As Counter Terrorist Unit chief Tony Almeida on Fox's real-time thriller, 24, Carlos Bernard is in tiptop shape to take on the bad guys.

"Yeah, I'm a real tough guy," Bernard laughs.

In this spy fantasy TV show, being involved in rescues and fighting terrorism has taken on real meaning.

"We get to live the fantasy of what might have been," says Bernard.

However, dislocating his left ankle brought the 36-year-old into real-time reality and pain.

"I screamed; it was pretty brutal," recalls the 5'10" actor of his recent basketball injury. "I was going up for a breakaway lay-up and a guy pulled me down from behind. It felt like the bottom half of my leg snapped in half when the tendons popped." It was a not so gentle reminder, to this sports enthusiast, that he's no longer a teenager who can recuperate from injuries in a matter of days. "I took a lot of coral calcium and something for ligament repair," Bernard confesses. "I still take the calcium."

Born and raised in Chicago, Bernard received a Master of Fine Arts from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. However, sports have always played a big role in his life.

"Baseball was my big sport in school," he reveals. "I played center field all four years of high school and then started playing it in college. But, I realized I was out of my league, so to speak. We had a great high school baseball team that made it to the state finals, but college was a whole different story. Three guys on my college team actually played pro ball and one made it to the majors."

Today, in between 13- to 14-hour workdays and being father to a newborn, Bernard enjoys pick-up baseball games, fly-fishing, judo and golf.

"I have a 10 handicap," he admits. "Sports give me the fun of competition regular workouts don't, an extra focus and something I can improve upon because it's about skills." Although basketball has been sidelined, it hasn't kept Bernard on the bench.

"I still lift weights about five times a week, but when I'm working, it's a matter of fitting it into my schedule," he says. "I try to get cardio through basketball, but lately it's been a challenge, so the stationary bike for 20 minutes has been the best thing. I also run on the treadmill." In addition, he does bicep/tricep curls, chest lifts, sit-ups and crunches. "I also do a few different leg lift machines for the entire leg," he adds.

Not only do regular sports and exercise keep his body toned, but they also help maintain energy levels.

"For an actor, it's really important to maintain your focus and stay sharp, which higher energy levels do for me," he explains. "When you have long days and the last shot might be the most important, stamina and focus are imperative."

Although voted one of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People this year, Bernard doesn't take the praise too seriously.

"I think it was a payoff for years of dedication, but don't really think about it that much. You can't control what people think about you," he acknowledges. "Hey, I'm not perfect--I still drink coffee and have a muffin with it. I shoot to eat half of it, but usually eat the whole thing."

Despite the coffee and muffins, Bernard's diet is pretty simple.

"First of all, I don't diet, really. I've cut down on bread and I LOVE bread!" he exclaims. "So I try to eat as little as possible." Instead of sodas, he mostly drinks water. Bernard also enjoys fruits, vegetables and meat. While not a fat gram or calorie counter, he says, "I just try to stay away from fries and stuff I know will put on the weight."

However, all those rules fly out the window when he visits Chicago, which is often since his family still lives there.

"Oh, the food there is something else," he asserts. I'm a huge fan of barbeque ribs, so I eat them almost the minute I get there. The pizza, of course, is spectacular. There's such a wide variety of restaurants and they're all open past 1 a.m."

With the clock continuously ticking on his show, the actor does like to enjoy downtime with a good book, some Dave Matthews Band or Elton John music or any chance to be outside in nature.

On an occasional day off, does he cook dinner for his wife of four years? "Yeah, right!" he laughs loudly. "Right now, honestly, I would be bringing food home."

Bonnie Siegler has covered celebrity fitness for American Fitness since 1990. Based in Playa del Rey, California, she is an internationally known writer whose work has appeared in McCall's, Redbook and InStyle.

by Bonnie Siegler