There’s Not Enough Protein in the World to Fuel American Ninja Warrior Jessie Graff

There's Not Enough Protein in the World to Fuel American Ninja Warrior Jessie Graff photo

American Ninja Warrior is one of the best shows on American television right now. There’s something uniquely mesmerizing about watching some of the country’s fittest humans attempt to complete the show’s borderline-to-actually-insane giant obstacle courses, making the show’s current seventh season just as addictive as when it debuted in 2009.

With each season, a new fan-favorite competitor comes to the fore, and this season’s breakout star is 32-year-old “Wonder Woman” Jessie Graff, who slayed the competition at the Los Angeles city finals this week in superhero-inspired garb (watch her epic run below.). Although Graff has quickly become known for her moonlighting ninja ways, she has an even more grueling day job as a professional stuntwoman (job duties include jumping off bridges onto moving trains. No big.)

We caught up with Graff to talk about how she eats and trains to stay in fighting shape for her job, how she refuels after a tough workout, and the food she brings to every American Ninja Warrior taping.

What do you eat on the American Ninja Warrior set right before you compete?
The cameras roll until the sun comes up, which means I might be competing at midnight or at 5 a.m. So I’ll come prepared with a turkey-spinach-tomato-avocado sandwich, a couple of protein bars, some seaweed snacks, and my Ninja Warrior treat: dark chocolate espresso beans. I try to have some of those a half-hour before I run for an energy burst.

And what about after you’re done?
I’m usually so high on adrenaline and endorphins after I run that I’m not thinking about food at all!

How much does diet factor into your job?
As stuntpeople, our bodies are our résumés. We’re going to get picked to double actors and actresses whose bodies we match. And since so many actresses are very thin, there’s a lot of talk, especially among stuntwomen, about how to stay lean but still be strong enough to do the things we need to do. You need a certain amount of muscle to be able to jump off things and land safely, or do flips without tearing ligaments.

Photo: Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images

What does a typical day of meals look like for you?
I love having a hot latte in the morning, but I’ve found a way to make a healthier version. I brew a flavored coffee in my Keurig machine—today I had frosted oatmeal cookie, but my favorite is peppermint mocha. Instead of milk or creamer, I’ll add a small amount of a chocolate or vanilla protein shake. That’s like my quick breakfast before my first workout of the day.

Later, I’ll have a big egg scramble with tons of broccoli, onions, and spinach, trying to squeeze in as many greens as possible.

I eat a big kale salad almost every day. I put fruit like blueberries and dried cranberries on it with some plain Greek yogurt, and it tastes almost like dessert, even though I’m getting so many nutrients from the kale.

At some point, I’m probably going to have one of my favorite Yup protein bars. My current favorite is the sugar cookie flavor—it feels like I’m eating candy, but they’re super high in protein and fiber and have no artificial sweeteners.

For dinner, I’ll usually have a big pile of greens with chicken or steak on top, along with some cooked vegetables and a scoop of rice or some kind of grain.

Do you have a favorite condiment?
Bragg’s Liquid Aminos! I’ll also sometimes get powdered ranch mix and blend it with cottage cheese to create a healthier version of ranch dressing.

What’s for dessert?
My go-to is plain Greek yogurt with a handful of dark chocolate chips, which satisfies my sweet tooth. I try to eat cleaner in the month leading up to a competition or a big event, when I’ll stop having dessert entirely.

Graff competes in her signature Wonder Woman-inspired outfit. Photo: Brandon Hickman/NBC

How do you refuel after a tough workout?
I definitely focus on protein after a hard workout. It’s like, what things do I need to put into my body to make sure I reap the physical gains from all the work I just did? So I focus on protein and dark greens, but I’ll also add grains or healthy fats to make it appetizing but still nutritious.

Have your eating habits changed a lot over time?
At the beginning of my career in stunts, I was trying so hard to follow specific diets that I was undereating, slowing down my metabolism, and having lower performance. Over the years I’ve gotten a lot more balanced and intuitive. I still try to eat as many green vegetables as possible and make sure I get enough protein. But by listening to my body and being more flexible about what I’m craving every now and then, I’ve actually become leaner and fitter than I was when I was trying to diet hard. It’s all about balance.

Catch new episodes of American Ninja Warrior on Mondays at 8/7 c on NBC.

Related: Soylent and Serrano Ham: What an Everest Climber Actually Eats

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