In our series Fit Chicks, we chat with female fitness bloggers and trainers from all over the country. Equipped with their collective experience, expertise and practical tips, you’ll be happy to know that a healthier lifestyle is right around the corner.
Name: Mikaela Shiffrin, 22
Occupation: Professional alpine ski racer for the U.S. Ski Team
Hometown: Vail, Colorado
Ever since she was 16 years old, alpine ski racer Mikaela Shriffin has been dominating the slopes. Now at 22 with several slalom World Cups, championship titles and an Olympic gold medal under her belt, she eyes the 2018 Winter Games while continuing to train and live a healthy lifestyle. Mikaela chatted with Paste to share about her background and how she stays in top shape to be one of the best skiers in the world. (Oh, and did we mention she won the overall World Cup title last month? No biggie.)
Congrats on your World Cup win last month! How did that feel?
Mikaela Shiffrin: It’s pretty amazing. The overall Globe is one of the things that all ski racers covet the most and it’s something I’ve been dreaming of since I was a little girl but having that actually come to life this season was amazing. But it was interesting—the accumulation of the points throughout the season were all based off the races I did, so even though I didn’t have my very best races last month at the end of the season, I had two great races and then the last two were mediocre, but I had sealed in the Globe already based on the points that I accumulated throughout the season. So it was bittersweet. When you think about short term or immediate gratification, I didn’t really have that. However, when I look back on the entire season, it was easier to be really happy about it. It was just an interesting mix of emotions.
Can you talk a little about your fitness background? Where did your love of skiing and being active come from?
MS: Both of my parents are skiers and they are both are great athletes. I have a brother who’s two and a half years older than I am and we were born in Vail, Colorado, which is kind of your dream ski vacation ski town. It was natural for us, especially for my parents to be skiers, for us to learn how to ski. So we did it as a family as a recreational sport. Both my brother and I got into the ski club and started racing at 6 or 7 years old and really liked racing. You can imagine a 6 year old—it’s not that serious, but we loved the thrill of competition. That’s when I started getting into the sport of ski racing as opposed to just all around skiing. Ironically, I wasn’t the kind of girl that loved to work out—I still don’t, really. But I’ve come to appreciate it and the pain that comes with hard workouts. But I didn’t like to sweat or be uncomfortable at all when I was a little girl. I was just as happy sitting in the lodge eating fries and drinking hot chocolate as I was out skiing. As I grew up, I moved to the east coast when I was 8 years old and lived in this patch of land. We had nine acres, woods, and the rolling fields, and it became a lot more intriguing for me to be active. Both my parents were really active and value athletics and sports and living a healthy, active lifestyle. They taught me how to be comfortable when I was sweating and biking uphill and in pain. I grew into the athlete I am today because of all of that.
Was becoming a professional skier and eventually making it to the Olympics always a dream of yours, or did all of this success kind of catch you by surprise?
MS: When I was little, I would watch all the best ski racers and all their World Cup races and I was really inspired by that. That’s what led me to have the dream of being the best in the world in ski racing, which basically means you have to go pro. You have to do it and be the best and go to the Olympics and all of those things—it’s sort of like an unspoken rule. But it wasn’t specifically thinking about races I wanted to win, but this overarching goal of, “I think it’d be really cool to be best in the world.” As I kept moving up in the ranks, every step along the way I focused on improving my speed. I like to win. I don’t have a killer competitive spirit but I like the feeling that I’m doing a really good job, and it’s nice to have a time or result to back that up. But I always loved training, I always loved improving. I loved it when my coaches would say, “That was a really good run, try to do it again” or “Do it even better.” That was the kind of thing that really drove me and naturally led me to where I am today. So I didn’t really say to myself, “I’m going to race on the World Cup” when I was twelve years old. I just thought, “Wow, it’d be so cool.” It was just always in the back of my mind, so I had that motivation. But I honestly didn’t know I’d be able to go to the Olympics and win a medal until the year it actually happened. I’m not the kind of person that’s absolutely sure of myself and that I can do it, I just am probably the most willing to try to do it.
Do you think that’s necessary for women who feel overwhelmed about fitness and nutrition—the willingness to try it even if they don’t start out super confident?
MS: If you’ve grown up around really active people, your family is active and it’s just a part of your life, it’s definitely easier to keep that going. A lot of people maybe played some sports in high school and were active, but they get to college and study all night, take tests all day, and there’s no time to do anything. Then they go to parties on the weekend, hang out with friends and it’s just a really intense four or more years where you don’t have a lot of time to get into that routine unless you’re playing a sport, and a lot of people don’t. I think that sets a precedence so when you get out of college and you have a job, you just can’t get back into that rhythm. But that’s a huge piece of this: having the confidence that you know if you put in a little extra effort, you will see results and you will feel better. But it’s not always about having the best body. With ski racers, you’ll see someone who looks awesome, skinny, and fit who looks like a model, but they’re not actually that strong. What you need in ski racing is strength—you really need thighs, a bum—you need that power to withstand the forces. So the girl with the best body by super model standards isn’t necessarily the best ski racer. However, the best skiers are the greatest athletes, they’re the most fit all around, there’s not a lot of body fat, and they take care of themselves. I like to think that ski racing is one of those sports where you have to be the best athlete out there in order to be a good ski racer.
