Between rigorous training programs, long days of filming, and the white-knuckle throes of competition, eating well isn't just a good habit professional athletes try to cram into their schedules; these days, it's practically a requirement. Gone are the days when action-sports athletes like skateboarders and BMX riders lived off energy drinks and Del Taco; even the ones you wouldn't expect to maintain squeaky clean diets are giving their nutrition an overhaul to stay in top form for events like the upcoming Austin X Games, June 5–8, 2014. Here's what they do right:
They never skip breakfast.
Across the board, all of the athletes we talked to cited breakfast as their most important meal of the day, and their morning meals include plenty of protein, whole grains, and fruits. "I'll mix four eggs and eat them over a healthier-choice toast with avocado spread across the toast," says BMX rider Anthony Napolitan. Skateboarder Alana Smith opts for egg whites, turkey bacon, and a smoothie, while snowboarder Kimmy Fasani fuels up with a banana and peanut butter. For motocross rider Kacy Martinez, breakfast consists of two different meals. "Normally I wake up hungry and I'll get right up and make a bowl of cereal," she says. "I'm off to the gym and when I'm done I'll cook up some eggs and a protein shake." Oatmeal and homemade granola also top the list for almost every athlete we grilled.
They drink a ton of water.
For most athletes, the old eight-glasses-a-day rule doesn't cut it during sweaty workouts and long days in the sun. "Right when I wake up, I drink about 16 ounces of water," says Fasani. "Getting water in my system before breakfast makes me feel good and this way I start off each day hydrated." Napolitan keeps a 32-ounce water bottle with him at all times, refilling it about four times a day, while skateboarder Erik Ellington says he can drink more than two gallons during normal training. Aim for 10 to 12 glasses per day and increase your intake when you plan on being in the sun or engaging in a grueling workout.
They swap in healthy alternatives.
Pro athletes stock their pantries with low-fat, low-sodium, high-protein alternatives like turkey bacon, almond milk, brown rice, and whole-wheat bread. "I really have noticed how much stronger my bones are and how my performance changes with the types of foods I eat," says Smith. "If I eat bad food, I feel tired and lazy; if I eat healthy, I have energy." Motocross rider and rally car racer Brian Deegan opts to get his fruit straight from his own trees and his vegetables from an organic garden he and his wife tend to, which helps him avoid fast food on the road: "My wife and I generally take our motor home to most events and pack our own food as if we were at home."
They make their own snacks.
"I make these healthy peanut butter cookies that are pretty much just peanut butter, oats, honey, and a few other ingredients," says snowboarder Louie Vito, who also munches on Oberto's beef jerky, hard-boiled eggs, and, on occasion, an Uncrustable sandwich. Rock climber Sierra Blair-Coyle prefers to make her own trail mix for long days out on the rock: "It's a mix of whatever is in the pantry at the moment," she says. "One of my favorite combinations is pistachios, cacao nibs, coconut flakes, mulberries, and goji berries." During the winter, Fasani experiments with soups and chilis and employs her dehydrator to make healthy snacks like dried apples or raw-food bars.
"I've been making kale chips a lot," says Ellington of his at-home snack preparation. "I put lemon, olive oil, and whatever else I feel like on them and bake on low heat for about 20 minutes. Sometimes I save them and mix them into a salad." In a pinch, Napolitan reaches for his "massive stack" of Kind Bars, while Smith prefers bananas, apples, plums, and almonds. "My mom makes an awesome fruit bowl that I love," she says of her favorite homemade snack. "It has cottage cheese topped with blueberries, strawberries, cantaloupe, and honeydew drizzled with agave and topped with oats."
They eat small meals often.
Most of the athletes we talked to aimed for five or more meals per day. "A small snack between [breakfast and] lunch is usually a banana with peanut butter," explains Napolitan. "Depending on what type of active morning I've had, lunch might consist of a couple turkey tacos or some concoction of toasted tuna sandwich. A snack between lunch and dinner consists of fruit, and dinner is usually something lean with lots of protein and fiber; grilled chicken and veggies is the go-to [meal]." Fasani staves off hunger with a wrap stuffed with vegetables and hummus, while Smith whips up a piece of lean steak or sushi for dinner. "I eat often throughout the day, about every three hours," Vito agrees.
They don't make drastic diet changes before a competition.
"I don't really change up my diet around race time," says Martinez. "I try and stick to the same things I would eat on any night of the week because that's what my body is used to." If he’s filming the next day, sometimes Ellington will eat a lighter dinner the night before and stick to a smoothie in the morning, while Vito might add additional carbohydrates to his diet via pasta (hold the sauce). Fasani makes sure to eat more filling foods for breakfast when she anticipates a long day on the hill to ensure she stays full and satisfied longer.
They avoid the bad stuff—most of the time.
"I rarely drink cow's milk, and lately I've been attempting to cut back on gluten," says Ellington, who took the dieting advice of a nutritionist after experiencing fatigue. Vito avoids rice, bread, milk, and soy completely, while Smith stays away from anything processed and filled with sugar, like candy. "I try to eat as clean as possible on a daily basis," says Deegan. "I stay away from all fast food, butter, and dairy."
Fasani satisfies her sweet tooth with the lemon blueberry cookies or salted caramel brownies from Mimi's Cookie Bar in Mammoth Lakes, California, and tries to eat organically and buy locally. "I look at labels on everything I buy to make sure I'm getting foods with simple ingredients," she says. That's not to say they're always so saintly: "Doughnuts are my weakness," says Napolitan. "I really try my best to stay away from anything cooked in grease."
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