Athletes vary greatly from the weekly morning runner, the yoga class attendee, and then there’s the American Ninja Warrior whose muscles and mentality are put to the test as they make their way through grip-grabbing, endurance-pushing, and physically demanding obstacles. Their bodies are different than the average athletes, and with the recent historical win of Kacy Catanzaro, the first woman to make it to the finals, many wonder what it took for them to achieve such a feat.

American Ninja Warrior (ANW) started in December of 2009 in Los Angeles, Calif., where hundreds of athletes from all different training backgrounds, from rock climbing to mixed martial artists, professional athletes, and even Navy SEALS, showed up to attempt the infamous obstacle course on NBC and Esquire's prime-time television show. Every season, high quality athletes approach the starting platform with hopes to make it through the half pipe jump, rope ladder, jumping spider net, and other physically demanding obstacles to qualify for the final at Mt. Midoriyama in Japan.

Twenty-four-year-old Catanzaro has a lifetime of gymnastics training under her belt. She started gymnastics when she was 5 years old and attended Towson University on an athletic scholarship where she continued to compete on their division I gymnastics team. Even after becoming the Southeast Regional Gymnast in 2012, she took two years training with her boyfriend and American Ninja Warrior veteran Brent Steffensen and became the first woman to complete the qualifying course in July. When Catanzaro hit the finish line button, signifying her great accomplishment, she became an inspirational athlete to young women and girls around the world. Her YouTube video victory has been viewed by well over seven million viewers.

What did they have to sacrifice to move with such strength and agility?

“I try and strength-train anywhere from four to six times a week, based on where life is taking me or what is coming up. We do lots of bodyweight exercises in a row — pushups, pull-ups, lunges, squats, lots of abs — to really build strength and endurance,” Catanzaro told Fitness magazine. “For the obstacle courses, we want to be as light and lean as possible, and doing exercises with your bodyweight is the most efficient way to get there.”

Their training is constant. Incorporating discipline into every factor of their day-to-day workout routine makes their bodies accustomed to the physical demand the ANW course will require from them. It’s no surprise why the average athlete’s bodies are different from a Ninja’s, considering only 51 percent of Americans exercise just three days a week, while another 18 percent say they exercise at least once or twice a week, according to a Gallup-Healthways Well-being Index. The rest are sedentary.

Physical activity is only half of the story, though. Our diets contribute greatly to our overall wellbeing, with every meal presenting itself as an opportunity to nourish your body, or poison it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of American adults are obese, and accompanying that weight comes $147 billion in medical costs, and an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancers.

The health risks and financial burdens that come with a life of obesity are on the opposite spectrum of an ANW. Catanzaro watches her diet and follows a clean-eating type of policy because on the journey to compete against some of the best athletes in the nation, she needed every advantage her body could give her.

“Definitely stay away from anything that is processed and avoid eating too much sugar. So if I can’t read an ingredient listed in an ingredient label, I try to stay away from it. It’s so important to be aware of what you are putting into your body and what good or harm it will do,” Catanzaro said.

The ideal diet for an athlete is not far off from what’s recommended for any person striving to live a healthy lifestyle. However, the ANW's diet and exercise regimen follows very similar to the caliber of an Olympic athlete. An important balance of enough calories, carbohydrates, fluids, iron, vitamins, minerals, and protein will enhance athletic performance, according to the National Institutes of Health.

6 Recommended Dietary Tips For Athletes:

  1. Don’t skip breakfast and remember the rule: Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper in order to give yourself the most energy at the beginning of the day. By avoiding a large meal at night, your body digests easier while you sleep. 
  2. Stay hydrated: By drinking 5 to 10 ounces of water every 20 minutes, your body stays awake and refreshed. Remind yourself to drink more by carrying around a non-disposable water bottle throughout the day. 
  3. Introduce the right carbohydrates: Complex carbs found in pastas, whole grain breads, and rice are the best type of carb fuel, while processed snacks and chips should be avoided. Also, try to incorporate more on days when you expend more energy, such as a big workouts or long runs. 
  4. Increase meal frequency: By eating smaller meals every two to four hours, you're stimulating your metabolism into high gear, maintaining blood sugar levels, while still meeting your daily calorie requirements. 
  5. Plan ahead: Both ANW Kacy and her boyfriend Brent do meal preps at the start of their week, which include grilled chicken and vegetables with balanced out portions. This way they won’t be tempted to sway from their meal plans each day. 
  6. Recover from workouts: By consuming a mix of protein and carbs, such as a glass of chocolate milk or whey protein, the diet will help restore the muscle glycogen lost during the workout. Also, about an hour afterward, a whole grain sandwich with a lean meat will give the body what it needs to repair itself and prepare for the next day’s workout. 

“The most important thing about fitness and living healthy is being able to get the maximum out of your life. If you are as fit as you can be, you can do more and you aren’t held back by your weight,” Catanzaro said. “I think that staying fit, not being held back and being able to go out and try to accomplish whatever it is that I want is the best part of it.”