed, pajamas on, blinds drawn, legitimately trying to sleep, to the point that I sometimes have the alarm go off and am not 100 percent sure which version of the sleep cycle I’m in.
Is that a strict two hours, or do you ever stretch it?
It’s flexible. If I’ve fallen behind a little bit, I might go to two-and-a-half hours. The problem with the overzealous afternoon nap is if I fall asleep properly in the afternoon, which is 19 days out of 20, I’m not naturally waking up. The alarm is jolting me from that sleep at a time when my body is craving more. But if you don’t interrupt that, then when it’s time to go to sleep again at 10:30 P.M., your body will tell you, “I’m good, I had a nice three-hour nap,” even though that’s when you really need the sleep and your reserve for the show. The live show is a performance, and your voice has got to be good, you’ve got to be attentive.
What’s your breakfast of choice?
It’s a Canadian/British cereal called Shreddies. It is similar in size to a Rice Chex. It has literally been my breakfast cereal since I was five years old. I like soggy Shreddies, so the first thing I have to do is pour the cereal, pour the milk, and start a 15-minute timer. Ten minutes isn’t enough.
The routine is usually to get up as soon as the alarm goes off, start the Shreddies process, and then I check email and find out what’s been going on at the office. The milk has to be on the cereal prior to the email check or we’re going to throw off the rest of the routine. I usually don’t eat anything else until after the show.
I’ve never seen Shreddies in United States. Do you have to import that?
I do, at ridiculous effort. Back during the days of two free bags on airlines, I would just travel with an extra suitcase, put 12 double-size boxes of cereal in the bag, and it would travel with me. That was easy.
Then this store opened—I think it was in a border town like Windsor, Ontario—and it had a website called CanadianFavourites.com. Someone would basically go to a grocery store, buy 10 boxes of Shreddies, put them in a box, deal with the customs forms, then mail them to you. But it wasn’t a lot of markup, so for years, when I saw I was down to two boxes of Shreddies, I’d put another order in from CanadianFavourites.com.
Then the proprietor died. On the website, there was a one-page note that said, “Due to a death in the family, Canadian Favourites is closed at this time.” That was like six months ago and it’s never come back. I’m in a bit of Shreddies crisis right now. The best solution I’ve found is Amazon.ca, but Amazon.ca will not ship to the U.S., so there’s a place in Vancouver that will take anything you ship to a post office box there, and just put new postage on it and send it to you. My last shipment of Shreddies was like $20 a box.
I’ve heard a rumor that you don’t drink coffee. Is that true?
I don’t. I don’t like what coffee does to my digestive system. I also don’t like anything hot, though it’s not like I switched to iced coffee or anything like that. If I ever felt I wanted caffeine, I would drink Coca-Cola. I used to do that on this shift when I was in my 30s and 40s and my metabolism was better.
Why’d you stop?
I tried to get smarter about it. Around the time that Mike Bloomberg tried to put in the soda tax, I did roughly 1,700 stories on how bad sugary beverages are, all while I’ve got a Coke on the side of the set. I started to rethink things. It had always been a reflexive action throughout my morning: On this commercial break, I’m going to walk over to the vending machine and have a Coke. It proved to be unnecessary.
What’s the next meal after the Shreddies?
I used to make lunch at home around 11:00 A.M., but the show got more complicated, so my days start earlier and go later now. There’s one place downstairs, the Hale and Hearty, that will serve their lunch menu the minute they open at 10:00 A.M. You can line up there and see most of the morning crew ready to eat.
And then you head home for a nap? When is that, exactly?
1 P.M. to 3 P.M. is the ideal nap for me.
When you wake up from that, are you more or less on the same schedule as the rest of us?
Yeah. I like to have a 6:30 dinner. I have to be conscious of the fact that dinners can go late. Almost always when somebody says, “Hey, can you do dinner on Wednesday?” I say, “I can, but can it be 6:30 to 8:30, instead of 8:00 to 10:00?”
I used to adamantly say that a meal is not a meal unless there is a meat component to it. That’s still most nights, but now there are nights when there’s something plant-based. And I love dessert, anything based in chocolate. I don’t have to eat a whole dessert, but I like a sweet finish to my meal, and the sugar keeps me awake more than it used to.
Do you have time for exercise?
I’ve gotten to be much better behaved on that front. My wife is very committed to scheduling her fitness classes and so forth. I would see that, realize it was a good model, but never find or make the time. Now, it’s partly out of necessity with being older, and partly out of finding ways to enjoy fitness that I’ve embraced more.
I have a road bike and ride that regularly on weekends in Amagansett. Related to that, I find a spin class is a great way to get a quick workout in the city. My wife and I also see a trainer named Kira Stokes. Kira has a bunch of celebrity clien