It’s interesting to me that these days there’s an argument going around of, “Why do I have to work out? It’s just for vanity’s sake, I’m comfortable with my body, I don’t need to lose weight.” But for me, that’s not it at all. Working out produces endorphins that make you happier. It’s the same thing as eating healthy. I go through phases where I eat terrible—junk food, ton of sugar—and it’s an instant gratification thing. But I also go through phases, especially when I’m in an intense dryland block or during the season when I’m skiing, I really focusing on eating healthy. And I can see it – my skin is clearer, my face isn’t as puffy, and my body feels really good and it feels like I have energy. Those are the things that give you confidence, and it’s not unauthorized confidence – it’s just confidence in who you are and how you feel.
Do you have a go-to meal you eat before a big race or any other food traditions?
MS: This year in particular was really interesting. I dealt with a lot more nerves than I have in the past. As race days would come closer, one or two nights before I would start to get an upset stomach. I pretty much could not eat anything but pasta with a simple sauce. Just something that would get some substance in my stomach that I could digest and that I’m really used to. That’s a total staple for me because it’s one of the easiest things to cook. There’s a lot of different things you can do with it, a whole world of different ingredients you can use, and carbs are a huge part of my diet, along with protein. I used to say I’d eat pasta the day before my race because it’s one of my favorite things to eat, but this year it kind of changed to: it’s the only thing I can eat. The night before the race, I’d have pasta with tomato or a meat sauce, and then the day of the race, I’d have some kind of breakfast, and then lunch would be pasta, and dinner would be pasta again. Basically all my meals for two to three days in a row would be some kind of pasta because it’s all that I could stomach. And that’s one of the things I love about it—I can rely on it even when I’m not feeling good.
When I’m traveling it’s not easy to do this because I’m not always around a kitchen, but if we are, I’ll eat Barilla ProteinPLUS. When I’m home and I have a kitchen, that’s my favorite kind of pasta. One misconception with people, especially with going on low-carb diets and going gluten free, is that gluten is technically a protein. A lot of people don’t realize that when they think about carbs. They think, “Don’t eat gluten, it’s really bad for you.” It can be bad for a lot of people, especially if they have Celiac disease, but otherwise I think it’s important to know that it’s technically a protein. Carbohydrates are huge and really important for fueling you if you want to feel good, especially if you’re exercising a lot. It’s not like you’re eating gigantic tubs of pasta every day. What I do is I just basically substitute whatever meal I’m having with pasta. So I’ll have chicken, salad and pasta. [Pasta] is not my only form of meal, but it is my go-to. I’m pretty much always eating Barilla ProteinPLUS. Even though they have a million different lines of pasta that are really nutritious, that’s my favorite.
When you aren’t training or skiing, what are some other sports or activities you enjoy doing?
MS: I like everything. Tennis and soccer are two biggies. My mom is a really great tennis player and she taught me how to play, so I play quite often with her, especially during the summer. I used to play soccer when I was younger on a team. Now I don’t play on a team anymore, but still do soccer drills and juggle for fun or for coordination. I’ll go outside and juggle with my brother when he’s around before dinner just as something fun to do together with him. I like to bike, hike—pretty much anything athletic or outdoors.
You’ve talked about how important speed and strength are for skiing. What do you do to improve those things?
MS: I’m in the gym doing strength workouts Monday, Wednesday, Friday and then I’ll do another form of a strength workout on Saturday, then I have Sunday off. For my other workouts, normally I’m doing double sessions every day, so it’s strength in the morning and go for a bike ride in the afternoon or do core, mobility, or agility workouts. The foundation of my dryland program is weights in the gym trying to get really strong.
You’ve accomplished so much already—what’s next for you? You’re aiming for 2018 Winter Games right?
MS: Yes, that’s the big goal this year. Our World Cup season starts at the end of October, so I just started my spring ski camp and I’ve been in training for the past two days. I’ll be training skiing for the rest of April and into the beginning of May. Then I’ll have about two months off where I’m just doing conditioning. Then we go to New Zealand at the end of July for three weeks and then Chile in September for two weeks. We go to Europe in October and that’s the final prep before the first race of the season. So there’s a lot going on, besides even just thinking about the Olympics. That’s one of the big goals for this year—I guess for obvious reasons why. The Olympics pretty much takes the whole month of February, so we’ll be racing up until then and then immediately after the Olympics, we continue with our World Cup season. I think everyone tries to center their plan so that they peak at the Olympics since it’s a rare event and a unique opportunity to perform on such a worldwide stage.
McGee Nall is a freelance writer based out of Athens, Georgia. She was probably eating Nilla wafers and Nutella while writing this.