When Brendon Ayanbadejo looks back at his life, one thing’s for sure: Fitness has always been a part of it. After a successful NFL football career, one that involved a legendary Super Bowl win with the Baltimore Ravens, Ayanbadejo took his talents right from the field to the studio. In 2014, he launched West Coast Fitness, a leading franchise of Orangetheory Fitness, the renowned high intensity (HIIT) group workout. Today, there are over 35 studios all over the world.

While he inspires people through fitness every day, the three-time NFL Pro-Bowler is also incredibly involved in supporting marriage equality, using his star power to fight for others to have the freedoms they deserve. From linebacker to entrepreneur to LGBT rights advocate, the limitless Ayanbadejo proves that boundaries is a word best left in the dictionary.

Ayanbadejo opens up to Nutritious Life about the calming effect of self-reflection and breaks down his fitness philosophy, including how to make your workouts easily fit into your daily life. 

How have things changed for you since COVID-19 hit? What has been your biggest challenge, and how have you worked to overcome it? Since COVID has hit, my regular routine isn’t happening. I still work out just as frequently, but I’m not running around coaching Orangetheory classes or going to my kids’ practices. So, being sedentary isn’t helping me burn as many calories—and that caused me to gain about 15 pounds. But I’ve re-focused and I’ve dialed it in. I’ve gotten a little stricter on my intermittent fasting, cut down on my caloric intake (a little bit), and I’ve started being a little more active.

What causes you stress? What’s your go-to tool for managing stress? Everything can cause stress. It’s a very stressful environment out there right now. You have to worry about your health and your family. I live in a fire zone, there’s always bills to be paid, the market is going up and down, my business isn’t operating, so there are so many different things. I look at what I have and not what I don’t have to manage my stress. “What position are other people in?” “What are they facing?”  I’m probably in the top 99.9 percentile of people in the world, so I calm down very easily when I think about my childhood and the way we grew up, and what we did not have—I just reflect a lot on my past and where other people are and what they could be going through, so it helps me to calm down very quickly.

What are some of your tips to stay focused? Especially now. Well, it’s hard to stay focused because you don’t necessarily have a schedule. I like to plan out my week on Sunday. Of course, my schedule builds and populates as we go through the week, but I like to plan and schedule my workouts regardless of how I feel, how much motivation I have or don’t have that day. I stick to it and get it done. 

How do you express and spread love? I express love vocally, I try to be an example, whether it’s through the way I parent, which isn’t perfect, but I do the best that I can. I try to show people that I’m a present and loving father, but also a strict one. I just try to bring positive energy anywhere that I go. I want everyone to feel safe and comfortable. So, if I can open a door for someone, regardless of their gender, regardless of their age or ethnicity, I will help people out when I can. I’ve pulled over for strangers and helped them change tires. I’ve seen people get in accidents and I’ve pulled them out of wrecked cars. I try to be a type of person that treats strangers as if they are family. Just caring about your neighbor and doing your part so that in the event that your own family needed help, someone would hopefully pay it forward. And  I won’t let bullying happen, either.

What is your fitness philosophy? I would say that my fitness philosophy is functional movement, strength, and then cardio. My preference when it comes to cardio is more anaerobic cardio, so quick bursts, but I also love to run a 5k. Really, the stuff that you don’t want to do is probably the best stuff for you. Sometimes it’s not enough just to lift a weight up and down. You need to add some different planes of motion and some functionality to your fitness regimen so that it is actually applicable in real life.

How often do you exercise, and what’s your workout of choice? Well, I think it’s wise to be active every day. Now in terms of exercise frequency, I believe intensity trumps frequency. I believe it is more important to work out more vigorously 3 times a week than it is to cruise through 5 or 6 workouts throughout the week.  

How do you motivate yourself (and your clients!) to work out?  For me, motivation is fleeting.  You’re not always going to have motivation, but how do you get work done even when you’re not motivated? We can work out as hard as we want, but when we go home and eat late-night, fatty meals, that’s not going to help. I like to motivate through education. I like to educate my clients while we’re training and then they can apply that education when they leave a session. 

If you had to name your healthy diet, what would you call it? Why? The best diet for me already has a name. It’s the Zone diet by Barry Sears. It’s a balanced diet. It is not overly protein-centric or overly fat-centric. In fact, the bulk of the food is complex carbohydrates, so there’s different ways to base it. Just imagine if 45-50% of your intake is carbohydrates, 30-35% is protein, and 15-20% is healthy fats. It’s a balanced diet built around carbohydrates. I’m not really a ketosis guy or a South Beach Diet kind-of-guy. As a performance athlete, you need carbs and energy, and complex carbohydrates will give you that.

Has it been hard to stay on track with your nutrition while in quarantine? Initially it was challenging. I have 3 kids, so all of the snacks are around the house and if someone starts cooking something that smells good, I want it. I was also eating Peanut M&M’s every day. I was like, “Well, it’s got peanuts in it.” When I’m bored, I just start eating, so it’s definitely been tough. I’ve been reprogramming myself over the past month to retrain the microbiome, so it doesn’t crave bad food.  I was eating too many rich, sweet, and fatty foods. 

What’s your go-to breakfast? I eat breakfast around 11 a.m. Right now it’s been really easy for me to get a good meal in. My go-to is an organic, whole grain version of Raisin Bran with walnuts and a banana added to it. It’s just a brand I get from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, and it’s been a nice, complex carb meal. I use oat milk, eggs, bacon and toast on the weekends with a glass of OJ.

Your go-to workday lunch? As far as lunch goes, I usually go a bit lighter. I’ll probably eat a chicken breast with salad—mixed greens, olive oil, celery, carrots, and jicama. I’m really going for the nutrients at lunchtime. Nuevo olive oil is clutch. It’s made from young olives (hence nuevo).

What’s the one food you always have in your fridge? There’s always a green leafy lettuce, cabbage, Kerrygold butter, and some type of chicken breast in my fridge. I’m a big rice eater too, so there’s always some organic white rice in the fridge. It’s very simple but you can do a lot with it. I also like beans.

Your favorite food indulgence? Pizza or a burger, but still with high-quality ingredients (high-quality meat, organic). We will eat a pizza that we make in the air fryer or homemade French fries with a burger. We will slice the potatoes, put a little bit of olive oil and spices, and air fry them. I don’t consider Mexican food a cheat meal, but I’ll tear up some Mexican food several times a week. 

Other than water, what do you sip regularly? Kombucha, Body Armor (especially in the heat!) and if I’m indulging, I’ll drink a Mexican Coca-Cola or a ginger beer. And coconut water is always my go-to.

How do you pamper yourself when you need it? Pre-COVID, I liked to get massages and vitamin IV’s–glutathione, vitamin B12, arginine, and vitamin D. Just making this race car run better and feel good is what I do to pamper myself. But, right now a lot of that stuff is not going on.

What is your evening routine to wind down at the end of the day? To wind down at the end of the day, I let my dogs out one last time, I make sure the kids are in bed and off of their devices, I’ve already taken a shower, so I’m relaxed, and then I’ll usually get on YouTube and watch videos about the universe or research the stock market, or technology. I pretty much do that every night and I’ll fall asleep to that. I’m really fascinated with the universe—other galaxies, stars, the solar system, planets, I can go on and on about that stuff.

 (photo credit: Getty Images)


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