DANIEL Matsunaga, even when running on an hour of sleep, is pure energy wrapped in a 6’1”, 180-pound bag of bone and muscle. The 24-year-old Brazilian-Japanese model and actor is all get-up-and-go as soon as he arrives at the Emperador Stadium, where he struts his stuff as one of the most talented midfielders in the United Football League (UFL) Division 1.
After sprightly introducing himself to everyone with a firm handshake and a megawatt smile, he goes to one corner, brings out a pair of dumbbells, and hits the artificial turf to do renegade pushups. That done, he follows it up with explosive bicep curls and dumbbell presses before capping his heart-pumping regimen with grueling sets of crunches.
Fully recharged, Matsunaga soon finds himself in full football kit, under strobe lights, and in front of the camera, a football at his mercy.
He gamely does dribbling tricks to warm up, showing great timing and control throughout. It’s obvious he’s excited playing the game that has impacted his life the most.
“I love working out, but football has always been my favorite [form of] exercise,” Matsunaga shares. “Because when I was younger I was fat, and on the football pitch was where I first committed to staying fit.”
In his hometown of Brasilia, Brazil, the passion for football couldn’t be any more torrid. Matsunaga started playing the game at the age of four and instantly got hooked.
“After homework, it was football,” he says. “I used to play from 5 to 9 p.m. every day. And that’s when I began to truly appreciate the sport and enjoy the idea of working out and taking care of myself. As I played more I had more fun with it. The more I experienced its fitness benefits, the more eager I became to get better and better.”
This dedication to excellence has helped mold Matsunaga into the player he is now, a no-nonsense offensive facilitator who can be relied upon to provide a spark off the bench. If you haven’t seen the man on the field yet, Matsunaga’s style of play is a homage to his roots.
Observes center-back defender and fellow UFL player Joaquin Cañas, who has played alongside Matsunaga, “He’s Brazilian and you can see it in the way he plays the game. Daniel has great ball control, conditioning, footwork, and even good tricks. Plus, Brazilians really know how to enjoy themselves on the field, and Daniel is no exception.”
Right now though, Matsunaga admits he can’t lace up his football cleats as often as he wants to because of the demands of his promising showbiz career.
“Since training starts at 6 a.m. every day, I have to really balance my time because my work can get in the way,” he says. Priority-setting and time management are skills he continues to sharpen. He has realized early on, after all, that if he wants to excel in show business and professional football, he has to adapt with the circumstances that come with the challenges they present.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
“I ask [my manager] in advance what my schedule is for the [next] two weeks, so I can move things around if I have to,” says Daniel Matsunaga on how he achieves work-life balance with these pointers:
Nine years ago, Matsunaga decided to seize a job prospect that changed everything for him.
“I grew up in Brazil until I was 16 and then the modeling opportunity came,” he recalls. “Since then I’ve been to 25 countries, all for modeling reasons.” When he arrived in the Philippines in 2009, he expected it to be one of those transitory experiences. “I was only supposed to work here for two months, but worked picked up and I kept extending my stay. Then before I knew it, two months is now four years already.”
There’s no denying that his career has flourished in that four-year stretch. Today, both his face and physique have been showcased across the media - from multiple billboards to print ads and TV commercials. Wanting to expand his reach, Matsunaga then put his growing popularity to the test, branching out in 2012 to co-hosting a noontime variety show (Game ‘N Go) and acting in a prime-time TV series (Enchanted Garden) and a hit movie (Sisterakas).
His career move to show business wasn’t easy though. To earn his stripes, Matsunaga had to overcome something people from his side of the planet easily take for granted. “When I got to the Philippines, I didn’t know a word of Tagalog – mahirap eh,” he admits, smiling sheepishly. “I really had a hard time getting the hang of it.”
But he knew he had to double his efforts in hurdling the language barrier if he wanted to be known as more than just a guy with a pretty face and chiseled abs. “At first, nabubulol talaga ako just trying to speak in Filipino in the parts I played,” he says. “Kasi, you’ll really feel the pressure, lalo na when you’re working with veteran actors. How can I do my job the best way I know I can if I don’t even understand my lines, right?”
Each day, then, Matsunaga committed three hours to learning our native tongue and another six hours to participating in acting workshops to improve his craft. For him, the pursuit to get better requires maximum concentration and zeal. It’s a good thing the lessons that football had taught him proved invaluable when he needed to take on his career’s mounting demands. “I almost gave up a couple of times,” he confesses. “But I saw learning the language and understanding the industry pretty much like when I was starting to play football. I knew I had to work from the bottom and keep on working from there.”
This has helped him to stay motivated, no matter how daunting the obstacles. “I’m pushed by the passion I have now. I love what I do and I don’t get sick of the amount of work. I love acting and I love competing out on the field, and I [get] to do both at the same time!”
MAX IT OUT
Daniel Matsunaga gives tips on how you can get the most out of your workouts:
READY FOR THE CALL
Despite his punishing schedule, Matsunaga refuses to stay out of game shape. “I may miss football practices, but to stay in shape, I rarely miss the training and workouts that I do on my own,” he shares. He keeps track of everything because he wants to be consistent. “I plan ahead what to do on certain days — like which muscles to work on — so if I’m not able to do them, my whole exercise routine for the week is ruined. It’s really a lifestyle.”
Whenever he feels like he’s getting sidetracked, Matsunaga powers through the negativity by always sticking to the plan. “If I work out [for] three days and I stop for two days, I know I’ll feel sluggish [when I get back to the gym],” he says. “That’s why I work out every day, even just for an hour, because it helps me mentally.” Keeping to his regimen, he adds, guarantees freedom from DOMS, or the dreaded delayed onset muscle soreness that bogs down many of those who return to the fitness trail after a long break.
As for his boundless energy, he credits the science behind his training, which is anchored on metabolic conditioning or “Met-con,” explains his fitness coach Jay Lopez, O.T.R.P., C.P.T., C.E.S.. P.E.S., C.K.T.I., “aims to increase the storage and supply of energy to the working muscles when performing in a sport of physical activity.” More than just boosting blood supply to the heart, it also directly enhances muscular functions through high-intensity aerobic conditioning. “Met-con helps with decreasing body fat and improving work capacity while maintaining - and even increasing — strength levels.”
Moreover, he brings a methodical approach, not just to his training but also to his meal intake. “I watch what I eat and I try my best to go for the healthier options,” he says.
“It’s always less sugar, more vegetables, fiber, and protein. If you control what you eat, you don’t have to get super tired and you can easily work it off in the gym.”
And whether it’s from a rigorous training day or an all-nighter shoot, Matsunaga makes sure his body recuperates from stress. “I always find time to sleep. I really have to prioritize it with all the things I do,” he stresses. “Like today, after this shoot I’ll go home, I’ll eat well and then sleep so I can go to the gym later. Kasi my schedule is crazy. Because of my work, I really have to adjust.”
He clearly doesn’t subscribe to the too-busy-to-work-out alibi, and neither, should you. The way he sees it, time is a resource to be handled wisely. “If you have to work from 7AM to 7PM, you still have five hours to work out,” he points out. “You have at least an hour to rest and at least one hour to go train. Kaya siya talaga.”
(Note: The article first appeared in the June 2013 issue of Men's Health)